Cerro Gordo County Iowa
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Mason City, 4 N. Madison Avenue, Cerro Gordo County, Iowa
December 30, 1999
On December 30, 1999, fifty-year-old Gerald BEST was found stabbed to death in his apartment at 4 N. Madison Ave. in Mason City. Medical Examiner David SLOAN said that BEST'S throat had been slashed.
Although the Mason City Police Department and the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation interviewed dozens of people no arrests have ever been made in the case.
In a December 2002 interview with the Globe Gazette, BEST'S brother, Robert BEST, said he didn't feel as if police were doing anything, and didn't believe there wasn't enough evidence to make an arrest in the case.
"It looks to me like they're chasing petty thieves instead of looking for the person who killed my brother," BEST told the Gazette.
Lt. Ron Vande WEERD acknowledged Mason City police weren't working on the case full-time, but said they still considered it a high priority.
"We've interviewed a lot of people and followed up on a lot of leads. And we still get leads," he said.
Cerro Gordo County Sheriff Kevin PALS, the lead detective in the Gerald BEST case, told the Gazette in 2002 that when one investigates a homicide, it becomes personal. Lead Detective Kevin PALS, who left the Mason City Police Department in January 2001 become Cerro Gordo County Sheriff, told the Gazette he worked closely with DCI investigator Tom KEENAN on Gerald BEST'S case. PALS said he worked the case continually for several months and would still be working on it had he not changed jurisdiction.
"We have evidence that was left at the scene and the police know things that the public doesn't know," said PALS, who remains optimistic the case can still be solved.
Robert BEST, who was out of town at the time of his brother's murder, said he's conducted his investigation of sorts, and that he often share information with police. BEST said his brother was always good to people, and he believes his brother's generosity may have contributed to his death.
BEST also admitted that drugs may have been involved, and Vande WEERD said investigators had not ruled out that possibility.
MASON CITY - Few details surrounding the "suspicious death" of a Mason City man Thursday night are being released by the Mason City Police Department.
Gerald E. BEST, 50, was found dead in his apartment at 4 N. Madison Ave., at 10:50 p.m. Thursday under what police are calling "suspicious circumstances."
"We're investigating the case as a suspicious death," said Mason City Police Lt. Ron Vande WEERD. "But, we treat all those as if they are potential homicides."
An autopsy on BEST'S body was performed by the assistant medical examiner for Cerro Gordo County on Friday afternoon but police did not release the cause of death. However, a family member said he was told by police the cause of death was stab wounds.
"We're not releasing any information at this time to protect the integrity of the case," Vande WEERD said. "We're still in the preliminary stages of the investigation, and it's important that witnesses and the perpetrator don't know that we know what we do. That's an advantage for us."
Timothy BEST, 19, of Mason City, Gerald BEST'S youngest son, said he was told by police his father was stabbed. Timothy said he last saw his father on Wednesday when the two men had lunch at Burger King.
"He was a really nice guy," said Timothy. "He was there if you needed him. He was a loving father. He tried to help me as much as he could. I don't know why anyone would want to do that to him."
Timothy said his last words to his father were "I love you."
"I'm still in a state of shock," he said. "It angers me, and I'm hurting really bad inside right now. I always told him I loved him, and now, I wish I could have told him more."
Tara JONES, who lives in a house near BEST'S apartment, said Friday "there was a lot of activity" at the apartment the night of his death. She said, "lots of people go up there at all times of the night."
JONES said she is concerned for the safety of her three children, who live with her.
As to whether or not the people of Mason City should be concerned for their welfare, Vande WEERD said people "should use good judgment at all times - not just during an investigation like this."
The case continues to be investigated by the Mason City Police Department, the Division of Criminal Investigation and the Cerro Gordo County Medical Examiner's office.
MASON CITY - Mason City Police have confirmed that a Mason City man died as a result of knife wounds.
Authorities found Gerald BEST, 50, in his apartment at 4 N. Madison Ave. Thursday night. An autopsy on BEST'S body was performed Friday afternoon.
Police continue to refer to BEST'S death as "suspicious" and are not releasing any other details about the case.
Investigators from the Mason City Police Department and the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation are continuing to conduct interviews with neighbors, friends of Best and anyone else who may have knowledge about the case.
Anyone who have may have been in the area of State Street and North Madison Avenue between 5-11 p.m. Thursday and may have seen something is asked to contact the Mason City Police Department at (515) 421-3636 or Crimestoppers at 1 (800) 383-0088. A reward of up to $1,000 may be paid for information leading to an arrest of the person or persons responsible.
MASON CITY - "I've always found it ironic that he would lose his life here in Mason City and not in the jungle of Vietnam," Phillip SANCHEZ said of his friend, Gerald BEST.
SANCHEZ and BEST became friends while working for IMI Cornelius Inc. in 1989. They continued to visit when they bumped into each other on the streets after their employment there ended.
"I'd see him around and we'd stop and talk," said SANCHEZ. "He was an easy-going guy. A nice guy."
SANCHEZ said BEST took great pride in his military service in Vietnam.
"That always interested me," he said. "And he liked the fact that I was interested in it." SANCHEZ said BEST once showed him a magazine article about his military unit, which was nearly wiped out.
"I remember him being real proud when he showed me," SANCHEZ said.
Gerald BEST was one of seven children. He had three brothers and three sisters. A Mason City High School graduate, he enlisted in the Army in 1967, going to Vietnam just before his 18th birthday.
"He went to Vietnam in August," explained his younger brother, Robert BEST. "He was a member of the 173rd Airborne Division. In November, two-thirds of his company got wiped out. Gerald was shot in the hand."
Robert said the family was informed that Gerald was missing, and for nearly a week they didn't know his status.
"Five days later, he showed up in a Tokyo hospital," Robert said. "He finished his time in the service and went to Hawkeye Tech in Waterloo."
BEST received two Purple Hearts for his service in Vietnam.
Gerald returned to North Iowa to work as a welder. He had four children. Robert BEST said his older brother was a person who liked to help other people.
Prior to his death, Robert said Gerald had been having problems with strokes.
"A lot of people would stop in an check on him," Robert said. "And he was getting medical attention for it."
MASON CITY - Moments after hearing that his brother had been murdered, Robert BEST started asking questions about who could have done such a thing. In the days that followed, he thought of people his brother associated with and of things his brother had done. He walked the area near the apartment where his brother died.
Today, nearly three years later, he still hasn't found the answers.
Gerald BEST, 50, was found stabbed to death on Dec. 30, 1999, in his apartment at 4 N. Madison Ave. Medical Examiner David SLOAN, who conducted the autopsy, reported that Best's throat had been slashed.
In the days and months following the homicide, Lt. Ron Vande WEERD and investigators from the Mason City Police Department and the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation interviewed scores of people. But evidence to solve the case as not been found. No arrests have ever been made.
"I just don't feel like the police are doing anything," BEST said. "I was recently told by Lt. Vande WEERD that it's a cold case. It looks to me like they're chasing petty thieves instead of looking for the person who killed my brother. I don't believe there's not enough (evidence) for an arrest.
"Gerald was not a law-breaking no good," BEST said. "I don't want this case going to the back burner and staying there."
Vande WEERD said he understands the family's frustration. Someone they love has been murdered and they want justice.
"We're not working on it full time," Vande WEERD said. "But it is a high priority. We've interviewed a lot of people and followed up on a lot of leads. And we still get leads. If it's a lead that needs to be followed, it has been and will be followed."
Robert BEST was out of town on the night his brother was murdered, driving a friend to Des Moines, when their vehicle broke down. They spent some time at a casino, then spent the night in a hotel near Des Moines. He remembers having an eerie feeling that something wasn't right that night and the next morning when his friend received a call on his cellular phone.
"We were on the interstate by Ames when we got the call," Robert said. "My friend's grandmother said it was on the news at 6:30 that morning, that my brother was killed."
When he got back to town, there was yellow police tape around the house and investigators were working in the upstairs apartment.
"The only one I know for sure who ain't guilty is me," BEST said. "I've looked around and I've talked to people, but I'm not going to compromise the case."
Robert has conducted his own investigation of sorts. He said when he doesn't work on it for a while, his phone rings and people talk about the case. He said he often shares information with the police.
Robert is suspicious of what happened and has his own suspects. He believes his brother was good to a lot of people and it might have been his generosity that contributed to the death. He doesn't deny that drugs might have been involved.
Vande WEERD declined to share any specific details about the case, but said investigators have not ruled out the possibility that the murder may have been drug-related.
"When drugs are involved," Vande WEERD said, "things are more difficult. In all cases you start with a core of people close to the victim and move out. When it's drug related, there are sometimes people who have been in contact that people close to the victim don't know."
Cerro Gordo County Sheriff Kevin PALS was an investigator with the Mason City Police Department at the time of the murder. Vande WEERD assigned PALS as the department's lead investigator on the case.
"Initially, like in all cases, there was a team of investigators," PALS said. "The Division of Criminal Investigation crime scene team processed the scene and a lot of people worked on it."
PALS, who left the Mason City Police Department in January 2001 to become sheriff, worked closely with DCI investigator Tom KEENAN on the case. KEENAN was contacted, but declined comment, since the case remains under investigation.
"I thought the case progressed well," PALS said. "When you investigate a homicide, it becomes personal. You take ownership of the case because you learn everything you can about a person."
PALS said he worked on the case continually for several months.
"I would still be working on it if I hadn't changed jurisdiction," said PALS. "I know that work continues to be done. I have reviewed my notes and in fact, I have recently met with Lt. Vande WEERD and Tom KEENAN about the case."
PALS believes the case can be solved, even though it has been some time since the murder occurred.
"We have evidence that was left at the scene and the police know things that the public doesn't know," PALS said. "I'm still optimistic . . . it's a matter of finding that last piece of the puzzle."
BEST also believes someone knows something that could still break the case.
"There should be a lot of people that know things," he said. "I'm appalled at anybody who would not come forward with information about something this serious."
The Gerald BEST murder case became intertwined with the Jodi HUISENTRUIT missing persons case in September of 2011 when Mason City police officer Maria OHL was investigated by internal affairs on allegations of misconduct. OHL was fired August 4th, 2011 for allegedly mishandling information she had received involving the 1995 disappearance of KIMT-TV morning anchor HUISENTRUIT.
OHL reportedly received information from a street informant regarding police misconduct in the HUISENTRUIT case, which she had recorded, and consequently failed to immediately submit the recording in as evidence. OHL had implicted Mason City police officers in the HUSIENTRUIT disappearance and in the 1999 murder of Gerald BEST of Mason City. OHL claimed that Lt. Frank STEARNS, Lt. Ron Vande WEERD and former DCI agent Bill BASLER were involved in HUSIENTRUIT'S disappearance, and that Lt. Logan WERNET was involved in a coverup in connection with the BEST murder.
Both cases remain unsolved.
Mason City attorney Susan BERNAU called OHL'S allegations as being "outrageous." OHL was put on paid administrative leave, was examined by a psychologist who determined OHL was unfit or capable of being a police officer.
OHL's claims were that Rev. Shane PHILPOTT had received a telephone call from Donald MILK, a man from Minnesota, about the police misconduct and coverup, implicating STEARNS, Vande WEERD, BALER and WERNET. Included in the information was a claim that HUISENTRUIT was buried near a sawmill near Forest City.
OHLS held onto the information for three years before coming forward. She was terminated for violating several departmental rules which included misuse of evidence, withholding information in a criminal case and insubordination.
DCI issued a news release stating that there was no credible evidence that linked police officer or DCI agents in the HUISENTRUIT case.
OHL filed claims of sexual discrimination, religious discrimination and retaliation against the Mason City Police Department with the Mason City Human Rights Commission and filed a subsequent lawsuit in federal district court in 2010. She claimed that she was subjecto to an ongoing harassment and discriminatory treatment because of her gender and had been denied training and promotion opportunities. Additionally, OHL claimed that she had been repeatedly subjected to inappropriate behavior which included a male officer pointing an unloaded gun at her head and pulling the trigger, and several instances of lewd language and gestures.
OHL is the sister-in-law of Rev. PHILPOTT, pastor of the Christian Fellowship Church. The church was awarded early in 2011 nearly $85,000 in a settlement of a suit against Mason City. The suit claimed that Lt. LASHBROOK and Lt. Logan WERNET had made damaging remarks about the church, leading to an Internal Revenue Service investigation of the church's financial records. PHILPOTT and the church were cleared of any wrongdoing.
PHILPOTT claimed that he personally
called the Mason City Police Department with the information, taling to both STEARNS and Vande WEEDE on July 3rd or 5th
in 2007. Investigation revealed that neither officer had been working on either of those dates.
Gerald BEST'S murder remains unsolved to this day.
Transcription by Sharon R. Becker, October of 2011
Gerald BEST'S murder remains unsolved to this day.
Transcription by Sharon R. Becker, October of 2011
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