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Board gets update on NERR project

EagleHerald Staff Writer

MARINETTE—Director of Freshwater Strategy at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay (UWGB) Emily Tyner updated Marinette County Board members Tuesday on the development of the National Estuarine Research and Reserve (NERR) project on the bay of Green Bay.

The NERR system is a network of 29 coastal research reserves located across the nation. The network was established through the 1972 Coastal Zone Management Act and is managed by agencies, universities and local partners of each host state in partnership with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Tyner said the proposed Green Bay NERR will be a multi-component site that includes a visitor center as well as several natural sites representing a variety of habitats. Marinette is currently one of the locations that is being considered for the NERR visitor center.

The bay of Green Bay is the world’s largest freshwater estuary, or convergence point of river and lake water. Estuaries are fertile but fragile ecosystems, according to the NOAA. Research produced through the NERR initiative is meant to provide information that will help protect these areas.

The Green Bay NERR will focus on studying the bay’s watershed in addition to the bay itself. According to the DNR, this watershed includes all of Florence, Marinette and Oconto Counties in addition to portions of Forest, Brown, Langlade, Menominee, Outagamie, Shawano and Vilas counties. Tyner said research opportunities and programs administered through the Green Bay NERR will therefore extend up into the U.P. and all around Lake Michigan.

Such opportunities could attract researchers from around the world because of the bay’s unique characteristics, according to Tyner.

“One unique thing about the bay is it’s large enough that it has all the physical and geochemical processes of many large water bodies around the world,” she said.

These processes include tides, seiches or temporary fluctuations in water levels and mixing of water with different chemical properties. At the same time, the bay is small enough to research comprehensively, making it an ideal location for studying freshwater.

Tyner said that one objective specific to the Green Bay NERR is to develop a holistic understanding of the bay’s water and how it impacts local communities economically and culturally.

“These are the economic connections, the cultural, the tribal, the artistic, the storytelling potential,” she said. “We really want to highlight all of these things with the reserve and the opportunities that come with it.”

In addition, Tyner said that UWGB hopes to make the Green Bay NERR the most technologically advanced reserve in the country. To this end, the university is working with various companies like Microsoft, Cellcom and Aexonis to integrate technology, such as sensors that can track bird behavior, into the reserve’s research. This could enhance research but also provide incentive for professionals to remain in communities around the bay, according to Tyner.

“We’re really thinking about ways that technology and water intersect and how that’s important for job opportunities to keep people with talent in the region,” she said.

The bay of Green Bay is now marked with a red tag on the map of national NERR sites, indicating that it is officially in the designation procedure. Tyner said the Green Bay site is currently in the third year of the process and estimated that it will be officially designated by the end of 2024.

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Double murder suspect found guilty
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EagleHerald Editor

MARINETTE—It took 45 years and 18 days, but the families and friends of David Schuldes and Ellen Matheys believe some level of justice has finally been served.

Schuldes, 25, and Matheys, 24, both of Green Bay, were shot and killed on July 9, 1976, at the McClintock Park campground in the Town of Silver Cliff. Matheys was raped before she was killed. The couple was engaged with a September 1976 wedding planned.

A jury—eight women and four men—found Raymand Vannieuwenhoven, 84, Lakewood, guilty of two counts of first-degree murder Tuesday in Marinette County Circuit Court Branch 2. They deliberated for about two hours. A charge of sexual assault was earlier dismissed because the statute of limitations has elapsed. There is no statute of limitations for the two first-degree murder charges.

The defendant, dressed in blue jeans and a striped button-down shirt, sat stoic in his wheelchair as Judge Jim Morrison read the guilty verdicts.

Per the judge’s orders, the victims’ families were quiet when the verdicts were read. After the jury was dismissed and the trial ended, the family members exchanged firm hugs and joyful tears with attorneys, law enforcement personnel and one another.

“We got justice. We’re very relieved and very thankful to all of the dedicated people that worked on this case for the last 45 years,” said Linda Baumgartner, a childhood friend of Matheys who was to be the maid of honor in her wedding.

Baumgartner, of Green Bay, said she was overwhelmed with emotion by the verdict. “I’m just shaking, just shaking,” she said, adding that in her mind there was no doubt Vannieuwenhoven committed the crimes regardless of the outcome. “There was a long time when I didn’t think this day would come, but I’m sure glad it did. I’m sure glad they (investigators) never gave up.”

Schuldes’ younger sister, Jo-Ann Mikulsky of Green Bay, described her feelings. “Obviously I’m relieved,” she said, “overwhelmed and sad for all three families involved.”

Mikulsky said while the verdict gives her personal closure, it does not equate to total justice.

“He took 45 years away from them, when they were just on the threshold of starting their lives (together),” she said. “And 43 of those 45 years he spent going about his business with the freedom to live his life. So is there any amount of equal justice here? No. But we are very happy.”

Mikulsky, who said she felt her brother “here with me,” admitted she had given up on this case quite a few years ago.

The Marinette County Sheriff’s Office, led by Det. Todd Baldwin, Sheriff Jerry Sauve and many others, didn’t give up and they refused to label the matter a cold case.

“It took a lot of patience, persistence, but all-in-all we just waited long enough to get the right kind of technology to find this guy,” Baldwin said. “He never came up in any of our reports before. Nobody’s ever talked to him before. I’m elated that this individual is going to pay for what he did.”

Vannieuwenhoven was arrested in March 2019, shortly after his DNA matched that of evidence (semen) found on the jean shorts of Matheys and preserved since 1976. In 2018, the sheriff’s office began working with Parabon Nanolabs of Virginia, which had developed new technology to use genealogy when testing DNA. That genetic testing narrowed the evidence profile to a Vannieuwenhoven family in Green Bay. Detectives eliminated matches one-by-one until Raymand Vannieuwenhoven’s DNA was a perfect match.

“It’s highly doubtful that if we didn’t go with the technology that we went with that he was ever going to be brought to justice,” Baldwin said.

A DNA advanced analyst testified Monday that the odds were extremely great that the defendant’s DNA was a match to the evidence profile. Rebecca Bohr of the Wisconsin State Crime Lab said there was a one in 18 sextillion chance (that’s an 18 followed by 21 zeroes) that it could be anyone else’s DNA.

Baldwin said he felt confident before and during the trial. “It’s hard to refute this evidence,” he said. “It’s definitely him. He was definitely there and unfortunately these two young people at the time lost their lives.”

The detective praised the work of the attorneys, as well as everyone in the sheriff’s office who worked on this case from 1976 to today.

“A lot of people put a lot of time and effort into this,” he said. “It’s kind of been our white whale in Marinette County for a long time. It’s kind of nice to put him to sleep.”

Marinette County District Attorney DeShea Morrow said her biggest take from the verdict was relief for the victims’ families.

“I know what they’ve gone through for 45 years,” she said. “Just having this horrible thing happen to their family and not knowing and then just living through the last two years with this—just immense relief and then gratitude for all the people that have worked on this case over the years.”

Morrow said the prosecution was confident in its case, especially because of the DNA evidence. She said the number of tests done by the Crime Lab ensured they had the killer.

“With the evolution of DNA technology, there have been more cases like this that have been able to be brought to trial and verdicts received,” she explained, adding that the DNA had to be authenticated and validated with strong evidence to show that it is reliable.

The state had the assistance of two special prosecutors in the case—Mark Williams and Norman Gahn.

Williams heaped praise on Morrow and others.

“She was tenacious, she wouldn’t give up on this case,” he said. “She is a very, very talented district attorney and I think the people of Marinette (County) are lucky to have her. I also commend the sheriff’s department—what a fantastic job they did. They never gave up and they did something a lot sheriff’s departments wouldn’t do and that’s take the extra step with the genealogy.

“So it was a pleasure and a privilege to work on this case and justice has finally been done.”

Lee Schuchart and Travis Crowell led the defense team. Schuchart said because sentencing and possibly post-conviction motions are still in play he could not comment on the verdict.

The sentencing is scheduled for Aug. 26 at 1 p.m.


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Lacombe continues to show passion as Chief of Police
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EagleHerald Staff Writer

MARINETTE—People who know City of Marinette Chief of Police Jon “Nick” Lacombe seem to gravitate toward a similar set of adjectives to describe his character: professional, hard-working, passionate, dedicated. According to colleagues of his, Lacombe has shown these qualities time and again during his decades-long commitment to serving the Marinette community through law enforcement.

Lacombe said he was first introduced to law enforcement as a potential career when he was about 15. At this time, he became acquainted with some local police officers who frequented his parents’ business in Marinette.

Sergeant Randy Miller was one of these officers. He used to bring his kids to the Lacombe family pumpkin patch and talk with Lacombe, who showed a genuine interest in leveraging law enforcement to do good in the community.

Miller brought Lacombe on ride-alongs through the Explorer Program and remembered him having an endless curiosity and desire to learn about any subject on law enforcement that was put before him. He was also enthusiastic about interacting with community members.

“I liked the part where you get to deal with people and it’s always different,” he said. “I’ve been in law enforcement for 21 years, but I can tell you right now, I’ve never had the same day.”

Lacombe got his first job at the Coleman Police Department when he was 19. He was the department’s youngest officer at the time, according to Coleman Chief of Police Ida Soletske.

“He couldn’t even buy his own bullets,” Soletske said, laughing as she remembered the young Lacombe.

She also mentioned his sense of humor, recounting a time when Lacombe told a dispatcher that he had to be home by midnight because his mother told him so.

“And the dispatcher believed him!” she said.

Lacombe hasn’t lost his penchant for humor over the years; Communications Director of the Marinette County Dispatch/911 center Kirsten Burmeister, who has known Lacombe since before he worked at the Coleman Police Department, said that she never quite knows when Lacombe is kidding.

“He’s smart and he’s witted,” she said.

Sheriff Jerry Sauve also mentioned Lacombe’s ability to use his famous sense of humor to ease tense situations.

“You can always count on him in his own way to bring a little humor,” he said. “He’s got a good gift of gab, he’s good with a one-liner.”

Soletske and Lieutenant Barry Degnitz, who worked alongside Lacombe when he was starting out at Coleman and later at the Marinette Police Department, said Lacombe’s commitment to law enforcement and concern for the safety and welfare of his community were already evident at this early stage in his career.

When Lacombe was 21, he moved to the Marinette Police Department. There, he worked primarily as a narcotics officer and member of the Northeast Tri-County Drug Enforcement Group. He was promoted to Detective Sergeant then Detective Lieutenant before becoming Chief of Police this past May.

Lacombe’s colleagues point to his passion for the job as one of the reasons he has been successful in his career.

“I know him to be very passionate and committed to what he’s doing,” Mayor Steve Genisot said. “I think he’s been great for the department.”

Former Chief of Police John Mabry, who mentored Lacombe at the Marinette Department of Police since Lacombe began working there, said that Lacombe seemed to be born for a career in law enforcement.

“He just seemed like a natural, and that started with his ability to communicate with anyone and immediately put them at ease,” he said. “He always seemed to maintain a level head and know the right thing to do.”

In addition to demonstrating a natural talent for handling the various aspects of law enforcement, Lacombe has maintained his passion for his work throughout his career.

“It’s really an enjoyable job, and I surrounded myself directly with people that succeeded in the past,” he said. “I wanted to learn from them and get better.”

Lacombe said that one of his goals as Chief of Police is to continue fostering community relations through various outreach and education programs.

“It’s good for us to get a chance to talk with the community and let them know, here’s what we did and here’s why we do it,” he said. “Having a good relationship with the community is very important and we have a lot of support from this community here. We’re very fortunate in that it doesn’t go unnoticed, and wherever we can give back, whether it’s through education or just being there for things, we’re going to do it.”

Mabry and others said they believe the city made a good decision in choosing Lacombe as Marinette’s new Chief of Police.

“The department and the city are going to be in excellent hands now with Jon in charge along with the command staff he’s assembled,” Mabry said. “He has always been one of the best cops I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with, and I have no doubt that’s going to translate into his performance as Chief of Police.”