EagleHerald Staff Writer
MENOMINEE—For the next three months at the least, Menominee’s police chief will be acting as the interim city manager.
At Monday’s City Council meeting, the council unanimously approved the appointment of Police Chief Brett Botbyl to the position of Interim City Manager to replace the former manager, Tony Graff, who resigned roughly two weeks ago. Just before the council meeting began, the Judicial and Legislative/Personnel and Labor (JL/PL) Committee met to briefly discuss the terms of Botbyl’s appointment before recommending the council approve it.
“It’s going to be a lot of work,” Botbyl said, “and I don’t want to just get into this for a few weeks or a month, so I think three months would be a good platform that would be beneficial for all involved.”
He said that setting the three-month time period as a minimum would give him a more full idea of whether or not he’d want to stay in the role past the three-month mark, since the door would be open for him to continue until a more permanent manager is found. This would also offer the council more flexibility should it take longer than three months to find someone to assume the position full time.
In addition to his request for three months in the position at minimum, Botbyl also requested a salary of $105,000 plus a $400 car allowance, as he will also be continuing to carry out his duties as chief of police.
“I think it’s reasonable for the chief as manager to request three months, I don’t have a problem with that,” said Councilmember Frank Pohlmann. “On the salary side, frankly that’s on the higher side of what I had in mind, but I would go along with it.”
He said that, in his opinion, there are different expectations of an interim city manager from a manager, which is why the proposed salary was in his opinion on the higher end. “I would rather see an interim position keep the status quo, because the status quo in a lot of departments is not that bad. I would look at you still as the police chief primarily, but in addition taking over some responsibilities of the city manager,” he said.
Stegeman said one thing she would like to see Botbyl work on during his time as manager is the securing of a new building inspector. “We don’t always have such a gaping hole in department heads,” she said.
Botbyl said this would certainly be something he would prioritize in his role as manager. “That, in my opinion, would be part of it, to close up our gaps. There are certain things that would be done out of necessity. We can’t go three more months without a building inspector just because this is an interim position rather than a full-time one,” he said.
Another notable task that Botbyl will be taking on in his new role will be the oversight of the selection committee for marijuana establishments. Councilmember Bill Plemel made a motion to amend Monday’s agenda to include appointments to the selection committee, however, most of the other council members voted against this. “It wasn’t previously communicated to the interested parties that it would be on there, and I think if we had a Zoom option still for our meetings there would be a lot more interest,” said Councilmember Josh Jones.
Stegeman, Plemel, Pohlmann and Councilmember Steve Fifarek were the only members to vote in favor of the amendment.
MARINETTE—The double murder trial for Raymand Vannieuwenhoven began with jury selection and opening statements Monday in Marinette County Circuit Court Branch 2.
Vannieuwenhoven, 84, Lakewood, is accused in the 1976 murders of a Green Bay couple who was camping at McClintock Park in the Town of Silver Cliff. David Schuldes, 25, and Ellen Matheys, 24, were shot and killed at the campground. They were engaged.
Matheys was sexually assaulted, but that charge has been dismissed because the statute of limitations has elapsed. There is no statute of limitations for the two first-degree homicide charges against Vannieuwenhoven.
The jury selection took all of Monday morning. The jury includes nine women and five men. Two of those 14 jurors will be alternates and will be dismissed when deliberations begin. The jury will not be sequestered during the trial which is expected to last at least two weeks. Circuit Judge James Morrison is presiding.
The case is being prosecuted by Marinette County District Attorney DeShea Morrow and special prosecutor Mark Williams. The defense is handled by Lee Schuchart and Travis Crowell, attorneys with offices in Marinette and Green Bay.
Williams presented the opening argument for the state. He used a PowerPoint that began with the history of Schuldes’ and Matheys’ relationship and ended with how Vannieuwenhoven was ultimately charged in a case that was cold for decades. In between, he showed the jury photos of the suspect as a much younger man, pictures of the McClintock Park area and gruesome crime scene images, including those of the victims.
Williams told how the couple on July 9, 1976, “started as a weekend with two people who loved each other going on a camping trip.”
He warned the jury how this case is more horrific than anything they have seen in a theater or on TV.
“What you’re going to hear surpasses anything that you’ve ever watched on TV,” Williams said. “You’re going to hear that David was shot in the neck and died outside the bathroom and that Ellen was raped, brutally, and shot twice in the torso area causing her death.”
He said the state will show the murders took place at about 2:30 p.m. July 9, 1976. “This wasn’t self defense,” Williams said, “they were gunned down.”
Williams proceeded to tell the jury how the case went cold for decades.
“Was there DNA (technology) back in 1976?” he asked rhetorically. “No. So the police, they worked tirelessly—year after year after year. They had leads, but none of those leads led to charges. They didn’t give up. They kept working and working and working.”
Williams said the jury will learn of a man named Robert Swanson, who was walking with his friend, Kim Huempfner, at the McClintock Park recreational area (adjacent to the camping ground) that day when they heard a gunshot between 2 and 2:30 p.m. He said they got in their car and while driving south on Parkway Road, they saw a man walking down the road carrying a rifle in his left hand.
“So that’s essentially what the police had to work with as far as eyewitnesses,” the prosecutor said.
He said the local sheriff’s department had taken a semen stain off of Matheys’ shorts and sent it to a national database where a DNA profile stayed for years. A breakthrough came about three years ago when Parabon Nanolabs of Virginia developed new technology to examine genealogy DNA evidence.
Williams gave credit to Todd Baldwin, a detective with the Marinette County Sheriff’s Department for about 19 years, for sending the DNA profile to Parabon Nanolabs.
In 2018, Parabon determined the semen on the shorts came from someone from a family in Green Bay—one of the sons of Gladys and Edward Vannieuwenhoven, Williams said.
Three of the brothers were eliminated as suspects and eventually Baldwin and Oconto County Chief Deputy Darren Laskowski were able to obtain DNA from Raymand Vannieuwenhoven, Williams told the jury. The two lawmen used trickery to obtain the DNA by having the potential suspect take a fake survey and then lick and seal an envelope in which the survey was placed, Williams said.
“The saliva on that envelope was a single profile match,” he said. “No one else in the world could have had that DNA profile, but Ray. And it matched. It matched the semen stain on Ellen’s shorts.”
Williams said the jury will hear from DNA chemists and crime lab experts.
“You’re going to hear that literally no one else in the world could have left that semen stain on Ellen Matheys’ shorts but that guy over there,” he said while pointing at the suspect.
Vannieuwenhoven was arrested in March 2019.
Schuchart gave the opening statement for the defense. He started by conceding that there’s no argument from the defense that the suspect’s DNA was found on Matheys’ shorts.
“That’s not what the state has to prove in this case,” Schuchart said. “The state has to prove to each and every one of you, beyond any reasonable doubt, that Raymand Vannieuwenhoven shot and killed these people. Semen didn’t kill these people. Bullets killed these people.”
He continued that most of the focus in this case has centered on the DNA, and not so much on other evidence such as a weapon and ballistics.
Schuchart told the jury about the two witnesses—Swanson and Huemphner—who saw the man carrying a rifle. He said Huemphner’s description of the man is not even close to how Vannieuwenhoven looked in 1976. He also said Huemphner told investigators the man walked toward a late 1960s Plymouth with Michigan bicentennial license plates.
Schuchart told the jury Vannieuwenhoven did not live in Michigan nor did he drive a Plymouth—he drove a Ford.
The defense attorney also explained to jurors how they will be told by Judge Morrison to follow the rules.
“He’s going to tell you to use your own common sense—your own understandings of the world,” Schuchart said, adding that jurors should focus on what they hear and, just as importantly, what they don’t hear.
“I don’t believe you are going to hear any evidence that connects Ray to a Michigan license plate on a Michigan car.”
He also said the jury won’t hear about a murder weapon. But they will hear how the defendant never had long hair or a mustache—which is how Huemphner described the suspect.
Schuchart said the eyewitnesses have said the shooter was no more than 28 years old. “Ray was 39 at that time and Ray didn’t look young,” he said. “In my humble opinion, Ray looked pretty old even at age 40—he looked like he was in his 50s. He doesn’t look young.”
“Ray’s not connected to a Michigan car, he’s not connected to a murder weapon and Ray’s not connected to a composite (sketch),” Schuchart continued. “It’s important to remember what you don’t hear.”
He said while the suspect has a connection to Matheys’ shorts through the DNA, there is no connection to the double murder.
“I believe when you receive this case (for deliberation) there are going to be so many more questions you have than answers,” Schuchart told the jury, adding that when the jurors look at all the questions together they will have no choice but to find the defendant not guilty.
The case continued Tuesday with the first witnesses being called.
EagleHerald Staff Writer
MARINETTE—The Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin, the Indigenous Caucus of the Western Mining Action Network and the Coalition to SAVE the Menominee River came together on Stephenson Island Friday to protest the proposed Back Forty Mine and celebrate the waters of the Menominee River.
After keynote speeches by representatives of each group, five generations of Menominee women garbed in long, vibrant skirts lined up from eldest to youngest in front of small, copper-colored vessels to partake in a ceremony blessing the waters of the Menominee River. Shortly thereafter, the crowd took up their signs and walked across the bridge to downtown Menominee in protest of the mine.
Finding profitable ore deposits is exceedingly rare; the company estimates that only one out of every 100,000 prospective sites contains mineable quantities of metal.
This may explain why Aquila Resources has been persistent in pursuing the excavation of the Back Forty Mine despite obstacles in obtaining the proper permits. The company currently has two of them—a Michigan Air Use Permit to Install and a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit (NPDES) — but had its Wetlands Permit revoked in January and has withdrawn its most recent application for a Dam Safety Permit. In addition, it isn’t clear if the company will be able to use the Michigan Air Use Permit to Install and the NPDES permit for its new plans to excavate an underground mine.
These setbacks, however, may just be temporary. According to Aquila Resources’ 2020 Preliminary Economic Assessment report, the company intends to reapply for the necessary permits after it has completed an optimized feasibility study integrating new plans for the mine.
But the company also has to contend with negative public sentiment. According to the Water Resources Division of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, of the 3,418 comments it received during the public comment period regarding Aquila Resources’ wetlands permit, nearly 99% stated opposition to the project, citing adverse environmental and cultural impacts as the main concerns. Furthermore, in an August 2018 survey of 362 Menominee County voters conducted by the Coalition to SAVE the Menominee River, 93.3% were opposed to the mine.
Retired pastor Jo Mattern, who attended the event, aptly represented these sentiments. Mattern is a former member of ESTHER (Empowerment Solidarity Truth Hope Equity Reform), an interfaith social-justice organization.
“It’s horrifying that (Aquila Resources) could come in and destroy something that belongs to the people,” he said.
This belonging goes back countless generations for some. The verdant lands embracing the Menominee River are the ancestral home of the Menominee people, who have lived in areas of Wisconsin and Northern Michigan for over 10,000 years. Sacred sites such as group and individual burial mounds, ceremonial dance circles and prehistoric raised garden beds mark the country as testament to their presence.
According to Tribal Historic Preservation Officer David Grignon, 66 of these sites exist on and adjacent to the land of the proposed Back Forty Mine.
Tribal legislator and enrolled member of the Menominee Nation Rachel Fernandez, whose Menominee name, Namaewkukiw, means “Sturgeon Woman,” said the mine threatened these cultural landmarks.
“We have a responsibility to our next seven generations to preserve our resources, because water is life,” Fernandez said. “The Menominee are in this fight to protect our culture, our burial sites and our sacred origin site.”
By origin site, Fernandez was referring to the Menominee Tribe’s creation story, which centers around the mouth of the river.
“We need to unite and we need to speak for our land, air and water,” she said. “Being Sturgeon Woman, I’m here to tell you that I will fight till the end for my brothers and sisters that are in that water. That is part of our creation story.”
Environmental damage is another concern. Contamination from the mine could threaten wildlife populations such as lake sturgeon and smallmouth bass that live in the Menominee River and Lake Michigan, according to the Sierra Club and other environmental advocacy groups. Coalition to SAVE the Menominee River volunteer Natalie Lashmet explained that such contamination would include chemicals like cyanide, for instance, which has to be used to extract the miniscule traces of gold that are in the mine. In addition, excavation and the production of millions of tons of waste rock would leave a massive physical scar on the land.
But proponents of the mine cite its potential economic benefits. If excavation were to proceed, the Back Forty Mine would yield about 692 thousand ounces of gold, 801 million pounds of zinc, 86 million pounds of copper, 6.26 million ounces of silver and 26 million pounds of lead, according to the Back Forty Mine website. These metals would be used in various products such as phones, computers and solar panels.
Aquila Resources currently claims that the Back Forty project will generate more than 264 direct permanent jobs. In addition, the local community will receive 65% of the 2.75% severance tax that the company is required to pay for the minerals that it sells, which the company estimates would generate $7.54 million in revenue.
Environmental attorney Ted Warpinski, who works with the Coalition to SAVE the Menominee River, questioned, however, the benefits of the mine’s short-term economic effects versus its potential negative long-term impacts. Warpinski said Aquila Resources’ numbers don’t take into account the potential economic impact that the mine will have on, for instance, the community’s tourism and recreation industries.
“Has Aquila Resources really considered the effects on local tourism? Are people going to still use the river if there’s a mine right there versus if it’s in a more pristine condition?” he said.
Despite Aquila Resources’ plans to move forward, former pastor Mattern and others attending the protest expressed optimism in regards to preventing the project’s fruition.
“We’re too strong,” he said. “If it were to go through, we’d have another Little Rock.”