by Rick Stack

Having also grown up in the Midwest (Cedar Rapids, Iowa), Jared Keever’s excellent post, The Secret at Fox Hollow Farm: Herb Baumeister Murdered and Buried 11 Gay Men on His Indiana Country Estate, reminds me of the mysterious disappearance of Lynn Schuller, a wife and mother of a three-year old son only 2 blocks from my childhood home on August 6, 1972. The inset of the map in the Cedar Rapids Gazette article showing where Lynn disappeared even shows the street on which I lived — Orrian Drive. See http://iowacoldcases.org/blog/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/1992-3-19-MMU-2pgs.pdf. That home also had dense woods behind it.

anl3The sheriff didn’t believe the story of her husband (Keith Schuller), a somewhat creepy guy, that Lynn was sleeping when he and his son had left home at 7:30 a.m. on August 6. When they returned home 5 hours later, Lynn and her bicycle were missing. Keith claims that he left a note for his wife and went swimming with his son at a local public pool. According to Keith, when they came back one hour later, Lynn’s bicycle was back in the garage but she was nowhere to be found. Nothing was missing from the house or otherwise disturbed.

forêt - forestLater that day, Keith called Lynn’s parents and others to report her disappearance. A few searches of the area by Keith turned up nothing. The following day, Keith called the Sheriff’s Department to report the disappearance of his wife. A more extensive search of the woods was conducted with dozens of volunteers. Keith declined to join in that search, ostensibly because he had conducted his own searches and found nothing.

Keith owned a 6-foot long pet alligator named Pogo (John Gacy’s clown phoning in from the crypt?) and several snakes. A rumor started that Keith had cut up his wife anl9into pieces and fed it to his alligator and snakes. The police discounted that possibility, however, because the reptiles were too small to devour a human body. They instead focused their efforts on searching the woods behind the house and the house, after obtaining a search warrant to do so. Authorities even took aerial photos of the woods behind the Schuller home in an attempt to identify recently dug-up ground. However, no trace of Lynn was ever found.

Without a body and no visible signs of any violent struggle, the sheriff never charged Mr. Schuller with any crime. He continued to live in the house with his son for the next several years, which we assiduously avoided when trick-or-treating at my parents’ insistence. Keith eventually moved away from the neighborhood, possibly because people in the area innately knew what law enforcement could never prove (that he was a killer), and he may have gotten away with murder. According to the linked article (now some 23 years old), Keith lived in Fruitland, Idaho where he was a 6th grade teacher.

anl4Another somewhat unusual aspect of this crime story is that shortly after Lynn disappeared, Keith filed for divorce in Linn County on the grounds that she had deserted him. When Lynn’s parents hired an attorney to represent her in that case, Keith dropped the case. Lynn’s parents claim that Keith filed for divorce in Linn County a total of seven times and that he dropped the case each time, after they had entered the case on Lynn’s behalf. Lynn’s parents had sought to compel Keith to testify under oath about the circumstances of his wife’s disappearance. Keith finally obtained a divorce from Lynn in July 1976, only by filing his case some 100 miles away, in Dubuque County, without the knowledge of Lynn’s parents. In March 1978, a Dubuque County judge granted Keith’s request to have Lynn declared legally dead, with their son as the sole heir of her life insurance policy and Keith as the conservator. Keith later married a woman who he met in Cedar Rapids BEFORE Lynn’s disappearance. That marriage eventually ended in divorce.

alyAs a practicing attorney in the Golden State, I wonder why Lynn Schuller’s parents didn’t file a wrongful death action against Keith, if nothing else, to at least compel him to testify about his wife’s disappearance.  Alternatively, her parents might have been able to petition for a coroner’s inquest and/or declaration of Lynn’s death, at which percipient witnesses could also have been subpoenaed to testify, especially Keith.  However, I’m unfamiliar with the idiosyncracies of wrongful death or inquest law in Iowa, so there may have been a sound reason why Lynn’s lawyers did not pursue such a strategy action.  In any event, instituting such proceedings may have suffered from the same infirmity as a criminal case against Keith: no dead body, no signs of a violent struggle, no apparent crime scene, and thus, no crime.

As with Jared Keever’s story, this goes to show you that living in a small town is no guarantee of safety. :) No one is completely immune from crime, even in Americana. :(

 

13 Responses to Murder in the Heartland: Unindicted Wife-Killer Still Free and a Clear and Present Danger

  1. Rick says:

    As an eerie post-script to this story, I would add that Keith Schuller is now serving as the elected County Coroner of Payette County, Idaho. See http://payettecounty.org/index.php/contacts/4-payette-county

  2. Lori says:

    Rick, I really enjoyed reading your article!! What a story, and what a mystery for you kids that lived there at the time. I read the linked article and it seems Keith has been accepted and has thrived in Idaho.

    Did you and your friends have all kinds of theories you discussed? Weren’t you ever a little spooked when out playing that one of you might stumble across a body?

    How sad for her family and son that to this day they don’t know where she is or what her fate was…. I hope this cold case gets solved.

  3. Rick says:

    Hi Lori! I’m glad that you enjoyed this article.

    As you can tell from the linked article, Keith is apparently very well-liked in Idaho and has many defenders on blog sites discussing Lynn’s disappearance. See http://iowacoldcases.org/case-summaries/lynn-schuller/ (this site also has what appears to be a fairly current picture of Keith holding a large snake). Thus, Keith is popular not just among living people but also among the “stiffs” whose causes of death he determines. :) One commenter noted that Keith became County Coroner mainly so that he could more easily monitor developments in his ex-wife’s missing person’s case, although I would tend to believe that such a task would be very difficult from a remote outpost some 1200 miles away from Iowa. :)

    As a kid, we were too afraid to set foot anywhere near Keith’s property and we (along with a large majority of the community) believed that he had probably buried his wife’s body in the thousands of acres of woods behind his property. We also had plenty of acres of woods to play in just to the side of our house, so it didn’t make any sense for us to wander near the Schuller “compound.” :)

    A 10-year old is not sophisticated enough to understand legal concepts like probable cause and the presumption of innocence, so we pretty much lapped up whatever our parents and other adults in the community were saying about whether Keith had dunnit (they believed that he was, at worst, guilty or, at best, really weird). One commenter on the Iowa Cold Crimes blog stated that they’d been told that Keith lined the basement of his home with a plastic drop cloth (pre-Dexter, mind you), murdered her and chopped up her body, and then fed it to the hogs he owned or had access to. It’s not surprising the Keith decided to pick up his stakes several years later and moved out to Idaho in the late 1970s. And I thought that Florida was the Second Chance State and that Arizona was the Last Chance State. . .

    Due to the aged nature of this cold-case disappearance (42 1/2 years and counting), I seriously doubt that justice will ever be served in this case. Surprisingly, one of my Cedar Rapids friends who is a few years older than me commented on Facebook that an old neighbor still lives in the area and even participated in the search for Lynn Schuller many years ago. Time is the enemy of all cold cases, most of which will never be solved.

  4. r. a. schaefer says:

    In the 19th Keith was a teenager living on 4th Ave in Cedar Rapids, IA I lived on that block as a young child. Keith is 10 yrs older than I. He had many reptiles then also. I remember him bringing a cloth bag of snakes to our porch and scaring my mom. She was deathly scared of snakes and he knew it.

  5. Tom says:

    Nice answers in return of this difficulty with real arguments and telling all regarding that.

  6. r.a. schaefer says:

    The note I wrote a few months ago should have said in the 1950’s we were neighbors as kids on 4th ave. It was fairly close to Bever park- where he said he took his son to swim that day.. it would be strange (if he did kill his wife) if it had been in Bever park he had disposed of her. Maybe went back there after to see if anyone saw him. There are many areas of woods there to hide things. As a teen he probably went there often and knows it very well. The park had a little zoo with bears etc. and even several alligators! It may have helped his interest in alligators & reptiles. I wonder if the Law ever looked into Bever park. Why would you bury a body so close to your own house in the woods in the back of your house.i drove by the house a month ago and it isn’t there anymore. The house there now was built in 2000 according to real estate info.

    • Rick says:

      Interesting comment, R.A. It’s amazing how things can change over the course of 40+ years. I haven’t driven by my old neighborhood in 15 years. I bet I would barely recognize it now!

  7. Heather Shaw says:

    Keith was my brothers 6th grade teacher in fruitland ID. He was not creepy at all as we all thought he was awesome. He lived right by the school and next to my brothers little girlfriends house. One day he was out and we asked if we could see Pogo the Alligator. He took us and showed us all his animals. He had a squirrel, an Eagle, snakes, and some others I can’t remember what they were. He rescued injured animals and got them back to health to release them. We went into his back yard and he had a built in pond area for Pogo. Which by the way that damn alligator was huge and scared me haha. I recently heard this story about him being a murderer a few years ago. I still don’t believe it cause he’s an awesome guy and a great teacher.

    • r.a. schaefer says:

      A person would really seem like a “great guy” if he was living his “dream life”. It is too bad his ex-wife did not have a chance to live her dream life as well. People can really surprise you of what secrets they have hidden. He may not have done it, but if he did, he will pay for it in the end. He will not get away with it. He may wish he would have paid for it in this life. It just puzzles me why he did not take a polygraph test. If I didn’t do something the law thinks I did, I would take the test. It is odd he wasn’t interested in the police finding his wife. Instead he used a lot of energy trying to divorce his wife and claim her dead.

      • Rick says:

        You’ve raised some good points, R.A. The repeated efforts of Keith to get divorced from his wife, which finally bore fruit after he allegedly filed an eighth petition in Dubuque County some 100 miles away from where he lived so that Lynn’s parents would not intervene in the case; his alleged dismissal of the seven previous divorce cases filed in Linn County after Lynn’s parents had intervened to avoid having to testify under penalty of perjury about the circumstances of Lynn’s disappearance; and his alleged refusal to take a polygraph test are suspicious circumstances, or at the very least, suggest a strong desire to banish Lynn from his life. In my opinion, an innocent man whose wife had disappeared would ordinarily not take such extreme measures to obtain a divorce and a declaration of her death but rather would focus his energy on attempting to find his spouse. (You know, like O.J.’s vow to find the “real killers” after he was acquitted of murdering Nicole Simpson and Ron Goldman). :)

        As to Keith’s alleged refusal to take a polygraph exam, you should keep in mind that although law enforcement sometimes regards the polygraph as a useful tool in ruling out people as suspects in a crime, polygraph results are not regarded as sufficiently reliable from a scientific standpoint to be admissible in a court of law. So I don’t regard Keith’s alleged refusal to take a polygraph exam, standing alone, as a crucial fact.

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