Jacob “Jake” Biretz, an 87-year-old retired mechanic, was found dead in his apartment at a Waterloo retirement home on Friday, December 10, 1993. The following day, Waterloo police said they were investigating the death as a homicide.
An autopsy — performed in Des Moines by Deputy State Medical Examiner Francis Garrity — concluded that Biretz, who lived at 311 Lafayette St., Apt. B, had died from “asphyxia due to suffocation” Thursday night or Friday morning. The death certificate, signed by Black Hawk County Medical Examiner Dr. Albert Dolan, stated that Biretz was “smothered by unknown assailant(s).”
Biretz was found on his sofa, his arms crossed over his chest. He’d been suffocated with a pillow. According to his death certificate, it took several minutes for him to die.
Two weeks before being slain, Biretz, whom friends described as a peculiar man who dressed shabbily and spoke little, had been beaten and robbed during Thanksgiving weekend.
He’d been a regular at Waterloo’s Embassy Lounge the last few years of his life — at least up until the November weekend when he’d been hospitalized following the robbery and assault — and those at the lounge knew him as “Old Jake” rather than Jacob Biretz.
According to reporter Luke Jennett’s WCF Courier article published Aug. 14, 2005, Biretz trusted few people, and feared one cab driver in particular. When Biretz would become tipsy and friends would call a cab for him, Biretz got where he refused to get into the cab if the cabby was the one he accused of often overcharging him and stealing his money.
Syril Milota, Biretz’s upstairs neighbor at the retirement home, told the Courier he’d twice found Biretz “in bad shape” at the Lafayette St. senior facility. The first event, the night before Thanksgiving in 1993, Milota said he heard noises coming from downstairs and had gone to Jake’s room to check on him. There, he said, he found his friend bleeding, having been sprayed in the face with Mace or pepper spray. Biretz said he’d been robbed as well.
Biretz suffered black eyes, bruised ribs, and a five-inch wound on his neck. He said a man wearing all black clothing had gained entry to his apartment after kicking in the back door, and told Milota the man in black was the same cabby who’d stolen his money in the past. Biretz had seen the man only briefly before being sprayed in the face, so was unable to identify his attacker to police.
Jennett’s story also stated:
Two weeks later, Milota saw a man walking around the apartment complex, peering into windows. Soon after, he heard a huge disturbance downstairs.
The next morning, Dec. 10, 1993, joined by the landlady, Milota made his way to Jake’s room. They found him lying with arms crossed over his chest on the couch. He’d been suffocated with a pillow. His death certificate stated it had taken several minutes for him to die. He was 87.
Two Murders, Similar Facilities and Location
Just one day prior to Biretz’s murder, 83-year-old Gladys Held was found slain at another Waterloo home for senior citizens.
Held, a retired personal secretary, lived on the third floor of the Walnut Court Retirement Community at 315 Walnut Street — just three blocks away from the senior facility where Biretz lived.
Held’s senior home companion became concerned when Held didn’t show up for an in-house church service. He found Held lying the wrong way in her bed, her room tossed. She’d been beaten in the head with a telephone and then strangled.
On Monday, Dec. 13, 1993, Waterloo police released the following statement concerning Held’s and Biretz’s murders:
“Officers of the Waterloo Police Department are continuing their investigation into both homicides. Officers are looking at any and all possibilities to determine if they are connected. No further information will be released at this time, and the investigation is continuing.”
No suspects were ever arrested in either case, though Waterloo police later said they believed the murders may have been committed by the same person.
About Jacob Biretz
Jacob Biretz was born February 10, 1906, to Jacob and Frances (Meylinger) Biretz.
He had retired from his work as a mechanic and enjoyed spending time at the Embassy Lounge in Waterloo.
He was buried at St. Michael’s Catholic Cemetery in Nashua, Chickasaw County, Iowa.
Cedar Valley Crime Stoppers is offering a $1,500.00 reward for information leading to an arrest.
Anyone with information is asked to call the Waterloo Police Department at 319-291-4340 ext. 3 or Cedar Valley Crime Stoppers at 855-300-TIPS (8477). Tips may also be sent with TipSoft or by texting the word CEDAR plus the information to CRIMES (274637). Message and data rates may apply. Text STOP to opt out at any time. Text HELP for more information.
Anonymous tips may be sent through the Cedar Valley Crime Stoppers Confidential Web Tip Information System.
- Cedar Valley Crime Stoppers
- “Cold-case file overflowing with countless sad stories,” The WCF Courier, August 4, 2015
- “Gone Cold: In 1993, retirees were killed in homes, blocks apart,” by Jeff Reinitz, wcfcourier.com, July 29, 2015
- “Cold Case Murder: Anyone with information leading to an arrest is eligible for a cash reward,” Cedar Valley Crime Stoppers, cvcrimestop.com, December 11, 2013
- Waterloo Police Department, Investigator Brice Lippert, October 2013
- Person Details for Jake J Biretz, “United States Social Security Death Index” — FamilySearch.org
- Jake J Biretz (1906 – 1993) – Find A Grave Memorial
- “Unsolved murders may be linked,” by Luke Jennett, WCF Courier, August 14, 2005
- “Death certificate shows elderly murder victim [Gladys Held] was strangled,” by Ann Langel, Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier, Friday, December 31, 1993
- “Waterloo trying to bash image as crime-infested,” Cedar Rapids Gazette, December 16, 1993 — Download PDF document
- “Man died of suffocation, report says,” by Ann Langel, Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier, Tues., December 14, 1993
- “Murder victim suffocated,” Cedar Rapids Gazette, December 14, 1993
- “Victim Identified,” Cedar Rapids Gazette, December 12, 1993
- “It’s official: Waterloo breaks record for most murders since 1949,” by Heather Clark, Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier, December 12, 1993
- “87-year-old man found dead in apartment,” Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier, December 12, 1993