Blythe Bloemendaal has been a part of the Lyon County Sheriff’s department for nearly 30 years, and after 12 years as sheriff has decided to step down.
Bloemendaal was the manager of a feed and grain elevator and was trying to purchase it. Someone else bought it first to use as a storage space, leaving Bloemendaal and his coworkers out of work. At that point, he decided it was time to switch careers and become a cop.
He joined the force in 1983, something that had always been a dream of his. Staying in Lyon County, however, was not the plan.
“My dream was to be on LAPD,” Bloemendaal recalled. So he went to California in search of a job. He found one and was making arrangements for his pregnant wife to join him on the west coast, but she decided California was not for her and refused to move. Bloemendaal came back to Iowa and continued his search for a job in the police force. Lyon County had three openings at the time and Bloemendaal took one of them.
He started in George as a deputy. Roughly a year later, Bloemendaal was promoted to Chief Deputy. He was in charge of all the investigations and started a drug investigation team.
“I did a (lot) of drug buys,” Bloemendaal said. “My hair used to be halfway down my back, I had an earring. I did a lot of drug buys. I did a lot of drug buys in Lyon County.” Buying drugs and catching the “maggots” red-handed was Bloemendaal’s favorite part of the job.
“The adrenaline rush I got from that was intense,” he added. The deputy assisted other departments in the surrounding counties and states by going undercover to catch major drug dealers. “It was such an art form to pretend to be somebody else.” Bloemendaal recalled one buy in which the dealer was describing an undercover cop to him and to be on the lookout.
“He was describing me to me,” Bloemendaal said. The dealer told Bloemendaal his home address, what kind of car he drove, and more. “To be honest, I was ready to shoot him because I thought he was going to shoot me. Next thing you know, he hands me the dope and tells me to be careful.”
In 2000, Bloemendaal decided it was time to make the next step and run for sheriff. He also didn’t want to put his family in danger due to his job. The jail phones recorded a man taking a hit out for Bloemendaal’s life after he made a buy once. Bloemendaal decided it was enough and time to move on and run the department.
The highs and lows
Although sex crimes are prolific in Lyon County, the sheriff takes pride in the department’s high statistics of how many sex crimes are brought through the court system.
“I’ve always been a stickler about making each of these situations a top priority,” Bloemendaal said. “I’m very proud of the ability of this building to take every one of those cases and give it the time it needs.” The Lyon County Sheriff’s department is self-sufficient in handling the majority of sex crime cases unlike many other departments.
“My highlights are simply how this department has grown and its abilities to not only solve crimes but pay close attention to every crime,” he added.
With all the crime scenes and arrests Bloemendaal has been a part of, any crime dealing with a child has been the worst part of the job.
“When you think you’ve seen everything that could happen, and then you come across one that’s worse, it sucks,” he said. One crime scene that came to mind was of a 2-year-old girl shot and killed by her brother in George. The father had left a gun out for the child to get a hold of and resulted in the loss of a child. Another he recalled was assisting South Dakota departments with the 9-year-old girl killed in the woods.
“Anytime you see a young child like that get hurt, to me that’s the low,” he said. “Everytime one of these occurs, you really question ‘what are we doing and is it working?’”
The Wilma Nissen case
Wilma Nissen’s body was discovered on Oct. 4, 1978 in a roadside ditch southwest of the West Lyon School. Bloemendaal, along with DSI agent Dan Moser and Detective Jerry Birkey, dedicated countless hours to finding out not only who this woman was but who killed her.
In 2006, she was positively identified as Wilma Nissen from a fingerprint card from a prostitution arrest in California. When the systems were updated, not all counties put old arrest records in the system, but those counties in which Nissen had been arrested did, making it possible to identify her.
“That was a huge leap in the case,” Bloemendaal stated. “It opened up so many doors.”
In September 2007, her body was exhumed so her remains could be analyzed for new evidence. Since the exhumation of her body, medical examiners now know how Nissen was killed.
“We know definitively how she died,” Bloemendaal said, although he would not share any further details. “I’m very confident we have the right person in mind for the homicide. Now it’s a matter of how do we prove it and actually arrest them.” Bloemendaal believes whole-heartedly the team on the investigation will continue to work on the case until justice is served, and he is confident it will happen within the next year.
“We’ve got to wait for some results to come back, and I think we’ll have it,” Bloemendaal stated. “My only regret about leaving is that. I wish this was done before I walked out the door. But I have all the faith in the world.”
While investigations, especially cold cases, can be extremely expensive, Bloemendaal says much of the labor and assistance has been done pro bono out of sheer curiosity to the uniqueness of the case.
“We could’ve easily spent 100 times what we spent,” Bloemendaal stated. “We have found more than one way to do things for free.
“I don’t care that she was from California, I don’t care that as a manner of survival she was a hooker,” he added. “That has nothing to do with the fact that someone brutally took her life. It was heinous, horrible. Nobody deserved that.”
Bloemendaal has no intentions of spending the rest of his life simply fishing. With two children still at home, Bloemendaal is currently working for the postal service as a mail carrier as he did 12 years ago when his wife was unable to work due to health issues. His reasons are the same this time. His wife, Trish, has a syndrome called chiari 1 malformation. This gives her uncontrollable headaches and is unable to work because of it.
“It became obvious to me that it was time for me to move on and start drawing my retirement,” Bloemendaal explained. “If I go out and find another job on top of it, I can increase our household income.” Although it was not his desire to retire, he feels this is what is best to support his family.
“The plan is to get to the point where the kids are out of the house, then I’ll go fishing,” Bloemendall added.