On the Investigation Discovery show “On the Case with Paula Zahn: Room 106,” Lee Rotatori was killed in June 1982 in Council Bluffs, Iowa.
Even though it took investigators 40 years to figure out who killed the food service manager, they could not catch the person they thought did it, Thomas Freeman, because he was killed himself in October 1982, a few months after Lee’s death. In both cases, Jerry Nemke, her husband, was named as a suspect. If you like murder mysteries that are hard to figure out, this case is for you. Then, shall we get started?
Did Thomas Freeman die because of Jerry Nemke?
Lee Gunsalus Rotatori started working for Service-Master Inc. in 1980, after getting her Bachelor’s degree in Dietary Services and her Master’s degree in Food Nutrition from the University of Wisconsin. The Chicago company hired food service managers to work in hospitals. In June 1982, she went to work at Jennie Edmundson Hospital in Council Bluffs. During her first week at her new job, she went to Council Bluffs and checked into the Best Western Frontier Motor Lodge.
Also Read: Has Season 2 of The Lorenskog Disappearances been renewed?
Council Bluffs Police Department owns the photo
When Lee didn’t show up for her first official day of work on June 25, 1982, her bosses called the motel to see if she was okay. When the motel staff knocked on her door, Lee’s body was lying face down on the right side of her bed in a pool of blood. She was wearing her pajamas. The police didn’t find any signs of a fight or a break-in, and the autopsy report said she died from a single stab wound to the heart.
COUNCIL BLUFFS, Iowa — Using DNA and genetic genealogy, Iowa police have solved a 40-year-old murder case, but there is still one question: who killed Lee Rotatori’s alleged killer?
Rotatori, who was 32 at the time, had just moved to Council Bluffs that summer. The man from Michigan had come a few days before to start his new job as director of food services at Jennie Edmundson Hospital.
On the morning of June 25, 1982, her body was found in her hotel room. She had been stabbed once in the heart, according to the Council Bluffs police.
The case went cold until February 2021, when DNA found on Rotatori’s body was linked to Thomas O. Freeman through genetic genealogy.
But West Frankfort, Illinois’s Freeman could not be arrested. In October 1982, Freeman, who was 35 at the time, was found buried in a shallow grave near Cobden, Illinois. This was only four months after police say he killed Rotatori.
Captain Todd Weddum of the Council Bluffs Police Department told the Council Bluffs Daily Nonpareil, “We know who killed Lee.” “Right now, we’re trying to figure out if Freeman’s death has anything to do with Lee’s murder.”
Lee Gunsalus Rotatori was the oldest of four children. Her family says that she was a friendly, creative woman who loved horses and had many friends. Early on in the murder case, detectives found out that about her.
In 1982, Michigan State Police Det. Richard Griffin told the Omaha World-Herald, “I haven’t talked to anyone who didn’t like her.”
Rotatori, who had a master’s degree from the University of Wisconsin, left her husband, Gerald “Jerry” Nemke, and her 11-year-old son from her first marriage when she moved to Council Bluffs for her new job. The Daily Nonpareil said that both of them were going to move their mobile home to Rotatori and join the group soon.
Rotatori was going to job training during the day and staying at the Best Western Frontier Motor Lodge, which is now called the Best Western Crossroads of the Bluffs, at night.
The World-Herald says that Rotatori spent the last afternoon of her life in a boat on Lake Manawa with some of her new coworkers and their families. At dusk, they went their separate ways. On the way back to Room 106 of the Best Western, Rotatori stopped at a McDonald’s to get dinner.
The next morning, Rotatori didn’t show up for her first day of work after orientation. When her boss asked the hotel staff to check on her, they found a horrible scene.
The World-Herald said that Rotatori was found on the bed with his face down and his pajamas soaked with blood.
Police in Council Bluffs said in a news release on Friday, “Rotatori died from a single stab wound, and there were signs of a sexual assault.” “During the first investigation, no suspects were found.”
At the time, news reports said that there were no signs of a forced entry, but that Rotatori had only bought enough food for one person at McDonald’s. It was not clear if the nutritionist had been robbed, but his wallet, watch, and ring were missing.
As they do with every murder case, detectives started by looking at Rotatori’s husband. Due to Jerry Nemke’s troubled past, they might have looked at him a little more closely than they would have at other people.
Nemke was accused of beating a 16-year-old waitress named Marilyn Duncan very badly and then leaving her bleeding and unconscious behind a factory in Chicago when he was 17 years old. The next day, on May 1, 1960, Duncan died.
Nemke was on the run from a youth camp when he was said to have met Duncan. He went on a date with her the night she was attacked.
Duncan was killed, and the teen was tried, found guilty, and sentenced to death. But less than two years later, the Illinois Supreme Court threw out the conviction because the preliminary hearing in the case wasn’t done right.
According to court records, Nemke was found guilty a second time and given a 75-year prison sentence. On Monday, it wasn’t clear right away how long he had been in jail before he was let out.
In 1978, Nemke and Rotatori got married for the first time. The next year, they split up, but in December 1981, less than a year before she died, they got back together.
In 1982, Nemke had been on death row for a long time. The Daily Nonpareil said that detectives looking into the murder of his wife found that he had a good alibi and moved on.
One thing that made the investigation harder was where the hotel was. The hotel was close to the interchange where Interstates 29 and 80 meet. This meant that Rotatori’s killer could have been long gone by the time his body was found.
Even though the hospital and other businesses in the area did a thorough investigation and offered rewards, the case went cold.
Police officials said that physical evidence from the scene was sent to the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation’s crime lab in 2001. There, technicians were able to find a male DNA profile. When the information was put into state and federal databases of DNA, there was no match.
In 2019, police in Council Bluffs went to Parabon Nanolabs for help. Since 2018, the Virginia-based company has been working hard to help law enforcement agencies catch criminals by using genetic genealogy.
With its Snapshot DNA phenotyping, Parabon was able to figure out that Rotatori’s killer was a white man with roots in northern Europe.
The lead detective, Steve Andrews, told the Daily Nonpareil, “So it looks like a pretty big pool.”
The killer’s genetic profile was then put into genealogy websites like 23andMe. There, they were able to match the unknown man to relatives who were between his sixth and eighth cousins.
“They said that if you do that, there’s almost no chance of finding your person,” Andrews said.
Andrews said that detectives started playing a game of “wait and see” because they hoped that adding more DNA kits to the genealogy databases might one day lead them to the killer.
This month, 20-year-old Schubert made headlines all over the country when he helped police find out who raped and killed a 9-year-old girl 57 years ago. Marise Ann Chiverella was killed on her way to church before school in March 1964.
With his help, the police found out that James Paul Forte killed the girl. In May 1980, Forte, who was 39, died.
In March 2020, Schubert called the police in Council Bluffs and asked if they needed help with any cold cases. By that time, the young person who knew a lot about genealogy had already helped in other cases.
Andrews told the Daily Nonpareil, “He was able to get to the great-grandparent of our subject very quickly.” “From there, the family tree grew many branches, each with the name of a different person. I’d find those people, talk to their families, and ask them for help with the case.”
Andrews said, “They’d send Eric a kit, and then Eric would get to work.” “The kid is crazy smart when it comes to family trees.”
Thank you for calling me today, @GovMurphy! Wow, what a great surprise! I’m glad you’re interested in my work on my family tree in NJ. pic.twitter.com/LGxkTVuzZI
The newspaper said that as Schubert helped detectives narrow down the list of possible suspects, he found out that the killer had not been raised by his biological father. The family tree showed which family Rotatori’s killer was from, but it couldn’t say for sure where he stood in the family.
The waiting game with Parabon paid off at that point
The Daily Nonpareil said that an unknown man who had not been questioned by police sent in a DNA kit that was later flagged by Parabon. The description of that man helped Parabon and Schubert narrow down the list of possible suspects to two brothers.
Also Read: Who is Tracy Holmes Gallagher, the wife of Trace Gallagher? Net Worth Of The Chief Breaking News Correspondent at Fox News
One would have been too young in 1982 to have killed Rotatori
Detectives in a cold case found Freeman’s daughter, who gave them a sample of her DNA. It showed that Freeman was there when Rotatori was killed because his DNA was found on her body.
In their news release, police said, “Further investigation showed that Thomas Freeman was also the victim of a murder.”
Authorities said that Freeman had been dead for about three months when his bullet-riddled body was found in a shallow grave on October 30, 1982. Based on the time line, he was killed just a few weeks after Rotatori.
The police think that Freeman, who worked as a trucker, killed Rotatori while he was in the area on a haul.
They also think that his death might be linked to Rotatori’s
Weddum told the Daily Nonpareil, “He was shot four times and dumped in a wooded area near where he lived.” “I’m not a big believer in coincidences, so we called the Illinois State Police and talked to the sergeant in charge of the investigation into Freeman’s cold case.”
Detectives from Council Bluffs and troopers from Illinois have been working together to find out who killed Freeman. As of Friday, there was no evidence that the truck driver knew the young wife and mother he was accused of raping and stabbing.
But Freeman and Rotatori’s husband might have something in common.
Weddum and Andrews say that after Nemke got out of jail, he went to college. Carbondale, Illinois, was where he went to college.
In 1982, Freeman’s body parts were found about 15 miles from the school.
It is not clear how Nemke and Freeman could have been connected, either before or after Rotatori was killed. Andrews did tell the newspaper that he is being looked at as a person of interest.
Read More: Andy Hubbard: Who Is He? Meet Stephanie Ruhle Husband And Children Of The NBC News