ANAMOSA — A Muscatine man who was convicted twice for the 1979 murder of two women in Muscatine County has reportedly died in prison.
According to a Monday news release, Bryan Kirby Barrett, 69, was pronounced dead due to an unexpected medical emergency at the Anamosa State Penitentiary. Foul play is not suspected. An autopsy will be conducted by the State Medical Examiner to determine a cause of death. On May 31, 1985, he began serving a life sentence for two convictions of murder in the first degree.
On Feb. 23, 1979, Carol Ann Willits, 21, was found dead in her car in Muscatine County of an apparent suicide. She was seated, wearing men’s cotton gloves and blindfolded, shot through the temple. A suicide note in her handwriting was found next to her, reading in part, “I’m sorry I caused you so much trouble. I hope you have found your peace. I have found mine.” A .38-caliber handgun she had purchased two days earlier was found in her lap.
Also in the car was a three-page letter from Barrett, whom Willits may or may not have been dating, informing her that her feelings of affection for him were not returned and he was involved with Cynthia Walker. A card in an envelope from Barrett addressed to Walker was found in the car, as was a hair from Walker’s head.
Several miles from where Willits was found, police discovered Walker dead on a rural gravel road, shot three times with the same gun that killed Willits. The initial investigation finding was Willits had murdered Walker and then committed suicide.
In an interview with police, Barrett said Willits had caught him and Walker together a week prior to the murder and became enraged. He claimed to write the “Dear John” letter after this incident.
While initially, the incident was considered a murder/suicide, several pieces started not adding up. At the time Barrett said Willits had surprised him and Walker, Willits’ car was in the shop and she would have had to walk 20 blocks in subzero temperatures. Investigators also found the gun was purchased at Barrett’s request and with his money. In Willits’ residence, a draft of the suicide note was located. In the margin of the rough draft Willits’ name was misspelled.
Police began exploring if Barrett had a motive to kill the two women. It was learned a few months before Walker died, she had taken out a $50,000 life insurance policy on herself, naming Barrett as the sole beneficiary. Barrett claimed he had agreed to take her on a trip to California in 1978 on the condition that she took out the policy in case something happened to her and her parents sued Barrett.
In mid-1979 police discovered a journal Barrett had kept, detailing violent plans to hurt or kill his ex-wife. It also described plans for the kidnap and murder of a newspaper carrier. The plans included planting false evidence for police to find. He was also found to have forged his ex-wife’s name on an application for life insurance.
Barrett went to trial five years after the killings. In the trial Barrett was convicted of two counts of first degree murder. On appeal to the Iowa Supreme Court, the conviction was reversed, with the justices agreeing the journal inclusion was inflammatory. A new trial was held a year later and he was convicted a second time.