Austin and Connie Herbst
Where: Maple Grove, Wisconsin, less than 1k people, 35 sq mi, less than 30 people per sq mile. My town’s pop density is 2,300/sq mi. 350 homes, averaging 10 homes per square miles. All land. And Google Maps lays it out as a legit square. Kind of like the end of Cast Away when Chuck is at that intersection and unsure which direction he’s going to go… it's empty like that.
12/3/2017, a man sees dog chewing on something in his driveway. Thinks it is a skull, takes it away, and puts it in a ziploc bag and calls the sheriff. No local police - call the sheriff. When the deputy shows up, he tells them his dog doesn’t usually go too far from home, so they are comfortable searching close to home. The house is on a road, just like we said before, that is sandwiched between two open fields, may a copse of trees here and there. And within two hours, searchers find pretty much the rest of the body. In total police find: the skull, human ribs, backbone, legs and other bones, some clothing, and a full set of dentures. There was a piece of denim material with a Wrangler tag nearby too.
Took remains to Midwest Medical Examiner’s Office in Ramsey, Minnesota. The first thing they get from the skull is there is a clear bullet hole in it. The trajectory was from the decedent’s left to right, front to back and downwards This would mean the gun was more to the front left side of his head, and angled downward. If the man was pushing 6ft tall, did this happen during a fight, like bent over, or laying, or crouching… or at maybe sitting down? The bullet came in through the front of his skull… was he sleeping?
The medical examiner believes this is a man, aged 35-55, maybe 5’10”. John Doe’s death occurred anywhere from 1-10 years ago. Well, that’s not much of a help. Initial searches of local missing people came up with nothing…. Remembering there are only 1k in the town, we’d know right away if this was someone in town that went missing in the last few years.
So police sent the remains off to University of North Texas for further analysis, but no new information comes from this. Only difference seems to be his age wasn't between 35-55, but possibly 30-65. This is essentially a second opinion, confirming the first. So we have an adult, possible middle aged man, kind of tall, but no taller than 6’, was wearing wrangler jeans, and discovered in a field in rural Wisconsin.
March of 2019 the sheriff gave a bone sample to DNA Solutions Inc., in Oklahoma City, OK. they will complete another analysis and offer genealogy services. It seems at some point during the process, in 2019, DNA Solutions handed the case over to the DNA Doe Project. For any new listeners, the DDP is a volunteer organization that works exclusively to give the names back to unidentified bodies found throughout the US. It’s an amazing group of genealogists work tirelessly to identify these unknown bodies - some suicides, some accidents, some murders, and in the last few years, their success rate has grown exponentially.
So in Feb of 2020, it was the DDP that called the Baron County Sheriff to give them a possible identification. There is a possible son that lives next door in Minnesota, and police have to reach out to him. So they locate this possible family of this John Doe, the son, and according to the genealogy report, the possible wife. And they explain the situation with the John Doe they found over in Wisconsin, and ask for DNA swabs. Mom and son consent, and in the meantime, police ask them about their missing husband and father. They tell detectives that he left them back in the summer of 2013 and they haven't heard from him since.
The sheriff sends the samples off for testing, and on June 23, 2020 the Baron County Sheriff's department announces that the 2017 Baron County John Doe is in fact, Gary Albert Herbst, of Elko New Market, MN.
June 2020, Doe comment from ddp: Team leader Jenny Lecus described the moment the pieces fell into place: “There is such exhilaration when through genetic genealogy we can return a name to someone. But a bitter-sweet realization knowing a family will not be getting the answer they hoped for. Our hearts go out to them.”
Who was Gary?
Gary was born 06/02/1956 and was brought up in northern Wisconsin, and met and married Connie, two years younger than him, in Butternut WI. In 1980 they moved to Minnesota and officially settled in Elko New Market in 1981. Elko has a booming population of 4k, but being only about 4 square miles, it’s pretty dense. The most special thing about it is it has a racecar speedway, aptly named Elko Speedway, and they have races every few weeks.
Austin was born on 5/30/1994, and over the years, as he grew up, Gary worked as a machinist at a few different jobs over the years, and Connie worked as a cook. Austin is an only child.
So when police come knocking on their door, Connie and Austin are living in New Prague, Minnesota, just 20min away from where they lived when Gary was around. So we’re going to go over what Connie and Austin tell the detectives in their initial interviews.
She says in July 2013, she was at the library, and her son Austin calls and tells her that his dad left them. So she went home to talk to Austin about it and find out more about what’s going on, and he tells her Dad came home, some guy is waiting outside in the driveway, he packs some shit, collects $5k in cash, hops back in the guy’s car and tells Austin, “I’m out.”
During Austin’s interview, he tells the police the same story. “I was 18 at the time, he just came home one day, packed a bag, and left. I don’t know the person that was driving the car he left in, and he had his own pick up here… but he just left it behind too. After he was gone, I called my mom.”
Police find out that Connie did report Gary missing the next year, in early 2014. Why did she wait 10mo to report her husband missing? She had gotten a call from Gary’s brother that their mother had passed away. She told him he had left the family last summer, and didn’t know where he was. But the brother was like, “well, I need my brother. Our mom died, I need to tell him, and I need him to help settle her estate. Can you file a missing person’s report? Maybe the police can track him down” She she did. But the Elko New Market police didn't actually acknowledge it and write up a police report until the 1st anniversary of Gary going missing, over 3mo after Connie made the report. And after that… seems nothing was done to find him. Gary’s missing person case just sat with the Elko New Market police department.
Austin tells them in his interview that Dad and Mom did not have a very good relationship. In fact, the marriage had been going south for at least a year before Gary took off, so it wasn’t like he and Mom were completely shocked when it happened. Connie talked about this strained relationship too in her interview. Connie said he left on purpose. The marriage wasn’t great anyway. She told detectives that Gary was a dick husband. He was verbally and physically abusive, and could barely hold down a job. In fact, she was the only one in the relationship that had a steady income.
So police say, “well, we’ve got to test these remains against you and your son's cheek swabs, so we’ll get back to you when we know something more. “
Next month, in March 2020, right when the world shut down, the Wisconsin state crime lab gets back to Baron County and tells them, “Yep, that guy Austin is your John Doe’s son.” Ok, so it’s official! And now Baron county’s work is done. And they are going to hand the murder case over to Elko New Market and Scott County for investigaiton. *sigh* And Scott county, is like, “thanks a lot, Baron County. It was easier when he was just missing.” We know this was a murder, so we need more info about this guy’s life… we need friends, neighbors, employer if there was one, and we have to talk to Connie and Austin again.
Mom and son each have two more interviews before the police complete their investigation. On June 16, 2020, their stories are still the same really from the first time, but since these are new interviews, a few months later, there’s going to be some new information that comes in during conversations. Detectives present mom with a copy of signed car title for a Chevy Impala that was sold and signed over on 12/2/2017 and Gary’s signature on it. If Gary had taken off in 2013, did he just come back in December of 2017 to sign the title fr her so she could sell the car? No, that wouldn’t make sense. Connie explains that Gary just pre-dated and pre-signed the titles for the vehicle owned by the family. That title was already signed and dated before he left them. OK… soooo for three years Connie was hanging onto a car that maybe she didn’t want, but because Gary had pre-dated it, she could sell it until the end of 2017? OK.
Now Austin talked a bit more this time about the circumstances surrounding his dad's disappearance than last time. He said he himself also did not have a very good relationship with his dad either… not something he admitted to in the first interview. He also said he would never commit patricide - he knows the term from playing video games, ok - AND maybe he did know what happened to Dad, but he wasn’t going to talk about that. OK.
Friends - None found.
Neighbors - a neighbor that shared a backyard with the Herbst family, and three that lived across the street from them. They all say Gary wasn’t very neighborly, to say the least. He was picky about his property and property lines, he kept the front and back lawn prim and proper all the time. He’d yell and curse at them and anyone else that offended him in some way. He’d even call the police regularly to complain about them, over “frivolous matters.” They said other than that, the family kept to themselves. The wife and son didn’t spend time out in the yard, and the family never had people over. The only time anyone remembers Gary being nice was when he was showing off his new Chevy Silverado pick up, a few years before he went missing.
They said Connie and Austin had a garage sale about the end of August that summer, in 2013, and a lot of the stuff they sold was men’s clothing and workshop and mechanics tools. And at the garage sale, Connie had told at least one of them that Gary had left her and their son. So they were selling his shit. They noticed after that, that mom and son were actually hanging around outside the house more and Austin’s friends would come over to hang out, which they never did when Austin was growing up and before Gary left. So it really seemed to them that the remaining Herbst’s were better off now that Gary was gone.
Another thing the neighbors had to say though, and this is interesting, is a story about Gary's pickup truck being driven around the back of the house late one night a few weeks before the garage sale. The backyard neighbor remembers it pretty well, but one of the neighbors across the street remembers the truck back there too. It had been driven around back, and was on the grass - which we know Gary would never approve of - and it was backed up against the basement’s sliding glass door. And then after a while, Connie and Austin are loading it with this like, big long, rolled up carpet type thing - it looked like a rolled up carpet. After that, they started cleaning the floor of the basement and around the glass door. And they were like really scrubbing away. And this was around, oooh 11:00 at night? Weird. And then, when the cleaning was done, they threw some garbage bags in the bag of the pickup, right on top of that carpet, hooked up the family fishing boat, and then left! They must have gone on boat trip because none of us saw them again for the next few days. So that was pretty unusual, to be cleaning out the basement and then going on a boat trip in the middle of the night.
I'm sorry what??? And you never saw Gary again? And then they sold all his shit? And you didn’t think anything of it? Come on… we all know at least one of those neighbors went to bed talking about Gary with their husband or wife, “being like, “So weird about Gary, isn’t it? It is pretty peaceful without him now. Oh, you remember that night in August? You don’t think they could have… you don’t...think??? …. Naahhhh.” What the fuck? Lol
It also turns out that Connie put the house up for sale in the next few months, and she and Austin moved to New Prague, where they’ve been ever since.
Boss - Gary was employed at RL Tool at the time he left in the summer of 2013. And police interview his boss about his departure and his personality, and what not. And the boss says, “yeah, his last day was his last day. He clock out and went home, and he never came back.” Interesting.
Clearly we are all thinking the mom and the son did it at this point. This look at the timeline here: They say Gary took off in early July. The neighbors talk about all this activity in the middle of the night in the middle of August, and then the garage sale at the end of August, and then the house goes up for sale by October. What was happening during the six weeks from when Gary left and when they cleared out the basement? And what were they cleaning?? At the same time the Sheriff's department is interviewing these neighbors, they are also checking in with the current owners of the house. Detectives give them the basic run down of the situation, as much as they can in order to get the homeowners to give them access, and the homeowner tells them sure, they can come in. They start talking about the basement, and he tells them he did remodel his basement in the summer of 2019, and there was this really weird, really dark stain on the concrete. So forensics comes in and tests the stain, and handful of other spots in the basement, and this concrete stain comes back as human blood. Ahhh now we’re getting somewhere. The lab results are not going to be able to point to exactly who all this blood belongs to but it is organic.
So of course, police are very interested in talking with Connie and Austin yet again. After all, Austin indicated he might know what ended up happening to his father, and now we’ve got bodily fluids found left behind where mom and son were frantically cleaning in the middle of the night a few years ago before they took off for a fishing trip. They also execute a search warrant and confiscate all the digital devices they can find.
Austin tells him, IDK, Dad worked in the basement a lot… maybe that was from him cutting himself. Dad was mad all the time, he was abusing my mom and the past few years before he left. I had to jump in to protect my mom during these fights too. He also told them he and his mom did go fishing those few days in August of 2013 - they went to Turtle Flambeau Flowage, over up in Wisconsin.
Then they ask him about a gun they know Connie had purchased back in the 90s. Does he know where that gun is now? He says they don’t have to worry about it; it's in 60ft of water. He says, “it's in Flambeau Flowage, I can take you there if you want.” ok, well, did you put it there? “Umm, I’d like to talk to my mom about this before I answer any more questions. But I didn’t kill my dad.”
For Connie's part, she stays quiet throughout this third interview. She lets the detective talk and ask questions for about an hour and a half and then finally ends it and says she wants a lawyer.
When the forensic reports come back for Connie’s and Austin’s electronics devices, there’s some interesting texts discovered between mother and son.
* On June 24, 2020 at 10:33 a.m., Connie texted Austin, “It was on Channel 9 News last night.” (On June 23, 2020, Barron County Sheriff’s Office issued a press release on the remains being identified and investigated as a homicide.)
* On July 18, 2020, at 3:03 p.m Connie texted Austin “You need to call me ASAP, actually right away.” And then half an hour later, “Might have a problem, they are searching 347. Don’t mean to fuck up your vacation just wanted u to know. It’s in the paper.” The investigation showed that on July 18, 2020, DEFENDANT 2 was on vacation with friends at the Flambeau Flowage in Wisconsin. Interviews with DEFENDANT 2’s friends confirmed he took a phone call from his mother.
So with that, on November 19, 2020 Scott County Sheriff Depoatment announces the arrests of Connie and Austin Herbst for the July 2013 murder and disposal of their husband and father Gary Albert Herbst. Gary had been 57at the time of his death. It turns out the University of Texas was right, they 30-65… Gary was 57.
Both Connie and Austin are charged with “Aiding and Abetting Second Degree Intentional Murder - Not Premeditated.” If convicted, the maximum sentence is 40 years. By March of this year, 2021, Austin decides to plead guilty.
This is how the official story goes: On or about July 6, 2013, mom was at the library and Gary and Austin were home. Gary was sleeping in the bedroom, and Austin got his mom’s gun and shot him at point blank range while he slept. He then called mom, and she came home. Then they kept him around for six weeks, until the middle of August, when they rolled him up in a carpet, put him in the bed of the Silverado, hooked up the boat to the back of the truck, and went north into Wisconsin. While in Wisconsin, they tossed the gun in Turtle lake, and dumped Gary’s body in the field over by the dog's house.
This is so confusing to me though. It’s a two hour drive from their house in Minnesota to the body site and another two hours to the lake. If they were going so far as to put the gun in the lake, why didn't they put Gary in the lake too? They had the boat! And the lake is huge - it’s 13k acres. And they were already there, and they were clearly planning on going to the lake when they left the house with him. Very weird. He would still be missing to this day if they put him in there.
But I think the plea was inevitable, right? I mean, we could just tell hewas going to plea out. It was clear it was becoming one of those cases where every interview gets you a little closer to the truth. “My parents didn’t get along”…. And then, “I didn’t get along with my dad.” And then, “My dad was abusive.” And then “I know where the family gun is, and we may have tossed it in the water after we deep cleaned the basement in the middle of the night….”
Austin tells us in his plea agreement that dad was complete and total dick since he was in elementary school. He would burn Austin with his cigarettes for infractions as minor as interrupting his father when he was speaking. He wouldn’t allow Connie to have any kind of social life and beat her on the regular. And she wasn’t even allowed to attend her own mother’s funeral.
Do we think these abuse allegations are true? It’s tough because we don’t hear from neighbors or anyone else that Gary was actually abusive, all we have are Austin and Connie’s statements. In his statement in his plea agreement Austin ays, "To this day, I believe he was going to kill her that night, If I would have stood aside, my mom would be dead. I knew what I did and why I did it, and to this day I am confident that my decisions were justified."
I did some searching in the newspaper archives and ound a few things for Mr Gary A Herbst, born 1956. In 1977 he was jailed for five days when he was caught driving without a license. It had been revoked prior. And in 1981 - He and a live-in girlfriend were on the outs, and he had come home on August 17th, 1981, and she told him to go, she didn't want him there. He refused, saying he lived there and was sleeping there that night whether she liked it or not. They continue to fight and there are other people there, and she also has 2 kids, ages 7 and 9. Was there a physical fight? Not sure, but the girlfriend got a kitchen knife and stabbed him in the chest. In this case, he wasn’t gravely harmed, but he did need two stitches. And both Gary and the girlfriend were charged with disorderly conduct and she also had the use of a weapon charge. Very interesting. So he may was an asshole after all.
The one person that does believe Austin is the judge, that’s for sure. Sentencing took place on June 7, and per the sentencing guidelines, with the charges, and then the details of the plea agreement, he was looking at anywhere between 21-31yrs. But instead, Judge Carrie Lennon sentenced him to 12½ years. AND, with time served, and with good behavior, he could be out in under 8 yrs. Austin is 27yo right now, so he could be out before he’s 35. Do we agree with this?
Seems mom is still holding out. And with Austin’s confessions and plea, we really don’t know if mom knew Gary was going to die, or if she did actually find out after the fact, and then kept quiet to protect her son. Will she start talking now that Austin’s case is over? What do you think she’ll tell us? She was supposed to be back in court last month in July, but I can’t find any information about that appearance. Of course, when I get my alert, I will let you know.
Police scoped out the spot where Austin told them he tossed the gun, and they’ve decided not to search for it. They estimate it’s under 12ft of mud at this point, after all the time that’s passed.