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Kay Luna

CLINTON, Iowa — Steven Barrette's family still is haunted with questions almost 27 years after his body was found washed ashore in the Mississippi River.

His sisters, Jamie Dornbush and Jill Pearson of Clinton, believe someone out there holds crucial information about what led to the 20-year-old man's death during a weekend camping trip in June 1976.

Barrette's family and law enforcement officials continue to hope the public will bring forth details that could solve the case, which was reopened and called a suspicious death in 2000.

That year, Barrette's body was exhumed from St. Irenaeus Cemetery for a new autopsy, showing he suffered some blunt-force trauma to his head. The cause of death initially was ruled a drowning, but it is now considered undetermined.

"I know there have to be people out there who know something or the police wouldn't have the case open still," Dornbush said. "Someone knows what happened."

Clinton police Sgt. Tom Bohle said the case remains open and actively under investigation by his department and the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation.

He declined to reveal any new details in the case, but again urged the public to call authorities if they have any information about Barrette's death.

"We are still actively investigating it," he said. "We want to solve this as much now as we did when we opened it a couple of years ago."

Barrette's family described him as a free spirit who was living on his own in the summer of 1976 before his fateful camping trip. He had dropped out of Clinton High School as a junior and left to join the Army soon afterward, returning home about 1974.

He fathered a daughter, Melissa Ann Barrette, who was 8 months old when he died.

Dornbush and Pearson said they will never forget the day police arrived on their family's doorstep the evening of June 8, 1976, breaking the news that Barrette's body had been found washed ashore.

He was laid to rest soon after, and his family accepted the initial ruling: death by accidental drowning.

That changed in late 2000, when authorities announced new information had developed concerning his death. Law enforcement officials have remained in contact with the family every step of the way, Clinton police Capt. Randy Meier said.

"We still have no closure on it," Pearson said. "To know there's somebody out there who knows about this. My brother could have had a life."

Kay Luna can be contacted at

(563) 243-5039 or kluna@qctimes.com.

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