By JOSH VARDAMAN
Courier staff writer
---- — OTTUMWA — It’s been 40 years since a 17-year-old Ottumwa girl, Mary Jayne Jones, was murdered at a farmhouse just west of Ottumwa, near Blakesburg.
Since then, authorities had gone without an accusation until newly discovered DNA evidence linked an Ottumwa man, Robert Eugene Pilcher, 67, to Jones’ death. Pilcher will go on trial beginning Tuesday and is being charged with first-degree murder, which is a Class A felony, punishable by life in prison.
He was arrested and charged in November 2012, and his trial was originally set for May 2013. However, a continuance was granted, and the trial was moved to Oct. 15, 2013, but it was again delayed until Tuesday.
The reason Pilcher is being charged 40 years after Jones’ death is simply because DNA samples for felons are now being recorded, just like fingerprints, and the DNA he provided due to multiple felony charges matches samples taken during the Jones case in 1974.
Thanks to a federally funded grant, the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) operated a cold case unit from 2009-11. It was designed to re-examine unsolved crimes, like Jones’ murder, of the past to see if newly developed analysis and procedures could lead to new information that could lead to an arrest. Items of evidence from the crime scene in 1974 and Jones’ body were resubmitted to the DCI.
Pilcher is a convicted felon stemming from multiple cases, including convictions for felony car theft in 1999, a felony burglary case in 2002, escape of a felon from a work release program in 2004 and for suspicion of felony theft in September 2012. He also has multiple misdemeanor convictions from 1992, 1995, 1997, 1999, 2002 and 2004.
Since he is a felon, his DNA was required to be put into the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), and it is from that system that authorities were able to match his DNA with DNA taken from Jones’ body.
Pilcher was also convicted of perjury in 1975 in connection with a sodomy case in 1974, in which he was also convicted. According to a previous Courier article from 1974, he was found guilty of committing an act of sodomy on an unnamed Ottumwa woman at a farmhouse west of Ottumwa on April 5, 1974, just five days before Jones’ dead body was found.
According to multiple Courier articles from 1974, Jones’ body was found by Ernest Marlin, the mother of the farmhouse owner, Max Marlin. The body was found “brutally beaten and shot twice with a high-powered rifle,” the article stated.
Pilcher was suspected of the murder, according to a Courier article from Feb. 8, 1975, after the case was first opened by the Wapello County Sheriff’s Department, Ottumwa Police Department and Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI). However, he, along with approximately 300 other suspects, were questioned but never charged with the murder.
The trial is set to begin at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday at the Wapello County Courthouse and is expected to last three weeks. Richard Meadows Jr. was appointed as the judge for the case in September.
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