An 82-year-old Wisconsin man has been arrested in connection with the brutal rape and murder of a couple 43 years ago, shocking friends and neighbors in the small community where the suspect lived, the Associated Press reports.
In March, Ray Vannieuwenhoven was arrested and charged with the 1976 murders of David Schuldes and Ellen Matheys, a couple engaged to be married, as they were about to go on a walk while camping.
Local detectives last year asked Parabon NanoLabs to compare DNA left from the crime scene to a database of 1.2 million profiles of people who have voluntarily submitted their genetic information to websites like Ancestry.com.
Apprehension of Vannieuwenhoven is among a growing number of cases that have been cracked thanks to genealogy websites and DNA. Investigators used the same tactic last year to catch the Golden State Killer.
In late December, the lab determined that the suspect was either Vannieuwenhoven or one of his three brothers. Investigators ruled out two brothers using DNA from trash and a used cup of coffee.
Then in early March, two sheriff’s deputies went to Vannieuwenhoven’s home under a ruse: They asked him to complete a survey about policing, and they told him to put the survey in an envelope and seal it using his tongue.
Police arrested Vannieuwenhoven within eight days.
News reports and court documents show that on the day of the attack, July 9, 1979, the killer fired a .30-caliber rifle, hitting Schuldes in the neck. Matheys then ran, but the killer chased her and eventually caught up. He subsequently raped her and then shot her twice.
Police investigating the crime had little to go on at the time: It did not appear to be a theft and there was no indication as to why the couple was targeted.
At the time, Vannieuwenhoven had a past. Court records show he spent six months in jail in 1957 for attacking a 17-year-old girl while she was walking with her friends. He also attempted to attack a 16-year-old girl just before that.
Prior to his sentencing, he said he was “was only trying to scare the girls.” Still, news of the arrest came as a surprise to many of the people who know Vannieuwenhoven.
Wayne Sankey got the news from a friend who sent him a text message.
“I said, ‘You gotta be kidding me,’” Sankey said. “And then I told the wife and she couldn’t believe it. ‘There’s no way,’ she said. ‘Ray down the road?’”
Some residents have said they heard Vannieuwenhoven could get angry when he drinks, according to Fred Mason, who works at a dump where Vannieuwenhoven would frequently rummage through for engine parts.
“I know this much — when he was drinking he was one son of a bitch. You didn’t want to be anywhere near him when he was drinking. Not just me, a lot of people,” Mason said.
Vannieuwenhoven, a widower, has five grown children.
Family members of the victims said they were relieved to hear of the arrest, but they expressed disappointment about how long that took.
“It was a long time coming,” said Matheys’ niece, Cynthia Chizek. “It’s just something that always hangs over your head, knowing that there’s someone out there who did this heinous crime.”
A judge in late March set Vannieuwenhoven’s bond at $1 million. He pleaded not guilty and his next court appearance is later this month.
[Feature Photo: Ray Vannieuwenhoven/Marinette County Sheriff’s Office]