Monday marks the 36th anniversary of the unsolved double homicide of two St. Joseph residents in Williamsburg, Iowa.
On Friday evening, Sept. 12, 1980, Rose Burket, 22, and Roger Atkison, 32, of St. Joseph checked into the Amana Holiday Inn along Interstate 80 for a romantic getaway, but they never checked out, according to the Iowa cold cases website.
The next day, shortly after noon, a housekeeper discovered the crime scene. Blood was splattered across the wall, headboard and carpet, according to a 2009 News-Press article.
“We’re coming up on a time of the year when it’s painful to reminisce, but God’s seen me through what time I’ve had without him and that’s how I’ve gotten through,” said Marcella Shat, Atkison’s widow.
Shat said she began dating Roger when she was 15 years old, and they celebrated their seventh anniversary on Sept. 1, just before his death.
“It was a big loss when it happened, but time goes on and time does heal wounds,” Shat said.
Howard Judd, a captain with the Buchanan County Sheriff’s Department who worked the case, said the murders were “pretty gruesome,” according to the News-Press article. Judd is now retired.
Both victims were lying face down on the bed, and the back of their heads were sliced and caved in by repeated strikes from either an ax or hatchet. Several of Atkison’s fingers were severed, which appeared to be a defensive wound. There was no indication of a forced entry or struggle,” according to the cold case website.
Tammy Burkman, Savannah, Missouri, said her life was turned “upside down” when Rose died. She met Rose in high school. They later became roommates, co-workers, and at her wedding Rose was the maid of honor.
“I could talk to her about anything,” Burkman said. “My brothers and sisters are a lot older than me and I don’t see them real often so she was just like a sister to me.”
Shat was led to believe that Roger, who worked as a telephone crew member, was in Cahokia, Missouri on a two-week work project.
She hopes publicizing the murders will defrost the cold case.
“There is a key person that knows what happened,” Shat said. “If that key person would just step forward and give us some information, I think it could be solved.”
After the murders, rumors became rampant in Iowa and St. Joseph as the list of suspects mounted. Shat said rumors are circulating once again about a member of Rose’s family being a suspect.
“The authorities are tight-lipped,” Shat said. “I ask a lot, but they won’t give any information out.”
Burkman created a Facebook page for Rose.
“I still love her, I miss her a lot, I feel that people think since it’s been 36 years that her and Roger are just a case number that doesn’t matter anymore and they weren’t they were people,” Burkman said.
Sheriff Robert Rotter with the Iowa County Sheriff’s Office said detectives returned to St. Joseph last month to get a full grasp of the case. They revisited witnesses and collected blood samples to compare against any new discoveries. He said evidence was sent to a lab in the winter for an initial touch DNA test, which can analyze skin cells left on an object. They are awaiting results.
Burkman said solving the case would allow her friend to rest in peace.
“It would never bring her back but at least I can tell her — I didn’t let it go and we did it and we pushed it until something was done,” Burkman said.
Anyone with information regarding the slayings can contact the Iowa County Sheriff’s Office at 319-642-7307 or the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation at 515-725-6010.
“Even if you think it’s a small thing, go ahead and call them, it doesn’t hurt to call and give them the information,” Shat said. “There is no justice in something like this, You can’t bring those two people back — so I would hope for some closure to just put an end to the chapter.”