Excerpt: In Cold Storage

The following is an excerpt from In Cold Storage: Sex and Murder on the Plains (Bison Books, 2015) by James W. Hewitt.

Located in the remote and hilly land north and west of Cambridge, Nebraska, in the southwestern quarter of the state is Harry Strunk Lake, a mecca for Nebraska fishermen. The lake, a Bureau of Reclamation flood-control reservoir, is near the southern edge of Frontier County and is a bright spot in an otherwise lonely and rugged landscape.

On Wednesday, October 3, 1973, a strong wind pushed waves across the lake and up onto the rocks that covered the face of Medicine Creek Dam. Dean McQuiety, a farmer from near Cambridge who loved to fish, was walking along the dam that day looking for carp. As he neared the west end of the dam, he spotted something in the water. Looking closer, he saw a human foot bobbing against the rocks. Alarmed, McQuiety scanned the area. Seeing no one and nothing out of the ordinary, he bent down and gingerly pulled the foot out of the water. Leaving the disturbing find on the rocks, he hurried to the lake office of Tim Jackson, the lake supervisor, with the news of the macabre discovery. McQuiety waited nervously while Jackson telephoned the Bureau of Reclamation office in McCook, twenty-five miles to the southwest, and the Frontier County Sheriff ’s Office in Curtis, some thirty miles to the north, advising them both of the discovery.

While they awaited the arrival of the sheriff, Jackson and McQuiety returned to the lake to search the area. As they walked along the dam, Jackson saw an object in the water and pulled it onto the rocks. It was the right arm of a female, with the hand attached. On the third finger of the hand was a ring studded with five varicolored stones.

Sheriff Lannie Roblee of Frontier County soon arrived at the lake and was shortly thereafter joined by two of his deputies. Sgt. Merle Divis of Holdrege, a member of the Nebraska State Patrol’s Criminal Investigation Section, and Robert Lochenour, a mortician from Cambridge, also arrived at the lake to assist in the investigation. Robert Sawdon, a private investigator from Lincoln, also joined the group. Sawdon had been hired a few days earlier by the family of Edwin and Wilma Hoyt of Culbertson, who had been missing from their home since September 23.

The men spent the late afternoon scouring the area. They discovered additional human remains on the rocks of the dam, in the water in front of the dam, and along the shoreline. The searchers compiled a grisly inventory:

  1. Right breast (female).
  2. Left foot (apparently female).
  3. A large piece of skin, approximately four inches by seven inches with what appeared to be a bullet hole in it. The hole was edged with black, which appeared to be powder.
  4. Right lower forearm and hand (female), with a ring on the third finger containing five varicolored stone.
  5. A part of the right pelvic bone (apparently female).
  6. Lower half of a femur (sex not known).
  7. Left breast, six ribs, and part of a sternum (female).
  8. Upper half of a lower leg, from just below the knee to the ankle (sex not known).
  9. Left lower forearm and hand (female), with an engagement ring and a wedding band on the third finger.

 

One of Roblee’s deputies took numerous photographs of each body part and the location in which each part was found. Dusk arrived around 6:00 p.m., and the search was called off until the next day.

Robert Lochenour removed the sodden and severed remains to his mortuary in Cambridge. As he unpacked the findings from the lake, Sergeant Divis took fingerprint impressions of the fingers on both the left and right hands and removed the rings, marking them as evidence. Dr. C. G. Gross, a Cambridge physician, arrived at the mortuary to assist in identifying the various body parts, and the three men carried out a thorough examination of the disturbing collection. The piece of skin with the apparent bullet hole elicited a great deal of attention. The sheriff ’s deputy photographed the skin, along with the other body parts, as they were laid out on a table in the mortuary’s embalming area. Those present speculated that the hole indicated a gunshot wound, and it was measured in an effort to determine the gun’s caliber.

Grass, milkweed seeds, cockleburs, and other foreign matter were found on several of the parts, consistent with immersion in a lake in an agricultural area. Fibrous matter on the left forearm and the hand bearing the engagement and wedding rings indicated that the part might have been wrapped in paper, according to Dr. Gross; the material was bagged as evidence by a deputy. After examining the body parts, Dr. Gross stated that dissection had taken place after death as there was no indication of any blood in the veins at the location of the cuts.

All those present were stunned at their findings. This had been no accident. This was the work of a monster. What sort of fiend was loose in southwestern Nebraska?

 

Read more about this true crime story here.