Iva Kroeger was headed to Santa Rosa, she told a friend after she arrived back in the Bay Area in mid-August, 1962. “I’m tired.”

She didn’t make it, but what she intended to do here was unknown. Did she expect to resume managing the fleabag motel on Santa Rosa Avenue? Was she not aware the Sonoma County sheriff and the FBI were looking for her? Didn’t she know the Press Democrat – and other Bay Area newspapers – were printing investigative stories linking her to the disappearance of the Arnesons?

Or maybe she wasn’t planning to return to Santa Rosa at all; the context was asking the friend for money to buy bus tickets. Iva was a fluent liar and adept at making up tales to grub cash out of everyone who was unfortunate enough to cross her path.

But she was likely telling the truth about feeling tired. She had just finished a 7,000+ mile trek across the nation and back again via trains, Greyhound buses and lifts from strangers, with her two grandsons (ages three and four) in tow for the cross-country return journey.

This article is in two parts; it begins with the story of that wild trip which can be told thoroughly for the first time, thanks to modern resources such as Ancestry and the availability of many regional newspapers on newspapers.com. The final section describes the three weeks between the discovery of the bodies and her arrest, when many developed a maniac obsession over the case and imagined they were seeing Iva everywhere. Before we begin all that, Gentle Reader will surely find her pre-Santa Rosa backstory illuminating:

The deepest secret of Iva Kroeger was the lie she told about her origins. In Santa Rosa she claimed to have been born in Munich Germany and sometimes added she was Jewish. She spoke in broken English and cocked her head to one side when reading or listening to someone, as if she struggled to understand the language.

In truth, she was born Lucille Cecilia Hooper at Louisville, Kentucky in September, 1918, which made her 43 when she murdered the couple and became a fugitive six months later. She married in November 1934 at age sixteen; she lied on the marriage license and said she was 19. Her husband was nearly twice as old and they had two sons while she was still a teenager.

ivanursehp(RIGHT: Iva Kroeger impersonating a Navy nurse in 1945. Image enhanced using HotPot AI)

Her first (known) brush with the law came in 1945, when she was arrested for impersonating a military member, complete with wearing the uniform of a Navy nurse. “Lt. Lucille Hooper” gave an interview to the Louisville Times where her lurid tales of herself and other nurses being tortured at a Japanese prison camp drew federal prosecutors to investigate. She was given a year’s probation which she promptly violated. In 1947 the FBI arrested her in El Paso but no charges were pressed.

When she was caught impersonating a Navy nurse Iva was working in Chicago as a skilled health care provider, which was a ruse she often used. (She had no education beyond seventh grade.) It was the basis for a scam she tried years later, as described by Bony Saludes in the Press Democrat:

She was arrested in 1954 on a complaint by a San Francisco man who said she had stolen $2,000 from him. At the time, she was renting a home in San Francisco and advertised it for sale in the newspapers as a rest home. She obtained the money from the man, who wanted to buy the home, asked him to sit and wait for her until she got some papers, then disappeared.

Unbelievably, she was able to talk her way out of that prosecution as well, knocking the charges down to misdemeanor petty theft. Yet later that same year she was hired to operate an actual rest home in San Francisco – and it was there she met her future husband Ralph, whose dying father was a resident at the facility.


Lucille Hooper made quite a splash when she returned to Louisville, her first visit home in nearly twenty years. “[She] seemed tickled to death to be visiting the family again,” her aunt told reporters. “She spent freely on gifts for us.” That was in early July, when the Press Democrat and other newspapers were just starting to investigate the Arneson case.

For a few days she stayed with her brother Stanley and his family, then spent the rest of the month living with the widow of her first husband.1 If that seems a bit odd, add in the fact their mutual hubby had died only a few days earlier, just before Lucille came to town. Please feel free to share your favorite conspiracy theory with me.







To the widow and her teenage kids Lucille posed as the fabulously wealthy relation, owner of a California restaurant and motel. After Louisville she would be off to Chicago – would the 18 year-old daughter like to tag along as her guest and see the big city? You bet!

But as they were about to find their train at Louisville’s Union Station, Lucille was suddenly confronted by Stanley’s wife. It seemed Lucille had promised to buy the family a trailer but there was a catch: They had to give her $300 cash as “good faith” before she would wire all the money needed. It finally dawned on the sister-in-law the deal seemed kinda fishy and wanted the family’s $300 back.

Lucille demurred. Mrs. Hooper told her son to find a policeman. “[Lucille] said she had $1,500 in her purse and would give it to me if she didn’t get mixed up with the police,” Mrs. Stanley Hooper said. When Lucille reached inside her handbag, the sister-in-law said she feared there might be a weapon in it and struck Lucille, who threw her purse at the woman and ran away. Later Mrs. Hooper found a tobacco pouch in the train station restroom with $235 inside, which she presumed was all that remained of their good-faith cash.

Without her purse and presumably little or no money, she and the girl arrived in Chicago. Lucille took the 18 year-old to a park and told her to wait. She waited. Lucille went to the bus depot and somehow bought a ticket to Florida. It was never mentioned how long the young woman sat in the park in the strange city before realizing she had been dumped.

Lucille’s next destination was a small town outside of Fort Meyers where her oldest son lived. Like her Louisville kin, he apparently had no contact with her for years and she again posed as a rich California motel magnate.

This family was extremely poor, with three children and a fourth on the way to the 19 year-old mother. So when Lucille offered to relocate them to Santa Rosa where they could help run the motel, get health insurance through her business as well as tuition money for the son, her daughter-in-law said it was like a “Godsend.”

To get the ball rolling, on July 31 she left on a bus for California with her two grandchildren: Charlie and Willie, ages four and three.2

The cross-country journey took two weeks, their chaotic itinerary set by how much money she could wheedle for the next hop westward. She begged for charity from local churches using the story that her husband had died of cancer in Florida and needed to reach family in California. Her name was no longer Lucille or Eva or Iva but now Maria.

And somewhere along the way she told the little boys they were now orphans because mommy and daddy were killed in a car crash. The only reason I can fathom why she invented such a wicked lie is that the children were begging to end their nightmare trip and go home.

The most revealing incident began in Cheyenne, where she bumped into an out-of-work machinist who was looking for a rider to help pay for gas. They pulled into a service station in Carlin, NV (a tiny town on I-80) and the driver went across the street, leaving Maria to pay for a full tank. To his horror, the machinist looked back to see she had opened the trunk and traded his tool chest to the attendant as payment. An argument ensued and when police were called she woke the boys in the back seat and the three of them ran off to hide in the bushes. The cop declared the tools had to be left at the station as security, so the poor man had to drive to San Francisco for the money and back again to retrieve his tools. Meanwhile, Maria (now apparently back to Iva) made a collect call to a woman she knew in the Bay Area asking her to wire her a “loan” so she and the kids could make it to Oakland via a bus.


Five days later, Jay Arneson’s body was discovered under the garage floor of Ralph and Iva’s San Francisco home and she became a celebrity fugitive. In the interim there can be little doubt she and the kids were there at least part of the time; she was seen by a neighbor with one of the boys and Charlie identified the house as where “grandpa slept.” She took the boys to the same nearby restaurant every day for breakfast and was spotted at a Mission St. department store with a small blonde child.

Iva and her grandsons were not home when the search warrant was served. Charlie, the four year-old, later told police “Grandma’s house is gone,” which presumably meant being told they couldn’t be there anymore. He also said Iva “got very mad” because she had lost a piece of paper, which police believed had an address where she intended to leave the children. She took them to Oakland, where they spent the night in a house where the boys recalled seeing a broken window, but no other details. Iva ordered them, “both of you sit down and stay down because if you stand up some big fat cop might see you.”

The next morning she told Charlie she was going to the store to buy doughnuts and chocolate milk, and police found a waitress at the Flaky Cream Do-Nut Shop who sold four doughnuts and a chocolate malt to a woman who looked “tired and sloppy…as though she hadn’t had any sleep for a couple of nights.” And that was the last verified sighting of Iva Kroeger in the area. As covered in the previous chapter, the abandoned boys were found wandering the streets and crying.

Immediately telephone lines at police stations and newspaper offices were flooded with tips, starting the same day Jay Arneson’s corpse was found – a couple were certain they saw her at a Ukiah motel. Because the San Francisco police suggested she might be working as a nanny or have a “live-in” babysitting job with an unsuspecting family, a number of tips involved babysitters. But mostly it was open season on short middle age women who had a limp and “squinty” eyes. Some typical and unlikely examples just from Northern California:

  Someone in Fresno said they received a call in the middle of the night from Iva, who supposedly was “babysitting and fishing” in Eureka
  A boy bicycling on Santa Rosa Ave. saw her in an auto and she looked directly at him
  Visiting a man in a Nevada prison
  Hiding in an abandoned Oakland house
  Hitchhiking near Richmond
  Hitchhiking to Sacramento from Stockton
  Working at a cannery in the East Bay

The strangest claim was from a woman on Healdsburg’s Westside Road, who said a mysterious visitor came to her door and asked for a drink of water. When the woman went to the kitchen to fetch her a glass the stranger followed her in, uninvited. “She had three white, nylon knit purses with her,” the Healdsburg woman told the PD, “and she tried to sell me one of them for $10. I told her I didn’t have any money so she said she would give it to me for $8. She finally offered it to me for $2 just before she left…there’s no doubt in my mind. I’m positive Mrs. Kroeger is the woman who was at my house trying to sell me those purses.” Criminologists will recognize this as a familiar pattern: Psychopathic murders whose photos are splattered all over newspaper front pages and on TV are often tripped up by their weird need to hustle cheap plastic accessories.

Over the three weeks before Iva was caught, the Oakland police were receiving tips on the average of one every ten minutes – then multiply that by the numbers which were probably coming into police in Santa Rosa, San Francisco and elsewhere. As the Oakland Tribune explained, Iva was seen “on several buses at the same time, hitchhiking on several highways simultaneously, eating in a half dozen restaurants in the same lunch hour.”


Newspaper coverage of the Iva Kroeger mystery in 1962 was limited to the greater Bay Area until August 21, when the body of Mildred Arneson was found and it was discovered those two lost boys were Iva’s grandsons.

The following day at least three hundred newspapers nationwide printed a wire service story about the crime and the FBI hunt for Kroeger. Articles usually appeared on the front page and were accompanied by a photo or two. Most warned police should use “extreme caution in attempting arrest.”

Outside of California, media interest faded after a few days then resumed full steam September 10-13 after Iva was captured, again mostly on front pages with the 1954 mug shot photo. In the clip of the Press Democrat front page shown below, note that editors gave her arrest higher news value that the start of the Cuban Missile Crisis, a preference found in most coverage that day.

Coverage almost always included mention of the Santa Rosa connection to the case.

Locations of newspapers printing articles about the search for Kroeger as currently found on newspapers.com

All of that media coverage actually did provide tips that led to her arrest. The day after Mildred Arneson’s body was found, a San Francisco contractor came forward to reveal Iva hired him back in April to pour a two-inch layer of concrete over the entire basement followed by wood flooring. He noticed two spots where the existing concrete seemed to have amateurish patch jobs.

Per her usual habit, Iva revealed she didn’t have any money to pay him when the work was done – but said she had $30,000 tucked away in bonds down in Oceanside, and she would give him the $1,000 due if he would give her a ride. Long story short: There were no bonds, he was never paid a cent, and during the trip she stole his .22 automatic from the glovebox. It was that gun she would pull on another workman a month later at the Santa Rosa motel – which was the cause of the sheriff’s arrest warrant that began her summer on the lam.

That the fictitious bonds were supposed to be in Oceanside should have raised alarm bells at the FBI field office. There was a growing number of links tying Iva to places near San Diego.

San Francisco Police handout, September 6 1962
San Francisco Police handout, September 6 1962

Iva was an enthusiast for things related to the occult and mystical and boasted that she was an astrologer of great skill, who could read someone’s past and future aided by a lock of their hair. Her two-week hopscotch across the country with the boys was said to be partially financed with donations from the network of other astrologers along the way.3 It was known a particular interest of hers was the “Rosicrucian Fellowship” Christian sect which was based in Oceanside (VIDEO). In fact, it was at a 1961 San Francisco lecture on their beliefs where Iva first met Mildred and Jay Arneson.

About eleven miles away was Encinitas and the FBI was first informed about an important connection with Iva and the little beach town in July, when the search for her was just beginning.

The Arnesons or Iva never really owned the Santa Rosa motel; the mortgages were held by a Forestville couple and a man named Harry Florian in Encinitas. Once she had documents to show she had purchased the Arneson’s interest in the property, Iva hit the owners up for loans so she could have “leg surgery.” The people in Forestville refused to give her money, but Florian sent her $1,000. As the Press Democrat began its investigative reporting in July tying Iva to the Arneson’s disappearance, the Forestville couple phoned the FBI because they couldn’t contact Mr. Florian and were “really scared” for him, according to the PD. It turned out he had been moved to a longterm care hospital in Los Angeles.

Iva abandoned the boys on August 21 and by early September the FBI and police were receiving multiple reports of her being seen in the seashore towns just north of San Diego: Oceanside, Del Mar, Solana Beach. She was attending Rosicrucian services and a church member recognized her, called authorities, but “like a phantom, she disappeared again as 12 FBI agents, highway patrolmen, sheriff’s deputies and police converged on the area,” the PD reported.

Later she admitted being in Encinitas on Sept. 7 to see the man who “holds the second mortgage on my motel.” Two days later he died at that LA hospice. A suspicious Oakland Tribune reporter contacted the facility and was told Mr. Florian had no visitors that day, but Gentle Reader might recall Iva spent years impersonating health care workers. Once more: Please feel free to share your favorite conspiracy theory.

She was now living in a San Diego one-room apartment under the name June Schmidt, her kindly landlady deferring rent for a few days to help out the poor, poor woman. While window shopping downtown she met Joseph Bonamo, a Jehovah’s Witness handing out pamphlets. They fell into a conversation about religion and, of course, her terribly tragic state of affairs. June said she was wearing dark glasses because she just had cataract surgery at the county hospital, which was so expensive she and her nine year-old daughter couldn’t afford to eat. Bonamo and his wife took her home for supper (no mention of what became of the supposed child). June kept the sunglasses on the entire time.

It was agreed June and the girl would stay with the Bonamos “until she could get back on her feet.” The next morning, September 9, Joseph went to her apartment to pick them up. To his surprise, she told him they had made other plans and no longer needed help.

And this brings us to the next Alfred Hitchcock scene in our story.

Back home, Joseph and his wife puzzled over their strange interlude with the desperate woman who begged for help one day and pushed them away the next. As they chatted, Mrs. Bonamo doodled on a San Diego newspaper. There was an article about that skeevy Iva Kroeger person along with a photo. She drew a pair of sunglasses on the picture. And behold: June Schmidt.

Joseph immediately called the San Diego Police Department to inform them he not only saw Kroeger, but had spent hours with her and knew exactly where she lived.

He was told to call back the next day – Sept. 9 was a state holiday (Admission Day) and no one was available to take his report. To repeat for emphasis: The San Diego Police blew off the arrest of the most wanted fugitive in the United States. (While researching this story I have rolled my eyes so many times I have worn a notch up by my eyebrows.)

“Well, I didn’t know what to do,” Bonamo later said. “I thought they wanted this woman. So I called the FBI and they took it from there.”

The Bureau sent a large team to the address where they found a note on the door that she would be back in a few days. They knocked anyway. Oakland Tribune: “Seconds later Mrs. Kroeger, a blanket and overnight case clutched in her hands, burst through a side door into the arms of waiting agents.”

She told the officers, “I’m glad it’s over” and then, “I didn’t even know anyone was looking for me.”

Being the well-honed liar she was, Iva naturally had a fine story ready to tell. From the Press Democrat:

During questioning in San Diego Mrs. Kroeger yesterday continued to deny all knowledge of the slayings.

She attributed the crime to “blackmailers,” and indignantly denied that she had murdered the Arnesons.

Said she: “I certainly wouldn’t have taken my grandchildren into that house if I’d known there were bodies in the basement.”

Then she came up with the tale of an unidentified blackmailer, who might have killed her at any time. “There is a man in the background who has been blackmailing me for years,” she explained. “He probably committed the murders. I have paid him thousands of dollars. That is where my husband’s bank account went.”

She said that she was glad that she’d been arrested by the FBI because “I could have been killed by them (the blackmailers) anytime. I’m glad the FBI found me. It saved my life.”

She paid the blackmail, she said because the man threatened to tell her husband, Ralph, about the time she had been arrested in Chicago for impersonating a Navy nurse.

“I didn’t know the man – he was tall, reddish blond, maybe 40 or 50,” she said.

Iva added she had paid her mysterious blackmailer about $45,000, money she needed to pay for surgery – except this time it wasn’t supposedly needed to fix her leg; “I was going to use it for an operation on my eyes, but now I’ll go blind.”

Press Democrat, September 11 1962
Press Democrat, September 11 1962

With Iva’s fugitive days over, there were still some pieces of this jigsaw puzzle it would be good to put into place, starting with what happened to Charlie and Willie.

To his discredit, Ralph Kroeger denied knowing Iva had grandkids and insisted he never saw them, contrary to the children insisting he was their “granddaddy.” A neighbor also saw him through a window with the boys.

Now seven months pregnant, their mother flew to California to reclaim them. Before she could take custody, however, she had to go before an Oakland judge to determine her fitness as a parent. The court’s primary concern was that she have plane tickets for them; the family was so poor the Salvation Army in Fort Meyers gave her $100 towards tickets and donors in Oakland made up the rest, and more. She had enough left over to buy them new clothes and some toys. The eldest, Charlie, thoroughly enjoyed his three weeks in foster care and had become somewhat spoiled, she said. “All this attention is going to his head. I’ll have to straighten him out when I get him home.”

Besides telling the boys their parents were dead, their mother disclosed the creepy detail that Iva called them Pat and Kenny instead of their real names. “I’d like someone to ask her why she took our children and what she was going to do with them.” If the Arneson’s bodies had not been found, she told reporters, she despaired of ever seeing them again.

Back in Santa Rosa, a pall hung over the motel on Santa Rosa Avenue. There were no tenants. The electricity was turned off. Unpaid contractors had scavenged what they could, including the El Sombrero sign. All that remained of the Kroeger’s presence, the Oakland Tribune said, was “faded lettering on the motel awning.”

The final vignette was best told by Bony Saludes in the Press Democrat. On arrival from Southern California, Iva was taken directly to her San Francisco house where the graves were discovered. A large crowd had gathered in anticipation and the handcuffed woman was mobbed by the spectators, pausing sometimes to smile for a photographer like a real life Norma Desmond:

Iva Kroeger, radiant in the face of overwhelming notoriety, made her grand entrance at her modest 490 Ellington ave. home just before noon yesterday.

The 44-year-old mystery woman rode in the back seat of a patrol car, flanked by a matron and a plainclothesman, and was greeted by a throng of some 300 persons, including about 40 members of the press, radio and TV.

The scene was reminiscent to the appearance of a Hollywood great attending a sure box office hit on opening night.

Newsmen rushed to the car and the spectators pushed against a taut rope which set off the area, straining to get a glimpse.

A murmur flashed through the crowd as Mrs. Kroeger, her hands manacled securely, stepped out.

“Oh, how small she is!” a woman exclaimed.

Flashbulbs popped from all corners as Mrs. Kroeger was escorted from the car to her house, where a month before police unearthed the bodies of Mildred and Jay Arneson…

…The limp, cocked head and squinting left eye, which had been highly publicized in the press, were not evident.

Mrs. Kroeger wore a light purple jumper skirt with a polka dot blouse. She had on a light green sweater and grey shoes. The picture of a hard-looking, unkempt woman which had been built up in most people’s minds quickly evaporated.

She did indeed look like a kindly grandmother.


TOP: Iva Kroeger in 1962 and 1954. Images enhanced using HotPot AI


1 Lucille and Patrick Carl Allen apparently divorced between 1942-1944, but no records can be found online. During the nurse impersonation row, the same aunt said Lucille’s name at the time was “Cecelia Huffman”. Louisville Courier-Journal, October 26, 1945
2 An August 23 UPI item stated the parents reported “about a week ago” the boys had been kidnapped by their grandmother, although it’s unclear if this referred to the July 31 departure from Florida or Iva failing to check in with them in mid August once she arrived in the Bay Area.
3 The last leg of the journey from Nevada to Oakland was paid for with money wired from San Francisco bookstore owner Fritzi Armstrong, who was an astrology teacher.





(1962 Press Democrat articles related to this chapter only)


CORONER SAYS BODY WAS MRS. ARNESON (August 23, Bony Saludes byline)


WAS MRS. ARNESON SLAIN AT SANTA ROSA MOTEL? (August 24, Bony Saludes byline)


KROEGER’S TRAIL COLDER AND DIMMER (August 26, Bony Saludes byline)


COUNTY WOMAN SURE SHE SAW IVA (August 27, Bony Saludes byline)


NATIONAL SEARCH FOR IVA (August 29, no byline)


KROEGER’S RELEASE SOUGHT (August 31, no byline)




HUNT FOR IVA SHIFTS TO DEL MAR (Sept 10, no byline)

IVA SEEN NORTH, SOUTH (Sept 10, no byline)

HUNTED WOMAN ‘GLAD IT’S OVER’ (Sept 11, Bony Saludes byline)

IVA WON’T BE TRIED IN SONOMA (Sept 11, no byline)

GLIB GRANDMOTHER DENIES MURDERS (Sept 12, Neale Leslie/Bony Saludes byline)

IVA KROEGER WAS STAR IN SF POLICE ‘CIRCUS’ (Sept 13, Bony Saludes byline)



ONLY EMPTY ENVELOPE IN IVA’S SR BANK BOX (Sept 18, Bony Saludes byline)

KROEGER WITNESS HUNTED (Sept 18, no byline)


Read More

Press Democrat, August 21, 1962


“Are the police looking for me?” she asked her friend on the phone.

It was mid-June 1962, and the Sonoma County sheriff’s office was indeed looking for her…sort of. An arrest warrant was issued even though they weren’t sure of the woman’s name (was it Eva Long or Iva Kroeger?) where she might be (she was last seen in a taxi headed for Cotati) or what she looked like (she had taken all known photos with her when she vanished).

The warrant was for an assault with a deadly weapon because she pulled a gun on a tradesman who was owed money, but there was a growing clamor for her to be investigated in the disappearance of Mildred and Jay Arneson. Six months had passed since they went missing and Eva/Iva was the prime suspect, having taken over the Arneson’s motel business and peddled lies or contradictory stories about what she knew. Yet while the sheriff still believed the elderly couple would turn up someday, the family and their lawyer kept gathering evidence which convinced them the Arnesons were dead. All that (and more!) was covered in the first chapter, “MURDER MOTEL ON SANTA ROSA AVE.”

When Eva fled Santa Rosa on May 23 she left her friend Mrs. Kelly in charge the motel. She had met the Kellys five years earlier in San Francisco, when their son was in Cub Scouts and Eva/Iva was the Den Mother. (Let’s pause for a moment to digest that unexpected factoid.) When deputies arrived the next day to make an arrest Mrs. Kelly told them her friend was then known as Iva Kroeger – which was indeed her legal name. Unsure which was an alias, the Press Democrat and other papers took to calling her Mrs. Eva Long-Kroeger.

As mentioned previously, the search for the Arnesons didn’t begin in earnest until the Press Democrat launched its investigative series on July 1. The paper found that after Iva left Santa Rosa she headed for the San Francisco home she shared with husband Ralph Kroeger. She stayed there with him for a day before taking off, supposedly returning to Santa Rosa.

The thread that weaved through each part of this story was Iva Kroeger’s astonishing Svengali-like powers to get others to do her bidding even when it was against their own best interests, and Ralph was no exception – see sidebar.


At the time of the Arneson murders, Ralph E. Kroeger was 61 years old and had owned the house at 490 Ellington Ave. in the Outer Mission (just a few blocks from the Daly City boundary) outright since 1947, despite not making much as a common laborer. In the 1950 census he was listed as a hod-carrier for a company making fire bricks and in some of the murder coverage it was said he worked at the Port Chicago naval depot near Martinez. (EDIT: He worked twenty years for an Emeryville company repairing ships, placing fire bricks inside boilers.)

Ralph lived with both parents until his mother died in 1939, then he and his father came to San Francisco, still living together. Dad died in 1954; afterwards he met and married Iva. “We were both tired of living alone,” he told the Oakland Tribune.

The press usually described him as a “Pa Kettle type” (meaning a lazy hick) with drawling speech, but throughout the case questions were raised whether he might actually be telling the truth in claiming he had no idea what Iva was doing. Some of the stories certainly painted him as being clueless:

After their marriage Iva insisted he mortgage the house so she could make improvements. That money disappeared. “I got mad, sure, but then I knew I couldn’t do anything about it, so I just signed another note,” Ralph said to a Tribune reporter.

He also turned his $100/week paycheck over to her and all but $20 of it was supposedly used for blood transfusions because of her leukemia. She did not have leukemia. “I never checked on it,” he told the Oakland newspaper. “What good would it do? As long as we ate okay, that’s all I cared about.”
Wedding photo of Iva and Ralph Kroeger restored by HotPot AI from a poor quality print in the Press Democrat August 24, 1962

Iva initially put Ralph to work cleaning up the motel although he hated being there. “It was a condemned joint,” he griped to authorities looking for his wife. “They were getting ready to close it up until I started painting it. It wasn’t fit for hogs to live in.” Working alongside Ralph in early 1962 was Inez W., a Native American woman who lived in Santa Rosa.

Inez also served as Iva’s chauffeur because she couldn’t drive – supposedly. That claim might have been part of her suit against an insurance company because Iva insisted she suffered permanent injuries from a taxi accident. (She also limped, sometimes used a cane or crutch, and begged for loans so she could get an unspecified “leg operation.”) Neighbors in Santa Rosa told the PD they saw her behind the wheel and knew she shared driving chores with Inez when they went to Washington state.

That trip to Washington was the first big clue linking Iva to the Arneson’s disappearance. Gentle Reader will recall from part one that in February Mildred’s motel in the summer resort town of Westport, WA was ransacked. As Mildred and Jay were already missing, her sisters notified the town marshal. According to the PD, witnesses told him “a large dark woman – possibly of Indian ancestry – accompanied by a small dark woman were active in the removal of this personal property. The report says they arrived in Mildred Arneson’s green Lincoln.”

The PD continued: “The Bekins Transfer Seattle office was contacted by the town marshal who was told that Eva Lange, 1385 Santa Rosa Ave., of Santa Rosa, had arranged for the moving of this personal property.” All the furniture and other contents from that nicer motel had been stored for months at a Bekins warehouse in San Rafael waiting for “Eva Lange” to pay the $600 storage bill before it could be delivered to the run-down place Iva Kroeger was operating in Santa Rosa.

As suspicious details like that piled up, the Sonoma County sheriff kept looking the other way – and to such a degree it’s a wonder he didn’t sprain his neck. The PD learned no deputies had searched the Arneson’s rooms at the Santa Rosa Ave. motel to look for possible clues as to the missing couple’s whereabouts. An essential prescription to treat Jay’s advanced case of Parkinson’s Disease had not been refilled for months. PD reporter Neale Leslie found Iva was getting rid of Mildred’s things, including her piano; Iva tried to give Mildred’s Lincoln to Inez, which she wouldn’t accept because Iva didn’t have a pink slip. (Later the PD reported Iva never paid Inez or her two teenage sons, who also did driving and worked around the motel.)

To that point, only twice had the sheriff’s office actually done any Sherlocking of its own, and both concerned messages Mildred allegedly sent to her family. A typed letter wasn’t made using Mildred’s typewriter – although Sheriff’s Inspector John Coffman said he still believed Mildred wrote it because it included a family anecdote. Also questionable was the telegram to Mildred’s sister with the snippy remark to “keep your nose out of my affairs.” None in the family believed she wrote it, and it was sent from Salinas when Mildred and Jay were supposedly on their South American roadtrip. Coffman contacted Salinas and was told the telegram had been called in from a payphone. “He conceded it could have been telephoned from anywhere by an unknown person impersonating Mrs. Arneson, but didn’t think it to be likely,” the PD said. The investigator seemed to be invested in proving there was nothing to investigate.

But as the month of July 1962 wore on, Bay Area papers introduced readers to the Arneson mystery via rehashing details from the Press Democrat series and doing investigation on their own. The story was becoming harder for Sheriff John A. Ellis to ignore and he announced he was now personally heading the high-profile case – although surely that had nothing to do with him being up for reelection that year.







Following leads from the PD articles he wrote to American Express to inquire about $1,500 in traveler’s checks Mildred bought from Exchange Bank two days before she disappeared. He wrote to the VA to see if Jay’s disability checks were being cashed. Some items were sent to the state Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation (CII), such as a car floor mat which had a rust-colored stain that might have been blood.

At the end of July answers started trickling in. The stain wasn’t blood. The VA checks were being returned to sender by the post office. But the traveler’s checks…oh, my. They had been cashed in Santa Rosa and San Francisco days after Mildred’s disappearance. Sheriff Ellis sent them to the FBI to compare signatures and while he was waiting, it was learned almost $900 of them were cashed at the Santa Rosa Sears. Shown the newly-acquired snapshot of Iva, Sears employees identified her as the woman who said she was Mildred Arneson.

Ellis and others finally did a thorough search of the motel including Cabin No. 4, a room Iva blocked anyone from entering. They did “routine digging” around the place which proved fruitless. At the request of District Attorney Maddux the FBI was also alerted Iva was spotted in Reno, which meant she could be prosecuted for crossing state lines to avoid arrest on the weapons charge.

The breakthrough in the case happened shortly after the search and was a twist worthy of Alfred Hitchcock. Joan and Nigel Dodge owned the Blue Bonnet motel next door and had become close with Mildred’s family since she vanished; on Aug. 17 one of the sisters was in town, presumably because of the search.

Also at the Blue Bonnet happened to be construction worker Walter Hughes, who was taking the day off because of illness. As Joan made up his room they chatted. The Press Democrat reported what happened next:

“I knew Mrs. Arneson,” said Mr. Hughes, “I lived at the Sombrero Motel when she was there.” Mrs. Dodge, who with her husband was long convinced foul play was involved in the Arneson disappearance, sensed Mr. Hughes had some vital information and talked to him further. “He told me he was acquainted with Mrs. Long, too, and said he once worked a day for her in San Francisco.”

Specifically: Hughes was hired to dig a hole four feet square in the Kroeger’s garage.

Joan Dodge immediately called the sheriff’s office and Hughes was questioned here, then taken to San Francisco to be interviewed further. The PD article continued:

He said Mrs. Long-Kroeger gave him $15 to drive her and Mr. Arneson to San Francisco in Mrs. Arneson’s Lincoln sedan on Jan. 15. He said Mrs. Long-Kroeger asked him to dig a hole, presumably for plumbing repair, while she and Mr. Arneson looked on. After completing the hole, he said, he drove Mrs. Long-Kroeger and the old man to Mt. Zion Hospital, where Mrs. Long-Kroeger told him to leave her and Mr. Arneson and return to Santa Rosa.

With a search warrant and a sketch drawn by Hughes, San Francisco police and the Sonoma County sheriff’s office arrived at the Kroeger house on Ellington Ave. There was a new wood floor in the garage, as it was being converted into a studio apartment. Following the diagram they cut through the wood to find a recent layer of concrete that wasn’t very thick. Underneath was loose dirt and under that was Jay Arneson, with a thick belt still wrapped around his neck. Jay had watched his own grave being dug by Walter Hughes.

By now a crowd of looky-loos had gathered outside the house and as the exhumation continued, reporters and photographers from Bay Area newspapers, radio and TV were allowed to watch. In the PD photo below, John LeBaron captured the SF coroner examining dirt next to Jay’s upturned foot.

Press Democrat, August 21, 1962
Press Democrat, August 21, 1962

As this was going on, Ralph Kroeger was upstairs being questioned. They brought him down to see the grave before the body was removed and as soon as he appeared, photographers pressed close and fired off a blinding array of flashbulbs. “What is this?” he complained. “Get them out of here! Get them out of here!”

It was getting close to midnight before the body was taken to the morgue, but a stalwart fifty spectators lingered outside, shivering in San Francisco’s foggy August gloom as Ralph was arrested for “suspicion of murder” and booked at the Hall of Justice.

While in the garage Ralph pointed to a spot and remarked, “If I remember right, the barrel is right around here somewhere.” Only the PD reporter followed up and learned the significance of what he meant. While being questioned by authorities he told them a large hole was dug in the concrete foundation during Prohibition to hide wine barrels. Forty men crowded into the garage the next day to resume searching and police went directly to that location, about ten feet away from Jay Arneson’s shallow grave.

In the hole they found a wooden steamer trunk. “There’s no doubt about it,” the PD reported Sheriff Ellis said ominously. “She’s in there.” Work paused as a call was made for Coroner Henry Turkel to return to the house, along with Ralph. Bony Saludes eavesdropped as Ralph stared at the trunk:

“It might sound nuts to you, but I’ve never seen that trunk before,” he told Dan McClem, chief of inspectors.

“You realize you’re in a bind, don’t you?” the officer said.

“Yeah,” Mr. Kroeger said and turned away.

The Press Democrat was fortunate to have a reporter with Bony Saludes’ talents; if his description of the scene were part of a movie script, theater audiences would be white-knuckled:

Instructed by Dr. Turkel, workmen unearthed a wide area around the trunk, which was resting on end, inserted boards on the bottom to prevent it from bursting, tied a heavy rope around it and lifted it out.

“I’m going to open the trunk now,” Dr. Turkel said as the multitude of men, kept in unbearable suspense for almost three hours, waited.

Dr. Turkel pulled out an object and said, “A woman’s comb.”

Carefully he unwrapped a zippered plastic clothes container.

“I have a body here,” he said. “Can’t tell if it’s a man or a woman. It’s very badly decomposed.”

For a full minute there was complete silence among the men. Flashbulbs began to pop and five minutes later, the drama ended.

Press Democrat, August 22, 1962
Press Democrat, August 22, 1962

Meanwhile, as the trunk with Mildred’s body was being lifted out of the grave in San Francisco, another sort of drama was playing out across the Bay in Oakland.

A woman doing yardwork noticed two small, blonde-haired boys walking back and forth on the street past her home; they were crying and said they were alone and didn’t know where they were supposed to be. Charlie was four and his brother Willie was three. She walked around the neighborhood with them and then flagged down a police car.

For five hours the kids drove with the officer as he announced on a loudspeaker they had found two lost boys. But no one came forward for them and there were no phone calls to the police about missing children. At the end of the day they took the boys to a local hospital that cared for children in such a situation.

All day Charlie was telling people a crazy story – both parents were recently killed in a car crash so their grandmother had whisked them away on a bus ride. Following supper and getting ready for bed a policeman played a hunch and showed them a copy of that day’s Oakland Tribune. At the top of the front page was a photo of Ralph Kroeger from the day before, caught cringing from the cameras as he was taken into the garage to see Jay Arneson’s body. Next to that was a snapshot of Iva.

Charlie did not hesitate: “That’s grandma!”





(1962 Press Democrat articles related to this chapter only)




MRS. ARNESON’S LETTER MAY ‘BREAK OPEN’ CASE (July 18, Bony Saludes byline)





FBI ENTERS HUNT FOR MRS. EVA LONG (July 31, no byline)


MRS. LONG ACCUSED OF CASHING CHECKS (August 17, Bony Saludes byline)

BASEMENT GRAVE OPENED BY OFFICERS (August 21, Bony Saludes byline)


HAVE YOU SEEN THIS WOMAN? (August 21, no byline)

KROEGER GRANDSONS FOUND (August 22, no byline)

BODY BELIEVED THAT OF MRS. ARNESON (August 22, Bony Saludes byline)

Read More



At the beginning of the summer of 1962 nobody much cared about the story except for a Press Democrat staff writer. By midsummer it was the top news in the Bay Area. As the season came to an end, a mania over the case had gripped all of California, with tips and false leads flooding police telephone lines.







The pressing question everyone wanted answered: Where were the Arnesons? Mildred and Jay had been missing over six months when the first PD article appeared. They had no close friends in Santa Rosa so there was no one to raise an alarm over their unusual disappearances, but her family in Washington state was convinced something terrible had happened.

They presented the Sonoma County Sheriff with their suspicions and even evidence of crimes. Yet the office stubbornly refused to investigate and treated it like a routine missing-persons case, which is to say they did nothing as the months passed. “It’s primarily a matter of waiting for leads,” the sheriff’s investigator said. The PD slammed the department for what it called “official indifference.” In a headline, no less.

And then there was Eva Anna Long, who had also vanished. She was supposedly a friend of the Arnesons – were they all together somewhere? The inspector in charge of the case believed so (while leaving open “possible foul play”) even though the woman had an incredibly sketchy history. She was already wanted by the sheriff for recently pulling a gun on someone and her name was actually an alias.

At its core this is a true crime story which any competent writer could sum up in 2,500 words or so – as several have in years since. (Monte Schulz, son of Peanuts cartoonist Charles Schulz, wrote a novelized version called “Naughty.”) Sure, it can be framed as a straight-forward “Motive, Means and Opportunity” crime, but only by going back to the original sources can we grasp what made this tale so remarkably compelling; it sucked everyone in because each new detail was wilder and crazier than the last. It was like receiving a piece of a jigsaw puzzle nearly every day which changed the emerging picture from what you expected.

Another overlooked aspect of the story was the fierce competition for the latest nugget between newspapers, radio and TV reporters. There were accusations that some were plagiarizing news from the Press Democrat, and those charges were not completely unfounded.

Sadly, we can’t go back 60+ years via my Wayback Machine (I really should have sprung for the rust-proof undercoating) but we do have most of those newspapers online, so it’s easy to follow the story as it unfolded. And although I’ll have more to say about this later, the Press Democrat deserves highest praise for its coverage. It would have been easy for the newsroom to accept the sheriff’s position there was no reason for concern and wave off the family’s plea for help. Instead, editors took the initiative and assigned Neale Leslie and Bony (Boniface) Saludes to dig into the story – and primarily thanks to them all was revealed.

The essence of our story began when the PD’s first article appeared on July 1, 1962 – two hundred days since Mildred Maude Arneson vanished. Almost all of the background details covered below trace back to those first investigative reports that summer.

mildredportrait(RIGHT: Mildred Arneson c. 1950. Photo enhanced using HotPot AI)

Mildred and Jay’s only year in Santa Rosa was unhappy. Early in 1961 the 58 year-old woman purchased the Rose City Motel at 1385 Santa Rosa Avenue (today it’s a Starbucks drive-thru). Built in the 1920s, it was typical of the little motels that dotted the American West after highways became ubiquitous – it was first called the Rose City Auto Camp and later the Rose City Motor Court. There were twenty 2-3 room cabins and what few classified ads that can be found mention they were heated and had furniture. The Arnesons lived there and Mildred ran it, but business was poor. The place was a dump.

Mildred had some property in Washington state, and shortly before she disappeared told a realtor she was planning to sell it and use the money to retire somewhere in South America or Mexico. She wrote her mother on December 14 she was about to make a six week trip down there with her new friend Eva Long, who was lending her $10,000 for the junket. A day later Mildred signed over a grant deed for the motel to Mrs. Long as collateral. The notary who certified that was the last person to speak with Mildred.

Eva and her husband Ralph had passing acquaintance with the Arnesons and were staying at the Blue Bonnet, a nearly identical motor court next door. They were in Santa Rosa because Eva said she was being harassed by insurance investigators because of her $100,000 suit for supposedly permanent injuries. She was a passenger in a San Francisco taxi when it hit another car and she was left with a bad limp.

Then one mid-December day the couple who owned the Blue Bonnet learned Mildred had supposedly left for a South American trip and Eva had purchased the Rose City Motel “sight unseen.”

The woman who called herself Eva moved in to the motel with Ralph and announced it was now named the El Sombrero. With Jay still living there, it fell to Ralph to feed and bathe him. Jay Thomas Arneson was suffering the final stages of Parkinson’s disease with a paralyzed lower lip that made him difficult to understand. The 70 year-old WWI vet and major in the Army Reserve had been on a disability pension for a quarter century.

It was apparent to Blue Bonnet owners Joan and Nigel Dodge that Eva knew nothing about running a motel as she pestered them constantly with questions. At first the Dodges were pleased to assist her, as people always were. Eva had an air of helplessness which made you instantly trust and want to make her feel better. She was a diminutive woman at a little over five feet tall and 43 years old; besides her limp she had a blown-out pupil that might be mistaken for a glass eye. She still spoke somewhat broken English and would cock her head while reading or listening to someone – presumably because this was her second language, having come from Munich.

It was a couple of weeks after Eva and Ralph took over when the first police car arrived at the El Sombrero. One of Mildred’s sisters tried to phone the motel on New Year’s Day and discovered the number was disconnected. She contacted the sheriff’s office and asked for someone to check on the situation. The deputy encountered Eva and asked her to call the sister. Eva told the woman she had “just received a card from Mildred in Mexico City” and all was well. Then the sister asked to speak with Jay. He said hello and in a voice the PD described as a sob, added “I don’t think I’ll ever see Mildred again.” Eva came back on the line and explained he was upset by his wife’s hasty departure.

Jay disappeared near the end middle of January. Eva first told the Dodges a couple of “sinister looking” men showed up in the middle of the night and put him in a white Cadillac with Mexican license plates. Then just three days later, Eva told them she escorted him to Letterman Hospital in a taxi.

It was shortly after that when the Dodges began to suspect the Arnesons had been murdered. Eva began doing a suspicious amount of “garbage burning” behind the motel, with a pile she kept burning continuously for weeks. It seemed like she was getting rid of everything inside – mattresses, furniture, curtains. The stench was awful. Joan wondered if it was to cover up the cremation of human remains.

Mildred’s family grew increasingly anxious as more weeks passed without hearing from her, with her mother saying she believed “the woman who bought the motel did her in.”

Clues were rapidly accumulating. Her December letter to mom said she would be first driving Jay to a nursing home in San Diego. Such a reservation was indeed made, but Mildred and Jay never showed up. The Arneson’s car remained parked in Santa Rosa.

By now the family had made their concerns known to the Sonoma County Sheriff’s office and Inspector John Coffman was assigned to the case. He considered those details, yet not a single red flag was raised for the remarkably incurious investigator. He also visited Eva at the El Sombrero and came away convinced there was nothing to investigate – the Arnesons must be enjoying a vacation somewhere. Too bad he didn’t go next door and ask the Dodges what they thought.

Fed up with Coffman’s shortcomings, two of her sisters drove here in February to meet with the sheriff and file a missing persons report – but first they made a side trip to check on another of Mildred’s cabin motels in Westport, Washington, a summer resort town where lodging shut down for the winter. They found the place had been ransacked; most furniture was gone along with doors and wall paneling in the office. It undoubtedly left them shaken, but all they could do was notify the town marshal before leaving for California.

As Coffman seated himself comfortably and waited for leads to roll in, the missing person report certainly ruffled someone’s feathers. Immediately after the sisters returned home, a telegram to one of them arrived on February 28 sent from Salinas:

Dear Bea: I would like for you to keep your nose out of my affairs. Jay and I are all right. If you keep this up everyone will be upset. Tell mother not to worry. I’m all right. I was within 100 miles of you a couple of weeks ago, after I heard what I heard I stayed away. Would you please accept Jay’s check at this address. I will write in two weeks so don’t be upset. And please stay out of my affairs. Love. Mildred Jay and John.

As promised, a typewritten letter to their mother arrived a couple of weeks later, postmarked from Tijuana:

Dear Mother: Hope your feeling fine. Jay, John and I are alright. John said not to worry. I bought a new car a Cadillac. I been in a little trouble but I always work out my own troubles and affairs all my life. I am fifty-seven now and its about time my family keeps their nose out of my affairs. If anyone ask you where I am you don’t know and if anyone ask you any questions you don’t know. And I am writing to you under a different name thats if you want to hear from me.

Now mother don’t worry about me and take good care of yourself. Tell the children not to worry also. I’ve sold most of my property outright. You know Bea’s always been jealous of me even when I had the Turkey Farm she said I should knit sweaters for them I never did forget that. I’m sending Jay’s pension checks to you to hold on to them until we get settled. I’m also if you meddle I’m having my utility bill sent also. Well, nevermind I’ll write to Westport and them send them. As I sold the cabins. The ground couldn’t be sold.

I have a habit and it’s very costly and don’t ask me to explain that’s half of my trouble Jay wants to write to Jack and tell him we are alright. This all for now. Love to all from

Mildred, Jay and John.

There were red flags galore in those messages. First, no one in the family knew “John,” who they were apparently supposed to recognize. Mildred’s grammar and spelling were far better and she wrote letters in longhand, not typed; her age was 58, not 57; she called her mother as “Mom” and signed herself “Mil.” And the telegram to her sister was addressed to “Beatrice Brown” instead of “Brunn.”

None of these points raised the good inspector’s eyebrows because he was sure the messages came from Mildred – after all, she owned a portable typewriter. Plus there was the turkey farm shoutout which absolutely no one else could have known because no person has ever shared a family anecdote with a friend. “If you take the negative approach,” Coffman later told the PD, “you come to one conclusion. If you take the affirmative approach, you come to a different conclusion.” John Coffman: Zen detective.

Eva (and probably Ralph) moved back to the Blue Bonnet for six weeks as workmen made repairs at the El Sombrero – she told the Dodges she could not “stand filth,” presumably meaning construction debris. During that interlude and before, the Dodges came to know Eva better than anyone besides Ralph. They recognized her lies and fabulations for what they were, keeping Mildred’s sisters abreast of her doings and what was (not) happening in the sheriff’s investigation. Mildred’s family credited them – along with the Press Democrat – for cracking the case.

Uncredited 1962 snapshot of Iva and Ralph Kroeger taken by a friend of the Dodge family. Photo enhanced using  HotPot AI)
Uncredited 1962 snapshot of Iva and Ralph Kroeger taken by a friend of the Dodge family. Photo enhanced using HotPot AI)

Later after Eva became a murder suspect, the Dodges readily gave interviews to the PD and other media. Remarks to the Oakland Tribune described how Eva was rarely alone because she used her wiles to build an entourage “promising fabulous rewards to transients and down-and-outers to do her bidding.” Sometimes she paid them generously – but more often they were just gratified by being able to help the poor, sweet lady who had suffered so much. Two months before the missing Arnesons became big news, an item in the PD illustrated how the world turned in Eva’s universe.

She hired a tradesman named Herbert Willsmore to install an expensive water softener as part of the motel renovations and also borrowed money from him, said to be around $2,500. (What, you don’t hit up plumbers and other contractors for loans?) Asked why he gave her money, Willsmore explained Eva had an “ability to draw you in, to engender trust.” But when it came time to repay the loan and make good on his bill which came to a total $4,900, she claimed to lack the ability to do either.

In late May she finally agreed to pay him if he came by the motel. When he arrived, he found her with a Mrs. Harrington and a Mr. Phelps. He also found her holding a .22 automatic pistol. Mrs. Harrington told the PD she was with Eva all day and she “kept repeating that she was going to get a gun and use it on Herb.”

Eva demanded he sit at her dining room table and write a statement that she owed him nothing. Then per the PD story, “the episode was interrupted and Mr. Willsmore was allowed to leave unharmed when Mrs. Willsmore got tired of waiting outside for her husband and knocked on the door to find out what was keeping him.”

Willsmore immediately reported this bizarre incident to the sheriff’s office. Meanwhile, Eva handed the gun to Mr. Phelps and told him to hide it in the attic – and I am gobsmacked to reveal he did exactly that. Admitted it to the PD reporter, even.

Deputy sheriffs arrived the following day with a search warrant and found the gun in the attic (fully loaded) but no Eva. She had skipped town just ahead of their arrival, taking along all photos of herself and leaving behind a doleful Ralph. An arrest warrant was issued charging assault with a deadly weapon.

Boldly committing a crime in front of two witnesses – plus roping one of them into hiding the weapon – says much about Eva’s incredible power of persuasion. Or how crazy she was, or deeply evil. Or maybe all of these things.

But maybe the most remarkable aspect of that incident was the lack of any mention in the paper about the recent disappearance of the Arnesons from the same motel, or that the now-fugitive Eva Long was the prime suspect. We probably shouldn’t really be surprised – the PD reporter was getting all his information from clue-blind Inspector Coffman.

The situation was about to change quickly, however. A lawyer for Mildred’s family came here and tried to explain to Coffman why the letter and telegram supposedly written by Mildred were so suspicious. He presumably also met the Dodges and heard the remarkable bits of information they had collected.

And then her sisters returned to Santa Rosa at the end of June, meeting with the Press Democrat. Within days, the game was afoot. Where were the Arnesons? Where was the suspicious woman with all the secrets? It was all anybody could talk about as the mystery unfurled. The Big Show was about to begin.



Title image: Iva Kroeger 1954 wedding portrait enhanced by HotPot AI and uncredited photo of El Sombrero motel c. 1962 colorized using Palette.fm




(1962 Press Democrat articles related to this chapter only)










MRS. ARNESON’S LETTER MAY ‘BREAK OPEN’ CASE (July 18, Bony Saludes byline)



SISTERS LAUD P.D. IN OPENING CASE (August 22, Bony Saludes byline)

Read More