The Green Bay Northwoods Killings — Ch 8
Chapter Eight: The Murders of Mary Kay Zenz and Diane Cartier
We know Ray Vanniewenhoven killed David Schuldes and Ellen Matheys in 1976. He was tried and convicted of the crime. As I covered in the last chapter, he was in the news for an attack on some young girls as far back as 1957, but he wasn’t finally imprisoned until 2019.
The question is “What else was Ray doing for all that time?”
In the interest of investigating whether Ray could have been responsible for other crimes in the Green Bay and Northwoods areas, I began by broadening the date range for my research on the hunch that, if Ray murdered David and Ellen in such callous fashion in 1976, it might not have been the first (only) time he killed someone.
I went back as far as 1970, and there were immediately two cases that stood out in the press coverage of the day. After a little more reading, I discovered both cases appeared to be considered “resolved,” but I wanted to learn a little more anyway, so I kept looking. This is what I discovered.
Mary Kay Zenz and Diane Cartier
Mary Kay Zenz was murdered while at work, January 3rd, 1972 at Pizza Pize, 805 North Irwin Avenue in Green Bay. She was killed in a short window between the time she served her last customer and when she was found dead of stab wounds at the back of the restaurant.
[Police Chief Elmer] Madson said that Miss Zenz' body was found fully clothed and that initial autopsy reports show that she was not sexually molested. Reports indicate that Miss Zenz reported to work at the Pizza Pize at 6 p.m. and had served food to a number of customers. Police said she was murdered between 7 p.m. and 7:20 p.m. Robbery was not the motive, police said, as the store manager said that all store money has been accounted for. Customers who were iri the store during the time Miss Zenz worked have been located by police and questioned. Madson said the number of purchases on the cash register tapes corresponds with the purchases made by those they have questioned.
Days later, police investigated an eyewitness report of a notable vehicle. According to the Press-Gazette:
A motorist has informed police that he saw a camper truck parked illegally in front of Pizza Pize [...] about 7:15 the night of the murder. The truck was parked facing south on North Irwin Avenue, he told police, and was unoccupied with the headlights turned on. When a customer went into the pizza parlor at 7:20 p.m. and found Miss Zenz stabbed to death in the rear of the building, the truck was no longer parked there, Police Chief Elmer Madson said the motorist, traveling north, noticed the truck "because of a traffic problem it created." [...] The motorist was not able to furnish police with either the color of the truck or its license number.
After additional witnesses offered information, a better description of the truck developed.
Madson said the truck has a bluish-green body with a white camper box. There is no tailgate on the truck body, and the rear of the camper extends the full load bed of the vehicle. Madson said Witnesses also said there are two amber clearance lights on the roof line.
For several years, investigators considered Mary Kay Zenz’ murder to be the work of the same person who killed another Green Bay girl, Diane Cartier, in 1971. In covering the Mary Kay Zenz murder, the press openly speculated about whether the unidentified killer of Diane Cartier could also be Zenz’ killer. The day after the Zenz murder, the Green Bay Press-Gazzette reported:
Madson said that at this time police haven't detected a similarity in the murders of Miss Zenz and 16-year-old Diane Cartier last April, other than that they were both stabbed to death. The killer of Diane Cartier is still at large.
Five days later, on Friday, January 7th, 1972, the paper again speculated about potential links between the two cases.
Detectives continue to investigate a possible link between the Zenz slaying and the April, 1971, murder of Diane Cartier, a 16-year-old Green Bay high school sophomore. Madson said there is nothing to indicate that there is more than mere coincidence between the two cases, but said police want to check all angles. Both girls were young, both were stabbed in the chest with a knife, neither were sexually assaulted. Their fathers are both plumbers.
There were obvious similarities. However, in July 1975, an inmate at the state Reformatory made a shocking confession. Randy Schimmel, an inmate in an unrelated stabbing case, was about to be released when he enrolled in a pre-release alcohol mitigation program. The program administrator, disappointed in Schimmel’s performance, questioned him about his lack of participation. Schimmel surprised everyone by confessing to the murder of Mary Kay Zenz three and a half years earlier.
According to the Press-Gazette, October 10th, 1975:
Schimmel apparently indicated that he had murdered and attempted to rape Miss Zenz to Dennis Sutton, supervisor of the Alcohol Education Treatment Program center in Oshkosh.
In a later story, we got a little more detail on the events in question.
Schimmel said he and his wife were constantly arguing over lack of money and his drinking. On the night of the murder, he said they had argued and he went walking to cool off. He drank a quart of beer in a park before stopping at the Pizza Pize shop. He also said he always carried a knife because some unknown person was following him around all the time.
Schimmel claimed to have no memory of the violent act itself.
Schimmel said he remembered seeing the victim in the store, walking toward her and finding himself at the rear of the store. He could not recall having the knife or actually stabbing her. He said he remembered her standing up with her head tilted forward, her hand over the front of her shirt and saying something religious. "The next thing I knew I was at home," Schimmel said.
In March, 1976, Randy Schimmel was convicted of 1st Degree Murder for killing Mary Kay Zenz.
The jury in the first degree murder trial of Randy Schimmel returned a verdict of guilty late Monday and turned its attention this morning to testimony on the sanity phase of the two-part trial. After hearing closing arguments from Dist. Atty. William Appel and the defense attorney, David Suemnick, the jury of six men and six women deliberated only a hour before deciding the 25-year-old defendant intentionally stabbed Mary K. Zenz to death on Jan. 3, 1972 at the pizza shop where she worked.
Although the case sounded like it had been resolved, it wasn’t. In 1978, the Wisconsin State Supreme Court ordered a new trial for Randy Schimmel. The ruling was based on a then-recent circuit court decision which concluded that preventing a defendant from using sanity testimony in the guilt phase of a trial was unconstitutional. The law in Wisconsin at the time was to allow mental competency questions to be considered only in the sentencing phase.
Nevertheless, after a second trial that focused on mental competency and whether Schimmel’s confession was admissible, Randy W. Schimmel was convicted for Mary Kay Zenz’ murder a second time.
This would be a good place to mention, in the years between Mary Kay Zenz’ murder in 1972 and Schimmel’s second conviction in 1979, it became quite clear that, although he had initially been a suspect, Schimmel could not have killed Diane Cartier in April, 1971. So, even though Mary Kay’s killer was in the custody of law enforcement, it was back to square one on the murder of Diane Cartier, and it would take a much longer time to resolve.
In April of 2000, Leland Jarvey was identified and convicted of Diane Cartier’s murder, about 29 years after the crime. Jarvey had been previously questioned by police about his involvement with Cartier on the day she was last seen, on Green Bay’s west side. Jarvey claimed he gave the girl a ride after meeting her at a bowling alley and dropped her off downtown. DNA testing revealed Jarvey was a match for the semen found on Cartier’s clothing at the crime scene.
At this point, you might also be wondering why I initially thought Ray Vannieuwenhoven was worth investigating for these cases, right?
Neither Diane Cartier or Mary Kay Zenz were murdered by Ray Vannieuwenhoven. Why even check?
Partly, a strange coincidence.
Three and a half blocks away from the site of Mary Kay Zenz’ murder is the home where Ray once lived, 1632 Preble Avenue. It’s just seven-tenths of a mile, or a 2-minute drive. My instinct told me to check it out, and I did, because of something I believe.
Sometimes the reason a case goes cold is because we believe too much in our logic. Sometimes the authorities fail to discover a clue because they believe something is a fact when it isn’t.
We sometimes zero-in on facts that are irrelevant.
The truck seen double-parked outside Pizza Pize? Totally irrelevant. Randy Schimmel went to Pizza Pize on foot when he killed Mary Kay Zenz. But time was lost investigating the truck, because it was assumed the perpetrator used it. Of course, good investigators chase down every lead, but red herrings can be costly.
In an effort to see things with fresh eyes, take a hard look at things not considered, and to educate myself on the situation in Green Bay in the early seventies, I looked into the Cartier and Zenz murders.
I learned there seemed to be a lot of men roaming around who didn’t respect women.
I learned that young girls found themselves under deadly assault more often than you would expect for a town the size of Green Bay, which had a population of about 90,000 people in the early 70s. Nevertheless, it’s clear the authorities got the right offender in both of these cases.
At the time of this writing, Leland Jarvey is incarcerated at the Osh Kosh Correctional Institution, Unit 421. Randy Schimmel does not appear in the Wisconsin Department of Corrections’ inmate locator, and I am unable to find any record of him in the media after his second conviction in 1979.
Both the Zenz and Cartier cases are now considered solved, and neither crime was perpetrated by Ray Vannieuwenhoven.
In the next chapter, we’re gonna talk about a murder that took place just ten months before Ray murdered David and Ellen, and this murder has never been solved.
Could it have been Ray?