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Retired TV reporter from Normal followed the path of a serial killer

A man in a blue shirt sits in a radio studio, smiling at the camera as he holds a book in his left hand.
Lauren Warnecke
Bob Cyphers and his wife retired in Normal to be close to their grandchildren. Cyphers plans to continue writing true crime books and "playing bad golf."

Bob Cyphers spent his career as a news reporter and producer for CBS affiliate KMOV in St. Louis, including an unusual murder in nearby St. Charles, Mo., in 1992.

As retirement loomed, he was asked to join one last ditch effort to find a serial killer — three decades after the case went cold. Detectives convened a task force in 2021 to review the case. Cyphers embedded himself with the task force as a reporter, interviewing witnesses and family members of the six people killed in five retail stores along Interstate 70. He looked for links to other serial murder cases that shared similarities with the I-70 killer. His recent book, Dead End: Inside the Hunt for the I-70 Killer, is based on that reporting.

As the task force came to an end, Cyphers retired and now lives in Normal.

“Usually, you retire and dream about going to Florida,” Cyphers said in an interview for WGLT’s Sound Ideas. “Our grandbabies are here, so here we are in the cornfields of Normal, Illinois!”

It was an atypical invitation: Police forces tend to keep investigations close to the vest, releasing limited information to the press to avoid compromising the case. But detectives who’d worked the case for decades approached Cyphers to accompany the task force.

“They brought in the FBI; they brought in ATF,” Cyphers said. “They wanted to take one last crack at it.”

Retired and soon-to-retire detectives, plus the next generation who’d taken on the case, hoped new DNA technology could crack it open. They involved Cyphers with the expectation that his coverage would be more than a blip in the daily news cycle.

Cyphers convinced his bosses to let him do it—but why him, in particular?

“I had contacts; I knew people,” Cyphers said. “When you develop sources over time, they’re not going to be sources for very long if you don’t treat them right. Maybe I had a reputation being in St. Louis for such a long period of time, that I’d built up enough trust there.”

Cyphers reported on Nancy Kitzmiller’s murder in 1992. She was killed in the middle of the day while working alone at a Boot Village store in a busy strip mall in St. Charles. When ballistics came back, police revealed Kitzmiller had been shot in the back of a head with a very unusual gun: a rare Erma Werke Model ET22, a German Navy pistol last used in World War I. It’s known for a distinguishing foot-long barrel, making it difficult to conceal, and a propensity to jam.

The gun is how police knew they were dealing with a serial killer, who’d strike once more after St. Charles before going dark—around the same time police revealed his weapon of choice to the media.

Unusual in every way

The gun isn’t the only bizarre thing about the I-70 serial killer. As Cyphers followed the path from Indianapolis to Wichita, back to Terra Haute, Ind., and through suburbs of St. Louis and Kansas City, he was mystified by the killer’s choice of location and style of killing—a single shot to the back of the head. The randomness of his crimes, committed in broad daylight with no apparent motive, indicate the killer sought one thing.

“It’s the thrill of the kill for this guy,” Cyphers said, “which is, I think, what scares random people more than anything. This was anybody, anywhere, at any store.”

Another oddity: Police misconduct or bungling of a crime scene investigation are frequently cited as reasons why cases go and stay cold for decades. That’s not the case here. And while the task force didn’t solve the crime, police have continued working the case.

Detective Kelly Rhodes in St. Charles is one example.

“Kelly has one job all day: this case.” Cyphers said. “You can argue, on one hand, is that a good way to spend taxpayer money, to pay someone to work on a 30-year-old case? I think it is. It sends a signal to these families, to these victims, to the public—to the next killer who’s thinking about something.”

Like the detectives involved, Cyphers believes the case will be solved. Police have identified a suspect, who Cyphers said is alive and well—and living near one of the crime scenes. To know he might have played a small part in bringing closure to victims’ families and the witnesses he spoke to are Cyphers' sole motivation in writing the book.

“To be able to end my career by possibly helping the police departments, that would be a thrill for me to know that I had helped these people who had given their lives to solve this case.”

Dead End: Inside the Hunt for the I-70 Killer is available on Amazon and in bookstores nationwide. Bloomington Public Library will host author Bob Cyphers for a talk in July.

Lauren Warnecke is a reporter at WGLT. You can reach Lauren at lewarne@ilstu.edu.