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GONE COLD: Exploring Iowa’s unsolved murders

By Staff | Apr 24, 2016

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.


Location: Fort Dodge

Marvin Brandland and his wife, Ethel, had spent the evening of Oct. 30, 1982, handing out candy to trick-or-treaters when another person knocked on their Fort Dodge home’s door. Someone wearing a pillow case with holes cut out for eyes stood outside.

“Trick-or-Treat. Give me your money or I’ll shoot,” the trick-or-treater said. The couple thought the act was a joke until the hooded man pulled out a gun and ordered the couple to the basement where they kept a safe. Few knew the safe existed – mainly just family members.

Mr. Brandland, refusing to go along further with what he felt was a prank, reached for the gun. The trick-or-treater shot him in the throat. The shooter then tore off the pillow case and threw it down before fleeing from the couple’s home.

Brandland’s family is certain they know who the shooter is – an acquaintance of the family. They say he bragged about it to them after the killing. Ethel Brandland reportedly told police the shooter had blondish hair and blue eyes, was about 5 feet 8 inches tall, and between 16 and 20 years old. Police confirmed that this individual is the prime suspect, but that there just wasn’t enough evidence to make an arrest.

A key piece of evidence – the pillow case – had been left behind at the scene. The pillow case was submitted for DNA testing in 2010 but there wasn’t enough DNA material to make a match.

If you have any information about Marvin Brandland’s unsolved murder, please contact the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation at (515) 725-6010, e-mail dciinfo@dps.state.ia.us, or contact the Fort Dodge Police Department at 515-573-1426.

Find out more about this and other unsolved homicides at www.IowaColdCases.org.