Ray Vannieuwenhoven was his next-door neighbor — a helpful, 82-year-old handyman with a gravelly voice and a loud, distinctive laugh.
The widower and father of five grown children had lived quietly for two decades among the 800 residents of Lakewood, a northern Wisconsin town.
Now authorities were saying he was a killer. They had used genetic genealogy to crack a cold case that stretched back well into the 20th century — a double murder 25 miles (40 kilometers) southwest of Lakewood.
For nearly 43 years, Vannieuwenoven had lived in plain sight, yet outside detectives’ radar.
David Schuldes and Ellen Matheys, engaged to be married, set up their campsite at a secluded spot in McClintock Park on Friday afternoon, July 9, 1976.
It appeared they were alone.
Two shots from a .30-caliber rifle shattered the quiet. One bullet struck Schuldes’ neck from 50 feet (15 meters) away, killing him instantly. The other bullet lodged in the wall of the bathroom Matheys was using while Schuldes waited outside.
Matheys ran, with the killer in pursuit, investigators say. He caught and raped her, then shot her twice in the chest. Her body was found 200 yards (182 meters) from where Schuldes lay.
Investigators were stumped: They didn’t know why the couple was targeted, the killer took no money, and leads were scant.
DNA profiling in the ’90s brought new hope, but detectives got no matches when they submitted the semen from Matheys’ shorts to the FBI’s national database.
Then last year, detectives contacted Virginia-based Parabon NanoLabs, a DNA technology company whose work with genetic genealogy analysis has helped police identify 55 suspects in cold cases nationwide since May 2018, according to the company. Parabon uploads DNA from crime scenes to GEDmatch, a free, public genealogy database with about 1.2 million profiles, all voluntarily submitted by people who’ve used consumer genealogy sites.
California law enforcement used GEDmatch to capture the Golden State Killer last year by finding distant relatives and reverse-engineering his family tree.
Using that technique, Parabon’s experts concluded in December that Vannieuwenhoven’s parents had lived in the Green Bay area. Now detectives needed DNA samples from Vannieuwenhoven and his three brothers. Two were ruled out with DNA samples collected from one brother’s trash and another’s used coffee cup.
On March 6, two sheriff’s deputies knocked on Vannieuwenhoven’s door, asking him to fill out a brief survey on area-policing. They told him to put the survey in an envelope and seal it with his tongue.
Detectives didn’t need to visit the fourth brother. Eight days later, Vannieuwenhoven was in custody.