By LAUREN SILVER and COURT TV STAFF
COUNCIL BLUFFS, Iowa (Court TV) — A jury deliberated for less than two hours before returning a verdict for a man accused of killing his girlfriend, whose body was later found frozen in a ditch.
Ivan “Sam” Brammer was found guilty of second-degree murder, tampering with a corpse and theft in the death of Ilene Gowan. Gowan, 60, was last seen with Brammer, with whom she was in an on-again/off-again relationship on Feb. 13, 2023.
Gowan was reported missing on Feb. 15 by her daughter, Nicole Schipper. Nicole told police when she reported her mother’s disappearance that her mother had in her possession a personal safe containing $1,200. After days of searching, her body was found on Feb. 26 in a ditch, partially frozen. Gowan’s clothing was intact, but her purse and safe were gone. While temperatures had been above freezing the day she disappeared, they dropped soon after, and investigators said they believe Gowan was in the ditch the 11 days she was missing.
Investigators quickly focused their attention on Brammer, whose relationship with the victim was described by friends and family as volatile, “with much verbal fighting and alcohol involved.” Two witnesses who spoke to police said that before her disappearance, Gowan had been kicked out of the apartment she shared with Brammer, and that Brammer had been holding her personal safe — which contained $1,500 — until she paid him $300. Police noted that on Feb. 15, Brammer deposited $1,500 into his bank account.
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In an affidavit obtained by Court TV, detectives said they interviewed Brammer four times between Feb. 15 and Feb. 24. While Brammer initially told officers that he had picked Gowan up at 8:30 a.m. and took her to a house where she was staying with a friend, he quickly changed his story. Detectives said, “This was proven to be a false statement and each interview after, when presented with inaccuracies in his previous statements, Brammer would change his story to conform to the facts presented.”
On Feb. 25, the day after his last interview with police and the day before Gowan’s body was found, Brammer sold his truck to a salvage yard. It was crushed and shredded the same day.
When police looked at video from city and private cameras on Feb. 13, they began to put together a timeline that showed when Gowan may have died.
- 8:30 am-9:28 am – Gowan is seen walking, acting normally, and sitting upright in Brammer’s truck.
- 10:28 am – Brammer is seen driving his truck, but detectives note “something is different with the way Gowan is sitting or positioned in his truck. At multiple locations, it appears Gowan is awkwardly slumped in the passenger seat.”
- 10:56 am – Police note that Gowan does not appear to have moved or changed position.
- 11:06 am – Gowan is no longer visible in Brammer’s truck.
Gowan’s initial autopsy revealed bruises, cuts and scrapes to most of her body, as well as head injuries. None of the head injuries were believed to have been severe enough to cause her death. The medical examiner who conducted the autopsy said that due to the level of decomposition, they could not determine the cause or manner of death, which were both listed as “unknown.”
Brammer was initially charged with tampering with a corpse and theft of the $1,500, but prosecutors upgraded charges after getting a second opinion on the cause and manner of Gowan’s death. Dr. Baden, a doctor in New York, consulted on the case and offered his opinion that Gowan’s cause of death was traumatic asphyxia due to neck compression, and the manner of death was homicide.
After the jury found Brammer guilty, the judge said sentencing would be scheduled for a date in approximately six to eight weeks.
In a statement following the verdict, Pottowattamie County Attorney Matt Wilber said, “I’m very grateful for all of the work put in by the entire prosecution and law enforcement team on this case. This was a challenging prosecution which, frankly, wouldn’t have happened without the strong advocacy by Ilene’s family. They were a pleasure to work with and I am so glad I was able to help them get some measure of justice.”
Prosecutors told Court TV that Brammer’s guilty verdict for second-degree murder carries a 50-year prison sentence with a 35-year mandatory minimum.
DAILY TRIAL UPDATES
DAY 5 – 11/17/23
- The prosecution and defense presented closing arguments.
- The jury deliberated for less than two hours before returning a verdict.
DAY 4 – 11/16/23
- Dr. Kelly Kruse, a pathologist in the Iowa Office of the State Medical Examiner, testified to Gowen’s autopsy.
- Kruse noted multiple blunt force injuries, mostly to the upper part of her body, as well as cuts and contusions on her face.
- The level of decomposition in Gowan’s body made it difficult for Kruse to complete her exam, and noted that part of Gowen’s face was missing.
- Gowen’s body remained “partially frozen” at the time of autopsy, two days after she was found.
- Kruse ruled Gowan’s manner and cause of death were undetermined, in part due to the level of decomposition.
- Dr. Michael Baden, a renowned pathologist from New York, testified after the prosecution paid for him to review the case and testify.
- Baden felt that the autopsy result, toxicology report and photographs were enough to render a medical opinion.
- Baden ruled that Gowen’s cause od death was traumatic asphyxia due to neck compression, and the manner was homicide.
- The prosecution rested its case.
- The defense rested its case without calling any witnesses or presenting any evidence.
DAY 3 – 11/15/23
- The jury watched video from a police bodyworn camera showing a Feb. 19 welfare check on Brammer after his daughter called 911 about his erratic behavior.
- The jury was shown a dashcam recording of a vehicle pursuit clearly showing Brammer’s Ford F-150 blowing through two stop signs in Council Bluffs and speeding away until the responding officer was ordered to terminate the pursuit for safety reasons.
- Warrants were later issued for eluding and reckless driving.
DAY 2 – 11/14/23
- A witness described finding Ilene Gowan’s body in a ditch while on a hunting trip with his grandfather.
- On the 911 call played for the jury, you can hear the caller say that the victim is female, with “half of her face eaten off by animals.”
- Nicole Schipper, Gowan’s daughter took the stand and described her mother’s relationship with the defendant as unhealthy.
- Schipper is dating and currently lives with Justin Brammer, the defendant’s son.
- Gowan and the defendant had lived with Schipper at one point but were asked to leave because of “all of the fighting,” at which point they moved in with the defendant’s granddaughter.
- Justin Brammer, the defendant’s son, testified to conversations he had with his father after the victim disappeared.
- Justin said his father told him he did not pick Ilene up from Sugar’s Diner.
- Emily Brammer, the defendant’s granddaughter, testified to his troubling behavior in the days after the victim’s disappearance.
- She said she followed him to a salvage yard because “he wanted to crush his truck.” When asked why, she said Sam told her because the “truck was knocking.”
- The owner of Sugar’s Diner, Megan Preston, testified about Ilene and Sam as well as her perspective of the day Ilene was last seen alive.
- She said she was texting Ilene at 2:15 p.m. on Feb. 15, when Ilene had been scheduled to work at 2 p.m. but hadn’t shown up, which was unusual. She said that a delayed text back did not sound like Ilene.
- Preston said she saw Sam on security cameras briefly driving up to the diner on Feb. 15.
- Mike Brockman, a friend with whom Ilene stayed after she broke up with Sam, testified that she had packed up and was ready to leave on the morning of Feb. 13. He was surprised to find her belongings outside his home when he got home from work that day, because she was supposed to have picked up her things by then.
- Council Bluffs Police Dept. Detective Ronald Branigan testified about inconsistencies in Sam’s statements that he gave to police.
- The jury saw surveillance videos and images showing Ilene in Brammer’s truck at different points.
DAY 1 – 11/13/23
- Assistant Pottawattamie County Attorney Paul Forney delivered the opening statement for the state.
- Forney said that Ilene Gowan was “dumped, just like the trash that laid next to her,” describing the mother and grandmother as being found frozen in a ditch where people threw trash.
- Forney referenced surveillance video from a Burger King drive-through window that shows Ilene in a “very awkwardly stiff position — the entire time.”
- WATCH: Strangled Girlfriend Murder Trial: Prosecution Opening Statement
- Andrew Munger delivered the defense’s opening statement.
- While video can track Brammer and Gowan in his truck, the state can’t tell the jury how or where Gowan died.
- Munger said that there’s no evidence that the defendant drove towards the bridge where prosecutors said that the victim’s body was dumped.
- Munger said that the state will be unable to prove how she died, and certainly not that she was murdered.
- WATCH: Strangled Girlfriend Murder Trial: Defense Opening Statement
- WATCH: Strangled Girlfriend Murder Trial: Day 1 Recap