SHELDON—The details of a nearly 23-year-old Iowa cold case have fascinated Sheldon resident Susan Meyers since the case opened in late 1996.
After extensively researching the still-unsolved mystery of Laura Van Wyhe’s death, Meyers began writing a fictional novel based on the case last summer. She self-published her book, “Mourning for Lisa,” on the Amazon Kindle Store in May. It is available for $2.99 for Kindle users.
“It’s just been kind of rattling around in my brain for 22 years, and I thought, ‘I have to write this,’” Meyers, 67, said of the story.
On Oct. 26, 1996, Van Wyhe was discovered barely alive by a truck driver close to the southeast corner of Iowa along Highway 136 near Kahoka, MO.
The 21-year-old Iowa City native died three hours later at an Illinois hospital.
Officials ruled her death a homicide after an inquest revealed she died from brain trauma, blood loss and blunt force trauma to the head and legs.
Despite advances in forensic DNA testing methods since 1996, the mystery of Van Wyhe’s death remains unsolved.
Meyer’s book parallels many of the details surrounding Van Wyhe’s death but tells the story using fictional characters who take on a life of their own.
In the book, a young Iowa sheriff’s deputy named Kevin Manson is tasked with solving the murder of Lisa Harms, whose body is found next to a highway close to the Iowa-Missouri border the morning after a party for her 21st birthday.
“The young deputy is basically thrown into the deep end, and his sheriff is sort of a political animal,” Meyers said.
She explained Manson’s sheriff, Tom Elder, likes to ingratiate himself with politicians, including a U.S. Senate candidate from Iowa who happens to be the mother of Harms’ ex-fiancé and the grandmother of Harms’ 6-month-old son.
Consequently, when the investigation into Harms’ death ensues, Meyers said Elder does not want the deputy to look too closely into the politician.
She contrasts Elder with Matt Smith, the sheriff from the adjacent Missouri county, who eventually helps Manson investigate the case. Meyers said Smith is a hands-on sheriff who likes showing deputies the ropes of law enforcement work.
“He has got a real sharp mind and good intuition,” she said.
Over the course of their investigation, Manson and Smith ultimately identify the culprit after piecing together a mystery that involves political intrigue and blackmail.
The author said the unresolved nature of the case of Van Wyhe’s murder had fueled her desire to write “Mourning for Lisa” and give a sense of justice to the case.
“We have a strong sense of justice in Iowa, and we want somebody to pay,” Meyers said.
Among the challenges Meyers said she faced while writing the book was keeping the timeline of events straight.
“That’s tough,” she said. “And it’s tougher than I thought it would be.”
She also had to learn the process of using Amazon’s self-publishing tool, Kindle Direct Publishing. Although the steps for using the tool are listed on the website, she said it was difficult to figure out initially.
Her daughter, Sarah Steggerda, helped her with the editing process, along with Meyers’ brother-in-law, Rollyn Meyers. Meyers has promoted her book on her Facebook page, @SueLovesMysteries, as well as on her blog website, SusanMeyersWriter.com. So far, she said about 10 people have bought her book on the Kindle Store.
A retired nurse, Meyers was born in New Jersey and lived in Mississippi until moving to Iowa with her family at age 12. She graduated from Dordt College in Sioux Center in 1973 and worked as a teacher before going into nursing.
Meyers has already begun writing a follow-up to “Mourning for Lisa,” which she said will feature some of the same characters but focus on a new case. She said she aims to have the sequel finished later this year.