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Authorities take new look at old murder case

Authorities take new look at old murder case

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DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) -- Authorities in Palo Alto County are taking another look at a 30-year-old double homicide, hoping new technology and DNA databases will solve the crime.

The bodies of Raymond Henkins, 30, of Emmetsburg, and Debbie Laubenthal, 18, of Bancroft, were found along a county road near Fenton on Oct. 23, 1976.

Henkins was on one side of the road. Laubenthal was on the other. Both were shot to death with a .45-caliber handgun.

An Emmetsburg couple, Nile and Norma Smith, were charged in the killing.

Their first-degree murder trial in 1977 was moved to Dickinson County because of pretrial publicity, and they were acquitted.

There is no statute of limitations on murder, but the case went cold -- up until a year ago, said Palo Alto Sheriff Dennis Goeders.

"Somebody came forward with a little bit of information," Goeders said.

He declined to elaborate, but said investigators started reviewing all the evidence again.

"We tried to think of what was different that we could do with it because of the new technologies," he said. "We've resubmitted it to the lab with our new impressions on what we thought maybe should be checked on."

Goeders says the evidence has been at the state crime lab in Ankeny for about four months.

At the time of the killings, Goeders was Emmetsburg's police chief.

"There were a lot of motives that were bandied around at the time," he said. "We were trying to establish a motive, but a motive was never established with any kind of credibility that we could offer to the court."

H. Michael Neary was the Palo Alto County attorney at the time. He assisted the Iowa attorney general's office in prosecuting the case.

Neary, now in private practice in Ottumwa, said he believes Henkins and Laubenthal were shot alongside the road where their bodies were found.

Neary said the night before their bodies were found, Henkins and Laubenthal, who were dating, had been to a house in Emmetsburg with some other people and watched a movie. Nile and Norma Smith were there too.

When the movie ended, Henkins and Laubenthal left with the Smiths and another person. That person was dropped off at his home.

Neary said he believes the Smiths drove Henkins and Laubenthal to the country road and shot them.

"There was some evidence that tied the weapon that was used to being the weapon of Nile Smith's. The weapon was never found, but there were bullet casings," he said.

Neary said he felt they had a strong case. Prosecutors had evidence of the couples being together. They had evidence of the weapon and evidence about when the murders occurred.

"The defense said somebody was setting the Smiths up," Neary said.

After the trial, the Smiths moved away from Emmetsburg.

Although the case is being reviewed, Goeders said it's unclear where it will lead.

"I honestly don't know," he said. "It's still up in the air."

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