Community mourns loss of lifelong members as investigators search for answers

Posted July 16, 2014 at 9:35 pm

Don and Esther Neunaber 2000.tif

By Julie Ann Madden

There are not enough words to explain the horrible scene authorities found at 17279 180th St. in rural Akron, the evening of July 9.

The bodies of Donald John Neunaber, 83, and his wife, Esther Grace, 80, were found along with evidence of a violent ending to their lives. And their son, Jonathan Donald Neunaber, 44, was missing.

As the Plymouth County Sheriff’s deputies began trying to piece this mystery together, they received assistance from the Akron Police Department, Woodbury County Sheriff’s Office, Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, Iowa State Patrol, Plymouth County Medical Examiner’s Office, U.S. Marshal’s Service, and other local police departments.

Here is a time line of the facts.

July 9, 2014

At about 10:44 p.m., Plymouth County authorities received a 911 call about the discovery of the couple’s deaths at 17279 180th St. in rural Akron.

July 10, 2014

Plymouth County Sheriff Mike Van Otterloo released the following at a 5 p.m. press conference earlier today.

Deputies had responded to a 911 call from a relative of the people living there. The relative had come to visit and found the deceased.

The deceased were two elderly individuals whose death was violent. Almost immediately we were able to determine that it didn’t look to be natural causes, self-inflicted or accidental deaths, said Van Otterloo. In other words, suspicious deaths which may rise to the level of homicide or some type of felonious incident.

Although the focus was on locating Jonathan Neunaber, because “he may have the most valuable information,” there are a couple of other individuals we are looking at, he said. An arrest warrant was not issued for Neunaber, just a materials witness warrant.

“Neunaber was living at the residence at the time and he may have evidence of what happened and what may have transpired before and after and during the deaths,” said Van Otterloo.

As to the estimated time of death, “Within the last two weeks is about as specific as I can be at this time,” answered Van Otterloo, adding it was “premature” to discuss the manner of death.

“Because of the complexity of the scene, it’s just difficult for the investigators to sort out and determine who and what may have happened and in what order and in what manner,” he said. “Because it’s multiple deaths, it’s a little bit more difficult. The condition of the residence was a factor. There’s a lot of information and evidence that need to be thoroughly sorted through so we don’t miss anything. It’s just taking a long time.”

At about 9:30 p.m., Van Otterloo announced Neunaber had been detained by the LaCrosse, Wis., Police Department. He was driving the 2006 Buick authorities were looking for. Neunaber was stopped on a traffic violation. Arrangements were being made to transport Neunaber back to Plymouth County. The sheriff still did not releasing the names of the deceased.

July 11, 2014

Just as businesses were opening for the day, Van Otterloo released the deceased names as Donald John Neunaber, 83, and his wife, Esther Grace Neunaber, 80. They are the parents of Jonathan Neunaber.

At an afternoon court extradition hearing in LaCrosse, Wis., Jonathan Neunaber agreed to waive extradition proceedings and be returned to Iowa.

July 12 – 13, 2014

Autopsies were completed on Friday, according to a Plymouth County sheriff’s report.

Associate State Medical Examiner Dr. Michele Catellier conducted the autopsies.

On Monday, July 14, Van Otterloo issued a statement, “The cause of death for Esther Neunaber will be certified as blunt force injuries. Her manner of death is classified as a homicide. The cause and manner of death for Donald Neunaber is pending additional laboratory testing.”

July 14, 2014

The Plymouth County Sheriff’s Office and the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation and other agencies continue to investigate the deaths.

On Saturday, deputies transported Jonathan Neunaber from the La Crosse correctional facility to the Plymouth County Jail.

On Sunday, Jonathan did make an initial appearance before a Plymouth County judge and is being held without bond as a material witness in the death investigation.

The sheriff’s office and DCI are making efforts to have the 2006 Buick Jonathan was driving transported to the DCI lab in Des Moines where a crime scene team will process the vehicle for evidentiary purposes.

The investigation continues.

Jonathan Neunaber

Jonathan was born Feb. 28, 1970, and graduated from Akron-Westfield High School in 1988.

After attending Dana College for a short time, he returned to the family farm, said his Aunt Helen and Uncle Marvin Hitzemann of Akron.

“He was awfully self-conscious of himself,” they said.

Jonathan had wanted to become a teacher. He liked history and government and was active in the local Democratic political scene. Jonathan currently serves at the Plymouth County Democratic Party chairperson. He is an avid reader and often visited the Akron Public Library.

Jonathan was such a “sports buff — sports crazy,” they said. Jonathan knew all the sports questions and memorabilia — so much that WNAX Radio hosts knew his voice and limited him to winning prizes once a month.

Jonathan did a lot of farm work along side his parents, they said, adding he never worked off the farm.

However, if anyone needed help, Jonathan was willing to help. He had assisted the Hitzemanns with mowing their lawn and cleaning their gutters as well as some of their neighbors, Marvin said.

Jonathan drove his parents to their doctors’ visits and accompanied them to social gatherings.

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