“I’ve been shot and I need help,” he said on the phone to an employee of the assisted living facility he managed.
Before Morse could say where he was, the line went dead. And by the time sheriff’s deputies pulled up to the scene, Morse was dead, too.
On the afternoon of June 20, 2002, the 44-year-old minister was on the lookout for carp along the banks of the Missouri River in Fremont County, Iowa — a common activity for the avid fisherman — when he was shot and killed. Twenty years later, there has been little movement in the case.
A multi-state search for a vehicle seen in the area yielded no answers. No motive was ever uncovered, and no suspects were identified. The lack of information led many, including the sheriff at the time, to hypothesize that the killing was an accident.
Accident or not, Kevin Morse’s sons Caleb Morse, 31, and Daniel Morse, 40, are hoping that the person or people who shot their father will come forward.
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Morse was born and raised in Iowa: born in Red Oak, raised in Emerson. Before his death, he lived in Shenandoah for a decade before moving to Malvern in 1988. A man of strong faith, Morse was ordained as a Baptist minister upon moving to Malvern. He left the church two years later to start his own nondenominational congregation that operated out of an old, revamped gas station.
Though religion was an important part of Morse’s life, his love for the ministry seemed to boil down to a love for helping others.
“He was a minister, but in a lot of ways he was often more like a counselor,” Daniel said. “He just had a passion for taking care of people and genuinely trying to make them be better.”
It was that passion that led him to take a job as the administrator at Country Acres Care Center, an assisted living facility in Sidney. He “semi-retired” from ministry, Caleb said, and spent his days running the center.
On that Thursday afternoon in 2002, Morse set off to the recycling center in Nebraska City to turn in cans for money. As he made his way out of Country Acres, he mentioned to some staff and residents that the carp would be biting near the mulberry trees.
When the phone call from Morse came in shortly before 4:30 pm, employees immediately called the police and began searching the area themselves. Remembering his earlier comments about the carp, a female employee and her husband found his body by the stringers he had set up on the Missouri River.
Sheriff’s deputies arrived shortly after. Next on the scene was a then 21-year-old Daniel and his mother, who had gotten a phone call saying that her husband was hurt. The pair drove to spots that they knew Morse frequented and came upon the crime scene.
“I knew that time of year he would be looking for mulberry trees,” Daniel said. “I knew most of these spots from growing up with him.”
Daniel was working at the Glenwood Volunteer Fire Department at the time, and he was the first medic on the scene. He said that he quickly assessed his father and realized that there was nothing that could be done.
In an interview with the Nebraska City News-Press eight days after Morse’s death, then-Fremont County Sheriff Steven MacDonald said Morse didn’t have much of a shot at survival.
“If the people who shot him had literally loaded him in a pickup and rushed him to Nebraska City, they probably could not have saved him,” MacDonald said.
When asked by The World-Herald, an investigator with the Iowa Department of Criminal Investigations declined to comment on how many times Morse was shot, where he was struck and what kind of weapon fired the fatal shot. Reporting by the News-Press at the time indicated that Morse was killed by a single gunshot wound that severed a major artery.
As police and community members scrambled to make sense of the killing, they had only one lead: About an hour after the shooting, two citizens riding a four-wheeler in the same area told law enforcement that they saw a gold van in the general vicinity .
Sheriff’s deputies tracked down every gold minivan within a five-county radius to no avail. Officers went door to door searching for information. With no clues, the case grew cold.
“There wasn’t a whole lot of contact,” Caleb said. “The leads all went dead pretty quickly.”
Now, on the 20th anniversary of Morse’s slaying, his children are fighting to get the case back into the public consciousness.
The case is now being investigated by the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, and a new investigator was assigned just a few months ago. The investigator grew up with the Morse children in Malvern and is, by all accounts, dedicated to finding answers for their family.
Despite how much time has passed, both Daniel and Caleb are confident that those answers are still out there.
“We’re not out for blood,” Caleb said. “I would never want somebody to spend the rest of their life in prison for an accident. But if it was an accident, someone’s heard about it. Someone knows what’s going on. And it’s time to come forward.”
Anyone with information about Kevin Morse’s death is encouraged to contact the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation by calling 515-725-6010 or emailing [email protected]
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