'Gone Cold': Rhonda Knutson

A memorial for Rhonda Knutson south of New Hampton serves as a reminder of how her murder affected the community. Photo submitted

WILLIAMSTOWN—The death of a 22-year-old who was working on Labor Day two dozen years ago remains among Iowan’s unsolved murders.

Rhonda Anette Knutson was killed in the early morning hours of Monday, Sept. 7, 1992, while working the 9 p.m.-5 a.m. shift at the Phillips 66 convenience store in Williamstown, just north of the intersection of highways 18, 63 and 346 in Chickasaw County.

Williamstown is an unincorporated area located about six miles south of New Hampton in northeast Iowa.

The store manager found Knutson’s body around 4:45 a.m. in a room near the back of the store.

Autopsy results determined Knutson was bludgeoned to death and there were no signs of sexual assault.

According to the Chickasaw County Sheriff’s Department, Knutson suffered severe traumatic head injuries from a beating with a blunt object. Robbery was not considered a motive in the slaying.

The investigation into her death included hundreds of interviews by deputies and agents from the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, along with employing a private investigator and several psychics.

Two truckers whom witnesses allegedly saw in the convenience store the morning Knutson was killed were sought for questioning, but never found.

Both men were described as heavy-set Caucasians with dark hair, and between the ages of 35 and 45. Witnesses described the first suspect as having a beard and mustache and pulling a white and silver trailer behind a conventional tractor. They described the second suspect as clean-shaven, although could not link him to any specific vehicle.

Authorities printed and mailed out news bulletins about the case to truck stops throughout the United States in efforts to generate more leads.

By late December of 1992 the reward for information leading to an arrest in the case had reached $9,000; with eight area banks pledging $7,500 and another $1,500 coming in from private citizens.

Knutson, a 1988 graduate of New Hampton High School, was said to have thoroughly enjoy working the overnight shift at the store and had met her boyfriend three years earlier while working there. The couple had moved in together two years before Knutson’s death, and lived in rural Tripoli, about 16 miles southeast of the store.

Wolf drove a local creamery truck, and Knutson was said have enjoyed accompanying him to motocross racing events and local demolition derbies

The convenience store no longer exists due to road construction at the intersection of the highways.


COLD CASE BREAKDOWN:

Who: Rhonda Anette Knutson

What happened: The 22-year-old was found dead at a convenience store in Williamstown on Sept. 7, 1992. She had been beaten.

How you can help: Contact the Chickasaw County Sheriff’s Department at 641-394-3121 or the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation at 515-725-6010 or dciinfo@dps.state.ia.us.


ABOUT THIS SERIES:

“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.

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