Gretchen Crooks was a 37-year-old woman living in a rural home at Cameo Avenue in Osage, Iowa. She lived with her husband, William, their 13-year-old son, Noah.
Gretchen had graduated from Mason City High School in 1992 and she worked as a nurse at Mercy Medical Center-North Iowa. Back in 2005, Gretchen travelled to the Gulf Coast to aid patients that were displaced by Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita. She said of the mission: “I wanted to help, wanted to do something to contribute.”1
In her place of employment, Gretchen was known as a hard worker who always had a smile on her face. She exuded compassion and kindness, making her perfect for the role of a nurse. She had a wide variety of skills which enabled her to work in critical care, cardiovascular recovery, the emergency room, inpatient and outpatient areas.2
Gretchen had obtained a four-year nursing degree from the University of Iowa College of Nursing. In 2012, she was in the process of pursuing a master’s degree in nursing administration. She very much believed in education and was dedicated to her profession as a nurse.
At around 7:31PM on the 24th of March, 2012, police in Osage received a phone call. It was from Noah. He was cool, calm and collected as he said to the 911 operator, Barb Michael: “I just shot my mom.” He then continued: “I’m not joking at all. She’s dead. I’m scared. I killed my mom with my .22. I don’t know why I did it.” He repeated this statement several times, before commenting: “I tried to rape her. I tried to rape her but I couldn’t do it.” Noah then apologised for his actions, telling Barb: “Tell them my weapon is empty. I just wish it was a dream so I could wake up and I could kiss her and hug her.”3
Noah explained to the 911 operator that Gretchen had taken away his Call of Duty game after he had come home with bad grades. He stated: “Something just came over me. I’m going to have to move away. I’m never going to be able to get a good job now.” He then lamented over the fact he would not get to marry his eight-grade girlfriend, or get into a good college. He said: “That goes down the drain now. I’m going to have to move. I am going to go to jail.”
Barb told Noah that deputies were on the way to the family’s home. He replied: “They’re not going to shoot me, are they?” As Noah waited for them to arrive, he texted his father expressing remorse for the shooting. He wrote: “Dad this is Noah. I killed Mom accidentally. I regret it. Come home now please.” At first, William thought that Noah was joking, so he replied in jest: “Ok. Just throw her in the grove. We’ll take care of her later.” It wasn’t until he received a phone call from police that he realised that the text message was no joke.4
When deputies arrived at the home, they knocked on the front door. Noah answered. They asked him to come outside and sit on the porch steps as two officers proceeded into the home. They entered the living room where they found Gretchen. She was stretched out on a corner of the sofa – her torso was riddled with bullet holes. She was evidently deceased. Her pajama top was open and she was nude from the waist down. In the dining room, they found a .22-caliber rifle.5
Noah made a full and detailed confession. That night, Gretchen made her son some doughnuts, and then sat down on the couch in the living room working on her laptop. Shortly before 7:30PM, Noah entered the room. He took up a vantage point around 15 feet away from Gretchen. He was armed with his .22-caliber, a weapon that his mother had purchased him as a gift. He lifted the semi-automatic rifle and took aim. He then shot Gretchen 21 times as she sat on the couch. He then proceeded to undress his mother and attempted to sexually assault her.
Gretchen’s autopsy showed that she had been shot a total of 21 times. There were two wounds to the head, four to the neck and 15 to the chest. Dr. Jonathan Thompson, who performed the autopsy, could not determine which shot was the fatal shot that killed Gretchen.
Noah was arrested and charged with first-degree murder and assault with the intent to commit sexual abuse. Under Iowa law, a juvenile needed to be at least 14-years-old to be waived to adult court. Investigators filed for a waiver of youthful offender status. If granted, that meant that Noah could be held under the supervision of the judicial system even after he turned 18.
The arrest came as a massive shock to the family, as well as to the community. Gretchen’s mother, Beverly Brahm, released a statement in the media. “We have lost our daughter. We have lost our grandson,” she said. She went on to say she was always so proud of her daughter, who she described as a hardworker with a big heart. The hospital where Gretchen worked also released a statement which read: “Gretchen was a great nurse and leader. We, as members of her Mercy family, continue to mourn for her and will be holding a memorial service. Our hearts and prayers go out to her family and friends.”
Noah had no criminal record, nor did he have any run-ins with law enforcement prior to the shooting. While in the fourth-grade, Noah did display some anxiety and he was placed on medication for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. He performed mostly well in school, with only two incidents on the school bus which resulted in disciplinary action.
Gretchen’s funeral was held on the 30th of March. Mourners shuffled into First Congregational Church in Mason City, where Rev. Paul Schaefer said: “Gretchen as a young girl accepted Jesus as her personal savior; that gave her a place at the table. I bet she would give a better sermon than I could today.” Rev. Patti Aurand said that Gretchen’s life had ended early, but it hadn’t ended without purpose. She stated: “We gather here in this protective shelter of God’s healing love where we can pour out our grief, where we can release our anger, face our emptiness, and most of all, to know that God cares.”6
Several members of the family reminisced about happier times. Her brother, Jason Brahm, stated: “We fought and we yelled at each other — and we loved each other. I was so proud to have her as a sister. She touched more people than I ever could. I couldn’t have asked for a better sister.” His young daughter described Gretchen as the “best aunt” she had ever had.
Noah’s defence team would announce that they were planning an insanity and diminished responsibility defence for their client. Judge Greg Rosenbladt then determined that Noah could be tried as a youthful offender, which meant that if he were convicted, he could remain incarcerated past his 18th birthday. He revealed that evaluations conducted on Noah indicated he would not be rehabilitated by the time he turned 18. They found that Noah was “logical, coherent and goal-directed” before, during and after the shooting.
Dr. Michael Taylor, a psychiatrist, interviewed Noah and found that his actions “were part and parcel of deeply ingrained personality traits which have been present for years, despite his relative youth, and will continue to be present for the foreseeable future.” He then added: “With a strong degree of medical certainty, I can state that the prospects for rehabilitating Noah Crooks prior to his 18th birthday are nil. He has no psychiatric illness (which had any impact on his actions) which might be treated …”7
Dr. Anna Salter, a psychologist, agreed. She stated: “It was not done in the heat of the moment … there are no indications that he was psychotic or even upset at the time of the shooting and finally, he has a series of personality traits that are very difficult to treat. I do not believe that at present there is any way to treat a lack of conscience, a total lack of empathy and extreme callousness. I am pessimistic about the chance that any treatment program can claim to successfully treat these traits even with a much longer frame of time.”
Noah Crooks’ murder trial began in April of 2013. During opening statements, defence attorney William Kytmus said that Noah was suffering from intermittent explosive disorder, a behavioural disorder that is characterized by repeated episode of impulsive, aggressive, or violent behaviour. He said that the violent outburst was caused by Gretchen taking away Noah’s Xbox game.
William would be called to testify during the trial. He said to the jury that Gretchen was the disciplinarian of the family, and this had led to some fights between the mother and son. He said that Noah had a loving but stormy relationship with Gretchen, stating: “They’d have their issues but then the next minute they’d play games together.” He revealed that on one occasion, Noah had once told him that he wanted to kill his mother, but he never took it seriously. He said: “I guess I didn’t take it as a threat at the time…”
The defence would call on three friends of Noah to testify. One 14-year-old boy said that he often played Call of Duty online with Noah. He said that in 2012, Noah had become aggressive and violent, and had even begun stabbing classmates with pencils. He said that these incidents would happen once or twice every couple of weeks and then not happen again for days or months. He further testified that Noah had threatened to kill other students and his mother.
Another 14-year-old told the court room that she had become friends with Noah in the 7th grade. She said that in March 2012, he had begun talking about suicide, and his behaviour began to change. She stated: “He got angry quicker. In P.E, he’d get mad at things he wouldn’t usually get mad at…”8
The jury would then hear testimony from various doctors. Dr. Michael Taylor testified that Noah was not suffering from a diagnosable mental illness when the shooting occurred. He said that Noah felt absolutely no remorse for the murder, nor did he accept responsibility. He stated: “Noah was able to calmly and without any change in his demeanour whatsoever describe for me the hours in which he decided to shoot his mother. He felt he didn’t need his mother.”9
His assessment was backed up by Dr. Anna Madison, who said it was her belief that Noah knew right from wrong. She stated she believed that Noah suffered from a conduct disorder that involved a repetitive pattern of behaviour in which the basic rights of other people are violated. She highlighted the fact that when Noah called 911, he was more concerned with what was going to happen to him than what happened to his mother.
Dr. Donner Dewdney, who was hired by the defence, countered this. He said that Noah suffered from a disorder that resulted in periods of rage and violence. He testified that Noah had told him he felt a command to pick up the rifle and shoot while in a fit of rage. He stated: “When he started shooting, he couldn’t stop.”
After all of the testimony was presented, it was time for closing arguments. Prosecutor Denise Timmins referred to Noah as a cold-blooded killer who was not insane when he shot and killed his mother. She stated: “The last thing she saw before she died was her own son raising a gun at her and pulling the trigger. He wanted to see his mother’s face when she died.” Defence attorney William Kutmus, on the other hand, referred to him as a sick boy. He stated: “In this little boy’s background, common sense would tell you this was a very sick boy. He had the idea to have sexual intercourse with his own mother.”10
After deliberating for more than 17 hours, the jury returned with a verdict. They found Noah Crooks guilty of the lesser-charge of second-degree murder. The jury rejected his claims of insanity but they opted for a less severe verdict.11 Noah was sentenced to up to 50 years in prison. He was ordered to be held at the State Training School in Eldora until he turned 18. Then his case was to be reviewed annually.
He currently remains behind bars.
- Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, 27 March, 2012 – “New Details”
- Globe Gazette, 28 March, 2012 – “Co-Workers Honor Crooks as Mentor, Friend”
- Globe Gazette, 1 May, 2013 – “Jury Listens to 911 Tape”
- Associated Press, 3 May, 2013 – “Father Testifies in Iowa Teen’s Murder Trial”
- Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, 2 May, 2013 – “First Deputies on Scene Testified”
- Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, 31 March, 2012 – “Hundreds Mourn Woman Allegedly Shot by Son”
- Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, 3 October, 2012 – “Osage Teen to be Tried as Youthful Offender”
- Globe Gazette, 3 May, 2013 – “Crooks’ Behavior Changed”
- Associated Press, 7 May, 2013 – “Closings set in Trial of Teen”
- Associated Press, 8 May, 2013 – “Boy Wasn’t Insane”
- Associated Press, 13 May, 2013 – “Iowa Teen Convicted of Murder”