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Gone Cold: Exploring Iowa’s unsolved murders

October 5, 2015
Estherville News

This is a weekly feature highlighting some of Iowa's unsolved homicides in the hopes that it will lead to new tips and potentially help solve cases. The project is a partnership between this newspaper and other members of the Iowa Newspaper Association.

Lisa Ann Vander Esch | AGE: 19 | DIED: SEPT. 14 1982

Hometown: Ireton

Article Photos

Lisa Vander Esch, 19, was killed by a bullet to the head on Tuesday, September 14, 1982, while playing with her 16-month-old son in her rural Ireton home's back yard. Her shooter's identity was never in question. Lisa's husband, Darwin Vander Esch - a man well trained in gun safety who'd been hunting and trapping since age 5 - told investigators his rifle accidentally discharged. Not all investigators believed the "accidental shooting" story; evidence suggested the homicide may have been a murder. Investigation into the incident was likely hampered due to bitter infighting in the county. The county attorney never received reports from law enforcement, subsequent Grand Jury records disappeared from the county courthouse, and many questions remain unanswered in the case. Anyone with information about Lisa Vander Esch's suspected homicide is urged to contact Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation Special Agent in Charge Darrell Simmons at (712) 322-1585 or email Find out more about this and other unsolved homicides at



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