MARINETTE, Wis. – A judge sentenced an 84-year-old man to two consecutive life terms in prison Thursday, ending a double homicide case in northeastern Wisconsinthat had lain dormant for decades before investigators used a DNA sample to make an arrest.
A jury convicted Raymand Vannieuwenhoven in July of killing 25-year-old David Schuldes and 24-year-old Ellen Matheys. The couple had been found shot to death in McClintock Park, a campground about 80 miles north of Green Bay, in 1976..
The slayings went unsolved for more than 40 years. In 2019, investigators determined that a DNA sample taken from evidence at the crime scene came from the Vannieuwenhoven family. A DNA sample from Vannieuwenhoven himself – obtained from a licked envelope for a survey on police performance that he filled out – matched the sample from the scene, according to the criminal complaint.
Vannieuwenhoven was charged in March 2019 with two counts of first-degree intentional homicide and one count of first-degree sexual assault. The assault charge was ultimately dismissed because the statute of limitations had expired. There is no statute of limitations for homicide.
“This conduct was depraved in the worst sense… The injuries to these two people, horrible,” Marinette County Circuit Judge James Morrison said at the sentencing. “The crimes, if there were a scale, would be 100 on a scale of 1 to 10, when we talk about evil and damage, aggravated in every respect.”
Niece recalls ‘horrific pain in my family’s voices’
Schuldes and Matheys were killed July 9, 1976, just a few months before they planned to wed.
Cindy Chizek said she was very young at the time but still recalled the impact of her aunt’s death.
“I clearly remember the horrific pain in my family’s voices and seeing the anguish and sorrow on their faces, seeing tears that would never stop,” Chizek said.
Jo-Anne Mikulsky, Schuldes’ younger sister, said her family loved Ellie, as she was known, and were excited to welcome her into the family. She said she recently spoke with their mother, now 93, about what she was feeling.
“‘I know it won’t be over for me until he’s in prison for the rest of his life,’” Mikulsky recalled her mother saying.
“He is 84, and the rest of his life wouldn’t be much justice for what he did to David and Ellie and for the 45 years he’s stole from them, but at this point, it’s the only justice left for them,” Mikulsky added.
Lynn Baumgartner, Matheys’ best friend, addressed Vannieuwenhoven directly, telling him he had no soul, no regard for human life and had displayed no remorse, instead of owning up to what he did.
“I’m angry you got 42-plus years of freedom with your family and friends while leaving me to wonder, ‘Why, why, why, did you do this?’” she said. “I want and pray you remember your horrendous actions every moment of every day you have left on this earth. I hope you have many more years of life so you can be as miserable as possible, locked up where I think you belong.”
Vannieuwenhoven lived in Lakewood, Wisconsin, a town about 20 miles southwest of the park where the couple was killed, for roughly 23 years until his arrest in March 2019.
He was linked to the crime through the use of “genetic genealogy,” which has been used over the past three years to identify suspects in scores of decade-old cases across the country.
After his arrest, a second DNA test confirmed Vannieuwenhoven’s semen was found in Matheys’ shorts.
“Over the year, I felt hopeless that anyone would ever be held accountable,” Chizek said. “I got through on faith, and when he was arrested, I prayed (for his) family, knowing that they would be suffering.”
Vannieuwenhoven’s daughter: ‘I don’t think you have the right guy’
The only person to speak on Vannieuwenhoven’s behalf was his youngest daughter, Dorothy Vannieuwenhoven.
She said she had a message for the prosecution even though she’d been told not to read it, adding she meant no disrespect to the families of the victims.
“The only thing you proved was that dad had an affair,” Dorothy said. “I don’t think you have the right guy.”
After being notified of his arrested, Dorothy said she “was devastated, I went numb with complete disbelief.”
“We all stood by you this whole time, not believing our dad could do anything like this, and I still believe that,” she said.
“All I know for sure is, you’re my dad, you will always be my dad, and I love you and I will always love you.”
Victims chose at random
Investigators believed Schuldes and Matheys were going on a hike after setting up camp when they were attacked.
A park caretaker discovered Schuldes’ body around 2:30 p.m. on July 9, 1976, but it wasn’t until about noon the next day that Matheys’ body was found in the woods a few hundred yards away.
It was “an idyllic camping experience that turned into a horrific nightmare,” Marinette County District Attorney DeShea Morrow said.
Morrison said it appeared Schuldes and Matheys were chosen at random.
“To pick out two kids in a half an hour of opportunity and end their lives, terminate their hopes, cause grievous harm to their family and friends … I do not have words to describe how horrible this is,” he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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