DNA, genealogy leads to arrest of Wisconsin 82-year-old in 1976 rape, double homicide

An elderly Wisconsin widower has been arrested and charged in a 43-year-old rape and double homicide that police say was solved through genetic genealogy.

Raymand Lawrence Vannieuwenhoven, 82, of Lakewood, is charged with two counts of first-degree murder in the July 9, 1976, slayings of David Schuldes, 25, and Ellen Matheys, 24, both of Green Bay. The couple, who were engaged to be married, were killed as they camped at a secluded spot in McClintock Park, about 100 miles north of Green Bay in the community of Silver Cliff.

Matheys was raped before she was slain, according to court documents. Both she and Schuldes were shot to death with a .30-caliber rifle.


According to Wisconsin court records, a charge of first-degree sexual assault against Vannieuwenhoven was dismissed May 22. The Green Bay Press-Gazette reported the statute of limitations on the charge ran out six years after the crime.

VAnnieuwenhoven's defense attorneys also indicated during a court hearing last month that they intend to aggressively fight the DNA evidence pointing at their client, the newspaper reported. The alleged sexual assault of Matheys, which led to the DNA evidence preserved for more than four decades, is expected to remain a large focus of the case.

"Certainly, the state absolutely intends to use that as indicative of the motive and opportunity, as well as identity," Marinette County District Attorney DeShea Morrow said last month, according to the Press-Gazette

Vannieuwenhoven's arrest stunned those who know him as a quiet, helpful man who always waved at neighbors and had a booming, distinctive laugh, The Associated Press reported. Vannieuwenhoven, a widower with five adult children, had lived in the small town of Lakewood -- about 25 miles from the scene of his alleged crime -- for about 20 years.

"I said, 'You gotta be kidding me,'" neighbor Wayne Sankey told the AP. "And then I told my wife, and she couldn't believe it. 'There's no way,' she said. 'Ray down the road?'"

There is no indication Vannieuwenhoven knew Schuldes, a part-time worker in the circulation department of the Press-Gazette, or Matheys, who worked in the library at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. He pleaded not guilty to the charges on March 22.

He is being held in lieu of $1 million, the AP reported.


A criminal complaint filed in Marinette County states that Schuldes and Matheys left their separate homes early the day they died to spend a weekend camping. After setting up their campsite in McClintock Park, it appeared that they prepared to go for a walk.

Matheys stopped to use the outdoor restroom and, as Schuldes waited for her outside, he was shot through the neck from about 50 feet away, the AP said. He died instantly, a camera still slung over his shoulder.

“The suspect then either ordered Ellen from the bathroom and to a wooded area about 100 yards away or chased her to that location,” the criminal complaint states.

It was there that Matheys was sexually assaulted. Afterward, the gunman apparently allowed her to pull her shorts back on and she was putting her shirt back on when she was shot twice, once in the chest and once in the abdomen, the court document says.

A Marinette County parks worker found Schuldes’ body that afternoon, the complaint says. When deputies arrived, they found the couple’s campsite and realized a woman had been with Schuldes, but Matheys’ body was not found until the following morning.

Semen was found in her body and on her shorts, the court document states. According to the AP, none of the couple's cash was taken and Matheys' purse was still in their car.

Read the entire criminal complaint against Ray Vannieuwenhoven below.

The case stumped detectives for decades, but an investigator in the Marinette County Sheriff's Office had the Wisconsin State Crime Lab check the evidence for DNA in the 1990s. The genetic profile was entered into the FBI's Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS, but it was never matched to a profile in the system.

Detectives continued to submit possible suspects’ profiles over the years, but none ever shone light on the case.

Then came last year's breakthrough: the use of public genealogy databases to identify a suspect in California's notorious Golden State Killer case, a series of rapes and murders that terrorized communities across the state in the 1970s and 1980s. Parabon Nanolabs Inc., a Virginia-based company that has offered its Snapshot Genetic Genealogy Service to law enforcement agencies since that arrest, has helped lead investigators to suspects in close to 60 cases.

The company takes DNA profiles from cold cases and compares them to those uploaded into public genealogy databases. Using profiles of users who could be related to the suspect, they reverse engineer a family tree and narrow down a potential suspect pool to people who were in the age range of a suspect at the time of a crime and who lived or worked in the area where it was committed.

Marinette County Detective Todd Baldwin turned to Parabon in March 2018, the criminal complaint states. By June, analysts had identified the Silver Cliff suspect as having mainly northern European ancestry. He was described as likely having very fair skin, blue eyes, reddish brown hair and some freckles.

“Investigators were also provided an image of what the suspect may have looked like at age 25, as well as an age enhanced image of the suspect at age 65 to compensate for the number of years that have gone by since the crime,” the complaint says.

Credit: Marinette County Sheriff's Office

Credit: Marinette County Sheriff's Office

By December, Parabon analysts had narrowed down the suspect pool to descendants of a Green Bay-area couple who had six children. The suspect could have been one of the couple’s four sons or one of their grandsons.

Vannieuwenhoven was one of the couple's four sons, the complaint says. According to records and his wife's 2008 obituary, he was 39 years old and had been married for nearly 20 years at the time Matheys was raped and she and Schuldes were slain.

Baldwin and another detective established surveillance on one of Vannieuwenhoven’s brothers and were able to find in his trash a pair of socks, an Advair inhaler and a bandage that were sent for DNA testing, according to the document. Male DNA found on the inhaler did not match that found on Matheys’ shorts -- but the material showed the man was a close relative of the alleged killer.

Detectives moved on to the next brother, whose DNA was obtained from a cup of coffee he had with a neighbor, a retired Oconto County Sheriff’s Office detective. When that Vannieuwenhoven brother was also cleared as the suspect, Baldwin moved onto Ray Vannieuwenhoven.

Baldwin had an Oconto County deputy approach Vannieuwenhoven at his home in Lakewood and ask him to complete a bogus survey about policing. Vannieuwenhoven cooperated and when he was done, the deputy had Vannieuwenhoven seal the survey in an envelope.

Vannieuwenhoven licked the envelope to seal it, the complaint states.

DNA from his saliva was positively matched on March 7 to the semen sample found on Matheys’ shorts nearly 42 years ago, Baldwin wrote in the complaint.

Credit: AP Photo/Ivan Moreno

Credit: AP Photo/Ivan Moreno

A search warrant executed at Vannieuwenhoven’s home a week later turned up a .30-30 lever-action rifle and four shell casings in a tin can on a shelf above his washer and dryer, the document states. It was not clear from the complaint if the shells were spent or if they dated back to the slayings.

Those who knew Vannieuwenhoven and his wife, Rita, before her death in 2008, doubt his guilt. Richard Leurquin, Rita Vannieuwenhoven's twin brother, told the AP his brother-in-law was "a very loving father to his wife and kids."

Rita Vannieuwenhoven, 68, died four months after the couple's 50th wedding anniversary, according to her obituary.

There was more to Ray Vannieuwenhoven than a loving husband and father, however. Neighbors told the AP they sometimes caught a glimpse of a dark side when Vannieuwenhoven drank, a habit he stopped a few years ago for his health.

The Press-Gazette also reported in April that a 20-year-old Vannieuwenhoven, using his middle name of Lawrence as his first name, attacked two teenage girls one Saturday afternoon in November 1957, when he was living in Green Bay. Brown County authorities said a 17-year-old girl was attacked in Suamico as she walked with three friends and a 16-year-old was attacked in Howard, both on the same afternoon.

The teens were not badly hurt and the Suamico victim was able to give a description of the car the assailant drove. The second girl was able to jump from his moving vehicle, tearing off a piece of his shirt as she did so, the Press-Gazette reported.

The girls' efforts led to Vannieuwenhoven's arrest. Charged with battery, he was sentenced to six months in jail and a $200 fine, Press-Gazette archives showed.

Vannieuwenhoven, who had been married for about a year at the time of the unprovoked attacks, told authorities at the time that he just wanted to scare the girls, the newspaper reported.

Brown County Sheriff's Office officials in April put out a request for information leading to the victims in the case, who would now be in their 70s, as well as witnesses to the attacks. Authorities said the records related to the 1957 attacks were destroyed more than four decades ago after the time limit for their safekeeping expired.

Detective Zak Holschbach, who requested the information from the public, declined to tell the Press-Gazette why he made the request or if it is related to the Silver Cliff double homicide. He told a reporter the plea was related to a current case.

Relatives of the two Silver Cliff homicide victims said the arrest more than four decades later is a long time coming.

"It's just something that always hangs over your head, knowing that there's someone out there who did this heinous crime," Matheys' niece, Cynthia Chizek, told the AP.

Kurt Schuldes, a cousin of David Schuldes, agreed.

"He just got away with it for way too long, unfortunately," Schuldes said.

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