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‘Do not know what happened to her:’ Life in prison for John Bayerl in 1979 murder of wife

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John Bayerl

WAUKESHA COUNTY -- John Bayerl, 79, on Friday, Aug. 30 was sentenced to life in prison in the 1979 murder of his wife, Dona Bayerl. At his sentencing hearing, Bayerl maintained his innocence -- refusing to tell his daughters where their mother’s body is.

"It's still a mystery as to where my wife is now," said Bayerl.

Bayerl was found guilty by a jury in June -- convicted of first degree murder in the cold case. The verdict was unanimous, after more than five hours of deliberations.

Dona Bayerl, 38, disappeared from her Muskego home in 1979 and was never found. John Bayerl was arrested in February at his home in Fort Myers, Florida.

During his sentencing hearing, overseen by Judge Brad Schimel, former attorney general of Wisconsin, Bayerl's daughters, 4 and 7 at the time of their mother's disappearance, asked their father for answers.

John Bayerl

John Bayerl

Jackie Kort

Jackie Kort

"It's time for you to confess and tell the additional information you've been hiding," said Jackie Kort, daughter.

"You were the only person with the motive, means, history," said Schimel.

Bayerl showed no emotion in court, keeping his eyes focused on the table in front of him.

"I do not know what happened to her," said Bayerl. "I could say I killed her and put her in Lake Michigan, but I didn't."

His daughters called their father spending the rest of his life behind bars little comfort when they have spent their lives without a mom.

"Justice has been served for my mom, but it does not give us answers or closure," said Kort.

Jodie Jarvis

Jodie Jarvis

"Although I didn't get the answers I was hoping for, I hope this will encourage other families to not give up on their cases," said Jodie Jarvis, daughter.

Bayerl was ordered to have no further contact with his daughters, and he was ordered to pay more than $7,000 in restitution.

Bayerl also remained stoic when the guilty verdict was read aloud in June. In fact, he never showed emotion during the trial, with the evidence far from clean-cut. Because Dona Bayerl's body was never found, and DNA testing wasn't available back then, the prosecution relied on circumstantial evidence. The district attorney argued John Bayerl had a history of being abusive and kept changing his story about the night Dona Bayerl disappeared. The defense argued that wasn't enough to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that John Bayerl killed his wife.

In the end, a detective with the Muskego Police Department who took over the case in 2012 said time and a fresh set of eyes were key to finally getting justice for Dona Bayerl.

"We worked on this case as a matter of over 40 years,"  said Stephen Westphal, detective. "You can't look at it the same as other people. You have to change your thinking. You have to look at it from a standpoint of eliminating other plausible, commonsense realities, and I believe we did that here today."

"Obviously, there's still questions that the family has answers to," said Sue Opper, Waukesha County district attorney. "We weren't able to provide those answers to the course of the trial, and so it's a bittersweet thing, but we're very, very pleased that after all these years, he's been held accountable."

Westphal said the search would continue for Dona Bayerl's body -- and they would continue to seek answers as to what happened on May 6, 1979.

John Bayerl, Dona Bayerl

John Bayerl, Dona Bayerl

John Bayerl declined to take the stand, and the defense declined to present any of its own evidence. The final witnesses for the prosecution focused on the forensic evidence and John Bayerl's statements to law enforcement.

In the days and weeks following the disappearance of Dona Bayerl, members of the Muskego Police Department recalled John Bayerl's behavior when he learned blood spatter was discovered in the couple's garage.

Dona Bayerl and children

"He had a white T-shirt on, and the area of his heart started moving when we told him about the blood stains," said John Johnson, former lieutenant.

While DNA testing wasn't available four decades ago, possible blood recovered on a bottle from the Bayerl home was re-tested in 2018, and matched Dona Bayerl's DNA profile.

"Is there any way to confirm that the DNA profile is a blood DNA profile?" asked the defense.

"There's no way to confirm that," said Ronald Witucki with the Milwaukee Crime Lab.

John Bayerl maintained over the years Dona Bayerl stormed out of the house the night she went missing after they got into an argument. She was never found, but a current Muskego detective said the mother of two was presumed dead based on her missing person's report in the national law enforcement database NCIC.

"In the 40 years Dona Mae has been listed in NCIC, has there been any hits in NCIC?" asked the district attorney.

"No," said Detective Stephen Westphal.

Westphal testified that he re-interviewed John Bayerl in 2018.

"He also thinks she's dead?" asked the district attorney.

"Yes," said Westphal.

Dona Bayerl and children

Westphal said the 79-year-old who has difficulty hearing slammed his fist while they talked about his past relationships with women.

"Do you think John Bayerl killed Dona Bayerl?" asked the district attorney.

"Yes," said Westphal.

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