Police Arrest Man in Altoona Homicide Case

Earlier today, police in Altoona announced an arrest in the Theresa Still death investigation.  Deputies located Greg Grubenot, the victim’s live-in boyfriend, just outside the Forest County town of Crandon, located in northeastern Wisconsin. Apparently, the suspect is not a fan of television police dramas, as authorities ascertained his location through credit card activity. 

I wrote about this tragic case in two posts at my former blog, From the Notebook of a Homicide Detective (sleuthwiththeproof.blogspot.com). Similar to the Sandra Bertolas case, the ‘who dun it’ aspect of the inquiry seemed rather straightforward. It’s the what, when, where, why and how questions that remained unclear. 

In the first post, Altoona Tangled Web of Murder, I noted that investigators would carefully comb the vehicle used to transport the body for DNA evidence.  I also hinted that cellular phone records would likely provide valuable information. 

In the comments section of this post, Mike wrote, “I’m not seeing much of a mystery or a tangled web to this – it is pretty obvious who the murderer is. His parents live on my road a few blocks down and once the police showed up we figured the mystery was solved.”

Clearly, the Sandra Bertolas disappearance illustrates that developing a solid suspect is just one component of an investigation.  Good detectives are Curious Georges that dig below the surface as far as the evidence will take them. 

“I don’t know, Mike,” I replied, “do you think this guy used his own truck to get rid of the body?  What if no traces of blood are found in the truck?  Would that convince you that another person is involved if not in the murder at least in the disposal of the corpse? Where’s the murder weapon and the bloody clothes of the killer?  I think there’s many unanswered questions.  Did this guy have someone help him along the way?” 

Another person commented that she worked at the Super Target in Eau Claire and heard that Ms. Still’s vehicle was located on Monday morning (December 28).  However, she believed the presumed killer probably walked over four miles from the Super Target to his Altoona residence. 

I replied that the suspect might have received a ride from the area near the Super Target.  In a recent homicide in Germantown, Wisconsin, a man strangled his stepson to death in a Wal-mart parking lot and called for assistance afterwards.  “If the suspect walked,” I noted, “why not ditch the van closer to his home or a short distance from the tavern?”

I then authored a second post, The Pieces of the Puzzle, identifying four key points police would likely address, the foremost being the establishment of an investigative timeline using statements, video surveillance, credit card/ATM activity, as well as telephone records.

“The information made public seems to suggest,” I speculated, “that the suspect was in a hurry to discard the body and did not pre-select the dump site. He may have traveled to an area he was familiar with — close enough to return home before someone noted him missing…The scene at the Super Target hints that the suspect may have had some assistance from another party.” 

Earlier today, the Eau Claire County District Attorney’s office released the criminal complaint charging Gregory A. Gubernot with First Degree Intentional Homicide.  The complaint relies heavily on statements and cell phone records to create an investigative timeline (http://ftpcontent.worldnow.com/wqow/Gubernot_criminal_complaint.pdf). 

Information contained in the complaint affirms my suggestion that Ms. Still’s body wasn’t conveyed in Gubernot’s truck. Transporting a body in a pick-up’s bed, even if the corpse is covered, seemed too risky. On the windy interstate, the driver of a passing semi-truck may get a look at the contents in the bed.  Moreover, police located Still’s vehicle abandoned adjacent to Highway 53, a corridor with easy access to the interstate and Adams County.

The complaint further alleges that, after parking Still’s car, Gubernot walked to the nearby Menard’s Store and telephoned a friend for a ride.  Terrance Bourget told investigators that he picked-up Grubenot from the store at about 11:30 a.m. on December 28.  According to the complaint, “Eau Claire Officer O’Neill, an evidence technician, located an approximate quarter-size mark of liquid substance which appeared to be possibly human blood,” on the rear of Still’s car.  DNA analysis confirmed the blood belong to Theresa Still.

The location of Ms. Still’s body strongly confirms my hunch that the killer roamed the sparsely traveled Adams County back roads and quickly discarded her corpse just 60 to 75 feet from the road.  Had the suspect taken the time to carry Ms. Still’s remains another 100 yards into the woods, a passing hunter may not have discovered the body so quickly.

The information contained in the criminal complaint depicts  the investigators’ attention to detail.  The law enforcement agencies involved did an outstanding job developing a timeline, collecting evidence, and tracking the suspect.

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Steven Spingola is a retired Milwaukee Police Department homicide detective and the author of The Killer in Our Midst: the Case of Milwaukee’s North Side Strangler.

Copyright, Steven Spingola, Wales, WI, 2010

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