COUNCIL BLUFFS — Mark Vander Woude chased his estranged wife down a local street in September, using his vehicle to try to run Lori Vander Woude off the road, she wrote in a protection order request.
He sent her threatening text messages: “let beatings begin,” “gloves off” and “eye for eye,” she said in the request, which was granted.
Then, earlier this month, the gas lines at her Council Bluffs home were found open, with flammable natural gas leaking out, said Pottawattamie County Attorney Matt Wilber. Authorities suspect that Mark Vander Woude was responsible.
The couple's troubled history culminated Monday afternoon, when a fire gutted Lori Vander Woude's home and her husband's body was found on the second floor of the house. Council Bluffs fire officials said that they suspect arson and that an accelerant was used.
Lori Vander Woude and the couple's three grade-school-age children were not home at the time.
Said Wilber: “This is a bad ending to this story, but it could have been much, much, worse. … Too often these stories have much more tragic consequences.”
Mark Vander Woude, 43, had moved out of the house in recent months.
“We have no other suspects with regard to how the fire started at this time,” said Fire Chief Alan Byers. “We aren't looking at anyone else.”
A preliminary autopsy report from the Iowa State Medical Examiner's Office indicated that Mark Vander Woude died of smoke inhalation, said Bluffs Police Sgt. Dave Dawson. Investigators are still trying to determine whether his death was a suicide or something else, he said.
A domestic abuse assault charge, based on the incident where Lori Vander Woude accused her husband of chasing her down, was scheduled to go to trial March 19, Wilber said.
Authorities had been investigating Mark Vander Woude on suspicion of stalking his wife. He was suspected of opening the gas lines in the couple's home and stuffing towels in the furnace exhaust vents, Wilber said. Mark Vander Woude had not been charged in those incidents.
“It is our belief he did that in order to flood the house with carbon monoxide,” Wilber said.
Lori Vander Woude was granted the protection order in September. In December, Mark Vander Woude was arrested in Douglas County on suspicion of violating the order by calling his wife at her job in Omaha.
According to Wilber :
» On Jan. 17, Lori Vander Woude found that the gas tank of her Ford Expedition had been filled with sugar.
» On Jan. 29, she found that the furnace exhaust vents of her home had been plugged with towels.
» On Feb. 4, the Pottawattamie County Sheriff's Office arrested Mark Vander Woude on suspicion of violating the protection order. Wilber did not know what specifically led to the arrest. He was later released on bail.
» On Feb. 9, the gas lines at the home were leaking, with the bolts holding them together loosened. A wrench had been left at the scene.
» On Feb. 15, Lori Vander Woude was again driving in Council Bluffs, and she reported that her estranged husband pulled up next to her in his vehicle and stayed with her for some distance. That would constitute a violation of the protection order, Wilber said. A warrant for his arrest was issued.
» On Feb. 18, she found her sewer lines plugged. A plumber found wads of toilet paper and some of the Vander Woude children's toys in the sewer pipes.
Wilber said Mark Vander Woude appeared to be demonstrating “textbook signs” of escalating domestic violence.
Sometimes the perpetrator demonstrates “almost obsessive-type behavior,” he said. “We had a continuing pattern, going through from September to (Monday).”
Mark Vander Woude's body was found after firefighters were called about 3:15 p.m. Monday to the two-story home, which was in flames.
The house and property are valued at $201,609, according to the Pottawattamie County assessor's website.
Neighbors noted that Lori Vander Woude had recently installed a security system.
The Vander Woudes were married in Council Bluffs in 1999. They had three children, the oldest 11 and the youngest 6, according to court documents.
On Tuesday, water used to put out the fire hung as icicles from the main floor rafters.
In the backyard, a scorched basketball hoop and pole still stood, and a yellow plastic slide on a playground set was burned and warped.
This report includes material from the World-Herald News Service.
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