The Evansdale Murders: What Happened To Lyric Cook-Morrissey and Elizabeth Collins?

My write-up was originally posted in two parts on r/UnresolvedMysteries , I am posting it here condensed into one post to spread more awareness.

The Disappearance

On the morning of July 13th, 2012, in the small town of Evansdale, Iowa, cousins Lyric Cook (10) and Elizabeth Collins (8) were dropped off at their grandmother Wylma Cook’s house, which had become almost routine that summer. But the girls didn’t mind at all; they enjoyed their time together. After only being there a short while, the girls decided to go on a bike ride together, like they had done many times before that summer. Their grandmother agreed to let them go and the two girls set off a little after noon. Wylma watched the girls until they got down to the end of the street corner, then retreated back inside. Unbeknownst to Wylma, this was the last time she would ever see her granddaughters.

After about an hour had past, Wylma realized that the girls had not returned and began to grow worried, as it was unusual for them to be gone this long. But it wasn’t until Misty Cook-Morrissey — Lyric’s mother — got off work around 2pm (over 2 hours after the girls had left), and came to pick Lyric up, when the panic truly started to set in. Friends and family were called and a quick search of the surrounding area around Wylma’s home began in an effort to find the girls, but it was to no avail. Police were contacted shortly there after, and a bigger search was then called.

The Search

In the first few hours of the search, several witnesses from nearby neighborhoods came forward claiming to have seen the girls riding their bikes on Gilbert Drive — which was about a mile and a half away from Wylma Cook’s house — sometime between 12:30 and 1 p.m. Another witness said they spotted the girls still on their bikes around the same time on the 1000 block of Lake Avenue — a street located nearby Meyers Lake, which is a popular spot among locals for fishing. After nothing came up at the parks and school playgrounds closest to area, which were the most plausible locations to check first, a search party made up of local firefighters decided to look on the bike trails around the area, thinking the girls may have gotten lost on their way home. This would result in an alarming discovery: on the bike trail located near the southeast corner of Meyers Lake, the two bikes belonging to the girls were found abandoned, with the girls nowhere to be seen.

Over the next several days police, now joined by hundreds of volunteers, began combing through the entire stretch of land between the paths the girls had been spotted on, and the corner where the bikes were found, desperately looking for any clue of where the young girls may be. Local law enforcement also requested help from the FBI, who sent expertly trained search and rescue divers to search Meyers Lake, after being concerned that the girls may have fell in. The lake was also partially drained to help aid the effort but this, too, came up short. Investigators were also able to obtain surveillance footage from an old auction house located on Brovan Boulevard not far from Wylma Cook’s house. The footage was short — only catching a brief glimpse of the missing girls — showing the two at around 12:23 p.m., which was not long after they had initially left their grandma’s house. Unfortunately, the investigators could not track the rest of girls’ bike trip as they were not able to obtain any more security footage from surrounding houses/businesses, leaving them to rely on less reliable resources such as eye-witness testimony and scent tracing dogs.

While the exhaustive searches in and around Meyers Lake continued, investigators brought in the girls’ parents, other family members, and even friends to determine if there was any hints of deception in their statements surrounding the day of disappearance. The family members agreed to have their phones checked for any concerning communications sent as well, but nothing incriminating was found and the family were formally cleared of any involvement.

Investigators began to bring in local sex offenders (specifically ones who were known to target young girls) to question them and determine any possible involvement — even going as far as administering polygraph tests, but no potential leads came out of this.

By July 20th, a week after the girls’ disappearance, law enforcement ruled out any accidental causes (i.e. drowning) and began formally treating the case as an abduction that was likely commited by a stranger — a stranger to the girls, and unknown by police.

Candle light vigils were held by the community in the days and weeks following the disappearance to help spread awareness, as a plea for the safe return of the girls and to keep the case in the media. Police set up a 24 hour tipline and received up to 20 tips an hour in the first month of the girls’ disappearance.

Elizabeth’s parents, Heather and Drew Collins, made many TV appearances pleading for their daughter’s safe return, and handed out flyers and posters showing the missing girls’ photos at the Hall of Law. Heather also began a petition to change Amber Alert laws in the state of Iowa, believing the system had waited too long to report the girls as missing to the public.

Lyric’s mother Misty understandbly struggled significantly following her daughter’s disappearance, but always put on a brave face and rallied for her daughter’s safe return on TV with her sister Heather, and other family friends. Misty turned to drugs and alcohol to help cope with the pain of losing her daughter, soon falling back into the pattern of drug abuse she had dug herself out of years prior.

Unfortunately, as the summer came to an end, tips stopped coming in as frequently, and the media moved on. Hope quietly dwindled amongst family members and the community as there seemed to be no sign of the girls or their kidnapper on the horizon.

Controversy Around The Families

In the initial days after the girls’ disappearance, journalists and other media personalities began to focus in on the girls and subsequently, their families. After doing a bit of digging it had been discovered that Dan Morrissey, Lyric’s father, was currently in several ongoing criminal cases involving an assault on his ex-wife Misty (Lyric’s mother) and multiple felony drug charges that included the manufacturing and dealing of meth. Dan faced decades in prison, and he had only been let out of police custody following the disappearance of his daughter and niece so he could be with his family. Following this discovery, the families faced intense public scrutiny and backlash. Many claimed that Dan’s actions were the direct cause of Lyric and Elizabeth’s abduction, that they must’ve been taken as collateral because of money Dan owed, or as retribution for the crimes he had commited. However, Dan was quick to refute this claim, alleging that if he had a known enemy he would’ve alerted police immediately. Though this theory is widely discredited, there are still some who whole-heartedly believe Dan is linked to the girls’ abductor(s).

The Grim Discovery

On Wednesday December 5th, 2012, two skeletonized human remains were discovered by a group of hunters in a remote area of the Seven Bridges Wildlife Park, which was near the town of Readlyn in Bremer County, Iowa — over 25 miles away from the town of Evansdale. Police were contacted at 12:45pm, and the area was sealed off and declared a crime scene. The remains were recovered and sent to the state medical examiner’s office in Ankeny for identification, however, law enforcement officals believed the remains belonged to the missing cousins.

The following day, December, 6th, Chief Deputy Rick Abben of the Black Hawk County Sheriff’s Office held a press conference where he announced that officials believe the two bodies found at Seven Bridges were those of Lyric Cook and Elizabeth Collins, despite not yet receiving results from the medical examiner. Abben explained that there were no other missing persons case from the region at the time and that the remains found were of small stature.

On December, 10th, the Monday after the remains had been discovered, the state medical examiner confirmed that the bodies did indeed belong to Lyric Cook and Elizabeth Collins. The girls’ families were contacted by the sheriff’s department and asked the public for privacy as they mourned. No details were released to the public about the remains other than the manner of death was Homicide.

The Aftermath

Following the discovery of the bodies, to say the community of Evansdale went into mourning is an understatement. Local memorial ceremonies were arranged for each girl — Elizabeth’s taking place on December 13th, and Lyric’s on December 29th. Hundreds gathered at each event to honor the girls’ lives and to support their families in their time of need.

The girls were buried in Waterloo Memorial Park Cemetery, in Waterloo, IA. But Elizabeth would not be officially laid to rest until May 2013. Her graveside ceremony was attended by more than 200 people, and her beloved dog Gus, who was wearing a rose on his collar to honor his bestfriend.

Both cousins were memorialized at the spot the their bikes had been found, Meyers Lake, and the bike trail that surrounded Meyers Lake was also renamed “Trail of Angels.” Evansdale residents and nationwide supporters donated thousands of dollars dedicated to renovating Meyers Lake park, which was renamed Angel’s Park in the girls’ honor. Several years later a beautiful mural of the two was also commissioned, and it now faces Highway 20, for all to see.

In addition to the park memorials, July 13th was declared “Lyric and Elizabeth Day” in Evansdale, as the community refused to let the girls be forgotten. Their deaths inspired legislators to make several changes to the Amber Alert system, which allowed instantaneous alerts to hit more regions after a child has gone missing — which both of the girls’ families believed might have made a difference on that day. The state of Iowa also brought back the death penalty specifically for child murderers.

The Investigation Then

While the two families and community of Evansdale mourned, law enforcement officers now had the extremely difficult task of investigating a double child abduction and murder.

According to The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, stranger abductions are the rarest type of case and make up only 1% of the missing children cases reported to NCMEC. Even rarer is the abduction of two children in broad daylight — in fact, the FBI could only find 15 similar incidents occuring between the years 1976 and 2012, a number that included Lyric and Elizabeth. With the perpetrator having no ties to either girl, investigators would have a difficult time locating him.

Investigators have kept most of the intimate details to themselves (i.e. cause of death, what evidence was collected at the scene, if they believe the girls were killed at Seven Bridges, and if there was any DNA found), likely to weed out false confessions. But six months after the girls were found, on July 24th, 2013, law enforcement would announce a break in the case:

Three seperate witnesses had come forward claiming to have seen an older model, white, SUV-type vehicle — similar to a Chevy Suburban or a Ford Bronco — parked on Arbutus Avenue, a street near Meyers Lake on the day the girls’ disappearance. Two of the witnessed reported seeing the SUV parked between two bike trail signs. The other witness told police they had seen the vehicle parked near the woods on the east side of the lake — only a few hundred feet away from where the girls’ bikes were found. All three witnesses reported seeing the vehicle between 11:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. on July 13th, 2012.

Two of those witnesses had come forward in the first few days of the search, while the third came several months later because the person had assumed someone had already come forward about it.

While nothing has been reported on the vehicle since the initial announcement, the likelyhood that it was linked to the girls’ abduction is high.

Possible Connection?

On May 20th, 2013, an eerily similar situation began to develop in Dayton, Iowa.

Fifteen year old Kathlynn Shepard and her twelve year old friend, Dezi Huges, were kidnapped by convicted sex offenser Michael Klunder while the girls were walking home from their bus stop.

He allegedly drove the girls around in his truck for hours, before taking the girls to a hog confinement pen south of Dayton where he worked and zip-tied the girls’ hands. Klunder then took the bound Kathlynn to a different part of the property where he ultimately raped and killed her. Dezi, however, was able to escape the truck where she then hid out in the nearby woods, then made her way to a nearby house and notified the police about Kathlynn and the abduction.

Upon realizing Dezi had escaped, Klunder dumped Kathlynn’s body in the Des Moines River then killed himself. Police found him in his truck a little over four hours after the abduction took place. Kathlynn’s body was not found until two weeks later.

Because of the similarities between the Dayton kidnappings and Evansdale murders, many started to suspect — and hope — that Klunder may have been involved in Lyric and Elizabeth’s deaths.

But on May 14th, 2014, Michael Klunder would officially be cleared from involvement in the Evansdale murders. Police Chief Kent Smock would not go into specifics about how they ruled Klunder out, but stated: The team spent a great deal of time looking into his whereabouts on July 13. The team also analyzed information and ran tests, and from that authorities determined Klunder was not in Evansdale on July 13 and was not involved in the girls’ disappearance or killing. They believe Klunder was in or near his home in Stratford when the Evansdale girls disappeared.

When Elizabeth Collins’ father, Drew Collins, was asked he said he did not think Klunder kidnapped his daughter and her cousin

Collins first heard about Klunder being ruled out as a suspect on the news. He said he was ultimately not disappointed by the announcement.

Later Developments

On Thursday, August 21, 2014, Evansdale police unveiled a web page to act as a source of information relating to the unsolved case. Unfortunately, the website is now defunct, but it did include an offender profile developed by the FBI. The offender profile concluded, in part, that:

• The offender is familiar with both Meyers Lake/Angel’s Park in Evansdale and Seven Bridges Wildlife Area in Bremer County

• The suspect chose Seven Bridges because he was familiar with the area and knew it was secluded

• The offender blends in with and may be part of the Evansdale, Bremer and surrounding communities

• The suspect likely used “quiet coercion” to gain the girls’ compliance into leaving Meyers Lake, using a ruse or threats of violence

• The suspect may have been experiencing stress related to legal troubles, spousal problems, employment difficulties, financial strain or mental health issues in July 2012

• The suspect may avoid discussing the case or showing interest in the matter but is likely following developments in the media

• The offender may have attempted to abduct other children or adults in the past

• Following the disappearance, the suspect may have altered his or her physical appearance, such as changing hair style and facial hair. The offender’s vehicle may also have been altered with a new paint job or re-upholstery.

Investigators believe there is only one person involved in their murder and abduction.

On Tuesday, February 3rd, 2015 another press confrence was held at Evansdale City Hall where Police Chief Kent Smock declared they would be focusing their efforts on those familar with Seven Bridges Wildlife Park.

“I think you will all agree with me that Seven Bridges is extremely remote,” Smock said. “We have no doubt that the person or persons responsible with this crime are very familiar with Seven Bridges.”

“It’s a very well-known area to the local community,” he said. “Unless you just knew that area, you wouldn’t just come across it.

Obviously, whoever took the girls to that area … was comfortable with that environment and knew of that environment,” he added.”

It was here that Smock informed the public that they did not currently have a suspect or person of interest.

Possible Theories

Since the discovery of the girls’ bodies in Seven Bridges Wildlife Park, some theories have arisen on who could be responsible.

As touched on in part one, there are still some people who believe Dan Morrissey’s — Lyric’s father — criminal past is linked with the girls’ abduction. While an unpopular theory, these individuals believe they must have been taken in reparation for money owed, or payback for a bad batch of meth. They believe Dan refuses to give up a name to police so he won’t have to deal with public backlash.

Another theory alleges that their abductor could’ve been known to one or both of the girls, which is why he had to take both of them — to prevent being identified. This person (possibly someone who worked at one of the girls’ schools or just lived near one of their friends) would’ve been a complete stranger to the parents, and totally off the radar to police. He could be hiding in plain sight.

But the most popular theory by far is that this is the work of a serial killer — a serial killer that has already struck again in Delphi. (For the few that aren’t familiar with this case, here is an excellent and detailed overview of the case. More information can be found on r/DelphiMurders)

After the Delphi case went viral for the infamous audio and photo of the perpetrator, many in the true crime community began to see parrallels between the Delphi and Evansdale murders; particularly for the fact that both crimes had two young female victims, the crimes happened in broad daylight around local trails, and the bodies were found in isolated areas mainly frequented by hunters. Once the media caught onto this theory, it spread like wildfire, which prompted the Indiana State Police to start looking into the similiarities.

A little less than a month later on March, 9th, 2017, Sgt. John Perrine from the Indiana State Police would officially disspell the rumors, saying, “We have spoken with Iowa authorities about that case just like we’ve spoken to so many agencies with their unsolved cases. We’re simply comparing notes. At this point we do not have a connection with that case.”

Despite this, some people still believe the victim type and killer’s MO is too similar for the murders to not be connected. Some even go as far as to claim the secrecy around the intimate details of both cases is because they have found signatures from the same killer and are waiting for those signatures to pop up in another crime.

However, at the end of the day, neither police agencies would have any reason to lie about this connection, and they have access to all the evidence that the public doesn’t. Occam’s Razor says two different killers and two sets of opportunistic victims.

The Impact on the Girls’ Families

The girls’ families have tried to cope as best as they could given the situation, but the deaths understandably took its toll on everyone.

In an interview given days after the girls’ bodies were discovered, Heather Collins stated that she and her (now ex-)husband, as well as their other three younger children are attending counseling. Heather also mentions that she copes through praying, stating, “That’s where I get my peace, that’s where I get my strength.”

In another interview given two years after the girls’ were found, Drew Collins expresses, “A lot of what we are trying to do is put our lives back together, me and Heather and the kids.

All of that becomes harder and harder as time goes,” he said. “Holding your marriage together, holding your family together. It’s hard on marriage, it’s hard on day-to-day life. All around a tough situation.”

Elizabeth’s parents, Drew and Heather Collins, drifted apart from the stress after Elizabeth’s disappearance, and eventually the couple decided a divorce would be best at the end. The two still remain friend and cordial to this day, hoping and waiting for the day their daughter’s killer is caught.

On the other side, Lyric’s parents have had a harder time with the grieving process.

As mentioned in part one, Dan Morrissey was facing criminal charges at the time of Lyric’s disappearance and had been temporarily released from custody to be with his family.

While out of custody, he experienced two relapses — one on October 2nd, Lyric’s birthday, and one on December 5th, the day the girls’ bodies were found. Along with using meth, Dan soon began to manufacture it again.

A year after his daughter’s disappearance, he would face his judgement day.

At the sentencing he told the judge, “My problem at that time wasn’t drugs, my problem was grief … I really still can’t accept it.”

But Judge David Staut showed no mercy, exclaiming: “Since you were released from custody after your daughter’s unfortunate event, you were utilizing other women you knew to go to stores to buy or steal pseudoephedrine so you could manufacture methamphetamine,” he said. “The fact that your child was in your home when you were arrested on these events show that you don’t use very good judgment concerning yourself as a parent, to subject them to those conditions, to those situations, to those individuals and to that behavior is certainly not good parenting.”

After entering a plea agreement on three seperate drug chargers, Dan was sentenced to 90 years in prison with a maximum of 30 years served before being eligible for parole.

Previously an addict, Misty Cook-Morrissey worked hard for years to change her life — and Lyric’s life — for the better, and she did so successfully. However, after Lyric disappeared, Misty was extremely distraught; she wanted to numb the pain, to dissociate from the situation, so she began using again. This abuse would soon send her on a path downwards which would lead to her arrest in 2013, and being sentenced to ten years in prison for delivery of meth. But fortunately, she was released after only serving one year, and she was determined to pick up the pieces again.

She told KCCI news in a 2017 interview after her release that can’t even look at pictures of her daughter (Lyric) because the pain is too much to bear.

“I think about her all the time,” Cook told KCCI over the phone. “I don’t think I deal with it very well still.”

Misty is sober now, and has began a new life in St. Lucas, Iowa, raising baby chicks with her boyfriend Zack Frazer — and a new baby girl named Abigail.

In another 2017 interview with the Des Moines Register, Misty described the past 5 years as a kind of “rebirth.”

“After Lyric, I didn’t think I would be willing to have any more kids, and God had other plans, and we were really, really blessed to have her in my life,” Cook said in a phone interview. “It’s amazing.”

Where The Investigation Stands Today

On May 4th, 2018, a potential break-through was discovered when a 36 year old woman named Teresa Catherine Gerleman killed herself and her 8 year old son.

While law enforcement was investigating their deaths, the became aware that Teresa was a client at Genesis Development, a nonprofit that provides support to people with disabilities. She allegedly told her community support specialist that she “might have inside knowledge on a previous crime.” The woman then relayed that information to authorities after being questioned, and told them “if you go to Gerleman’s home, you might find information about a previous crime.” When asked to be more specific, the woman told police, “it has something to do with the two Evansdale girls found in the woods.”

A search warrant was then obtained, but it’s unknown if anything actually relating to the Evansdale murders was found. Police eventually ruled Gerleman and her son’s death as a murder-suicide, but could not figure out a motive.

On July 13th, 2020 — the 8th year anniversary of the girls’ abduction — the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation told KCCI News that the case is not cold, and a task force meets every week to work on it. So far, the Iowa DCI said it has followed up on nearly 2,000 leads. They also monitor sex offenders in the Waterloo area and surrounding areas.

In the same interview, Elizabeth Collins’ father remarks, “Every day they tell me, every day that they go through another person it narrows the search. If they can get two or three people off the list a month, then they can also concentrate on other people that they haven’t taken off the list.”

“There has to be somebody that knows something somewhere that is holding information,” Collins said. “I don’t think anyone can do this without someone knowing or talking about it. I am just waiting for that day and that phone call every time the phone rings.”

“I am thinking it will be solved soon,” he said. “I get that feeling, anyway. I don’t know why, but I think it will be solved and I think it will be solved even this year or next year.”

As of Feburary 2021, there has been no official arrests made.

Lyric Ray Lynn Cook-Morrissey would be 19 years old, and Elizabeth June Marie Collins would be 17. Their lives unfairly cut short but they will forever live on as the Evansdale Angels.

There is a $175,000 reward for a tip leading to the arrest of their killer. If you have any information regarding this case please contact authorities at (319)232-6682, or email the tipline at [email protected]

Justice for Lyric and Elizabeth

Sources: 1.) 2.) 3.) 4.) 5.)

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