A decades-old cold case now has a resolution.
A jury found Raymond Vannieuwenhoven, 84, guilty in the double murder of a Green Bay couple at a Wisconsin park in 1976.
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Prosecutors had previously said they used DNA and genetic genealogy to connect Vannieuwenhoven to the killings of David Schuldes, 25, and his fiance, Ellen Matheys, 24.
“I’m relieved. Overwhelmingly sad for all three families involved," said JoAnn Mikulsky, David Schuldes' sister. “I felt him here with me, and Ellie.”
The couple was killed during a camping trip in 1976 at McClintock Park in Silver Cliff. Reports show Schuldes was shot in the neck and died instantly. Matheys was sexually assaulted and shot twice, once in the abdomen and once in the chest.
DNA from the sexual assault was gathered and submitted to a database. That evidence was matched to Vannieuwenhoven in 2018 through genetic genealogy.
Vannieuwenhoven is charged with two counts of first-degree murder. The sexual assault charge was dismissed because the statute of limitations expired.
“Four and a half decades, 45 years, 540 months, 16,554 days: This is how long our family and friends have been struggling, hurting, waiting," said Lori Smith, Ellen Mathey's niece. "I have family in different states who are going to be excited to get that phone call of the guilty verdict. We’re pleased. Forty-five years is a long time to wait, but it’s here and we can now celebrate.”
The DNA evidence remained a strong point of contention during closing arguments Tuesday morning. The defense argued it didn't mean Vannieuwenhoven was responsible for killing the couple.
“DNA is just a piece of this case, a piece of the puzzle," said Lee Schuchart, defense attorney. “There is not a shred of evidence that connects Ray to McClintock Park.”
The jury deliberated for about two hours before delivering the guilty verdict. The judge also revoked his bond.
“A lot of relief. My heart is pounding," said Lynn Baumgartner, Ellen Mathey's friend. "We’re very happy for the guilty verdict. We feel justice has finally been done, and just so grateful for all of the people who have worked on this case.”
DeShea Morrow, Marinette County district attorney, said she's happy to bring some peace to the victim's families.
“They had no answers. Their loved ones were taken from them and they had nothing to go on for many, many years and that must’ve been a horrible ordeal to be living in," Morrow said. “They have been here, the family and friends, from the beginning. They never let this go either. So that really made it a mission of mine to do my very best that justice was done in this case.”
Although she does feel closure, Mikulsky said justice can be tricky.
“He took 45 years away from them when they were just on the threshold of starting their lives, and 43 of those 45 years he spent going about his business with the freedom to live his life," Mikulsky said. "So is there any amount of equal justice here? No. But we’re very happy for- this is what’s left for them and we’re happy to get it.”
Baumgartner said she grapples with forgiveness.
“Ellie, she probably would work toward forgiveness before I would, and that’s something I’ll have to think about, because that’s just the type of person she was," Baumgartner said.
Mikulsky and Smith said they're grateful for the efforts of the sheriff’s office, investigators and state crime lab for their hard work on the case, as well as Morrow and special prosecutors Don Gahn and Mark Williams.
Sentencing is scheduled for August 26. The judge said he will follow sentencing rules from 1976, since that is when the murders occurred.