'Gone Cold': Marvin Brandland

Ethel and Marvin Brandland experienced an almost surreal attack in 1982 that left Marvin fatally shot. Photo submitted

FORT DODGE—A Halloween evening welcoming visitors turned in night of horror for a Fort Dodge couple in 1982.

Sixty-nine-year-old Marvin Brandland and his wife, Ethel, had spent the evening of Saturday, Oct. 30, 1982, handing out candy to trick-or-treaters when another person knocked on their home’s door.

Someone wearing a pillow case with holes cut out for eyes stood outside.

“Trick-or-treat. Give me your money or I’ll shoot,” the trick-or-treater said.

The couple thought the act was a joke until the hooded man pulled out a gun and ordered the couple to the basement where they kept a safe.

Marvin Brandland — a World War II Army veteran who owned a carpet service business — was not a wealthy man, though he and his wife of 46 years did have a safe in the basement.

Few knew the safe existed — mainly just family members.

Marvin Brandland, refusing to go along further with what he felt was a prank, reached for the gun. The trick-or-treater shot him in the throat.

The shooter then tore off the pillow case and threw it down before fleeing from the couple’s home.

Brandland was rushed to Trinity Regional Hospital and then airlifted to a hospital in Des Moines, where he died on the operating table in the early morning hours of Oct. 31.

Family members say they are certain they know who the shooter is — an acquaintance of the family. They say he bragged about it to them after the killing.

Ethel Brandland reportedly told police the shooter had blondish hair and blue eyes, was about 5 feet, 8 inches tall, and 16-20 years old.

Police confirmed that the individual identified by family members is the prime suspect, but that there just was not enough evidence to make an arrest.

A key piece of evidence — the pillow case — had been left behind at the scene. The pillow case was submitted for DNA testing in 2010 but there was not enough DNA material to make a match.

Following her husband’s murder, Ethel Brandland broke down on Thanksgiving Day and died a few months later. Family members say she died of a broken heart


Who: Marvin Brandland

What happened: The 69-year-old died Oct. 31, 1982, after being shot the previous night by a Halloween trick-or-treater to his Fort Dodge home.

How you can help: Contact the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation at 515-725-6010 or e-mail dciinfo@dps.state.ia.us or contact the Fort Dodge Police Department at 515-573-1426.


“Gone Cold: Exploring Iowa’s unsolved murders” is an ongoing collaborative effort by Iowa news organizations to revisit some of the most brutal and mystifying homicides in the state’s history. The N’West Iowa REVIEW is presenting some of the unsolved homicides in the hope that they will lead to new tips and potentially help solve cases.