OSKALOOSA — A new tip shared recently online from a relative has shed a little more light on the Denease Monson Latham cold case.
Latham's sister, Donna Booth, has publicly shared that Latham was in a women’s shelter two weeks before her body was found in a creek by Rose Hill.
This cold case is 32 years old and each detail that comes forth may bring some closure to the family.
On Sunday, Oct. 5, 1986, Denease (Monson) Latham suffered blunt force trauma injuries to her head before coming to rest face-down in two feet of water beneath a bridge on Ventura Avenue half a mile north of Rose Hill.
The official ruling was accidental drowning but many including Mahaska County Sheriff Russell Van Renterghem and former Sheriff Paul DeGeest have shared concerns over the case.
The case is not officially open. There are missing case files that have yet been located. The Herald has reached out multiple times to the Iowa Bureau of Criminal Investigation and the last correspondence came by official letter from Mitch Mortvedt, Assistant Director at Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation.
The letter states the Department of Public Safety takes all cases seriously and there have been a number of successes with cold cases in Iowa.
"Cold cases can be particularly challenging with the passage of time, because of the difficulties with the availability of witnesses and memories that can fade," Mortvedt wrote.
According to the letter, DNA and other investigative methods have contributed to those successes.
"It is important to pursue old investigations if new information has become available, but sometimes the successful cold case investigation just requires a fresh look at a cold case," Mortvedt wrote. "Regardless of how the cold case investigation is triggered, the specific details about a criminal investigation are confidential. The Department has not been asked to assist in the cold case you have referenced.”
According to Mahaska County Sheriff Russel Van Renterghem, the Latham file was turned over to the DCI in 2002 when new evidence was introduced to the case.
Close to 60 scene photos, official autopsy report and the ruling are missing from the file. Van Renterghem was able to obtain other portions of the file. Because of the lack of critical information, it has made it very difficult to reopen the case.
Van Renterghem had been digging through archives in his spare time. Recently he told the Herald they will have a special investigator — a deputy will focus 75 percent of his time on follow-ups and cold cases. The other 25 percent of the time he will still patrol.
The body of 24-year-old Denease (Monson) Latham was found underneath a small bridge Sunday morning Oct. 6, 1986. A woman out walking that morning discovered the body as well as a bicycle laying on the bridge.
Sheriff Joe Beal and DeGeest arrived on-scene shortly after that and took nearly 60 photographs of which are now missing. From the look of things, investigators first thought it was an accident but DeGeest said he had his suspicions.
According to current Sheriff Van Renterghem, Latham and her husband had been at the West End Tavern in Rose Hill. After it closed, they went to the tavern owner’s house for an after party.
Police reports indicated there had been a physical altercation and Denease had been struck. She then tried to get a ride and left, allegedly taking a kid’s bicycle out of a nearby yard.
From there it’s all speculation to what actually happened to her. From her route leaving Rose Hill, she crossed the highway onto Ventura avenue a dark dead end road––the opposite direction from her home in What Cheer.
Van Renterghem maintains that he needs the original scene photos as well as other documents missing from the case.
“I’m not going to go into details but some injuries are concerning from looking at what I do have,” he said. “We have to check and see if that bridge has been replaced and what kind of signage was out there at the time. One scenario is maybe she did wreck her bike, was disoriented and tripped over the bridge and fell in.”
If anyone knows anything about this case, please contact the Mahaska County Sheriff’s Office 641-673-4322.
Herald staff writer Shelly Ragen can be reached at email@example.com.