Voices from the Grave: The unsolved murder of Lauretta Lyons
By Kathi Kresol
[dropcap]Looking[/dropcap] back later, Edwin Lyons would say that June 9, 1966, started just like any other day. He woke early, had breakfast with his wife Lauretta and left for work. Their conversation that morning had been about the store they owned together in downtown Rockford. They sold pet accessories in a little shop on Mulberry Street. The name “ The Lyon’s Den” had been Lauretta’s idea. Edwin left the creative side of their business to Lauretta.
They also made plans for lunch. Lauretta agreed to meet Edwin at the shop so they could have lunch together. Edwin left shortly after breakfast, right around 7:30 a.m. The Lyon’s house was a little off the beaten path off of Latham Road where it intersects with Owen Center. It sat back from the road and was surrounded by trees and cornfields. It was not visible to any of the other houses in the area
Edwin went to the shop for his lunch date with his wife shortly after noon. He was surprised when she wasn’t there. He tried to phone but received no answer to his attempts. Edwin would later state that it wasn’t like Lauretta to be late. He grew concerned and decided to drive to the home to check on her.
When he arrived home, Edwin noticed that the doors were locked. He walked into the living room and saw his wife lying on her stomach on the floor in a pool of blood. There were several of his neckties scattered around her one and one was even clenched in her hand.
He immediately called the sheriff’s department. In the long moments it took help to arrive, he desperately searched for a pulse. Lauretta’s favorite dog was curled up next to her and Edwin had to pick him up to get close to her. He noticed that its fur was still damp from an earlier walk.
Help finally arrived but there was nothing to be done. The men loaded Lauretta in the ambulance and drove her to Rockford Memorial where she was pronounced dead.
Authorities noticed that the doors were all locked and that nothing was taken even though there was a large amount of money in the home and a valuable stamp collection. They noticed signs of a horrendous struggle. Furniture had been disturbed, a curtain was ripped down and there was blood on the floor by the front door. This told investigators that Lauretta had fought her attacker.
Coroner Carl Sundberg conducted the autopsy on Lauretta and reported that her jaw was swollen and that her lips and tongue were cut. She had been brutally strangled with one of her husband neckties. Lauretta had been found with another tie in her right hand and police discovered it had been cut off cleanly, apparently with scissors. Though they searched the entire house for the missing tip, it was never located.
Police theorized that someone must have come into the house while Lauretta was out walking her dogs and waited for her to come home. He attacked her inside the door and Lauretta fought back, causing the disorder in the living room. It appeared she had even broken away from her killer and made it to the door. Unfortunately, the attacker caught up with her.
Neighbors were questioned and Sheriff Kirk King was surprised when five people came forward to state that while they were driving by the home the morning of the murder, they had seen another car in the Lyon’s driveway. It was described as a 1957 maroon ford. Though police tried to follow this clue, it led nowhere.
Other crimes occurred against women that summer, brutal blitz attacks and fear ran rampant. A suspect was developed after a particularly brutal attack on a woman at Colonial Village Mall. The victim identified Sanford Harris as the man who attacked and kidnapped her.
When authorities ran Harris’ police record it showed that he was on parole from the state of Michigan. In the 1960’s he had killed a woman and received a life sentence. In those days, he was still eligible for parole. When witnesses from Lauretta’s case were asked to look at Harris and his car, they identified him as being the one they saw around the Lyon house that day.
Though the authorities thought that Harris was the man that killed Lauretta, there was not enough evidence to arrest him for her murder. The case went cold. Though it has been brought up for review several times over the years, including by a special Cold Case Unit as recently as 2007, the case remains unsolved.
It has now been 47 years since Lauretta Lyons was killed in her own home. The chances are very slim now that her killer will ever be brought to justice. Edwin was later quoted as saying that he had no idea on that drizzly June morning when he left Lauretta sitting at their table that the day would end so horribly. There was no warning of what was going to happen. R.
The expanded version of this story was first published in the Secret Rockford book edited by Michael Kleen. Find it on Amazon or at local retailers.
Kathi Kresol is a local historian and author and has spent over a decade researching Rockford’s history. Kathi will be presenting some of the most notorious crime stories she has researched on Thursday, Feb. 1, at Byron Public Library. Please register for this program by calling 815-234-5107.