CENTER POINT—Authorities are sure the murder of a rural Central Point man was drug-related but the case remains unsolved more than three decades later.
Shortly after noon on Dec. 24, 1983, the bloody and frozen body of 24-year-old Ronald Lee Novak was found by his brother, Jon Novak, in an unheated storeroom near the back door of Ron’s home near Center Point, north of Cedar Rapids.
Ron’s hands had been bound and tied behind his back.
He had been beaten about the head and body with two hammers and a golf club — the weapons still lay nearby — and shot once in the upper right arm with a .22-caliber handgun.
A violent struggle left blood splattered throughout the room, and Novak’s cordless telephone lay near the hammers and golf club.
Novak’s wallet — where he usually kept several hundred dollars for “walking around money” — was missing.
A broken window in an adjacent kitchen door suggested at least one attacker attempted to gain entry there; Novak kept a loaded shotgun near the door. The door, however, stayed shut that night.
Most puzzling was what officials found in Novak’s bedroom: a small suitcase holding $32,000 in cash and $7,650 worth of marijuana in a green duffel bag.
Police officials originally thought the motivate was robbery, but they were not sure after finding the drugs and cash out in the open.
While investigators worked the crime scene, strong winds outside blew snow across the footprints of Novak’s killers.
No fingerprints were found, and neighbors said they had not seen or heard anything.
Officials said there was little doubt the murder was drug-related.
Novak’s best friend later said he knew Novak sold marijuana but had never known to what extent. He said Novak loved it out in the country where he lived but had expressed some concerns to him six months earlier about a car he had seen parked overnight near his house.
Novak’s autopsy listed three causes of death: the beating, the gunshot and the cold. Detectives interviewed some of Novak’s known associates and developed a list of what they called “good” suspects, but never got enough physical evidence to charge anyone.
In 2013, evidence was sent back to the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation Criminalistics Laboratory, which returned a DNA match to an unknown individual that did not match the victim. It was on the victim’s clothing and it most likely was the suspect that police continue to look for.
COLD CASE BREAKDOWN:
Who: Ronald Lee Novak
What happened: The 24-year-old’s bloody and frozen body was found Dec. 24, 1983, near the back door of his home in rural Center Point.
How you can help: Contact the Linn County Sheriff’s Department at 319-892-6100 or the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation at 515-725-6010 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
ABOUT THIS SERIES:
“Gone Cold: Exploring Iowa’s unsolved murders” is a yearlong 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.