Holiday Hate: Iowa’s 1987, Small-Town Christmas Killings
Algona is a small town in north-central Iowa.
With a population of just over 6000 in the 1980s, no one thought that something of this magnitude could happen -- especially to the Dreesmans.
John and Agnes Dreesman were staples in the community. According to an article in a 1991 addition of Times magazine, John was
a millionaire farmer, a director of the Interstate Bank and a former city councilman who wore his bib overalls everywhere except to church. He and his wife Agnes had two extremely bright children whose horizons soon extended far beyond Iowa.
It elaborates on their children:
Their daughter Marilyn, born in 1939, studied in Switzerland and married the son of a wealthy Chinese textile manufacturer. Called a jet setter by Algonans, she, along with her three children, spent time in Geneva, Hong Kong and Honolulu.
The Dreesmans' son Robert, born in 1947, was a husky but grimly introspective boy who became a perennial student. He took courses in pre-med, horticulture and psychology at various American colleges, and studied veterinary medicine in the Philippines.
"I'd rather have a loving son than a genius," his mother once confided. Though his father showed a strong attachment to Robert, it was thought that he financed his moody son's quest for college diplomas to keep him away from home. When Robert graduated first in his class from the Palmer College of Chiropractic in Davenport, Iowa, in 1986, the family was relieved that he finally seemed set to embark on a career.
If they only knew what their son would do a year later.
During a family gathering on the night of December 30, 1987, Robert entered the home and opened fire on his parents, sister, niece, and nephews. Per an article by APNews at the time, "John Dreesman, 79; his wife, Agnes, 74; Marilyn Chuang, 48; and her three children - Jason, 12, Jennifer, 11, and Joshua, 8 - were all found shot to death in the dining room at the Dreesman’s ranch-style home."
Authorities said that the six murders likely happened in a 15-to-30 second time frame.
Robert then turned the gun on himself, committing suicide. He was found in the hallway outside the living room.
The bodies were discovered by an officer between noon and 1 p.m. after authorities were alerted by a family friend. The Register stated that he "opened the door, took one look inside, closed the door, and called state investigators."
An Algona-native, chiropractor, and friend of Robert Dreesman, S.A. Mueller, said this to the Des Moines Register:
He was very quiet, very withdrawn. When they analyze this they'll find he was a neglected child.
People were too busy for him. He never got the love he should have gotten, and it kind of stuck with him the rest of his life.
His mom and dad loved him dearly. But still, there was that distance. Robert needed love.
With his sister’s children home from Hawaii, Grandma and Grandpa showered so much love on them. I think, maybe, Robert was sitting in the corner by himself and flipped out.
In the aforementioned APNews article, Molly MacDonald, editor of the Algona Upper Des Moines and Kossuth County Advance newspapers, and friend of Marilyn's contradicted Mueller's thoughts:
He was not neglected. They were a very loving family. Perhaps Robert’s view was distorted and he saw himself as neglected.
State senator and friend of John and Agnes added this, according to the Washington Post:
Here he was living with his parents, kind of being the center of attention all the time, and then Marilyn and the kids came home. Who knows, but that might have pushed Robert over the edge.
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