On July 12th, 1979 a 3-year-old Native girl was murdered in the Hill Top Motel’s laundry room in Red Oak, Iowa. Her name was Keara Lee Coshow.
Keara’s mum, Debra Lee Butler of the Lac Courte Oreilles Tribe, says that Wayne Coshow, Keara’s dad, and his wife, Karen Coshow, took Keara and her sister Bernadette without permission. Debra had full custody of both girls. Unfortunately, the police did not take Debra’s appeals for help seriously when she attempted to report it to them. Debra did not find out about Keara’s death until a month after it occurred, and only after battling to find out where her daughters were.
Keara Was Blind
Keara was blind at the time of her death because three months earlier, in her stepmother’s home, her face was splashed with Drano. Accounts from Bernadette show that their stepmother Karen was abusive; she would lock the girls outside all day, punishing them, and declining them access to their own house.
It’s thought that on the night of July 11th Keara had wet herself since they were locked out of the home and this disturbed Karen. As she was giving the girls a bath she continued to get more and more furious, which led to Karen shaking Keara until she was unconscious. This left her with an acute spinal cord injury and in neurogenic shock. When Wayne reached home she told him that Keara was sick. On the afternoon of July 12th, Karen wrapped Keara up and took her to the laundry room of the motel, which Karen managed. The motel was located at 1303 Summit Street and at the time, the structure was being done nearby.
Karen gave several stories about what happened next. She says Keara spilled an explosive paint product on the floor when Karen left the room for 5 minutes. The paint was set aflame by the gas water heater and when Karen hurried back the room was on fire. It had resulted in a small explosion. She claims that she called 911 but records indicate it came from the foreman of that construction crew around 215 pm, over 30 minutes after the fire began. He’d seen the smoke. Sadly, Keara was badly burned and unrecognizable from the fire. She didn’t survive.
One version of Karen’s several stories was that she was cleaning rooms and she saw Keara on the steps at the laundry room and Keara went into the laundry room alone; another is that she was in the laundry room with Keara and left to get something. Three different observers saw Karen that day and her stories disputed wildly with the eyewitness accounts, which all state that Karen carried Keara into that laundry room and left her there.
Much of the casework on Keara’s case was done by Janet Franson, an honorably former homicide detective and advocate for MMIP. Keara was advocated for by her aunt, Sandra Coshow, who dedicated hours upon hours to get justice for her niece.