The remains of eighteen year old Paula Jean Oberbroeckling were discovered four months after she had went missing in 1970, near the Cedar River, Otis Road, Southeast Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Paula Jean worked at a department store as well as teaching children with special needs and had recently graduated from high school.
Paula as a bridesmaid.
Her decomposed body was found bound at the wrists and ankles, clad in the blue night dress that she was wearing when she left her apartment in on July 11th 1970 earlier that year.
She was seen for the last time after telling her friend, Debbie Kellogg (who she shared the apartment with) that she would “Be right back” before getting into Debbie’s car and driving off.
She took nothing and was barefoot when she was found, but according to friends, she generally went out barefoot if running a local errand.
That night she had been out on a date with her boyfriend, Lonnie Bell. According to Bell they had an argument that evening.
Oberbroeckling had one previously known high school boyfriend, Robert Williams. It was unclear if she was still involved with him in any way.
The abandoned car was discovered two miles from her residence the following day. There was no signs of a struggle and the vehicle seemed to be voluntarily left.
Her family suspects that Bell did not want to continue the relationship. Bell was said to search for Oberbroeckling and check out any lead or tip from the numerous prank calls to the missing girl’s family home- to no avail. The nature of the interviews with Oberbroeckling’s parents suggests that they didn’t like Lonnie Bell although her mother claimed she did despite remarks she made about his race.
The local authorities refused to accept the case as a missing person’s case and rudely suggested that the girl had gone to a music festival or took off on a road trip without informing anyone.
Family and friends refused to entertain the idea, as they knew Paula Jean was very reliable and punctual and would call ahead on the rare occasions that she’d be late- especially when it came to work.
The family contacted local journalists and claimed that none of them were interested in a writing a story on the case.
Advanced decomposition meant that the cause of death was inconclusive. It was possible that Oberbroeckling could have been strangled or poisoned as these methods could not be ruled out at the stage her remains were found in. There was no blood on her dress, no sign of damage from knife or gun. The autopsy did state that there were no broken bones or trauma, but investigators claimed they believed foul play was involved.
She was found curled around a steel pin in the ground. It is unknown if this was her position at death or if she had lived longer and perished due to the elements. Another theory from the police was that she had been thrown from the top of the road and rolled down the steep hill, hitting the steel pin and ended up concealed in the summer foliage (weather or not this story matches up with the autopsy findings remains to be seen)
The nearby sewage treatment plant would have thrown off any passersby when it came to the scent of human decomposition.
The material used to bind Oberbroeckling’s wrists (behind her back) and ankles was described by the medical examiner performing the autopsy (Earl F. Rose, M.D.) As “types of flexible material, one having the appearance of plastic clothesline and the other of cording.”
(image source right iowa unsolved murders)
She was 1 month pregnant at the time.
There were local rumors that Paula Jean was the victim of a botched abortion. That she believed having a child would ruin her modeling career.
Some say she was using drugs heavily and that Lonnie was a dealer and the two got mixed up in something. The truth is, nobody knows.
The cause of death officially states”unknown”.
The case remains unsolved.
Susan Taylor Chehak has written an e-book about the case.
You can read her blog here. [X]