Cerro Gordo County Iowa
Part of the IaGenWeb Project
10 S. Adams Avenue, Mason City, Iowa
July 20, 1994
John Joseph SNYDER, Jr. was born on November 13, 1992, the son of John SNYDER and Lisa SELLMANN.
After tornado sirens had went off on the evening of Tuesday, July 19, 1994, John Sr. briefly went outside to look at the storm that was passing through the area. Once back inside, he stayed up to watch television. John Jr. fell asleep in his father's bed. Around 11:15 p.m. John Sr. placed his blond-haired, blue-eyed son into his own bed.
Upon arising the following morning around 8 a.m., John Sr. went to the bathroom before checking on his son. The twenty-month-old was gone.
SNYDER said he hadn't heard anything after he went to bed but he did find two blue blankets in the hallway of the apartment building.
Police immediately launched a search in the surrounding area. They found the toddler's blue pajama bottoms and his diaper by Willow Creek, located approximately two blocks south of the SNYDER apartment.
The search continued on Thursday morning around 10 a.m. The dogs used during the search discovered the boy's body snagged on a tree stump near the north bank of Willow Creek, approximately one-half mile downstream from where the pajama bottoms and diaper had been found.
"Why did I have to put him back in his bed?" SNYDER tearfully asked police.
State Medical Examiner Tom BENNETT stated that the boy drowned but had sustained head injuries prior to drowning. An autopsy showed the child had sustained severe head injuries which included a fractured skull and jawbone, bruises and a cut to his lower lip prior to his drowning.
SNYDER, who had never been married to the toddler's mother, Lisa SELLMAN, was in the process of seeking full custody of the boy. He did not have a current address for SELLMAN and had already begun a Public Notice process.
Kay SNYDER of Mason City, the boy's grandmother, said that Lisa had recently moved to Illinois from Arizona. John Sr. later said that the police located Lisa in either Las Vegas or Arizona within a day or two of the boy's disappearance, but was unsure as to how or under what circumstances she was located.
Lt. Ron Vande WEERD said police have interviewed suspects in connection with the SNYDER baby's death, but have never been able to prove who did it.
In a Globe Gazette story published on June 18, 2000, Lt. Ron Vande WEERD of the Mason City Police Department said police interviewed suspects in connection with the SNYDER baby’s death, but were never able to prove who did it.
Vande WEERD began researching four unsolved cases in early 2000, including the John SNYDER Jr. murder. He assigned officers to work each case on a regular basis, asking them to re-interview witnesses, family members and any others that had been involved with the case.
Vande WEERD contacted retired police officers who'd worked the cases, but despite the painstaking work rummaging through boxes of old files and revisiting earlier contacts, none of the four cases — which also included Andy HATGES, Elgin STRAIT and Dillon LUNA — were ever solved.
Ten years later, in a Globe Gazette article published on June 27, 2010, Mason City Police Lt. Frank STEARNS said the department is always trying to find something they can pick up from a cold case file and move forward with it.
STEARNS said, "As technology changes, we look back into the case and see what may work now with technology that maybe didn’t 10, 20, 30 years ago."
Jim FOUNTAS, a former Mason City police officer who worked the SNYDER case and also helped search for the baby, retired in August 1994 after 30 years in law enforcement but told the Globe Gazette that having a case go cold affects not only the victim's family and friends, but law enforcement as well.
"You always feel bad," FOUNTAS told the Gazette. "You'd like to solve everything, but that's almost impossible. Once I retired I tried to forget a lot of that stuff. We had a lot of bad memories and a lot of good memories. Most of them were good,"
John Joseph SNYDER, Jr. was interred at Memorial Cemetery, Mason City, Iowa. His murder remains unsolved to this day.
Transcription by Sharon R. Becker, October of 2011
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