The Green Bay Northwoods Killings — Ch 7
Chapter Seven: The Trial of Ray Vannieuwenhoven
Ray Vannieuwenhoven’s arrest came with a lot of shock from his neighbors. One neighbor, Wayne Sankey, said:
“And then I told the wife, and she couldn’t believe it. ‘There’s no way,’ she said. ‘Ray down the road?’”
There were plenty of the typical “Oh, he’s such a friendly grandpa”-type reports, but there were also those who saw a more menacing side of Ray. From the Sheboygan Press:
“I know this much — when he was drinking he was one son of a bitch. You didn’t want to be anywhere near him when he was drinking. Not just me, a lot of people,” said Fred Mason, 66, who works at the town dump where Vannieuwenhoven was seen frequently, rummaging through scrap piles for small engine parts.
Other neighbors reported hearing rumors about Ray’s drinking and mean behavior, but claimed they never saw it themselves.
Ray Vannieuwenhoven’s defense put up a savage fight at trial. They questioned everything.
Defense co-counsel Lee Schuchart vigorously and repeatedly questioned the constitutionality of the forensic genealogy evidence. They challenged the way it was collected, as reported by the Stevens Point Journal:
Detectives failed to get a search warrant but instead resorted to trickery, Schuchart said.
“I deﬁnitely think there could be grounds to challenge the DNA collected, not just because of the deceit but because it happened in the client’s house,” Schuchart said. “I know the police are allowed leeway to some extent, but in a home, which is more constitutionally protected …. I have never seen a case where ... trickery and deceit were used to obtain evidence from within a home.”
Vannieuwenhoven’s advanced age and susceptibility to deceit could also be a factor, Schuchart said.
The defense tried to blame Mervin Walker, a county parks worker, and Robert Lukesh, another witness. However, according to Wisconsin state law, attorneys have to ask permission of the court before they’re allowed to “blame someone else” for a crime in defense of their own client.
The judge found no credible evidence that would justify the implication of Walker or Lukesh in the murders of Ellen and David and rejected the requests.
The trial revealed there were a number of vehicles at the scene and it was the source of some confusion. Patrick Fields of Montello, Wisconsin, who was only 11 years old at the time of the murders, testified to seeing David’s Purple Gremlin at the park that day, and also an unidentified gray Plymouth parked along the shoulder of the road. Swanson and Huempfner saw the same car, but thought it was dark blue with Michigan plates.
Ray’s defense attorney made a big deal out of the contradictory accounts, pointing out that Ray had never lived in Michigan and nobody could show how he would have had access to a car with Michigan plates.
Reality check. Ray Vannieuwenhoven had family who lived over the Michigan state line, and he was a grease monkey. Fred Mason, the neighbor who said Ray was a mean drunk, worked at the town dump and saw Ray rummaging through the parts pile regularly. It’s plausible to believe Ray had access to a number of vehicles.
Two other vehicles were reported in the area at the time of the shootings, too — a white pickup truck and a blue station wagon, and the defense welcomed confusion and implied there were more leads that hadn't been investigated thoroughly enough.
The defense questioned the eyewitness descriptions of the shooter. Ray was almost 10 years older than the shooter described by witnesses, and he claimed, as a former military man, that he never would have worn long hair or a mustache.
The defense pointed out the prosecution’s inability to locate a murder weapon or trace it to Ray, and the prosecution just as quickly countered that he had 43 years to get rid of it. Could it have been the weapon from Ray’s brother’s garage, the rifle reported missing ten months after the murders of David and Ellen?
It was a hell of a fight from the defense but it was all for naught. The jury deliberated for two hours and found Ray Vannieuwenhoven guilty of two counts of first degree murder.
At sentencing in 2021, the killer got two life terms, one each for David Schuldes and Ellen Matheys.
On February 10th, 2022, Ray celebrated his 85th birthday while incarcerated at Oshkosh Correctional Institution, Unit 617. Just a few months later, in June of 2022, Ray Vannieuwenhoven died of undisclosed causes.
Is there more to this story?
It has long been considered gospel that serial rapists and killers don’t just stop. They keep going until they’re caught or they’re dead. Chief Deputy Robert Kohlman of the Marinette County Sheriff's Department said as much in the pursuit of Ray Vannieuwenhoven. They did not believe the rapist and murderer of Ellen Matheys would stop on his own.
Of course, the idea that a serial killer won’t stop killing on their own is no longer a belief as ironclad as it once was. Dennis Rader, the BTK Killer, for example, did quit killing for a decade, for the same reason you or I would quit our dart league or stop going to the fitness club — life got in the way.
However, when you consider Raymand “Lawrence” Vannieuwenhoven first showed up in the news for a violent attack on some girls in 1957, murdered a couple of innocent young people in 1976, and wasn’t caught until 2019, it really makes you wonder — what was he doing the rest of that time?
Could Ray Vannieuwenhoven have been responsible for other crimes?
I researched unsolved rapes and homicides in both Green Bay and the Wisconsin northwoods in the 1970s, and I found plenty of evidence which warrants a closer look.
In the next chapter, we’ll begin going through these cases one-by-one. If you’ve been interested by what you’ve read so far, I assure you, this is the best part of the tale yet.
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