Southwest Iowa Cold Case Murder Solved After 40 Years
In June 1982, 32-year-old Lee Rotatori (left in the photo above) left her home in Michigan to come to Council Bluffs, in southwest Iowa to start a new job as a food service director. Less than a week later, she was dead.
According to Omaha's KMTV, investigators have closed this cold case that went unsolved, almost 40 years after it happened.
In those first few days, Rotatori was staying alone at a Best Western in Council Bluffs as she awaited the arrival of her husband to help move them into what would be their permanent housing. June 25, 1982, was to be her first formal day of work, to which she did not show up after attending 4 days of training at Jennie Edmundson Hospital. When her new employer contacted hotel staff to perform a wellness check, they found Rotatori dead in her room.
Investigators later determined Rotatori was the victim of a stab wound to the heart, as well as sexual assault.
After decades of investigators periodically re-submitting DNA evidence in an effort to find a match to no avail, in 2001 the State of Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) Lab finally determined the presence of a male DNA profile. However, there was still no definitive identity.
The samples were eventually sent, in 2019, to a firm called Parabon Nanolabs in Virginia, who in February 2021 finally cracked the case. They specialize in determining familial connections from DNA samples.
A sample from the murderer's daughter was analyzed to confirm the match, but there was a reason for the lengthy delay. The killer, Thomas Freeman of West Frankfort, Illinois, himself was murdered just a short time after Rotatori.
According to KMTV, the Council Bluffs Police Department stated in a media release
On October 30, 1982, Freeman’s decomposed body was found buried in a shallow grave near Cobden, Illinois. Freeman had been shot multiple times; he was 35 years old at the time of his death. It was reported that he had been dead for about three months before his body was discovered.
It is still unclear whether Freeman's murder was connected to his involvement in the murder of Lee Rotatori and his case remains unsolved.