For nearly 40 years, Marcella Shat has lived with questions surrounding her late husband’s slaying, and now she is using modern means to look for justice in the 40-year cold case.
On Sept. 12, 1980, Roger Atkison, a 32-year-old telephone technician from St. Joseph, and Rose Burkert, a 22-year-old nurse from Savannah, checked into the Amana Holiday Inn near Williamsburg, Iowa. Thanks to a last minute cancellation, the two were able to get to room in the hotel where a mortician’s convention was being held.
Atkison and Burkert were later found in the room, with several head wounds and cuts believed to have been caused by a hatchet of some sort, being killed in a way investigators would later describe as overkill. There was no sign of forced entry, chairs were arranged near the bed as if the killer had carried on a conversation with the two victims and a bar of soap with the word “This” carved into it was found.
For Shat, who had been married to Atkison for seven years, she believed her husband was working in Missouri, and was shocked when two St. Joseph police officers knocked on her parents’ door to tell her the news.
“The way they first put it to me was, ‘Roger’s ID has been found on a body in Iowa,’ and my reaction was ‘No, he’s in Missouri, so it has to be a mistaken identity,’” Shat said. “When they were sure it was him, then they also lowered the big bombshell that he was with another woman. So it was not only, he’s dead, but there’s another woman with him.”
For many years, Shat worked with the sheriff’s departments in both Iowa in Missouri to try to solve the slaying of her husband, going through the procedure of being investigated as a suspect while mourning her loss.
Shat eventually was remarried, but the open case of her first husband stuck with her. That’s why a year ago, she started gathering all the information she could about the slayings to format into a book.
“Hopefully, someone will read something, say something and will come forward and say something, and we can get it solved,” Shat said.
In her book, Shat plans to go over the details of the case, her perspective on working with investigators and suspects in the case, one of which includes Atkison’s uncle, Charles Hatcher, a convicted serial killer who had escaped from a mental institution in Nebraska six days prior to the murders.
“When I was writing that chapter in my book about the suspects, I think I came up with about 11,” Shat said. “You trace what you think is the leads and the information down on one person, then you seem to get to a roadblock at the end.”
Along with the usually true crime aspects of the book, Shat said she will include aspects of her own life, how it has interwoven with the cold case and how she was able to carry on through the tragedy.
“When he was first killed, I thought, if someone would just come to me and say, ‘You’re going to be OK. I’ve been through this, it’s going to be hard, but you’ll make it through,’” Shat said. “So that’s one of my purposes is to inspire others to see they can get through anything with God’s help.”
Shat said she has not finished her book yet, but plans to take it to a published soon under the title “Death at the Mortician’s Convention” or “Murder at the Amana Holiday Inn.” In the meantime, Shat has been discussing the case with a large audience through two true crime podcasts.
Mike Morford who hosts “Criminology” and “The Murder in My Family” interviewed Shat about the incidents, and hopes more people will hear about the cold case and hopefully solve it.
“We want to help see the case solved and maybe generate awareness of the case to people who might not be familiar with it,” Morford said. “Maybe share the tipline information with people so they can provide information about the case.”