‘On the Case with Paula Zahn’ looks at how Council Bluffs Police solved 40 year old cold case – The Daily Nonpareil


David Golbitz

Forty years ago a woman named Lee Rotatori was found murdered in a Council Bluffs motel room. Her killer, despite leaving a DNA sample at the scene, was never identified, and the case went cold.

Over the years, as DNA testing became more advanced, officials at the Council Bluffs Police Department began to have the sample tested against various genetic databases, but never got a match.

Then, in 2019, CBPD sent the DNA profile to Parabon Nanolabs for a genetic genealogy test. Two years later, in February 2021, they got a hit, and the identity of Rotatori’s killer was finally uncovered.

Now, the Rotatori case and how police were finally able to crack it is the subject of tonight’s episode of the Investigation Discovery true crime documentary series, “On the Case with Paula Zahn.”

“Anytime you have a law enforcement agency that’s able to solve a 40-year-old homicide, with DNA evidence, of course, and a new — a very new process, for most people — that’s just exciting, you know,” CBPD Crime Lab Manager Katie Pattee said in an interview with The Daily Nonpareil. “I think people really just think that that’s cool, and it is cool.”

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Being interviewed for the program was a new experience for Pattee, who is more used to doing her work in the background, out of the spotlight.

“It was definitely a very different and first time experience for me,” Pattee said. “But it was kind of cool to be able to talk about what we do. People see it on ‘CSI’ and they kind of have a false thought of what we actually do as crime scene investigators.”

In addition to Pattee, the episode features interviews with CBPD Det. Steven Andrews and retired Sgt. Larry Williams, who initially worked the case back in 1982.

Pattee emphasized that the police who initially investigated the Rotatori murder were meticulous in their work, using the tools that were available to them at the time. They can’t be faulted for not closing the case.

“It isn’t that law enforcement failed to do their duty in 1982, it’s that the technology wasn’t there,” she said. “Actually they did a really great job, because they collected that evidence and documented it so well that we were still able to use it 40 years later.”

Pattee said she’s looking forward to watching the episode, even though she knows how it ends.

“It was definitely a cool case, and a huge highlight in my career, that’s for sure,” Pattee said.

“On the Case with Paula Zahn” airs tonight on IDTV — Cox Cable channel 90 and DirecTV channel 285 — at 9 p.m. The show is also available to stream on Hulu.


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