After an evening of bar hopping, the Army veteran and prostitute entered the Park Hotel at 12:30 a.m. on Monday, Jan. 21, 1946.
Ivan DeSilva and Lucille Riff registered as “Mr. and Mrs. I.V. DeSilva” and were given the key to room 14 on the second floor. Riff, a prostitute, had been banned from the Park Hotel by owner Emma Fosgate, but night clerk Dan Fitzgerald was new and did not recognize her.
“She (Riff) wanted Ten Dollars (sic) for sleeping with me all night, I gave her Ten Dollars (sic),” DeSilva said in a Jan. 21 statement to Cass County State’s Attorney Chuck Colburn. “I was pretty well intoxicated and I decided I wanted my money back.”
When Riff refused to return the sawbuck, DeSilva whacked her in the head with a beer bottle. It was one of the four bottles of beer the cab driver got for DeSilva at the Bal Tabarin. Riff screamed in pain. Hearing the noise, Emma Fosgate, hotel proprietor, banged on the door of room 14, warning them to quiet down or leave. The noise stopped. Satisfied her command would be obeyed, Fosgate returned to her own room down the hall.
It most likely was at this point that Riff told DeSilva he could have the 10 spot. Perhaps DeSilva was suffering from what was then called battle fatigue exacerbated by the alcohol, but in any event he ignored her. DeSilva said he then kicked Riff before beating her with the beer bottle and finally strangling her.
DeSilva told Colburn: “I tied a silk stocking around her neck and put pillows underneath her head, and I took her wristwatch and ring off; then I put a blanket over her; then I think there was a towel I put in her mouth, I can’t quite remember that; then I got up, combed my hair, washed my hands, unlocked the door and went out.”
Before leaving, DeSilva took Riff’s lipstick and printed these chilling words on the wall in front of the bed: “I killed her while I was drunk.”
DeSilva left the hotel and walked south, tossing the room key into a sewer at Fifth and Washington streets. He first went to his mother’s home on Oak Street. Then DeSilva walked to the home of his cousin, Marjorie Phillips, on East Tenth Street. Phillips would later tell Sheriff Butch Ratcliffe that DeSilva said he had “killed so many people over there (Europe) the Lord wouldn’t hold it against him for killing one more.”
From Phillips’ home, DeSilva called the police, telling officer Phil Harmon, “I’ve just killed a woman.”
Riff’s body was found on the floor between the bed and the window, her face so disfigured that authorities could not identify her. Later they learned her name from DeSilva. It appeared she had fought for her life. Thomas Starkey, M.D., determined Riff died of strangulation. The silk stocking was so tightly tied around Riff’s neck that it had to be cut away by the undertaker.
Rev. Kenneth Knudsen of the First Evangelical Lutheran Church conducted funeral services for Riff at Cline’s Funeral Home on Jan. 24. She was buried in City Cemetery.
DeSilva acknowledged his guilt from the beginning, though he did express remorse over the murder. On March 13, 1946, Circuit Judge A. Clay Williams sentenced DeSilva to life in prison. In 1956, DeSilva sought clemency and was subsequently released.