WATERLOO, Iowa --- The man who was convicted of killing Olympic wrestling champion Dan Gable's sister has died in prison.
John Thomas Kyle died Friday in a Kansas hospital following a heart attack earlier in the week while he was in Hutchinson Correctional Facility Central in Hutchinson, Kans., serving a life sentence in the death of Diane Gable, according to the Iowa Department of Corrections.
Fred Scaletta, a spokesman with the Iowa Department of Corrections, said Kyle died of natural causes. He was 64 years old.
Authorities said Kyle, the son of a bank president, was a 16-year-old high school dropout when he choked, beat and stabbed 19-year-old Diane Gable in May 1964.
The slaying took place in the Gable family home while the parents were away on vacation.
Kyle pleaded guilty later that year, in an apparent move to avoid a possible death sentence. Iowa had capital punishment at the time.
Dan Gable, retired University of Iowa wrestling coach, issued the following statement through the Iowa Department of Corrections Friday:
"A couple of days ago, I received a call from Fred Scaletta of the Iowa Department of Corrections informing me that Thomas Kyle had suffered a severe heart attack and that death was likely imminent," Gable said. "Initially, I thought Thomas Kyle had escaped again, (as he did for six months in 1977) or thought perhaps he had already died.
"I knew this would affect me, but didn't know how," Gable continued. "I happened to be in Northeast Iowa, in the same area where my parents were notified of my sister's death, and where I witnessed their pain --- and where I was today notified by Mr. Scaletta of Kyle's death.
"This news did hit me really hard," Gable said. "I spent quite some time grieving all over again.
"I don't know what happens in prison - if there are services or rehabilitation programs - but, my family has never known how he felt about it, just that during the trial in '64 he wasn't remorseful and threatened the Gable family.
"I knew Tom Kyle as a neighbor. We weren't friends, but I knew him. His actions cost both families a great deal, and hopefully he realized that at some point - I don't know.
"Time will tell how we will handle this - as time goes on."
Kyle was sent to prison Oct. 29, 1964, and escaped from the Iowa State Penitentiary on March 29, 1977.
He was apprehended in Florida and returned to Iowa custody on Nov. 2, 1977.
His custody was transferred to the Kansas Department of Corrections following the escape return on Oct. 23, 1981.
During an challenge to his plea in 1983, Kyle said his plea wasn't voluntary and said he pleaded guilty because of pressure from his parents.
Waterloo attorney Ed Gallagher Jr., who represented Kyle, said, “It’s just the end of a very tragic event for both families.”
Gallagher and co-counsel Paul Kildee were able to spare him from the death penalty, which was in effect in Iowa at that time.
Gallagher recalled receiving a call from the family to represent Kyle the day he was arrested. "He had already confessed” to the murder, Gallagher said. "I stopped the interrogation, but he had already confessed.”
Gallagher said he and Kildee tried a number of defenses during the trial. "The only thing we wanted to do was to save his life.”
Gallagher said the adequacy of his and Kildee’s representation of Kyle was challenged on appeal by an attorney with the Prisoner Assistance Clinic of the University of Iowa College of Law and interns. That challenge, Gallagher said, did not take into consideration that the death penalty was in effect at the time of the original trial.
The appeals court ultimately upheld Gallagher’s and Kildee’s representation of Kyle.
“We used every avenue we could to help him,” Gallagher said.
“It was a big part of my life, and I regret it very much,” Gallagher said, referring to the entire ordeal. “I hope the families don’t relive this, particularly the Gable family. It was a terrible, terrible thing.”