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Alice Mae Van Alstine - Unsolved Cold Case

Alice Mae Van Alstine
DOB: May 23, 1947
Age at Report: 28
4375 N.E. 29th St.
Polk County
Height: 5’ 7”
Hair: Brown
Eyes: Blue
Missing Since: March 26, 1976

The postcard’s backside message, however, alluded to an anything-but-Merry Christmas and also foretold a tragic irony. It was here the 28-year-old Des Moines woman had penned to a close family member:

Hi there – We’ll see you Fri eve – around dark. My husband isn’t coming – he is a ‘missing person’. Will explain later. Love, Alice

Three months later on a cold Friday night, March 26, 1976, it was Alice — a former “Minutemen” sympathizer who’d recently abandoned the right-wing paramilitary organization — who tucked her children into bed at their 29th Street apartment and then vanished into thin air, never to be seen nor heard from again. Her purse and money were found in the apartment, and, despite the near-freezing 37º outside temperature, she’d also disappeared without her coat or shoes. Neighbors reported her as missing on Sunday.

Investigators found Alice’s car door open, the keys in the ignition. Her 6-year-old son told officers that when he got up Saturday morning, “Mommy wasn’t there.”

Detective Paul Womak said the disappearance is mysterious because, based on interviews with Van Alstine’s friends and relatives, she “was very close to her family — the good mother — who for all practical purposes just disappeared.”

To Alice’s close family members and friends, her mysterious disappearance was anything but a mystery; almost all believed she’d been kidnapped and assassinated by Minutemen or Minutemen sympathizers because she wanted to leave the organization but knew too much about their activities in Iowa and was considered a “traitor.”

Founded by Robert DePugh of Missouri in 1959, Minutemen believed a Communist takeover was eminent, and were known for stockpiling weapons, ammunition and explosives, and plotting and carrying out right-wing paramilitary activities.

Alice, indeed, had known and witnessed plenty while married to her first husband, Lee Andre, and already had begun cooperating with officials.

On July 21, 1977, Des Moines Tribune writers Greg Stricharchuk and Gene Erb published a page one, full-scale exposé on Minutemen activities in Iowa that chronicled several Minuteman-related incidents in the Des Moines area. According to the article, Alice stated in a sworn deposition that while married to Andre, suitcases belonging to Minutemen were left at her home, that one suitcase contained a Bible with secret coded messages, that the suitcases were burned when Minutemen were sought by authorities, and that stolen weapons and explosives were stored in her barn. In that same deposition, Alice acknowledged that explosives had been used to bomb a Des Moines home and that she’d been visited by FBI agents.

So convinced of the Minutemen’s involvement in his daughter’s disappearance and murder, Alice’s father, World War II veteran Howard Barnes, took to sleeping each night on a sofa for more than a year with a loaded .30-caliber carbine at his side. The July 1977 Des Moines Tribune article quotes Barnes as saying that before Alice vanished she’d told him, “Dad, they [the Minutemen] are going to kill me.”

At the time she’d confided in him, Barnes said he couldn’t picture Minutemen “that vicious a bunch,” but fully believed it after his daughter went missing and after driving more than 15,000 miles talking to people about Alice and her connections to the Minutemen. Based on his discoveries, Barnes began to fear he, too, may be killed or his hand-built home in Lovilia bombed.

Iowa Minuteman today no longer work strictly underground and even go so far as to publicly announce local leaders’ names on their website. The organization’s right-wing agenda hasn’t changed, but one key supporter has enabled them to bring the group’s fanatical rhetoric into the mainstream; Iowa congressman Steve King not only shares their extremist ideology, but helps raise funds to support their agenda.

Today’s Iowa Minuteman: Augmenting Iowa Congressman Steve King’s Mission

Iowa Congressman Steve King‘s mutually rewarding relationship with the Minuteman is clearly no secret in Iowa, nor any other state. A simple Google search string using the words iowa congressman steve king minuteman turns up close to 2.5 million results on any given day.

The Iowa Minuteman Civil Defense Corps website states its Primary Objective is to “Secure the borders of the United States.”

On congressman King’s website, “Border Security” tops his list under his Immigration Issue Statement.

The Iowa Minuteman’s Volunteer Registration Application(under the “Join Us” link on their website or available in PDF format here) not only asks for a potential member’s concealed weapon license number, but asks if the enrollee can “serve on the border” and, if so, his or her “preferred state.”

President Bush referred to the group as “vigilantes.” (Radio Iowa, May 30, 2006)

The terms “illegal immigrants” and “border security” populate the Iowa Minuteman’s website pages; both terms also permeate a vast number of pages and press releases available on the Iowa congressman’s official website.

Though Minutemen focus on concealed weapons permits while King opts for an electric fence like used on cattle, the differing options haven’t deterred either party’s support for one another; King has received some $7,500 from anti-immigrant PACs.

The Iowa Minuteman’s latest announcements page hails King for having filed the “English Only” lawsuit regarding Iowa’s English Only law, and also touts the Postville, Iowa, raid on illegal immigrants.

Alice Mae Van Alstine was not a Communist nor an illegal immigrant, but a devoted mother of four who witnessed firsthand the Minutemen’s illegal — and deadly — activities in Iowa and tried to break free from the organization.

If you have any information about any of these cases please contact the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation’s Cold Case Unit at (515) 725-6010, or send e-mail to: coldcaseunit@dps.state.ia.us.

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  1. April 2nd will mark the 36 year anniversary of Alice's disappearance.

  2. It is very sad case.


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