EVANSDALE – The theories have been plenty. Most lead to nothing.
Yet, investigators keep listening because they hope that hidden in the often-irrelevant information is a nugget that, crazy as it may seem at first blush, will help them catch whoever killed Lyric Cook-Morrissey and Elizabeth Collins.
“I don’t want people to go, ‘Oh, they’ll think I’m crazy,’ and not call in,” Evansdale Police Chief Jeff Jensen said. “I’m willing to listen to anybody’s story. But we get inundated with people that call and there’s no way it could possibly be involved with this.”
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Cook-Morrissey, 10, and Collins, 8, were abducted near Meyers Lake in Evansdale on July 13, 2012. Cousins, their bodies were found five months later, on Dec. 5, 2012, in a wooded area 24 miles to the north in rural Bremer County at Seven Bridges Wildlife Area.
The case has held a high profile in northeast Iowa, an expected result when young children are involved.
The day IowaWatch spoke with Jensen on a visit to Evansdale he had met with a local resident who stopped by the police station with an idea she thought might help crack this case. Another theory, another lead to vet in what has been an arduous effort to get answers on what happened and a murderer off the streets.
“It frustrates me, it frustrates my department and anybody that’s working on it. I mean, we’d really like to have some answers,” Jensen said.
Investigators are keeping close to the vest anything they learn that helps them in the case are learning, they aren’t telling the public. The reason, Jensen said, is to keep the investigation clean. Investigators learn things that only the perpetrator knows and can use that information to find the right person.
Heather Collins, Elizabeth Collins’ mother, said she and her husband, Drew Collins, want answers, too, but are fine with how investigators are doing their work.
“That guy’s going to be the only one to know how they murdered my daughter and niece,” Heather Collins said. “So we asked them (investigators) not to put out how they (the girls) were killed.”
It’s a lesson learned from another high-profile abduction and murder of a young person – Evelyn Miller, 5, who was abducted July 1, 2005, and later found in Floyd County, in northern Iowa. The big break in that case came when the convicted killer, Casey Frederiksen, told fellow prisoners in jail while serving time for child pornography details about the death that had not been made public.
Frederiksen, a live-in boyfriend of Evelyn’s mother, was convicted earlier this year of first-degree murder and first-degree sexual abuse in Miller’s death.
DEALING WITH REALITY
Coping with the loss is a day-by-day experience, Heather Collins said. “My husband and I wake up and we just pray every day for answers and for God just to give us peace and calmness, and to guide us through the day. And to help our children get through another day without their sister because they honestly, truly miss her every day.”
The Collinses have three other children. The family has kept a high public profile with hopes that doing so will help find the killer or killer. They’ve learned lessons along the way, one of them while searching for the girls when they were missing in 2012.
“We paid a friend who has his pilot’s license to go up in the air to where a psychic said that they would be,” Heather Collins said. “They weren’t there. We’ve done that many times. And then all of a sudden we just came to the conclusion after maybe three months, we said, ‘no more psychics, we’re not listening to them.’”
The family has felt strong support from others, she said. “We are above and beyond blessed with support,” she said. “I am sure there are some haters out there. I am sure there are some people who go: ‘Oh, they’re doing this. Oh, they’re doing this again.’ Or, whatever. But you know what? It’s a small majority and that is not of my concern.
“People can think what they want. My husband and I are going do whatever we can to keep Lyric’s and Elizabeth’s name out there. And not just to keep their memory alive forever but to keep it out there that this case needs to be solved.”
Cook-Morrissey’s parents have been in the public eye, too, but in a negative way. Daniel Morrissey is serving a 90-year prison term with a mandatory 30 years for multiple drug offenses. Misty Cook-Morrissey is serving a 10-year prison term for selling methamphetamine in a separate case.
Investigators have not indicated whether or not the Morrisseys’ drug problems are a factor in the girls’ deaths.
The Collinses do not talk with the Morrisseys, Heather Collins said.
They weren’t close to begin with but the Morrisseys’ drug problems made things worse, she said. The Collinses, like police investigators, are aware of public speculation that the cousins’ deaths could be tied to the Morrisseys’ drug problems. Investigators have given no indication on whether or not those problems were a factor in the murders.
Heather Collins said she also knows of people speculating about the kind of focus investigators in the girls’ deaths should put on family members and criticism that includes how the Collinses appear when making public appeals for help in the case, she said.
“Especially when my daughter first went missing, I have always kept myself up, so hair, nails, heels, I’ve always been kept up to what I feel comfortable in. And, I didn’t stop. And the reason I did not stop was that they still were missing, for one.”
She said she wanted to see her daughter to see parents who were not beaten down by the abductor and who were pushing hard to find Elizabeth and Lyric, she said.
“We’ve met with several missing children that had been found. And they said that that was that thing that kept them alive because their captors would let them watch the news, to see their parents,” she said.
“And they were able to see their parents still fighting for them, but still the same that they always had been. They hadn’t changed in their appearance. And so, I did not do that.”
SIFTING THROUGH THE LEADS
For a while investigators considered whether or not notorious abductor and killer Michael Klunder was involved in the Evansdale murders. He was not, investigators concluded last year.
Klunder, who grew up in Kensett, had a history of abducting children and adult women before and after being paroled from prison in 2011. He committed suicide in 2013 after abducting two teenagers and killing one of them, Kathlynn Shepard, 15, of Dayton.
Investigators’ efforts to unlock information in this case led former Evansdale Police Chief Kent Smock, who since has been fired from the department, and lead DCI agent Mike Roehrkasse to go to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in Alexandria, Virginia, for advice in late January.
Jensen said Smock’s dismissal, which records show followed complaints from staff officers about his management style in general, did not hamper the investigation. “With the group of investigators that are in there, we’re all on the same page,” Jensen said.
“We can get right up to speed very quickly on the investigation because it’s not built around one person. Not one person has all the answers or has all the information.”
Investigators have said they think the killer or killers were familiar with the Meyers Lake area, Seven Bridges Wildlife Area and the children. Investigators also suspect that whoever did this might be following news accounts of the case.
The Iowa Department of Criminal Investigation is investigating but Evansdale police are deeply involved as well, Jensen said. “I try to avoid that term ‘cold case’ because we still are actively looking and pursing and scratching and trying to get every piece of information that we can to keep it active,” he said.
Jensen said he is looking for someone who saw something related to the crime but doesn’t realize it. That information could be one or a few pieces of a larger puzzle, he said. “The more information that we get the better off we are. It makes it go that much smoother if we can fill in all the blanks,” he said.
Filling in those blanks means considering everything, including information that police know isn’t even remotely connected to the case.
“We get a lot of leads,” Jensen said. “Will a lot of them go anywhere? Probably not. But still, you have to take the time to look at those, and think about them, and evaluate them to see if it’s important or if it’s not.
A LASTING MEMORIAL
Meyers Lake, in the area from were Lyric Cook-Morrissey and Elizabeth Collins were abducted, is a few blocks from the Evansdale Police Department. Since the girls’ deaths the city of Evansdale has turned a small island at the lake into a memorial called Angels’ Park Memorial Island.
The island is a memorial not only to the cousins but also to Evelyn Miller; Donnisha Hill, a 13-year-old Waterloo girl abducted in 2006 and found murdered in Illinois; and Lindsay Nichols, 22, murdered in March 2012 in Jesup by her boyfriend.
“This community took a hard hit back in 2012,” Tom Nichols, Lindsay Nichols’ father, said.
Tom Nichols, of Evansdale, spends his summer mornings watering the lawn at Angels’ Park. “Practically the last two-and-a-half summers I’ve been out here every day, trying to get this park together,” he said on a sunny mid-July morning.
“Not only my daughter but Lyric, Elizabeth, Donnisha, Evelyn, all these girls out here motivate me to keep this park going and to have a place for the community to come to. Hopefully they can find some peace and tranquility in their lives.
“This park is, basically, not just for the five girls represented here but for everyone’s angel.”
Nichols said he is gratified to know that people rallied to build the park, although some residents were opposed early in the process to removing a lot of trees on the island to make room for new landscaping. The park can be seen from Interstate 380.
“If you look at the pictures from back then to now I think we’re accomplished quite a feat,” Nichols said. “This place is a beautiful place.”
Heather Collins said Christian faith has been important to the Collinses the past three years, although not necessarily on a consistent level. “That’s the only way that we know how to deal with it, is to focus on Christ and let it be in his hands.”
There have been doubts, particularly last year, she said. “We kind of just were tired, no answers, no nothing. We just kind of fell in a slump. And our faith wasn’t where it always has been. And things don’t turn out good when that happens.
“We got back on track, you know, and it (Christian faith) is better than ever. So we’re just going to stay with what we know because when we do what we don’t know things kind of crumble.”
And closure? Gaining that seems impossible for Heather Collins.
“We will never have closure,” she said. “We will have an answer. We’ll have an answer to who did this to our niece and to our daughter.
“But how you have closure when someone did some horrific thing to your daughter, you know? There’ll never be closure until it’s our day to meet her up in heaven.”
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