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Death in Topeka: The unsolved 1994 murder of Roxanne Zwiesler

Elegant. Vivacious. Charming.

Those are just a few of the superlatives assigned to Roxanne Zwiesler by those that knew and loved her.

A 39-year-old statuesque beauty who always accentuated her height by wearing heels, Roxanne had worked as a model before settling into a career in retail, including her last job in the lingerie department at the Jones Store where she had a reputation for helping women flatter themselves and men do the same for their wives and girlfriends.

She had a degree in business from Wasburn and an impressive resume, and was known around town for a whirl of nights at upscale clubs and exclusive parties, venues at which all eyes focused on her.

Roxanne spent most of what was to be her last day--Monday, June 13, 1994--at work. That day, someone phoned Roxanne at the Jones Store. A nearby coworker heard her say, “Now I’m in trouble.” The remark may have had an innocent explanation but would seem ominous in the future.

That evening, Roxanne went to dinner with a friend and arrived home at about ten. Three-years divorced, she resided alone in the Brandywine Apartments, near the intersection of 25th and Wanamaker.

Her second-floor apartment overlooked an adjacent parking lot to the south. Friends dropping by for a visit often parked there, cutting across the grass to Roxanne’s building. It was, in fact, easy to do so without being seen.

A woman who had the apartment west of Roxanne’s said she heard a disturbance later that night, but she was unable to be more precise. A man who lived in the apartment to the east did not hear anything.

Roxanne had the next day--Tuesday, June 14, 1994--off from the Jones Store and planned to meet a friend for coffee that morning and drop by her sister Rhonda’s house that afternoon. She did not show up at either engagement. When her friend and then her sister called to find out why, they got a busy signal--repeatedly.

Roxanne’s family had always played a vital role in her life. She had three brothers--Bob, Joe, and John--and three sisters--Teresa, Rhonda, and Michele--who were as much a part of her social calendar as her newsworthy friends. At that time, none of her siblings was more involved with Roxanne than Michele, the youngest in the family. When Roxanne’s line continued to be busy,

Michele went to check on her.

As Michele waited for the light to change at 29th and Wanamaker, images of the unthinkable flickered in her mind. She pushed them aside. After all, the odds were that something had come up and Rox, as Michelle called her, had taken off on some adventure, not noticing that she had knocked her phone off the hook on her way out the door. Michele turned on 27th, parked in the empty lot, and hurried to Roxanne’s apartment.

The second she touched the apartment door, the reassurance she had mustered in response to her fears faded away. With a slight push, the door swung open--it had not been latched. A note a friend had left wedged against the jam fl uttered down to the welcome mat. Michele called out her sister’s name. There was no response.

Inside, Michele saw a laundry basket on the living room fl oor. A couch that normally sat against a storage closet had been pushed out, and the closet door was open. Michele entered the bedroom, and the unthinkable became real.

Roxanne lay unclothed on the bed. She had been shot in the head.

Michele ran to the apartment next door, and the man living there dialed 9-1-1. In minutes, police swarmed on the scene. One of the patrol cops pointed out that the screen on the front window had been slit.

Later, as detectives examined the scene, they discarded initial impressions that Roxanne had fallen victim to an intruder: the slit in the screen had been made from the inside. The killer had probably cut the screen to make it appear as though a break-in had occurred. He had left the closet door open to make it look like he had been hiding inside.

Based upon this deduction, the ensuing investigation focused on the men in Roxanne’s life, all of whom were prominent Topeka professionals. One took a lie detector test which he passed. Another had his office searched, and nothing was found.

Detectives never settled on a particular suspect, but their inquiries revealed that recreational drug use played a role in the night life of Roxanne’s social circle. The media reported this fact, and speculation grew that the murder had been drug related.

The investigation’s focus on Topeka’s drug culture yielded no results. The feeling that Roxanne’s murderer would go unpunished grew. Though the killer was in all likelihood a man still prominent in local society, the case went cold.

If you have any information that could help bring him to justice, please contact the detectives at the Topeka Police Department at 368-9400.

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