A Sioux City native lost his life in a brutal attack at his workplace in Iowa City two-years ago. Another senseless act led authorities to a man some say shouldn’t have been out in the streets in the first place.
In a Siouxland Public Media Special Report, Sheila Brummer explores the life of the victim through the eyes of loved ones. Also, find out why his mom says her son didn’t have to die.
“I am Jon Wieseler’s mom, or I was.”
A mother finds it hard to talk about her child in the past tense.
“Jon was the best son ever.”
A bond between the two still alive, even after death.
“He was so good.”
Linda Wieseler’s voice strains because of pure emotion mixed with a medical condition.
“I have what is sporadic dysphonia. It causes a tremor with my vocal cords.”
Jon Wieseler graduated from North High School in 2001, got his law degree from Iowa, then followed a different path, by enrolling in the University of Minnesota to study biology.
“He was smart and he loved learning. He was extremely witty and a joy to be around.”
Wieseler’s wit also attracted the attention of the Vakulskas brothers.
“We went to middle school and high school together and college together, and so we were always around each other.”
That’s Dan, who first met Wieseler in middle school.
“I live in Sioux City with my wife and two kids.”
“I’m Brian Vakulskas, I’m a lawyer in Sioux City. I met John through Dan, and he always intrigued me was his nickname growing up was ‘weasel’ and my brother had a friend named ‘weasel’. That always stuck out to me.”
As adults, the Vakulskas Brothers kept close contact with their friend. A relationship built on intelligence and humor.
“I would go to Iowa City to a lot of games and such. I would meet up with Jon down there. He went by Jon then and he dropped the name weasel. We both shared a love of reading,” said Brian Vakulskas.
Our guest today is John Inskeep, you’ll recognize his voice from NPR’s “Morning Edition.”
Brian Vakulskas eventually launched a literary podcast, featuring his friend as a producer.
“Jon would call me and say I was instrumental in this and that question and he was so proud too,” said Linda Wieseler.
Brian Vakulskas eventually helped his friend focus on a full-time career in 2012.
“I remember when he got the job I was golfing with someone from Lederman Bond and they were mentioning they were looking for someone in Iowa City. Jon was looking for a way to stay in Iowa City and get a job. So, between hole number two and seven at Green Valley Golf Course the job was his,” said Brian Vakulskas.
“He loved that job for four or five years,” said Dan Vakulskas.
The position as a bail bondsman eventually brought Jon Wieseler to his final chapter in life.
“You can’t image what you go through when you hear that type of news. I don’t think I have ever felt so out of control in a situation trying to figure out what happened. All we were told in the first few days at least he was murdered. I don’t think we even knew how. They clearly didn’t have any leads they were releasing,” said Dan Vakulskas.
The Vakulskas brothers first heard about the tragedy from his mother, Linda.
“Never in a million years would you think something like that would happen, never and Jon was just a kind and caring person,” said Linda Wieseler.
After Jon Weiseler didn’t return home after meeting a client late one April night in 2017, his fiancé went looking for him. She walked in on a gruesome scene.
“It was really hard grasping what really happened. And, maybe what those last moments were like, that’s what we were dealing with. And, frankly dealing with since then, about how he was put into that position. Murdered across the street from the jail no less and you just don’t know why? The first thing that comes to our mind is an armed robbery and being in the business we are in it doesn’t seem like a robbery,” said Dan Vakulskas.
“The state believes it was an armed robbery gone bad. I don’t know of one that has gone well. They say this was robbery. This was an execution-style killing, including the way the bullets were protruding from his head. He was also stabbed several times. It looks up close and personal,” said Brian Vakulskas.
At first, the case appeared to go cold, no arrests, no known leads.
“They didn’t release any information for a long time or say if they had a beat on anybody. Then two months later Ricky Lillie the cab driver is murdered. I don’t know if he had never killed Ricky Lillie if he would have ever been caught for Jon’s murder,” said Dan Vakulskas.
REPORTER - “Can you tell me about the man who killed your son? And why you think this is a crime that should have never happened.”
“This monster who killed my son had been in prison on a 40-year sentence. He was released early. I think he should have served another seven more years but he was granted release. He was an at-risk person to re-offend again,” said Linda Wieseler.
A few weeks after Ricky Lillie’s murder, police arrested 41-year-old Curtis Cortez Jones of Mount Pleasant, Iowa.
Then four months later, a major announcement from the prosecutor in the case.
“Curtis Cortez Jones caused the death of Jonathan Wieseler by shooting him in the head with a small caliber firearm without justification.”
Both deadly shootings happened just months after the Iowa Board of Parole granted early release to Curtis Cortez Jones. He served about a dozen years for the aggressive armed-robberies of two businesses.
Documents from the Parole Board show a future risk for violent behavior and escape from a work-release job before being paroled in October of 2017.
“For some reason, I have no idea why, but Jon would be alive and they cab driver would be alive today too. If it hadn’t been for the board of parole. I don’t understand it, it doesn’t make any sense,” said Linda Wieseler.
Two murder trials landed Curtis Cortez two life sentences in 2019.
REPORTER: “What would you like to say to the State of Iowa to the Parole Board?”
“Hopefully you’re doing your job. And, in Jon’s case, you had all the tools at your fingertips to make an adequate decision. You have blood on your hands, you are responsible in my opinion for these two deaths, senseless deaths.”
Two-years later, those who loved Jon Wieseler reflect on what might have been.
“You think about texting him. A lot has happened to me I wish he would have been around to witness. If for anything he would have made fun of me. It would have been really joyous for him to be around for those,” said Dan Vakulskas.
Dan Vakulskas now serves as a District Associate Judge and because of his new post can’t comment on what the parole board did or didn’t do.
“It is completely surreal my friend Jon is gone without warning. ‘Having Read That” is part of Jon’s legacy.”
His brother Brian who honored Jon Wieseler during his book podcast wonders “what if?” as life turned a new page.
“This turned out to be a very bad decision, of course, looking at it in hindsight. I use to go to Iowa City all of the time. But, I haven’t been there since Jon’s funeral.” I can’t bring myself to go back. They say dead men leave no secrets. But, where if Jon had any relationship with the person who was convicted of this or not I guess we will never know apparently they couldn’t find anything tie it together,” said Brian Vakulskas.
The Vakulskas brothers share more memories, details on a wedding for their friend that never was, and the love and devotion he felt for his mother.
“I think it was an enormous loss for her because Jon was so integral to her life. I get sad when I see her because I think of what she lost. We sit here and talk about how it affected us but it’s not even close to how it affected her,” said Dan Vakulskas.
“I was in denial and shock for a long, long time,” said Linda Wieseler.
Linda Wieseler, a retired licensed mental health counselor first thought her strong religious beliefs helped her through the heartache.
“I was in denial and shock for a long, long time. I thought because my faith was so strong I’m getting through this. Then I realized it was shock. We go from anger, then shock and denial at times. There are no certain steps, anything can change.”
Linda Wieseler says sharing details about her son helps. She continues describing Jon as a smart, patient man. A good listener. Whose death she hopes doesn’t fall on silent ears.
REPORTER: “It seems so senseless that would happen to him?”
“It was and that’s why it’s so hard.”
Siouxland Public Media contacted the Iowa Parole Board. The board released this statement:
The Board does not comment on specific cases in which they decided to either grant or deny parole.
The factors that the Board considers when conducting their reviews and interviews with incarcerated individuals who are being considered for parole can be found in Iowa Admin Code section 205-8.10 https://www.legis.iowa.gov/docs/iac/rule/205.8.10.pdf.
Additionally, all days that have scheduled parole interviews is posted on the Board's website in advance and are open to the public and the media.