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Death shocks local community

BY SHANE ERSLAND | OCTOBER 12, 2009 7:20 AM

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Community members say they are perplexed by the irregularity of an act that left a man dead on the Southeast Side of Iowa City last week.

Iowa City police officers responded to 1958 Broadway building C on Oct. 8 to find the body of John Versypt, a Cordova, Ill., resident, in the hallway next to a “No Smoking” sign, a screwdriver, and a handgun. Iowa City police are investigating the death as a homicide; they have not named any suspects.

The 64-year old Versypt owned some units in the Broadway Condominiums, but he had contracted Southgate Property Management to manage them. Janet Versypt said her husband was there to tend to the properties and look at possible building improvements.

Shelly Hull, a real-estate agent from Sellers & Seekers Real Estate in Iowa City, said the details of the death are alarming.

“I’m also a landlord, and I have properties around the area,” Hull said. “It sounds like he was there trying to do good things; this is really upsetting. Besides being a Realtor, I’m a concerned citizen.”

Community members have set up a mini-memorial, made of notebook paper, on the hallway wall above the landing where Versypt was found. Hanging above the ripped-up carpet, the handwritten sign reads: “In loving memory of John E. Versypt. See u when I get there. Sorry for the death of him to the family of John.”

Police have recovered shell casings from the crime scene and indicated they believe the gun found next to Versypt was the one used in the crime. Officers have also interviewed people.

Andrew Shepard, who lives in the building, witnessed the crime scene but said he was unsure of the identity of any possible suspects.

“I saw a gun, and I came back upstairs,” he said the night of the crime. “I saw him lying there, and I saw the gun. Someone [had] seen the people leave through the back door.”

Versypt was also a past president of the Quad Cities Rental Property Association. Current President Ron Gruenhagen said Versypt had a tendency to improve his residences.

“He just wanted to make sure everything was done appropriately, that everyone followed the rules,” he said. “He was a very fine person. He will be missed.”

Spurred by Versypt’s death, shocked neighborhood residents have come to Sue Freeman, the director of the Broadway Center, asking what they can do to prevent future tragedies. A group of area citizens have also been going door-to-door, trying to gather neighbors to discuss preventing criminal activity, she said.

“I oftentimes think, through crisis, people pull together,” she said. “This tragedy could be turned into a change agent.”

Iowa City’s Southeast Side has garnered media attention in recent months after a wave of criminal activity in the area. Since March 1, police officers have been dispatched to 1958 Broadway roughly 250 times for a variety of reasons.

Samuel Omoloaiye, who manages some units on Broadway, said he is trying to sell them back to Southgate Property Management.

“They should buy back every single unit and pick the bad eggs out,” he said. “I want to get out of here, but they don’t buy it.”

Hull, who has teenage children, said reconsidering a proposed curfew for teenagers is one way Iowa City officials could help prevent crime.

“I completely support the curfew,” she said. “The police need an avenue to talk to people, and that gives them a way. Officers should stop and question kids if they’re out that late.”

Iowa City City Councilor Mike O’Donnell agreed.

“I did support it, and I continue to,” he said. “It’s a tool that police could use when they need it.”

Realtor Jan Dendinger said she has participated in programs sponsored by the Iowa City Association of Realtors that educate landlords on how to remain safe when encountering residents.

But safety issues are still a concern for her, she said.

“I’ve never been attacked, but it does happen,” she said. “If I don’t know the people I’m going to see, I don’t go by myself.”


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