Gone Cold: exploring some of Iowa’s unsolved murders
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.
RONALD LEE NOVAK | AGE: 24 | DIED: DECEMBER 24, 1983
Hometown: Center Point
Shortly after noon on Dec. 24, 1983, Ron Novak’s bloody and frozen body was found by his brother, Jon Novak, in an unheated storeroom near Ron’s home’s back door. Ron’s hands had been bound and tied behind his back. He’d been beaten about the head and body with two hammers and a golf club – the weapons still lay nearby – and shot once in the upper right arm with a .22-caliber handgun.
A violent struggle left blood splattered throughout the room, and Novak’s cordless telephone lay near the hammers and golf club. Novak’s wallet – where he usually kept several hundred dollars for “walking around money” – was missing. A broken window in the adjacent kitchen door suggested at least one attacker attempted to gain entry there; Novak kept a loaded shotgun near the door. The door, however, stayed shut that night.
Most puzzling was what officials found in Novak’s bedroom: a small suitcase holding $32,000 in cash and $7,650 worth of marijuana in a green duffel bag. Police officials originally thought the motivate was robbery but weren’t sure after finding the drugs and cash out in the open.
While investigators worked the crime scene, strong winds outside blew snow across the footprints of Novak’s killers. No fingerprints were found, and neighbors said they hadn’t seen or heard anything.
Officials said there was little doubt the murder was drug-related. Novak’s best friend later said he knew Novak sold marijuana but had never known to what extent. He said Novak loved it out in the country where he lived but had expressed some concerns to him six months earlier about a car he’d seen parked overnight near his house.
Novak’s autopsy listed three causes of death: the beating, the gunshot and the cold. Detectives interviewed some of Novak’s known associates and developed a list of what they called “good” suspects, but never got enough physical evidence to charge anyone.
In 2013, evidence was sent back to the State Crime Lab which returned a DNA match to an unknown individual that didn’t match the victim. It was on the victim’s clothing and it most likely was the suspect that police continue to look for.
If you have any information about Ronald Novak’s unsolved murder, please contact the Linn County Sheriff’s Office at (319) 892-6100, or contact the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation at (515) 725-6010 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Find out more about this and other unsolved homicides at www.IowaColdCases.org.