That Weird Thing Your Uncle Said aka The Unsolved Double Homicide at the Amana Inn
Hello, I’m Rebekkah Rosewood and this is Thrice Cursed.
Once again, it’s been a little while since my last episode, and I appreciate the heck out of your patience. The last episode I did on Gary Lee Schaefer was honestly a really tough one for me, but probably the episode I’m most proud of. That episode took so much work, but I’m going to try doing more like that going forward. In addition to emotionally recovering from that one, I really had to sit and assess my podcast on a deeper level. Lately, there has been a lot of discussion in the true crime community about the excessive amount of true crime podcasts, and what they contribute. Do all of these podcasts hinder or help people? And more specifically, do they harm the families of victims?
Obviously, the last thing I would ever want is to cause more pain or distress to anyone, especially those who have already suffered such a horrific kind of loss. So, because of all this, I took a break to assess where I felt I sat in that regard. Sure, when I discuss cases, I do so respectfully, and I do my best to give voices to the victims, who can no longer advocate for themselves or tell their own story, but is it really helpful?
I’m not too sure where I fall, honestly. But in an effort to be better, and do more, I’m restructuring a little. I will still continue to cover true crime, obviously, as well as the occasional paranormal story. But, I’m hoping to start covering more unsolved cases, in hopes that maybe one day families can get the answers and closure they’ve been seeking. As always, I will attempt to focus on the more obscure, lesser known cases to get coverage for those who have been forgotten by the public. It’s my hope that I can contribute to the good side of true crime, as opposed to the dark, or malicious side.
Keeping in mind, of course, that because these cases are unsolved, and they’re lesser known, some may have minimal or limited information, which means I may end up doing 2 or 3 cases per episode, or 2 or 3 small episodes per week that week. I haven’t fully worked it all yet, but all of this is to say that changes are a’comin’.
If like me you have Hagrid in your head saying “There’s a storm comin’ ‘arry. Ye best be ready when she does,” then… you’re welcome and also sorry. Anywhozzles, onto the case! This is unsolved, so perk up your pretty little ears and listen close. You never know what small detail may remind you of that weird thing Uncle Ben said at a barbecue one year that had no context but now makes SO much sense.
Shame on you, Uncle Ben! We’re comin’ for ya with the cuffs!
In 1980, Roger Atkison lived in the small town of St. Joseph, Missouri with his wife, Marcella Shat, and their daughter. To those who knew him, Roger was described as a devout member of Kings Hill Baptist Church. He sang in the choir, taught Sunday school, and drove and repaired the church bus. Marcella, who was also extremely devout, met Roger in a youth fellowship when they were teenagers.
Devout as he was, Roger had a secret. Roger was seeing a younger woman on the side. You see, Roger worked as a telephone installer and repairman for the General Telephone Company. According to an article released in The Gazette, Roger was notorious for installing phones incorrectly in the homes of women he found desirable. This would give him the opportunity to return to the home and make an impression on the women. On one such job, he installed a phone for a 22-year-old woman, Rose Burkert. From there, the two began to see one another.
Rose worked as a nurse-in-training at the Methodist Hospital in St. Joseph, and had a 2-year-old daughter, named Raechal. On Wednesday, September 10th, 1980, Raechal was left with a friend of Rose’s from work, Shirley Robertson. Rose had worked with Shirley for 2 years at the nursing home, and felt comfortable leaving her daughter with her while Rose and Roger went away for a romantic weekend getaway.
According to Shirley, Rose planned to meet Roger in the northeast Missouri town of Kahoka, where he had been on a work assignment. When Rose arrived at his motel, she registered as Atkison’s wife. On Friday, the couple drove Rose’s blue, 4-door 1977 Chevrolet Malibu along Hwy 218 and Interstate 80 sometime between 5 and 7:30pm, making their way to the Amana Holiday Inn. The hotel sat just off of Interstate 80.
Despite the amount of effort you would think goes into having an affair, this trip wasn’t entirely planned out. Upon their arrival at the hotel, they were informed by the front desk attendant that the hotel had actually been booked solid due to a mortician’s conference nearby. --Of all the things, truly. Despite the knowledge that the hotel had no vacancies, the attendant checked again. You never know.
As fate, or luck, or misfortune would have it, there had been a cancellation. One room was available. At 7:40pm on Friday, September 12th, 1980, Rose and Roger were handed the key to room 260. This room was the furthest room from the front desk. Not much is known about their time at the hotel. What we do know is that at 8pm, Rose called Shirley, presumably to check on her daughter. Shirley was working and unable to answer the call, however, and called back at 8:30pm. This call from Shirley went unanswered.
The following day, Rose and Roger missed their checkout window, and around 1pm, one of the housekeepers knocked on their door. She’d been doing her daily housekeeping sweep, and had come to room 260. The door was locked, and she received no response when knocking. She went to the hotel manager, Dean Morse, to get a passkey. After letting herself into the room, the housekeeper noticed the feet of the rooms’ occupants in bed.
Initially, she believed the occupants had likely just slept past checkout, and stepped further into the room. What she saw as she got closer would likely haunt her forever. She had just walked into the most grisly crime scene that small town had ever seen.
Blood was splattered across the room. The headboard, walls, and carpet were covered in blood. She’d seen enough, and slammed the door shut before running for the manager. Dean went to the room and confirmed what she had seen, then called the Iowa County Sheriff’s Department.
Investigators arrived shortly after, and headed straight for room 260. The scene they encountered was far more gruesome than they had imagined. Both Rose and Roger remained in bed, wrapped in the hotel’s comforter. Rose had been face up, while Roger remained face down. Rose had been fully clothed, and Roger in only his boxer shorts.
Both had suffered repeated blows to the back of their heads. Several of Roger’s fingers had been severed or injured, in an obvious attempt to defend himself from the attack. The injuries to his hand went from the tops of his hand inward, indicating that he had been lying face down on the bed at the time of the attack. Rose had no defense wounds on her hands, but did have several wounds on her shoulder.
In all, Rose had a total of 12 wounds, to Roger’s 7. Iowa County Medical Examiner Dr. Stacy Howell said that both Rose and Roger died of acute blood loss and brain injuries. Roger had lacerations to the scalp, skull, and brain, while Rose suffered lacerations to the scalp and skull, and a brain contusion. --And I know we hear the word contusion all the time in true crime and crime fiction, but I honestly had no idea what it meant. So, I figured I’d clarify in case there are any other ignoramuses out there, like myself! A contusion is a type of bruise. When speaking specifically to the brain, it occurs when small blood vessels leak into the brain tissue. A contusion will cause bleeding and swelling inside of the brain around the area where the head was struck. Contusions occur in only 20-30% of severe head injuries.-- Both suffered bleeding under the brain covering.
The room, which was only accessible from within the building, showed no signs of forced entry, indicating that either the victims had let their killer into the room willingly, or that the couple had left their room unlocked. Two chairs had also been pulled out from the table in the room, and sat next to the bed, as though the killer, or killers sat and had a conversation with the couple prior to murdering them. The couple’s belongings appeared to have almost been ransacked through, but not much appeared to have been missing. Items from Roger’s wallet had been taken out and strewn across the floor.
Evidence in the room also told investigators that the killer had put their feet up on the desk at one point, carved a piece of soap, and wrote a message on the mirror with the soap. All but the word “this” had been wiped away. The original investigator in the case, Lt. Robert Horton, believed that maybe the killer had had enough and was trying to get authorities to help him through that note. Unknown male DNA had been taken from a towel smeared with blood in the bathroom. The final strange piece of evidence came in the form of toothpaste squeezed out into the bathtub. It was also noted that the television had been left on during and after the murder.
Authorities questioned upwards of 500 people in an attempt to find anyone with ties to the crime, or information that could point them in the right direction. If you’ll remember, there was a mortician’s convention going on at the time, and the hotel was completely packed. All of the guests at the hotel, as well as the employees had been interviewed, which Iowa County Sheriff William Spurrier said was no small task. People had traveled from all over to attend the convention, and they all had to be contacted. Some were in California, Wisconsin, Virginia, Indiana, Illinois, Minnesota, Wyoming, Iowa, Missouri, and Kansas. Despite this massive effort, it seemed that they were no closer to catching the killer. Included in this first round of interviews were also those close to Rose and Roger, though I couldn’t find too much information on what those interviews looked like. Which makes sense considering it’s an unsolved case.
Though law enforcement continued to work every possible angle they could find, the investigation seemed to be at a stand-still. The DNA from the towel had no matches on file, and the families and friends of Rose and Roger, as well as the investigating officers were all extremely frustrated. One witness thought they had seen a third person riding with Rose and Roger when they had stopped for gas on their way to Amana, and another thought he might have seen a car following them out of Missouri. These tips also led nowhere.
In September of 1981, Quad-City Times released a report detailing what investigators knew at the time. This report indicated that investigators were aware of another murder with similarities to this one. On June 25th, 1980, a 25-year-old-man named William R. Kyle Jr. had been bludgeoned to death in his hotel bed at the Sheraton Motor Inn in Galesburg, IL. This hotel also sat just off of a major highway, and was only about 130 miles away from Amana Holiday Inn. Gerald Shanahan, director of the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation stated, “There are some similarities that can’t be overlooked.” Though, at the time, Shanahan refused to speak on said similarities, insisting that state law prohibited him from discussing the investigation. A search warrant issued in the Kyle case, however, declared that Kyle had died of wounds similar to those that had killed Rose and Roger, and that the wounds were inflicted with a similar instrument.
Nothing much seemed to happen in the case between that September, and November of 1982. That is until Wednesday the 17th when an article was published in The Gazette. Over that previous weekend, news stations went wild with reports that a prison escapee had confessed to 33 murders. Bruce A. Davis, 34, had been arrested in West Virginia that October after having escaped from the Menard Maximum Security Penitentiary in Illinois. According to West Virginia authorities, Bruce had wanted to “get it off his chest.” Officers did spend some time seeing if they could connect the dots between Davis and the Amana Inn murders, though I’m not sure I understand why.
Davis had been arrested for murdering a Washington DC businessman in February of 1972. In 1979 he had been transferred to the Illinois state prison at Menard, where he eventually escaped in October of 1982. All of this to say that the bitchfish was in jail during the murder of Rose and Roger, and as far as I’m concerned, that’s a pretty air-tight alibi. That’s as much detail as I’m going to go into on Davis, as he no longer has any bearing on this case going forward, but if you’d like to hear about him in a future episode, send me an email!
The next potential break in the case came in May of 1983. A 53-year-old drifter named Richard Martin Clark told authorities that he had information on up to 16 murders in the midwest. Authorities were given a map by Clark on Tuesday May 3rd that led to the discovery of a body in a shallow grave near Davenport. Clark, who at the time was awaiting trial for the rape and murder of an 11-year-old girl from St. Joseph, told authorities he could lead them to other bodies in the Midwest. Iowa County Sheriff Jim Slockett told The Gazette “We are very interested in [Clark]. There are other things we found out, not through the FBI.” He then went on to say that he and a deputy had traveled to St. Joseph recently to get more information on Clark’s possible connection to the double homicide at Amana. Slockett’s office joined in on the investigation when he believed that the DCI and the FBI weren’t making any progress. He then threw some serious shade their way and said, “My opinion is that the only thing the DCI is good for is to give press releases.” So… woof. Once again though, this lead went absolutely nowhere. Not for this case, anyway.
With all of these leads not panning out, the locals were left to speculate wildly. And speculate they did.
Many suspected that Rose Burkert’s ex-boyfriend, Danny Burton, may have been responsible. Prior to her relationship with Roger, Rose had kicked Burton out of her home due to his alleged drug abuse. Rose’s friend, Tammy Burkman, stated that in the weeks prior to her murder, Burton had been stalking Rose. According to Burkman, Rose’s ex would leave notes on her car, saying that she wasn’t going to just walk away from him. And he would sit with his friend in a brown van down the road from her house, just watching her. Sometimes they would follow her. 2 to 3 weeks before she was killed, Rose went to the police and told them that if something were to happen to her, Danny Burton was responsible. However, according to police, Danny Burton had a confirmed alibi for the night of September 12th, 1980, and he had passed a polygraph test. I could find no mention of what this alibi was. Also, for those of you that like to google cases after you hear about them, there are sources out there that will tell you that Rose bought a dog to protect her from Burton. This is true. What isn’t true, however, are the sources that allege that Burton butchered the dog and hung it in front of Rose’s home. I know for a fact this isn’t true, because on October 29th, 1980, shortly after Rose’s murder, a news report was published about the German Shepherd having been lost or stolen from a screened in porch. This clearly isn’t super important to the case, but I’m all about setting the facts straight, and accusing someone of murdering a dog to make them seem like a more compelling person of interest is some straight-up bullshit. I’m not here for it.
Police also looked into the bartender that the Amana Holiday Inn had on staff. He’d been living in his truck in the Amana parking lot while working in the motel. He aroused suspicion because the day after the murders, he simply vanished. He didn’t even pick up his paycheck, just got the fuck out of dodge. So if he was the murder, not at all subtle about it. His truck was later located in Iowa City having been abandoned, only adding to the suspicion that he may have been responsible. Investigators soon learned that the bartender had traveled to North Carolina where he joined the Army, but by the time they figured this out, he was overseas in Germany. When he finally returned to the US, authorities were able to interview him, and after 9 tries, investigators were able to conclude that the bartender had passed polygraph testing. When asked why he disappeared so abruptly, the bartender insisted he had fled due to an overwhelming fear that his lifestyle and living out of his pickup truck would implicate him in the murders.
They also briefly considered Roger’s coworkers. Men at the telephone company often carried machetes to clear away tall grass where they worked. They also would have likely known about Roger’s weekend plans, giving them ample opportunity. However, there was no discernable motive.
One poorly fleshed out theory came in the form of cultist groups. At the time of the murders, there had been reports of cattle mutilations in Iowa. These were attributed to unknown cultist groups. Authorities apparently told the News-Press at the time that “the ultimate goal of these groups was human sacrifice.” Were that the case, I suppose it’s plausible that maybe they finally made the jump to murder. Though it’s highly unlikely.
Another theory that came about was far more complicated. Roger Atkison was related to a serial killer. Through his wife, Marcella, Roger was tied to Charles Ray Hatcher. Charles Hatcher was Marcella’s uncle on her father’s side, and more notably, he was a serial killer who confessed to having murdered 16 people between 1969 and 1982. Many believed that Charles was in town, and had set his sights on the husband of his niece. This makes no sense for 2 reasons. 1, aside from one 26-year-old Hatcher murdered while in prison, Hatcher’s victims were children: young boys, specifically. And 2, despite having escaped from the Norfolk Regional Center, a mental health facility, in September of 1980, police determined that Hatcher had been working in a restaurant in Omaha, Nebraska under the alias of Richard Clark. He was arrested as Richard Clark on October 9th of 1980 in Nebraska. There’s obviously a lot more depth to Charles Ray Hatcher and his crimes, but again that’s not why we’re here. So, if you’d like me to do an entire episode on Hatcher, again, send me an email. I’m all for giving you what you want, so I have to know what you want.
A more plausible theory in the murder of Rose Burkert and Roger Atkison was that his wife, Marcella Shat, had them killed. Keep in mind that when I say more plausible, I mean less outlandish than a convicted child killer traveling 247 miles, targeting an adult that’s done him no harm, then stalking them for an additional 330 miles or so before bludgeoning them to death solely to get back at his family for some slight.
As we all know, with any crime, the first people you’re going to look at are those closest to the victim, and those with a motive. In this case, Marcella would have had a motive. Here her husband was, telling her he was on a work trip, only to be on this romantic getaway with another, younger woman. That alone would be enough to send some women over the edge, but she’s also a devout Christian who doesn’t believe in divorce. According to Larry (LJ) Atkison, one of Roger’s 6 siblings, Marcella had stopped by his home the day prior to Roger’s murder, and uncharacteristically broke down. Larry has since wondered if she knew that day that something was going to happen to Roger. He’s also stated that Roger had asked for divorce before. Each time he did, Marcella allegedly pulled out her bible, and would point to passages that declared divorce a sin. LJ and his wife Elizabeth described Marcella as extremely overbearing, while Roger was a mellow, mild, and sensitive man.
With that kind of motive, it seems logical that authorities would focus their investigation on her. But then we have to go back to the crime scene. Think back to the bathroom. There was unknown DNA on a towel belonging to a man. So maybe Marcella wanted Roger dead, but wasn’t up to the task herself. Perhaps she had someone help her. LJ spent 40 years convinced that Marcella, with the help of her father, Floyd Hatcher, carried out the brutal murders. He pointed to the several details in the crime scene to flesh out his theory.
This next bit will be spoken in a story-telling nature, but all of this is a theory. Tack on a GIIIIIIAAAANNNNTTTTT "alleged" because we’re in SPECULATION MODE from LJ’s perspective.
According to LJ, in the murders of Rose and Roger, Mike Hale was partially to blame. You see, Mike was responsible for getting Roger his job at the General Telephone Company. Now, a lot can be said for company culture. This company, according to LJ, had almost a frat guy kind of culture. My words, not his. But basically, all of the guys at this company had flings on the side, and fooled around outside of their committed relationships. And all of them knew about Roger and Rose. Over the years, it also became believed that anyone who knew Roger and Rose well knew that Roger had been cheating on his wife, and that they had spent several days together in Kahoka, with the intention of spending an additional weekend together in Amana. This long list of people included Mike Hale. In an interview with Paul Holes in The DNA of Murder, LJ said, ”Mike had all the information, and knew where he was gonna be.” He believed that Marcella went to Mike, suspecting Roger of being unfaithful. Mike told Marcella enough, that she knew he was having an affair, and knew what hotel he would be doing it at. She then went to her father, Floyd Hatcher. Hatcher was known for being an hot-headed alcoholic with a temper, though Marcella said he was always a good father to her. So it stands to reason that maybe Marcella told her father about her predicament. Her husband was being unfaithful, but as a good Christian woman she couldn’t get a divorce. Heart-broken, trapped, and furious, she enlisted her father to confront her deceitful husband.
The two arrive at the hotel and knock on the door. Roger is shocked that his wife is there, but he’s been caught red-handed. What is he going to do, just not answer and hope she goes away? That would never work, so obviously he lets her in. She just wants to talk, she says. But, she’s brought back up. Perhaps Floyd had a gun as the couple was instructed to lay face down on the bed. Marcella was angry and hurt and couldn’t look her husband in the eyes, and definitely didn’t want to look at the woman he chose to betray their marriage with. No, she couldn’t look at them, but she could preach to her husband. So Floyd and Marcella took a seat in the chairs next to the bed. She recited passage after passage about the sanctity of marriage, but it wasn’t enough. Roger refused to give in. So, she had Floyd kill them. Of course her target was Roger, but she couldn’t leave a witness. And who was Rose to get in the way of her happily ever after?
Or maybe Floyd went off book, and Marcella simply wanted to recite scripture to Roger and persuade him to come back to the sanctity of their marriage. Either way, the result was the same. 2 people died in a vicious attack in a hotel room.
It sounds plausible, right? But Marcella swears to this day that she had no idea Roger was having an affair. Sure, he’d seemed off in the final years of their marriage, but she didn’t immediately jump to an affair. Nor would she have wanted him killed. Surprisingly, Marcella actually believed her father may have been responsible. She thought that maybe her father had somehow learned of the affair, and thought he was doing her a favor by taking Roger out of the equation. She never asked him, but always feared it was a possibility. That is, until 2019 when Paul Holes became involved in the case.
For those of you that have no clue who this guy with a name that brings to mind an adolescent Shia LaBeouf is, I’ll give you a little bit of background. Paul is a recently retired cold case investigator who spent over 20 years working for law enforcement in Contra Costa County, California. Paul has worked on cases like The Zodiac Killer, Laci Peterson, Jaycee Dugard, and probably most notably, The Golden State Killer. He was a large part of the team responsible for the capture of Joseph DeAngelo. He also has a podcast called Jensen & Holes: The Murder Squad where they go through various cold cases and attempt to solve the crime. When we’re done here, you should check it out. It's seriously bananas good.
So, Paul Holes became interested in the case, and lended his expertise to the agencies working to solve it. It’s through this intervention that we get to, in my opinion, the most plausible theory.
Paul posits that this wasn’t a crime of passion at all. No one directly involved with Rose or Roger was responsible. Instead, it was an unfortunate, random killing, that would have just as easily been someone else had that cancellation not been made. So now I’ll get into why he thinks that, and why it makes sense.
To begin his investigation, partnered with retired Las Vegas crime scene investigator Yolanda McClary, Paul first visited the room where the crime took place, crime scene photos in hand. He made note of the fact that room 260 was the furthest room from the front desk, and unlike every other room in the hotel, only had one neighbor. He also noted that Amana Holiday Inn had an interesting décor theme in 1980. Because Amana was a small farming town, the décor happened to be old farming implements. This stood out, because that meant that the killer could have easily grabbed a hatchet or an ax off the wall of the hotel to carry out the murder.
The pair noted that Rose had more wounds than Roger, potentially indicating that she may have been the primary target. However, could it have meant something else? Focusing more closely on the way particular blows landed, they soon began to believe that this was less about who the target was, and more about efficiency. The killer likely stood over Roger as they murdered him, bringing the weapon down directly on him. They then stood in the same place as they murdered Rose. This means whoever the killer was, was having to reach across Roger to get to Rose, meaning the blows would likely have less force behind them. Is it possible that the killer didn’t have more rage towards one vs. the other, but simply needed to inflict more damage upon the victim that was further away to effectively “neutralize” her, as Paul put it?
He also paid close attention to the disarray of the couple’s items in the room. It seemed as though someone had ransacked the items, but didn’t really take much of anything. He also noted that Rose’s wallet appeared perfectly untouched on the bed next to her body, while Roger’s wallet had been emptied of all items. Every single card, photo, or anything else that had been in the wallet, had been almost meticulously taken out, seemingly one by one. This led Paul to believe that the killer hadn’t sat with the couple prior to their murder. Instead, he sat there afterwards, soaking in the reality of what he’d just done. Paul likened it to playing God. He sat there thinking, “I’ve just taken your lives. I made the decision that I was going to end your lives, and I did this.”
The type of killer that does this is more rare than a lover scorned or a burglary gone wrong. This is someone who takes a sick sort of pleasure in what they’ve done.
So after going through Roger’s wallet, he cleans up the scene a little. The killer turned Rose over after the deed was done, but left Roger face down. He then covered the two with the hotel’s comforter, taking extra care to ensure that Rose was meticulously covered up. This suggests that the killer likely felt some remorse after the fact. Not for Roger, necessarily, but for Rose. This was a lady, and she deserved to be covered up.
He then went to the bathroom, cleaned himself up, and squeezed some toothpaste out into the tub. Everything but the toothpaste seemed to make sense to the duo, so with the crime scene fully investigated, they moved on to the next step. They poured over the case files once more, and found the additional case I briefly mentioned earlier. That’s right, the murder of William R. Kyle Jr. in Galesburg, IL. Partnering with the investigative team on that case, Paul dug into William’s murder as well.
The murder of William R. Kyle Jr. took place on June 25th, 1980, 10 weeks prior to the murders of Rose and Roger, just 130 miles away at the Sheraton Motor Inn in Room 217. Like the Amana Holiday Inn the Sheraton was right off a major freeway. Also similar to the murder of Rose and Roger, the room appeared to have been ransacked, and blood splattered the walls. Once again, no one had seen or heard anything out of the ordinary. The murder weapon also appeared to have been the same.
The crime scenes were similar, in that there was no forced entry to the room, and William had been lying face down on the bed at the time of his murder. It differed though, in that William’s body was only half on the bed. He had been dragged from where he was slain, leaving his torso flat against the bed, stomach-down, and his legs, off the bed, knees on the ground. He too was covered by the comforter, but only partially. At the scene, a chair had been pulled out near the bed, and his wallet had also been meticulously emptied onto the floor. In this instance, the killer dropped something. A nail trimming kit had been left at the scene. And finally, there was toothpaste at the scene. Toothpaste had been squirted onto the carpet next to the victim’s leg. Lt. Horton spoke with a psychiatrist in regards to the significance of the toothpaste at the scene. He was informed that heroin addicts often experience sexual impotence, and will sometimes use a tube of toothpaste as almost a replacement. The squirting of the toothpaste functions as an -- and I apologize for the words I'm about to say, truly--“ejaculation simulation.”
This made a lot of sense, as in the William Kyle murder, they actually had a suspect. A man by the name of Raymundo Esparza looked perfect for the crime. Esparza was a veteran, and a drifter in his 50s, who was a drug addict, and alcoholic, who had been seen by 3 witnesses at the hotel restaurant at the same time as Kyle, carrying either a tool belt or tool bag from his work on a sugar cane farm in Mississippi.
Upon digging into Esparza’s past, a profile of a very violent man began to emerge. He had a criminal record for violent offenses, though I could unfortunately find no clarification on what that record entails. For the murder of William Kyle, a case was built against Raymundo Esparza. Unfortunately, it was based solely on circumstantial evidence, and was therefore never tried. Probably the most damning piece of circumstantial evidence came in the form of the nail trimming kit left at the scene. It was traced to a manufacturer in Europe, that had issued those specific clippers to a blood bank in California, where they were given away over a two-week period. They weren’t issued anywhere else in the US. --And I swear, I didn’t know that this case had anything to do with California until like 5 days into my research. This was purely accidental.
Esparza had been in the area at the time, where he was receiving treatment for unknown mental illness. Based on all of this information, Horton sought out an arrest warrant, but the state’s attorney denied the request, citing lack of evidence. Meanwhile, Esparza was interviewed by Lt. Horton for 12 hours. In an interview with Paul Holes, he said that every time he felt Esparza was about to crack, he would suddenly just stop talking. This lack of a confession, paired with the denied arrest warrant forced authorities to let him go. From there, the case went cold, only to be re-opened in 2008. Despite the fact that Esparza had died in 1983, they were determined to finally get an answer to the question of who murdered William Kyle.
Due to advancements in DNA technology, Galesburg police felt hopeful that they would finally be able to prove Esparza’s guilt, and they seemed to have caught a lucky break. The hospital where Esparza’s autopsy had been done still had his DNA on file 25 years later. Unfortunately, the DNA collected was beyond use. It had disintegrated to such a degree that there would have been no way to make a conclusive match. By 2008, despite having no concrete, clinching proof, police considered the case to be closed. Everything else seemed to point towards Esparza.
Fast forward to 2019 when Paul Holes connected the murder of Rose and Roger to the murder of William Kyle.
While going through William’s file, Paul once again noticed something. In William’s file was the name of a 4th murder victim, 23-year-old Jack McDonald. On October 27th, 1970, Jack McDonald was found brutally murdered, bludgeoned to death, at the Travel Inn Motel in room 412 in Meridian, Mississippi. In comparing the crime scene photos from William’s and Jack’s murders, they were almost identical. The positioning of Jack’s body was exactly the same as the positioning of William’s body. Just like in the two murders already discussed, that happened 10 years after this one, the items from Jack’s wallet had been thrown out one by one onto the floor, chairs pulled up beside the bed. And even more telling, was the toothpaste that had been squeezed out into the toilet. Due to the time period of this first murder, I was able to find the least information about it.
As it stands, The Iowa County Sheriff’s office is pursuing an exhumation order for Raymundo Esparza’s body, which is buried somewhere in Los Angeles County, CA, in hopes of obtaining DNA to finally put the question of Esparza’s guilt to rest.
So there you have it. The theories in the murders of Rose Burkert and Roger Atkison are 1. Bruce A. Davis, a convicted serial killer, killed the couple while out on escape from prison. 2. Richard Martin Clark, murderer of an 11-year-old girl with possible ties to 16 other murders killed the couple. 3. Rose’s ex-boyfriend killed the two out of a need for control, and an uncontrollable rage. 4.The bartender at Amana Inn who lived out of his car in the hotel parking lot, and disappeared just after their murders. 5. Roger’s coworkers had some unknown ax to grind and knew where he would be that weekend. They took their work-issued machetes and got their revenge. 6. Some unknown local cult in Iowa had been sacrificing cows, and finally made the jump to their ultimate goal-- human sacrifice. 7.Charles Ray Hatcher, serial killer and uncle of Roger’s wife, escaped the mental hospital where he was being held, and murdered the couple. 8. Roger’s wife, having discovered the affair thanks to friend Michael Hale, confronted her husband and his lover at their hotel, and murdered them both in a fit of rage. 9. Roger’s wife enlisted her father to murder her cheating husband, or had wanted to recite scripture to her husband, and her father went off book. 10. Roger’s father-in-law murdered the couple to do his daughter a favor. And finally, theory number 11. Rose and Roger were the unfortunate victims of a transient serial killer named Raymundo Esparza who murdered them due to them being in an optimally located hotel room. Their deaths had nothing at all to do with the affair, and had the cancellation at the hotel not been made, it’s very possible I’d be discussing the murder of someone else right now.
Rose Burkert was only 22 years old at the time of her murder. She’d been training as a nurse, and was a single mother. Her best friend, Tina Burkman described her as silly and care-free. She left behind a daughter, forced to grow up wondering who could have possibly wished such a violent death upon her mother.
Roger Atkison was 32 at the time of his murder, and is described by family as gentle, mellow, and kind. He was a Vietnam war veteran, and was hard-working, and dedicated to his church and community. He too, left behind children, who would grow up without their father, as well as a wife, who will forever wonder if they would have been able to patch up their marriage and get their happily ever after.
William Kyle was 25 at the time of his murder, turning 26 the next day. He had been happily married, and left behind his wife, a brother, and his parents. Of the crime, his brother said, “Time doesn’t heal. It just gets a buffer. There’s no healing in something like this.”
Jack McDonald was 23 at the time of his death. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find much information about him beyond that. Regardless, it’s important to remember that he, too, was a living, breathing person prior to his life being taken. Who knows what his future could have held.
This has been the cursed tale of a romantic weekend gone wrong, and a string of potentially connected murders. If you have any information in regards to the murders of Rose Burkert and Roger Atkison, please contact the Iowa County Sheriff’s Office at (319)642-7307 or the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation at (515) 725-6010. You can also email DCIinfo@ps.state.ia.us.
If you have information pertaining to the murder of William Kyle, please contact the Galesburg, Illinois police department at (309) 343-9151.
Finally, if you have any information in regards to the murder of Jack McDonald, please contact the Meridian, Mississippi police department at (601) 485-1893.
For more cursed content, you can find me on Instagram and Twitter at ThriceCursedPod. You can check out the blog and accompanying episode photos, as well as find merch, and links to the Facebook group, discord server, and Patreon on my website at ThriceCursedPod.com. I am revamping Patreon a bit, and while I can’t offer bonus episodes at the current moment, I am offering behind the scenes content for each episode, such as certain news clippings and different aspects of my note-taking and scripting process. If you’d like to sign up for patreon, it’s just $5 a month for the extra content, and I would be forever grateful.
On that note, I’d like to take a minute to shout out my current patrons. Rain, who has been there from the very beginning, thank you. Lindsay, Bekah, and Jonathon, thank you. And finally, Joanna, who also just purchased a Thrice Cursed t-shirt over the weekend and made me do a little happy dance. Seriously, you all have no idea how much your support means to me, and I appreciate you all more than you know. From The Curse to my hearse.
I’d also really love to do another Grimoire tales episode ,so if you have any spooky stories to share, send me an email at ThriceCursedPod@gmail.com. Also, if you’d like to hear more about any of the additional crimes and perpetrators mentioned in this episode, comment on this Episode’s instagram, facebook, or twitter post, or shoot me an email.
Until next time, keep your curses hexy, and your hexes sexy.
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Cooper, R. J. (2009, September 20). Still Searching For Answers, Rumors Surround 1980 Killings. St. Joseph News-Press, pp. 1–3.
Darr, K. (1981, September 14). One Year Ago --Horror in Room 260. Quad-City Times, pp. 1–9.
Drifter, Amana Killings Tied? (1983, May 7). The Gazette, pp. 1–15.
Holes, P. (2019, October 11). The DNA of Murder with Paul Holes. episode.
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Iowa Officials Want To Question Murderer. (1982, November 17). The Gazette.
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