On December 11, 1949, a little after two in the morning, an excited young man appeared at the Iowa City police station and approached the desk. His hair was mussed and he wore tuxedo pants; he had no shirt on beneath his coat. He told the desk man that he needed help – the fire department, a doctor, someone -- because his girlfriend had “passed out” and he didn’t think she was breathing.
The young man gave an address just off campus from the University of Iowa at 411 East Washington Street, a men’s rooming house. The officer dispatched a patrol car and called a local doctor. A moment later, an Iowa City police officer found a young woman lying face down on a bottom bunk. She was dead.
At first glance, he saw two puncture-marks on the left side of her neck and a similar wound on the right side of her neck and two such wounds on her hand. Closer examination would later reveal a fracture of the hyoid and cricold bones and cartilages in the throat – evidence of manual strangulation.
She was Margaret Anne “Gee Gee” Jackson, 20, only child, a senior at the university, Kappa Alpha Theta.
Benny testified during his trial. He sobbed openly. He said that he had been dating Gee Gee for almost a year and wanted to marry her, even “pinned” her, though, yes, she had returned it a few months ago. Through copious tears, Benny said they had spent the evening together at a frat party, then returned to his room for a nightcap. He loved her; they were talking about getting married. They were in his room, dancing and kissing. He was just fooling around when he choked her. That’s what he said – he never meant to hurt her.
She laughed playfully and put her hands to my throat as she had done on other occasions. I said something about that not being the place, or too high or something, and at the same time I put my hands around her throat.
The next thing I remember, a strange, surprised look came over her face and she threw up her arms to break my hands apart. I immediately took my hands from around her neck. I didn’t think anything about it and we started to dance again for a few seconds. Then I noticed a gasping and moaning sound. She was twisting and moving her arms and I backed away from her. She was gasping and moaning.
She began staggering and she had her hands up to her throat. I don’t know how she did it, it was all so hazy – Then she staggered toward the bed but then she fell against the chair, or the bed. She fell sort of to one side, and then she tried to get up. She was holding on to the edge of the chair trying to pull herself up, and then she fell back again.
The next thing I remember, I was sitting beside her on the floor – I don’t know how I got there and I didn’t know what had happened.
Then he spent several more hours sobbing on the witness stand about every romantic detail of their courtship and of how her parents withheld their approval because he was of Czechoslovakian descent, a “poor Bohemian boy.” They were long and detailed stories about Christmas carols and seaside walks.
After Benny ended his performance – testimony, rather – the prosecutor unleashed a barrage of evidence against him. From the Iowa City Press-Citizen:
In other testimony a sorority roommate of Miss Jackson said Bednasek had once told her that he had struck Gee Gee (Miss Jackson’s nickname). She was Eleanor Leedham, who testified she had known Miss Jackson since the fall of 1947 and had shared a room with her at the Kappa Alpha Theta sorority house since the autumn of 1949.
Miss Leedham also testified that on the fatal night when Miss Jackson was dressing to attend a formal fraternity party with Bednasek, Gee Gee said that she did not love Bednasek and would never marry him.
“I asked her,” Miss Leedham testified, “if perhaps Bednasek would offer her his fraternity pin again. She (Miss Jackson) said that she could never take it because she could never marry him.” (The first part of this statement was stricken from the record after a defense objection.)
Another girl who knew Miss Jackson in Denver, Doris Hall, testified that Gee Gee had told her that Bednasek was repulsive to her, “that she (Gee Gee) never intended to marry him.”
Other friends testified to witnessing petty acts of jealousy between Margaret and Benny. Prosecutors also put on a witness who said Margaret had found another man. He was C. Warren Shelton, and he had escorted “Gee Gee” to her sorority dance the night before she was killed. Within 24 hours of daring to date another man, she was dead.
A psychologist from the university student health services testified (under protest, claiming privilege) that he treated Robert Bednasek two months before the murder for “two impulses. One was an impulse to take his own life, and the other an impulse to assault murderously a girl he was then going with.”
The last witness for the state was Margaret’s father, William Jackson, 67, an attorney and head of the Iowa State Board of Parole. He glared at the defendant as he took the stand and talked about his only child for mere moments before he bowed his head and broke down.
Then the defense began. A parade of witnesses, including six of Bednasek’s fraternity brothers and his high school principal from Cedar Rapids, testified to what a great person he was and how happy he and Gee Gee seemed. This was followed by a cabal of defense experts to quibble with the medical conclusions and talk about poor Bednasek’s frazzled nerves before and after he strangled his ex-girlfriend to death.
And then the trial concluded, the jury deliberated, and the headline that resulted says enough about the outcome: BEDNASEK ACQUITTED, MAY STUDY THEOLOGY.
And for some commentary. Today, a psychologist’s testimony would probably not be admitted into evidence in a murder case, since many states have enacted statutes codifying a privilege. The psychologist, however, would probably be held liable for failing to warn Margaret Jackson that her former boyfriend was thinking about killing her, under so-called Tarasoff Statutes that have been enacted in most states giving mental health professionals a duty to act when a patient relays a threat to kill someone.
The so-called “Tuxedo Murder Case” received widespread attention in the national press, producing many hundreds of news accounts printed in papers across the country. It is part of a natural interest in the murders of young, pretty co-eds that continues even today as reflected in the interest in the murders of Tiffany Marie Souers, Norsaadah Husain, and Stacy Holsonback (all Clemson co-eds who were tragically murdered – see the Huff Crime Blog), to cite the week’s strongest crime story.
It’s hard to quite understand why these particular victims arouse such intense interest. It might be something about the beauty of youth – “attractive co-ed” being an almost redundant phrase – or the fact that many of us can close our eyes and picture these young women, new to campus and clumsy with men, away from home, taking risks, making themselves vulnerable to snakebite. We know her; some of us were her. And we know him, too. But some, like Margaret Jackson, don’t see the danger until alone with him when it’s late and he’s drunk and won’t take no for an answer.
Source: Iowa City Press-Citizen, March 17 - April 6, 1950.