SR remembers brutal chapter in history on 30th anniversary
This year marks the 30th anniversary of a crime that sent the city of Sioux Rapids into shock.
In August of 1977, Robert E. Williams started on a killing rampage in Nebraska and into Northwest Iowa and Minnesota, murdering Virginia Rowe in her farm home north of Sioux Rapids.
Virginia and Wayne Rowe had wanted to travel more, now that the kids were raised. Williams, a Nebraska killer on the run, put an end to that dream 30 years ago this season.
By the time Williams' three state rampage ended, three women, two in Lincoln and Mrs. Rowe in Iowa, were dead. A Minnesota woman was shot, raped and left for dead. A fourth woman had been forced to cook two meals for Williams and was raped.
Officers in the Sioux Rapids area had been alerted that the accused murderer was loose in the area and began a farm to farm search. Larry Stanislav, a Highway Patrol officer, later to become Clay County sheriff, remembers arriving at the Wayne Rowe residence just as Wayne was driving home and noticed the family car missing.
The men's fears were quickly confirmed. Virginia had been raped, shot and killed with her husband's own shotgun.
Williams was eventually caught and returned to Nebraska to stand trial for the murders of the two Nebraska women - both of whom had befriended Williams. He admitted that he had murdered Virginia Rowe near Sioux Rapids, but was never charged or tried for any crime in Iowa, which does not have the death penalty.
He was convicted in 1978 for murder and sexual assault.
Twelve years ago, he came within three hours of being strapped in Nebraska's electric chair before a stay of execution order prevailed. In 1997 his last appeal for a new trial was denied by the Nebraska Supreme Court and he was executed December 2. He was 62 and had been on Nebraska's death row for 19 years.
Williams admitted to the Rowe crime and shortly before his execution apologized to his victim's family. Wayne Rowe was one of ten people allowed to witness the execution.
Williams had pleaded innocent by reason of insanity because of his drug and alcohol addiction. He had a history of violence, and had been released on $200 bond after an arrest for attacking his ex-wife three days before the murders.
The judges who senteced him cited the depravity of the crime as a reason for the death penalty.
Williams had claimed to have discovered religion while in prison, and argued that electrocution was unconstitutional, but failed to convince the court to spare his life.
Wayne Rowe had never stopped pushing not only for Williams' execution, but for Iowa to pass a death penalty law. He has remarried and now lives in Spencer.
Nebraska put a stay on executions shortly after Williams was killed, and the state legislature is scheduled to debate the morality of the death penalty this year.