Monday, March 24, 2008


Crime, Cocaine and Death Tied To Bank With a History

(Mar. 24, Hills, IA) Nestled amid sprawling corn a bean fields, the city of Hills, Iowa does not even have a traffic light. A mere 8 miles from the downtown section of Iowa City, this bedroom community of under 700 has known its share of scandal and intrigue. The latest sordid tale to emanate from this unremarkable hamlet took on an even more tragic pall earlier today.

Hills, Iowa is the home of the Hills Bank and Trust, the seventh largest bank in the state. With their home office on this plain and simple, if not somewhat barren Main Street, the Hills Bank brings approximately 200 employees into this quiet town daily. This institution with a long, somewhat colorful, if not shady history, was recently rocked by scandal when a Vice President, Steven Sueppel was indicted on a host of federal charges related to allegations of theft, embezzlement, money laundering and drug purchases. His family of 5; his wife Sheryl and their four children were discovered dead this morning after the Iowa City Police dispatcher received and anonymous call from a cell phone stating that the police needed to get to that home immediately.

Arriving officers found the house, at 629 Barrington Road unlocked and made the grizzly discoveries upon their initial search of the premises. According to neighbors wishing to remain anonymous, Mr. and Mrs. Sueppel and their four children attended church services yesterday morning. Prior to the charges filed against Mr. Sueppel, the family was well known and liked in the neighborhood and the community. His indictment last month and the details which have slowly emerged subsequent to his release on bond have truly shocked this community which seems to see itself as somewhat immune to such events.

Local and state law enforcement agencies immediately began a search fro Mr. Sueppel. They had established that the family minivan, a Toyota Siena was missing as was Mr. Sueppel. Just hours later what may be the missing van was found ablaze after crashing into a sign stanchion approximately 9 miles from the Sueppel home on Interstate 80. It remains unclear if the van or any human remains have been identified thus far in this fast moving investigation. According to one Iowa DCI official speaking anonymously, the crashed van “was totally engulfed in a raging inferno. It has been burned beyond recognition and, it follows that anyone inside that van would also be unidentifiable at this time.”

The Hills Bank and trust has a somewhat storied history and many in this town and the surrounding area, say it is also a “shady” history. Established in 1904, the Hills Bank has seen impressive growth over the past 20 years. The story of some of that growth is difficult to decipher as it is clouded in rumor, innuendo and local myth as much as in scant and somewhat suspicious facts. According to sources familiar with the bank and some of its “major players” over the years, the Hills Bank was initially unable to grow due to its location and Iowa law. Sources say that Iowa law stipulated that a bank could only expand and open another branch in a town or community with which it shared a contiguous border. Since the City of Hills is remote, isolated in a sense, the only way for it to attain a contiguous border was to annex a three mile railroad spur that would then physically and legally connect it to Iowa City. Once this annexation was complete, the Hills Bank began its remarkable story of growth, expansion and success.

Some of the whispered accounts of that annexation have long been a source of anger and resentment directed mainly at members serving on the bank’s Board during those years. The details of the annexation were, to all outward appearances, legal and proper yet many locals were convinced there was more than a small measure of collusion, corruption and other nefarious activities that allowed the annexation to transpire. One local farmer whose family opposed the annexation of the rail spur when it first became public knowledge, speaking under the condition of anonymity commented, “That whole deal stunk. My dad knew it, I knew it, lots a folks here abouts knew it. Them Stutsman’s had a lot to do with it and everyone knows how shady that bunch is.”

The Stutsman’s are a local family with long ties to The City of Hills, the Hills Bank and what is commonly known as the Hills Rail Line. They own and operate a large agricultural services and trucking company located in Hills. The current President of Eldon C. Stutsman, Inc., the company’s name sake's eldest son, Ronald E. Stutsman, is also a member of the Hills Bank Board. Stutsman, Inc. partnered with The City of Hills in 2005 and was awarded a federal grant to pay for repairs to the Hills Rail Line. This recent fact only served to re-enforce the belief of many area residents that without the financial backing and clout of the Stutsman’s, the Hills Bank would never have been able to have the rail line annexation approved. “You want a story, you look into that whole thing”, said another area farmer. Virtually everyone spoken to insisted on anonymity each expressing concern that the Stutsman’s and others, could “cause trouble” for them if they spoke for attribution.

In December 1985, then serving President of the Hills Bank, John Hughes, was shot to death in his Main Street office by a local disgruntled customer, a farmer deeply in debt to the Hills Bank whose family farm was about to be foreclosed by the bank. Local rumor has it that the farmer, Dale Burr, had also mentioned plans to shoot Ron Stutsman. Burr killed himself later in the day after having shot his wife and neighbor in addition to John Hughes.

It was the rampage of Dale Burr and his murder of John Hughes that began the undercurrents of rumor and innuendo about the Hills Bank that persist to this day. “John Hughes was a good man but he got into bed with some awful folks. I’m ain’t sayin’ he deserved to be shot but, it kinda always made me wonder", commented a farmer from the neighboring community of Lone Tree.

Reporting for TBC, Farley Marsden in Hills, Iowa.
Copyright © 2008 TBC All Rights Reserved

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