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Nationally Recognized Attorney Pushes To Find Out What Happened To Friend Laura Van Wyhe On October 26, 1996
Laura’s death has always stayed with me, and it has always bothered me that her murder was not solved,” said nationally recognized attorney Anne Champion. Champion is a litigation partner in the New York law office of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. The Iowa native recently defended President Trump’s niece, Mary Trump, against her family’s effort to stop publication of her best-selling book, Too Much and Never Enough. She also represented CNN and White House correspondent Jim Acosta in their successful suit to reinstate Acosta’s White House press credentials when they were revoked after a contentious press conference.
“There are too many things that don’t add up. A few years ago, I decided to start pushing for answers. I’m working with Laura’s family to see if we can get people to come forward and share new details,” she said.
Her friend, high school Laura Van Wyhe, of Iowa City, Iowa, died in the early morning hours of October 26, 1996
According to police records, at around 1:45 a.m., a truck driver found Laura alive but incoherent on Highway 136 in Kahoka, Mo. She was transported to a hospital in Quincy, Illinois, where she died three hours later of massive blood loss due to blunt force trauma to her head and legs. An autopsy showed no signs of drugs or alcohol in her system.
While Van Wyhe’s location next to the road was suggestive of being hit by a car, the facts didn’t add up. According to police records, there was little blood found at the scene and no debris to suggest she had been struck by a vehicle there. Her clothes appeared to have been changed after she was injured—the jacket she was found in did not belong to her and did not exhibit signs of having been involved in a vehicular accident. There also was no blood on it, and it showed no signs of wear and tear or debris.
“My understanding, based on the file, is that she had already lost a lot of blood by the time she was found, yet there was little at the scene,” Champion said. “The police believed that her body had been moved to that spot. The question is: who moved it and why?”
Champion believes new evidence—whether from witnesses or enhanced DNA analysis—is the key to solving the murder. That’s why she’s creating a grassroots “Championforlaura” campaign, backed by a $10,000 reward for information that leads to an arrest and conviction of persons responsible. The campaign is supported by a tipline (855-SOLVE25) and a newly launched website and Facebook page to encourage people to come forward with information.
“Hopefully, the reward will shake something loose,” Champion said. “But we are also trying to get authorities handling cold cases in both Missouri and Iowa involved. Investigators across the nation are solving decades-old cold cases, such as the Golden State Killer and the 1979 murder of Michelle Martinko in Cedar Rapids, using new technology. Maybe that type of analysis can also help solve Laura’s case.”
Van Wyhe was celebrating her 21st birthday in Bonaparte, Iowa, at the home of Rebecca Reynolds-Knight. Reynolds-Knight is the mother of Donald Knight III, Van Wyhe’s then-ex-boyfriend, and the paternal grandmother of Laura’s son.
As the police file indicates, because there was not sufficient room for Laura and her son to stay in Bonaparte, they traveled about 30 miles, crossing state lines to Kahoka, Mo to stay with relatives. She planned to return to Bonapart in the morning.
What happened next is unclear, Champion said, but Trooper Bruce Clemonds, the first person on the scene from the Missouri State Patrol, testified at the Coroner’s Inquest that, based on his experience over “years of investigations,” Laura “was not hit at that spot,” but “was struck somewhere else and put at that spot.”
The Inquest resulted in a determination that the death was not accidental and it is being investigated as a homicide. Champion has studied every aspect of the case available to her, from the Inquest to portions of the police file. She has pieced together a timeline of the 24 hours surrounding the murder, and has driven from Iowa City to Bonaparte to Kahoka to analyze and photograph the locations where her friend spent her last few hours.
“Based on my review of the file, it’s clear that there are many inconsistencies and many open issues begging for further investigation,” Champion said. “I believe this is a cold case that can be solved, and solving it is long overdue for Laura’s family and friends.”