FOND DU LAC (WITI) -- 61-year-old Dennis Brantner, charged in connection with the 1990 murder of 18-year-old Berit Beck will stand trial in the case.
A preliminary hearing was held in a Fond du Lac County courtroom on Wednesday, April 29th for Brantner.
Brantner was taken into custody on March 27th on an arrest warrant for first degree murder — a year after he was named a suspect in the Beck case. He was arrested at the Kenosha County Courthouse.
Beck left her Sturtevant home headed for Appleton on July 17th, 1990 for a computer training class. She never made it there. Beck’s van was found in a Fond du Lac parking lot two days later. Approximately five-and-a-half weeks later, her body was found in rural Fond du Lac County. Autopsy reports concluded that strangulation was likely the cause of death.
For decades, Beck’s family experienced unthinkable pain as police continued to search for her killer.
In April of 2014, there was finally a lead. The Fond du Lac County Sheriff’s Office announced new evidence revealing Brantner was in the van Beck was driving when she disappeared.
According to the criminal complaint, Branter's fingerprints were on a number of items officials found in Beck’s van — including a Burger King cup and a bleach kit. Officials say Beck bought the kit at Walgreens the day she disappeared. A total of nine of Brantner's fingerprints were found either in the van or on items in the van.
Nathan LaMotte with the Fond du Lac County Sheriff's Department was one of the detectives who first interviewed Brantner when new fingerprint evidence was introduced.
"Shortly after I made the comment of investigating a missing girl, which again, I don't even believe I finished, shortly thereafter, he made a comment of 'what would I do that for anyways?'" LaMotte said.
During his preliminary hearing, the defense pointed out that there were still at least six fingerprints that haven't been matched to Brantner.
"Are there are any witnesses that place Mr. Brantner in Fond Du Lac on July 17th, 18th or 19th of 1990? No," Brantner's attorney Craig Powell said.
Brantner's co-workers told authorities they thought it was strange that he kept pictures of teenagers on his tool box. One of those pictures was of Berit Beck.
On March 28, 2014, detectives interviewed Brantner in Kenosha. During the interview, Brantner denied having been in Fond du Lac at the time Beck disappeared and denied having ever seen the van Beck was driving or having been inside the van. When detectives asked Brantner if he killed Beck he first responded by saying "No, I did not. I don't know." He then stated "Okay, I did not. I did not kill her."
Later during the interview, detectives confronted Brantner about having been in the van Beck was driving and now having his DNA and Brantner stated, "I don't know how I got in the van." The complaint indicates that Brantner was, at times, emotional and would cry.
When asked if he helped dispose of Beck's body in Waupun, Brantner told investigators that he didn't remember, stating if "I did, I did," and "If I did, I don't remember."
"If you were going to ask me did I throw my arms up in the air and say 'yeah, we got our guy?' No. And that's from the bottom of my heart. I don't feel anything except that this was a tragedy. I have watched detectives struggle through the year with this. Because it is a bold stranger abduction," Fond du Lac County Sheriff Mylan Fink Jr. said.
A possible motive for the murder of Beck or even how Brantner may have met her remain a mystery.
"What happened after 11:03, after the Walgreens, I don't know," Sheriff Fink said.
The criminal complaint issued against Brantner details his trouble with women.
In 1974, he was arrested for stealing a woman's clothes in a West Allis motel. He told authorities he thought he "needed a psychiatrist."
In 1989, he was arrested for stalking his ex-wife.
In 1994, he was arrested again for holding his second wife at knifepoint. Authorities believed then, if he was released, they would "have a homicide on their hands."
If convicted in the murder of Berit Beck, Brantner could face life in prison.
On Wednesday, Brantner's attorney attempted to get the judge to dismiss the charge of first-degree murder. But the judge denied that request.
"Mr. Brantner's fingerprints are in the van! He is the only person directly linked to the van," Assistant District Attorney Dennis Krueger said during Brantner's preliminary hearing.
The next step is to file for an arraignment hearing for Brantner within 30 days.
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