We do not know exactly when in August 1971 Deborah Ann Danhaus (18) from Amboy, Illinois was murdered. We do not know why either. All we know is that the case went cold fast.
Should any evidence still be in storage, hopefully properly preserved, they should be re-examined with modern technology.
When I searched for information, there wasn’t a lot in the public domain. Therefore, Deborah’s unsolved murder is the Case of the Month for March 2019.
Deborah still lived at home with her parents and brother. She was reported missing by her parents on Monday evening, Aug 2, 1971. Her parents apparently told the papers that Deborah had a date with a colleague, a salesman from the company Woodhaven Lakes named Stan Allen. He told police that Deborah had dropped him off at his home late Monday evening, Aug 2. No exact times were reported in the papers.
After graduating from Amboy High School in 1970 as an honor student, Deborah attended Gem City Business College in Quincy, worked as a secretary for the law firm of Baker & Wagner in Mendota before she got the job at Woodhaven Lakes. Woodhaven Lakes is a land-developing corporation where Deborah worked in a public relations-secretarial capacity.
When Deborah was found, her face was covered by her hair, and her arms were up with her “unclenched hands parallel to her head.” She was on her back. As a lot of blood was found underneath her, we can assume that she was dumped where she was found shortly after she died.
The coroner determined the cause of death was asphyxiation due to strangulation. I wonder about any signs of manual strangulation. More on this follows below.
When she was found, Deborah only had one shoe on. Was the other ever found? Her blue jeans were pulled down to her knees. Normally this would hint at sexual assault but authorities remained steadfast that “non-sexual reasons were responsible for this.” I’d like to know what made them think along that line.
Her jeans, if preserved, should be checked with the M-Vac as it is the solution to get touch-DNA of fabric. It has proven itself now in many unsolved cases. It is worth a shot!
The autopsy was performed by Dr. Cesare Manetti, pathologist. Since the body had deteriorated he could not say for certain that she had been sexually assaulted but she had been dead for at least 48 hours. As she was found dead Saturday afternoon of Aug 9 around 3pm, the earliest date of her death would be Thursday midday, Aug 5.
The autopsy report revealed several interesting details: no official time/date of death could be given, no alcohol was found in Deborah’s blood, she ate before she died (I could not find what that might have been and it matters to trace back her steps), and we got more information about the strangulation. Deborah’s laryngeal bone was broken during the strangulation. It isn’t clear if the strangulation was manual or by object. Either is possible.
Then-Lee County Coroner Robert Preston dismissed rumors that Deborah had been shot. He also made it clear that she was not pregnant.
The Deborah Ann Danhaus Investigation
There is a big gap in the timeline from the moment that Deborah was reported missing e.g. Monday evening Aug 2 to the moment that her remains were found Saturday afternoon around 3pm on Aug 7, 1971, in a field overgrown with weeds and brush along Morgan Road, about two miles north of Amboy.
Then-Lee County Sheriff John Quest thought that maybe Deborah’s killer didn’t know the area very well as there were better spots to hide a body. In the area are far more secretive places, more isolated, lots of corn fields and there “it probably would not have been found until fall” Quest said. But there is always the possibility that the murderer panicked and just dropped the body. Was her death premeditated?
Here is an interesting detail. Another salesman from Woodhaven Lakes, Wayne Chapan, told authorities that he got a phone call from Deborah on Wednesday. That would have been Aug 4, 1971. What did they discuss? Did she say where she was? Can we verify that call with telephone records?
Deborah’s mom told police that on Aug 2 her daughter told her she had to type a letter for someone called “Wayne.” Police later identified this person as Wayne Chapan. What kind of letter and where was she going to type the letter? At her house, at his house, at an office? And was that to be done before or after the date with Allen? Is it the letter what they discussed in the phone call if this is all true? Was any letter ever found?
Another interesting element: according to Mr. Keith Iverson, at that time the director of sales at Woodhaven Lakes, Deborah’s “employment was terminated three weeks before her disappearance.” What did Deborah do in those three weeks?
On Aug 9, the paper said that the inside of Deborah’s Datsun was covered in blood. In later editions “covered in blood” was toned down considerably. “Stains of blood spotted a small area of the car’s interior, and reportedly, there was blood on the vacuum cleaner.” There were no clear signs of struggle inside the car. What about the outside? The Datsun was searched for fingerprints, etc. I have not read anything about test results.
A small vacuum-cleaner without a hose was found in the back seat. A hose was found across the road where Deborah was found. I wonder if the small vacuum-cleaner belonged to Deborah or not. If it was preserved the content of the bag could be a treasure trove.
Police were not sure that the hose was used to strangle Deborah. In later paper editions, the vacuum-cleaner is described as a part of a vacuum-cleaner. Why? What changed?
I didn’t find whether the hose definitely belonged to the vacuum-cleaner in the Datsun. Most likely it did but I like to have these things confirmed.
Deborah’s blue Datsun was found parked in the Amboy Central Elementary School parking lot more than two miles from where her remains were found on Saturday afternoon, Aug 7th, 1971. Who drove the car there? Was it taken there after Deborah was killed or before and was she forced to walk those two miles?
Lee County sheriff deputies assisted by the Illinois Bureau of Investigation and Illinois State Police checked Deborah’s background for clues including people she dated. An ex-boyfriend, who now lives in Kentucky, was questioned as well as relatives, colleagues, and neighbors. Nothing of interest was uncovered and none are prime suspects.
On Aug 23, 1971, the papers reported that the investigation into Deborah’s murder was “at a standstill.” Then-Lee County Sheriff John Quest said he never had a case “so devoid of clues.” No motive, no suspects, no leads, nothing.
If you have any information about this case please contact the Lee County Sheriff’s Department in Dixon, Illinois at 1(815) 284-6631.
In the series “Case of the Month” I highlight old cold cases. These posts are not an in-depth analysis and of course, often more information can be found online and in newspaper archives.
The goal of these posts is to get the cases back in the spotlights, to get people talking again, and if anything to make sure that we do not forget the victims. Just because their cases are unsolved does not mean that we can forget about them.
If you have any thoughts about this case I encourage you to post them on your own social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, etc. Every time that we mention Deborah Ann Danhaus’ name online we enhance her digital footprint.
We must make sure that she keeps her web presence if we ever wish to find answers in her case. You can help by linking to or sharing this post.
Thank you for remembering Deborah Ann Danhaus with us.
Dixon Evening Telegraph from Dixon Illinois, Aug 09, 1971
Dixon Evening Telegraph from Dixon, Illinois, Aug 10, 1971
Dixon Evening Telegraph from Dixon, Illinois Aug 11, 1971
Dixon Evening Telegraph from Dixon, Illinois Aug 12, 1971
Dixon Evening Telegraph from Dixon, Illinois, Aug 16, 1971
Dixon Evening Telegraph from Dixon, Illinois, Aug 17, 1971
Dixon Evening Telegraph from Dixon, Illinois, Aug 23, 1971