Donald Piper (murderer)

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Donald Piper
Donald Arthur Piper

(1961-05-11) May 11, 1961 (age 61)
Conviction(s) Murder x2
Criminal penalty Life imprisonment x2
Span of crimes
1993 1997 (confirmed)
CountryUnited States
State(s) Iowa
Date apprehended
January 20, 2000
Imprisoned at Iowa State Penitentiary, Fort Madison, Iowa

Donald Arthur Piper (born May 11, 1961) is an American murderer and suspected serial killer convicted of killing two women in hotels around West Des Moines and Clive, Iowa in 1993 and 1997, but is considered a suspect in four other killings. For his confirmed crimes, Piper was convicted and sentenced to two life terms.


Early life

Donald Arthur Piper was born on May 11, 1961 in West Des Moines, Iowa. Little is known of his personal background, aside from the fact that he apparently suffered from frequent headaches as a teenager. [1] In 1979, he started working as a maintenance engineer for a Hyatt hotel in Des Moines. In 1984, he was transferred to work in Denver, Colorado for two years before eventually returning to Des Moines, where he worked for several other hotels in the following years. [2]

Piper had no criminal record up until 1993, when a maid from a Holiday Inn he worked at, filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against him. In the lawsuit, Morris claimed that he incessantly stalked, wrote love letters and fondled her, and on one occasion even locked her in a cleaning closet in an attempt to force her into having sex. [2] In addition to this, she claimed that other employees were afraid of him due to his bad temper, and that he even went so far as to change the lock of the room when the pair had sex, which she described as being very violent and rough. Piper himself denied the accusations and claimed that it was consensual, only admitting to the fact that he had indeed cheated on his wife. The matter was eventually settled out of court for an undisclosed amount of money. [2]


On August 23, 1993, the body of 36-year-old Patricia Lange was found in room 732 of a Holiday Inn in West Des Moines, Iowa, by an employee who worked there. She had been tied up, and evidently strangled with some sort of ligature. [3] At the time of her death, Lange had just recently returned to her native Iowa from Denver, Colorado and started a job as a database administrator for Northwest Mortgages, Inc. [4] As she was a known as an academically gifted woman with no known enemies, the killing came as a shock to everyone who knew her. Despite seizing her loaned car and gathering various items from the crime scene, the investigators were unable to identify a potential suspect in the case. [5] In response to this, her employers and the owners of the Holiday Inn offered a $50,000 reward for any information that could lead to an arrest. [6]

Four years later, on September 4, 1997, 21-year-old Zurijeta Sakanovic was found stabbed to death at a Budgetel Inn in Clive. Sakanovic, who had recently immigrated to the States with her family from Teslić, Bosnia and Herzegovina, worked as a maid at the hotel along with other refugees fleeing persecution in their native country. [7] Like with Lange before her, there were no immediate suspects in Sakanovic's killing, and the case went cold after some time. [7] Due to the shock they experienced over their daughter's murder, the Sakanovic family decided to leave the United States and return to Bosnia. [8]

Arrest, trial and imprisonment

In mid-January 2000, police started centering their attention on Piper, as he worked as a mechanical engineer in the aforementioned hotels and thus had keys for every room in the building. [9] Before any charges were brought against him, he agreed to be interviewed by The Des Moines Register , in which he complained that the police surveillance was ruining his family life and had cost him his job due to their practises. This sentiment was echoed by his lawyer, Alfredo Parrish, who claimed that the officers' conduct was "outrageous." [10]

A few days after this interview, Piper was officially charged with Lange's murder. Upon learning this, he surrendered himself at the local police station, accompanied by his lawyer. [11] After his arrest, he was held at Polk County Jail on a $500,000 bond. [12] He was eventually brought to trial for her murder, but it eventually resulted in a mistrial due to the fact that the prosecution mishandling evidence and failing to disclose the fact that they had DNA swab evidence that they previously claimed had been destroyed, according to Parrish. [13] Due to this, the trial was rescheduled for January 2001. [14]

This initial date was pushed to April 2001, as Piper had to undergo drug therapy in February and was considered temporarily incompetent to stand trial. [1] After regaining competence, he was put on trial and eventually convicted of Lange's murder, for which he received the mandatory sentence of life imprisonment without parole. [15] The following year, he was tried for Sakanovic's murder, and due to the overwhelming amount of evidence linking him to the case, he was again found guilty and given a second life term without parole. [16] At the sentencing phase, Sakanovic's sister-in-law Emsuda made a statement in court proclaiming that their family despised him and wished for his suffering in prison, to which Piper did not reply. [17]

After his conviction, Piper was transferred to serve his sentence at the Iowa State Penitentiary in Fort Madison. In 2009, he filed an appeal to the Polk County Court, claiming ineffective assistance of counsel. This claim was rejected by Justice Joel Novak, who claimed that his lawyers were professionals and made none of the mistakes that he claimed they had made in his appeal. [18] As of May 2022, Piper is still incarcerated at Iowa State Penitentiary.

Other possible victims

Shortly before the start of Lange trial, The Des Moines Register published in an article in which it was claimed that multiple police agencies were investigating Piper as a suspect in the murders of four additional women. [19] They were the following:

In Media

The case was covered by multiple television show, including: Cold Case Files, Unusual Suspects and I, Detective.

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  1. 1 2 "Murder suspect in drug therapy". The Daily Reporter. February 7, 2001 via Google News.
  2. 1 2 3 Frank Santiago and Daniel P. Finney (January 21, 2000). "Suspect arrested in hotel murder". The Des Moines Register. p. 6 via
  3. Tom Alex and John Carlson. "Slaying victim was top student". The Des Moines Register. p. 1 via
  4. Tom Alex, Matt Kelley and Tom Suk (August 25, 1993). "Slain woman left Colorado to be closer to family". The Des Moines Register. p. 1 via
  5. Tom Alex, Matt Kelley and Tom Suk (August 25, 1993). "Slain woman left Colorado to be closer to family". The Des Moines Register. p. 10 via
  6. Tom Alex and John Carlson. "Slaying victim was top student". The Des Moines Register. p. 2 via
  7. 1 2 Estela Villanueva (September 5, 1997). "Worker found slain in Clive hotel". The Des Moines Register via
  8. "Bosnian family plans to leave Iowa after murder". Telegraph Herald. September 8, 1997 via Google News.
  9. Frank Santiago (January 16, 2000). "Police ruining life of 'suspect', he says". The Des Moines Register. p. 1 via
  10. Frank Santiago (January 16, 2000). "Police ruining life of 'suspect', he says". The Des Moines Register. p. 2 via
  11. Daniel P. Finney (January 21, 2000). "Breakthroughs help build evidence from tiniest traces". The Des Moines Register via
  12. Frank Santiago and Daniel P. Finney (January 21, 2000). "Suspect arrested in hotel murder". The Des Moines Register. p. 1 via
  13. Lee Rood (October 5, 2000). "Evidence problems cause Piper mistrial". The Des Moines Register. p. 5 via
  14. Lee Rood (October 5, 2000). "Evidence problems cause Piper mistrial". The Des Moines Register. p. 1 via
  15. Jeff Eckhoff (August 2, 2001). "Piper gets life in prison". The Des Moines Register via
  16. Maggie O'Brien (June 25, 2002). "Piper convicted in maid's death". The Des Moines Register via
  17. Jeff Eckhoff (July 18, 2002). "Victim's family: We hope Piper suffers". The Des Moines Register via
  18. "Inmate loses claim over defense in '97 death". The Des Moines Register. April 7, 2009 via
  19. Jeff Eckhoff (June 10, 2022). "Suspect probed in deaths of others". The Des Moines Register. p. 1 via
  20. 1 2 3 4 Jeff Eckhoff (June 10, 2022). "Suspect probed in deaths of others". The Des Moines Register. p. 4 via