Lillian Randolph and her children spent long days at her father’s cabin in Minnesota. He built the cabin, as well as the gate where she enjoyed sitting. Lillian was murdered in Guthrie Center in 1965, and the case has never been solved.
Lillian Randolph and her children spent long days at her father’s cabin in Minnesota. He built the cabin, as well as the gate where she enjoyed sitting. Lillian was murdered in Guthrie Center in 1965, and the case has never been solved.

December 30, 2015

Wendy Holman still remembers, vividly, moving to Guthrie Center in 1958.

She was about 10, and Sam Cooke’s “You Send Me” was on the car radio sometime during that 400-plus-mile drive from Duluth, Minnesota.

“Now I find myself wanting to marry you and take you home…” The lyrics still take her back.

In an interview with the Guthrie Center Times, Wendy, now 67, recalled, “That one song comes on, and it’s just back to that trip to Iowa.”

The tune takes her back almost 60 years to that hope-filled drive to the home of a man who had married her mother and promised them all the world.

“It was going to be Shangri-La — no more worries,” Wendy said. “There was a lot of hope.”

When Howard Randolph, a powerful Guthrie Center businessman, proposed to Wendy’s mother Lillian, who had been widowed and divorced and was raising four kids, they believed things were going to get easier.

Instead, accounts from Lillian, told through others’ retellings and letters, as well as from her children, describe years of physical and emotional abuse that culminated in Lillian’s decision to leave her husband.

Then, in 1965, Lillian Randolph was murdered.

Many who were involved, and some who weren’t, believe they know what happened, and most fingers pointed toward one man. Howard Randolph died 29 years after his wife and was never charged.

Fifty years after Lillian’s murder, her children still struggle. They still grieve. And they still hate.

This is Lillian’s story.



LILLIAN HEDMAN

Lillian Hedman was born in 1908 in Duluth, Minnesota. She later obtained a teaching certificate and worked as a teacher in various schools.

She played the piano. She sang funny songs. She sewed — and taught 8-year-old Wendy the craft as well. She baked cookies. She was a teacher. She traveled with friends when it wasn’t common for women to travel cross country.

“I never heard her raise her voice,” Wendy said. “She just had a gentle way about her.”

She was married twice before she moved to Guthrie Center to become Howard Randolph’s wife and had two children with each previous husband — Henry, Ann, Wendy and Vicki. Her first husband died, and she divorced the second after he became abusive.

She continued to seek out teaching positions in Duluth, but it was difficult to make ends meet.

And then, there was Howard. She’d known him for about 20 years through her family.

“He made all kinds of promises,” Wendy said. “‘You and the kids never have to worry about a thing. Marry me and come to Iowa.’”

He had a ranch-style home that Wendy loved. Horses, a little girl’s dream. Amazing T-bone steaks.

There were some sweet memories in Guthrie Center, Wendy said — including schoolmates who looked past the “stigma” of being the adopted children of the richest man in town.

“My mom, she loved Iowa,” Wendy said. “We just found it a beautiful place to live.

“There were good times, too. There were really scary times, but there were some really lovely times we had with really friendly people who reached out to us.”



LIFE WITH HOWARD

Howard wasn’t popular in town — but with his money and his business, he was powerful, said Ruby Krakau, who still lives in Guthrie Center and was a close friend of Lillian’s.

“He was loud and obnoxious,” she said. “I don’t know if you could say (Guthrie Center residents were) afraid of him, but a lot of people didn’t like him.”

He invited Guthrie Center residents to take part in questionable business deals, borrowed money he didn’t repay and on one occasion bragged to two students about saving money on eggs he was reselling before refusing to buy a $5 advertisement for their football schedule poster.

Soon after Lillian and her children moved to Iowa, the Howard who had made so many promises changed.

He withheld money for everyday necessities. He hit Lillian, Wendy and Vicki on various occasions, once hitting Vicki so hard her nose bled.

“She didn’t cry or show any signs of hurt but laughed about it,” he wrote in his diary about the incident.

Family members recalled the abuse edged toward a sexual nature as well with Vicki; when she was a child, he kissed her and put his tongue in her mouth on various occasions.

On Wendy’s 15th birthday, he gave her a beautifully wrapped gift. It was an empty box.

He caught some chickens Wendy and Vicki had tried to free, chopped off their heads, cut the birds open and removed their eggs — boiling them and making the girls eat them.

He shot the kids’ pet kittens as well as a stray dog, which he killed in front of Vicki.

“That’s the kind of person he was,” Ruby said in an interview with the Guthrie Center Times.

Almost no one knew; Lillian confided in few. A half-century later, Ruby still won’t divulge details Lillian whispered to her in confidence.

Because of that, it was difficult for many Guthrie Center residents, after Lillian died, to believe she had been abused, Wendy said.

Howard gave Lillian money for groceries — although sometimes she tried selling items to have money for extras, or used Christmas money for groceries — but he wouldn’t give her money for cigarettes, Ruby recalled. Lillian sometimes asked her friend for money to buy a pack.

Eventually, in 1963, Lillian began talking to lawyers. Something had to change.

She ended up obtaining a restraining order as well as a petition that required Howard to vacate the house where the family lived and to pay her monthly support.

On the day that Howard returned to the house to pack up his belongings after being ordered to permanently vacate the residence, Wendy recalls her mother being frightened and looking for a place for herself and the girls to hide.

She, Lillian and Vicki went across the street and hid in the bushes while Howard packed up his clothes.

But the continued financial support meant Howard retained visitation rights for the kids, and on May 2, Howard took Vicki and Wendy to an ice show in Des Moines.

As they were ready to leave, Vicki left the car and ran back to the house to give her mother another hug and kiss.

“I’ll never forget that,” Wendy said.

When he returned the girls to Guthrie Center, their mother was gone.



‘I KNEW HE DID IT’

For days, the family wondered. Waited. Prayed.

Maybe she just went on vacation, Wendy recalled thinking. She’s coming back.

But the cautious optimism was overlaid with dread.

“Deep down, I knew that something very bad had happened,” she said. “And it was the end. The end of any childhood. You could just feel it coming. Any innocence was gone.”

Her children feared — and hoped — with every call or visit that there was news.

“I hated the sound of the phone for years after that,” Wendy said.

Nine days after her disappearance, Lillian’s body was found in the trunk of her car, parked at the Des Moines airport — where her daughters had attended the ice show the day she disappeared.

She had been stabbed 13 times.

Ann’s husband, Harold Shackelford — Wendy’s brother-in-law — went to the school to tell Wendy and Vicky.

Lillian had been found — and Wendy’s wary hopes that her mother would return home to her were crushed.

Her first thought was, Now nobody knows me.

“Because who knows you better than your mom?” she recalled.

She felt as though she had lost her place.

When investigators found Lillian’s body and realized they were dealing with a homicide, they began questioning Howard.

Wendy recalled that on the day Lillian disappeared, Howard was acting strangely — he drove, seemingly aimlessly, and made phone calls.

The girls had seen a strange white car in the driveway as they were leaving and pointed it out to Howard, but he later told investigators he hadn’t seen the car, Wendy said.

“I knew then, too, He’s lying; he’s involved,” she said. “We were pretty young, but we knew.”

Ruby Krakau, although two decades younger than Lillian, became good friends with her after they met through the Lutheran church in Guthrie Center. They worked together on the committee organizing a mother-daughter banquet at the church held the same day Lillian disappeared.

Although other women at the banquet were miffed Lillian had missed the event, Ruby, now 83, knew how important it had been to her and, when she heard Lillian wasn’t there, immediately believed something was wrong.

“She’s probably dead,” Ruby said without thinking when she head that Lillian hadn’t gone to the banquet — nothing else would have kept her away, Ruby believed.

And from the start, even before law enforcement officials started looking at Howard to see if he’d been involved, she believed he had something to do with Lillian’s death.

As soon as she learned her friend had died, Ruby started locking her doors — because Howard knew about her friendship with Lillian, she said. During a chance encounter at a grocery store, Howard offered to lift one of Ruby’s children into a shopping cart, and she responded, “Don’t you lay your hands on my child.”

“I was totally disgusted with him,” said Ruby, who doesn’t call Howard Randolph by his first name. “Because I knew he did it. He had something to do with it.”

Howard had motive, investigators believe, much of it financial — Howard was paying close to $1,000 in support to Lillian each month, and she had spoken with a lawyer about asking him for about $20,000 in exchange for her and the girls vacating his house. She’d planned to use that money to start over somewhere else.

There were the observations of various residents who had seen two men in a white Cadillac — the car the girls noticed in the driveway as Howard was taking them to Des Moines — whom they believe Howard hired.

But investigators never gathered enough evidence to formally charge Howard.

The case was closed 1971, with investigators stating they had exhausted all evidence, but it was re-examined in the late 1980s and early 1990s. A district attorney contacted Wendy in California and asked if she’d be willing to testify against Howard. She agreed.

But no trial ever followed.

In the months and years leading up to her death, Lillian had tried to make preparations — just in case. “In the event of my death,” she’d write on notes.

And as terrible as it sounds, Wendy said, her kids weren’t completely surprised to learn their mother had been murdered.

“We’d been expecting it,” she said.

The name “Randolph” isn’t on her tombstone.

Although the investigation into Lillian’s murder turned up the possible involvement of the two men in the white Cadillac, Ruby believes Howard was capable of killing Lillian himself. It was later found that Howard had spent the night at a motel in Des Moines the day Lillian disappeared. To this day, Ruby wonders if it was Howard who actually stabbed and killed Lillian.

Howard, who was diagnosed with colon cancer in 1968 but lived for more than two decades after, died in 1994. He was 86. He had never been criminally charged in relation to Lillian’s death.

No one from Lillian’s family was at his funeral.

Ruby recalled that the gossip among Guthrie Center residents after Howard’s death was not sympathetic.

“They were glad he died, and they said he would certainly be in hell,” she said.

FIVE DECADES

This year marks 50 since Lillian was killed.

Three of her children are still living. Henry, or “Hank,” is now 77 and lives in Bagley. Ann died four years ago; she would have turned 74 this year. Wendy, 67, and Vicki, 64, both live in California.

“I set out wondering if anybody in Guthrie even remembers,” Wendy said.

In 2009, the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation established a Cold Case Unit, listing Lillian’s homicide as one of about 150 that were being re-examined. Although funding for the unit dried up several years later, the department continues to look at old cases when new evidence turns up.

Wendy resents the fact that Howard Randolph, whom she believes is responsible for her mother’s death, was never punished.

“There are so many times when I look back that I wish I’d shot him,” Wendy said. “I wish I’d killed him, and I never even thought about it.

“That sounds awful, but he was really a horrible person.”

Several years after her mother’s death, Wendy moved to California, where her birth father lived. She soon got a job and got married. She and her husband have three kids.

“I try to get across to my own kids that their grandma was a really, really good woman who cared a lot about other people,” Wendy said.

Five decades after her mother’s death, it’s still difficult for her to remember the details.

“Even after 50 years, I can’t even think about it,” Wendy said. “It’s just something that makes me shake. It’s a trauma that hits your gut to this day.”

 

Editor's Note:

How this was reported

This article is crafted from Carroll R. McKibbin’s book, “Lillian’s Legacy,” information from “Iowa Cold Cases” and interviews with Lillian’s daughter, Wendy Holman, and her friend, Ruby Krakau.