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Motions filed in cold case perjury charges

ROCK RAPIDS, Iowa -- The attorney representing an 82-year-old Inwood, Iowa, man charged with six counts of felony-level perjury filed a motion directing that the Lyon County Attorney Carl Peterson recuse himself from prosecuting the case because ...

Wilma Jane Nissen
Wilma June Nissen, murdered in 1978, celebrates her 18th birthday with other foster children at her last foster home in California. That same day, she went for a walk and didn't return for months.

ROCK RAPIDS, Iowa -- The attorney representing an 82-year-old Inwood, Iowa, man charged with six counts of felony-level perjury filed a motion directing that the Lyon County Attorney Carl Peterson recuse himself from prosecuting the case because he administered an oath to the defendant.

John W. VanGammeren, who presented himself at the Lyon County Sheriff's Office after being subpoenaed, was questioned regarding his involvement in a cold case more than 30 years old.

According to Lyon County, Iowa, court documents, VanGammeren allegedly perjured himself while under oath during an investigation into the death of Wilma June Nissen, whose body was found in a ditch Oct. 4, 1978. VanGammeren would have been 51 years old at the time of Nissen's murder. It wasn't until 2006 that her body was identified and her name released during a press conference in Rock Rapids.

The felony charges, dated Aug. 14 of this year, indicate that on or about June 19, VanGammeren stated under oath that he had dancers at his house on only two occasions, and at no time had prostitutes at his house.

"Both of those statements can be proven false," the complaint states.

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On that same date in June, VanGammeren also allegedly denied transporting a stripper or prostitute from Sioux Falls, S.D., to his residence, which is located just a few miles from where Nissen's body was located more than 30 years ago.

On Aug. 14, VanGammeren reportedly denied under oath that he knew a woman by the name of Annette Jacobson, even after he was shown two photographs of her, and denied knowing who had arranged for strippers to come to his residence for a bachelor party.

"... In fact VanGammeren helped organize the party," the complaint states.

The sixth complaint states, "While under oath VanGammeren stated that while in Las Vegas he had his wallet stolen or lost it in the airport, when in actuality John had his wallet stolen while with a prostitute, according to witnesses."

A Lyon County Jail document indicates VanGammeren spent less than three hours in jail before posting a bond of $5,000.

Several motions that had been filed in the case were presented Monday to a judge for action. The documents, filed by attorney Edward Bjornstad last week, include the motion for an order of recusal, directing that the Lyon County Attorney recuse himself as the prosecutor in the case.

The motion states that as a result of administering the oath before the questioning began, Peterson has made himself a witness in the proceeding, and as such, cannot prosecute the case.

Bjornstad also filed a motion to dismiss -- and in the alternative, for a change of venue -- based on a comment made by a special agent from the FBI to an Iowa newspaper.

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The motion indicates the agent made a comment to the Sioux City Journal, referring to the questioning of VanGammeren as a "big negotiation game" with the defendant.

"The filing of perjury charges and the defense to perjury charges and the allegations made by the Lyon County Attorney's Office is not a 'big negotiation game,'" the document states. "It is a serious legal matter."

Bjornstad's motion claims the comment made by the agent constitutes an extrajudicial statement which unfairly reflects on the character and credibility of VanGammeren and improperly reflects the core values of the FBI. The use of extrajudicial statements, Bjornstad indicates, should be condemned and should serve as a basis of dismissal of the charges pending against VanGammeren.

"In the alternative, this court should now conclude that the defendant cannot receive a fair trial in Lyon County and order a change of venue," the motion concludes.

Bjornstad filed a motion for a private preliminary hearing, but did not cite any reasons, and also filed a motion to unseal the search warrant executed on VanGammeren's residence in May.

The motion regarding the unsealing of the warrant is one of the few documents that ties the arrest of VanGammeren to the investigation into Nissen's murder.

"The Lyon County Sheriff's Department has been engaged in an ongoing investigation regarding the death of Wilma June Nissen...as part of the ongoing investigation, the Lyon County Sheriff's Office made application...for a search warrant which included a search of the residence of the defendant," the motion states. "...the defendant was arrested and charged with six counts of perjury stemming as a result of the investigation of the death of Wilma June Nissen."

An order filed Monday by District Court Judge Don E. Courtney states the various motions filed will come before the court for a hearing on Sept. 14.

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Since the identity of Nissen was determined and confirmed in 2006, law enforcement officers, including Lyon County Sheriff Blythe Bloemendaal, have investigated extensively into Nissen's background, tracing a path that leads from California to Florida and beyond, and includes a multitude of husbands, relationships and children. Nissen had several arrests for prostitution in her short life, having died at the age of 23.

Other details of Nissen's life include living in a car during early childhood, a relatively low intelligence level, half a dozen foster homes and possibly being pressed into a life of prostitution by older husbands.

Her body, partially decomposed and partially undressed, was found in a ditch by a crew laying telephone wire.

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