BELLE PLAINE — What sparked hopes of a new lead in the unsolved killings of two girls abducted in Evansdale six years ago has turned out to be old information, an investigator said Friday.
After getting an unexpected tip a woman who killed herself and her son by stepping in front of a train last month hung out with guys who confessed their involvement in the unsolved killing of two young Cedar Valley girls six years ago, investigators searched her home for information.
In a search warrant application for the Belle Plaine home of Teresa C. Gerleman, 35 — who killed herself and her 8-year-old son Henry Fields by pulling him in front of a Union Pacific train before 5 a.m. May 4 — investigators said a tipster advised they look for evidence in the high-profile Evansdale murders when checking Gerleman’s home.
Julie Croft, one of Gerleman’s community support specialists with Genesis Development, told authorities Gerleman “was in possession of a six-page letter she was keeping in a box that was ‘written by guys she used to hang around with that admitted to doing that,’” according to the application.
Croft’s initial tip was more vague, recommending investigators go to Gerleman’s home to check for information she had on a previous crime — one they’d been investigating for a while.
“When asked to be more specific, Julie stated that it has to do with the two girls in the woods near Evansdale,” according to the application.
A list of items authorities seized in their search, filed with the court May 23, included four cellphones, one spiral notebook, one subject notebook and a handwritten note. It also included two sealed letters — one “to Jeremiah from Henry” and another “to Phaedra from Henry.”
Mike Krapfl, a special agent with the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, said Friday investigators did find the letter Croft mentioned.
“But it was information we already had,” he said, noting when taken in context with Gerleman’s “mental state,” authorities got no new leads from the letter. “It’s old information is what it is.”
Cousins Lyric Cook-Morrissey, 10, and Elizabeth Collins, 8, were last seen riding their bikes at Meyers Lake on July 13, 2012. Authorities — along with hundreds of volunteers and community activists — spent five months searching the nearby park and expanded area for the girls.
Investigators found their remains in a rural Bremer County park Dec. 5, 2012, leading them to conclude Cook-Morrissey and Collins were kidnapped and killed. The case remains unsolved with no publicly known suspects.
Gerleman’s most recent home in Belle Plaine was 60 miles — more than an hour’s drive — south of where the girls’ bodies were found. She lived about 45 miles sound of where they were last seen, although she also recently lived in Cedar Rapids.
In the search warrant application submitted to the court May 4 — the day Gerleman and her second-grade son died — authorities say the train conductor saw a woman standing on the tracks “and the child had moved off of the tracks.”
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“The adult female then grabbed the child, pulling him back into the impact area of the train, and both were struck by the westbound Union Pacific train,” according the application.
Police and paramedics found their bodies about 4:57 a.m. between the Eighth and Ninth avenues railroad crossings in Belle Plaine. In their follow-up investigation, investigators talked to both Croft and Cindy Van Dee — who worked at Genesis Development, a private, nonprofit rehabilitation organization that serves people with disabilities.
Both served as Gerleman’s “community support specialists,” and Croft told authorities Gerleman about three months ago said her medication made her “feel like standing in front of a train,” according to the search warrant application.
In the course of their interviews, authorities learned Gerleman had “very little immediate family,” with both parents having died and no siblings.
Authorities have said they don’t have a specific motive for the murder-suicide by train.
Some more distant family said they were devastated by the news of Gerleman’s actions. Randy Gerleman, of Jackson, Miss., said he last saw his niece Teresa in 2006 and was friends with her on Facebook.
He knew she had health issues and had struggled with drug abuse and employment — and wondered aloud whether someone should have seen something and done something.
“At some point, someone should have known that child should have been taken away,” he said.
Gerleman had a mounting stack of court records in Iowa, among which cataloged a rough relationship with Henry’s father, Eric Fields. Gerleman had pleaded guilty to assault in 2007, and she accused Fields of domestic abuse in 2014.
She sought state unemployment benefits in 2012 from the Robert Half corporation, where she worked in Cedar Rapids as a part-time data entry clerk, according to Iowa Workforce Development records. She was rejected because she had quit her job, according to records.
In 2015, an administrative law judge reviewed Gerleman’s request for Social Security disability benefits but noted inconsistencies in what she and a doctor reported. A federal magistrate last fall vacated a past decision denying disability benefits and remanded the case to the Social Security commissioner.
Since news broke of the murder-suicide finding, a Facebook page “In Loving Memory of Teresa Gerleman and Henry Fields” has come down. Although much of her personal page was kept private, Gerleman in December made public a post about a missing 15-year-old last seen in 2001.
“Please share this!! Thank you!!” she wrote.