Don Piper

Has anyone other than Iowans heard of Donald Piper? My uncle was the lead investigator for the first murder (he works for the Iowa Department of Criminal Investigation, DCI from here on).

Back in 1993, Patricia Lange was found dead in her University Park Holiday Inn in West Des Moines, Iowa. She had been sexually assaulted before her murder. The MO is too disgusting to mention.

In 1997, a maid at the Budgetel Inn in Clive, Iowa named Zurijeta Sakanovic was murdered using the EXACT SAME MO. The case went cold until a third murder with an eerily similar, but not the exact MO. Keep in mind that the MO hadn’t been released fully to the public, so that there were no copycats I suppose.


My uncle was assigned the Patricia Lange case back in the mid 1990’s, I believe, he managed to extract DNA from semen left in the hotel rooms. In about 1999, the West Des Moines Police made a break. After a court order for his DNA, he matched with the DNA found at ALL THREE murder scenes.


My uncle was on the stand for the Patricia Lange murder case as the key witness for well over 20 hours over a three day period. After 27 hours of deliberation, the jury found Don Piper guilty in 2000 of the Patricia Lange murder in 1993. The County Attorney (Iowa’s official name for District Attorneys) for Polk County wanted to try the Patricia Lange and Zurijeta Sakanovic murders together, but they weren’t within four years of less of each other, so they couldn’t be clumped together due to Iowa law.


Don Piper was found guilty of Zurijeta Sakanovic’s murder in 2001. Since the first case cost well over a MILLION DOLLARS, it was titled the “Trial of the Century”. The second trial had to be moved to the Cedar Rapids/Iowa City/Cedar Falls/ Waterloo area due to the fact that only 8 of the eligible jurors had heard nothing of his first trial and conviction. I’m pretty sure it was Cedar Rapids, but I do know for a fact that the witnesses had to fly into the Cedar Rapids Regional Airport.


I know that, because I was recently looking through the court documents for Investigation Discovery, which had come into Des Moines to film a documentary about all the previous suspects called “Unusual Suspects” (I think, I just like that I was paid to read the testimony of my uncle to find useful info).


The third murder was never tried because it cost too much for the first conviction alone. Two life sentences (Iowa doesn’t have the death penalty) was sufficient. There are also many cold cases that I wasn’t allowed to look at with similar modus operandis, because there still isn’t sufficient evidence for a conviction.