The Green Bay Northwoods Killings — Ch 11
Chapter Eleven: Three Sexual Assaults and a Surprising Find
An area where this investigation could use some work is in verifying Ray Vanniewenhoven’s whereabouts from 1957 to 2019. I have had very little luck finding information that could set a date on where Ray lived at any given time, what his dates of military service were, etc… We know Ray was raised in the Suamico/Green Bay area, and later in life, moved to Lakewood, Wisconsin (in 1996) with his wife Rita, who died in 2011 and left Ray a widower. We’ll circle back to that.
There are several strange sexual assaults, in March, 1977, that may or may not belong as part of this story.
Unnamed De Pere Woman
The authorities investigated the rape of a De Pere, Wisconsin woman in her home on March 14th, 1977, eight months after the murder of David and Ellen. The Press-Gazette reported:
A 27-year-old East Side woman was raped and robbed Monday, at gunpoint. Her assailant entered her home after showing her a gold badge. She told police that the man claimed to be a Green Bay police officer investigating a hit-and-run accident.
Once in her house, the man robbed her and raped her.
De Pere, Wisconsin, is south of Green Bay and not part of the Northwoods area where Ellen and David were murdered, and the means of assault seems very different than the manner in which Ellen Matheys was attacked.
However, at the time, Lieutenant Donald Halley of the Marinette County Sheriff's Department told the Press-Gazette he believed the description of the rapist was similar to the description of David and Ellen’s killer.
Days later, the was a similar attack in Appleton. A man matching the suspect’s description robbed two women with a similar ruse.
Olive Cunningham and Vera Zimmer
On the 16th of March, Olive L. Cunningham answered a knock on her door at 320 East Glendale Avenue in Appleton.
The Appleton Post-Review reported:
[Cunningham] told police the suspect came to her door, showed her a shield-type badge and said he was a policeman investigating a hit-and-run accident complaint. She said he held the badge at such an angle that she couldn't really read it, but she admitted the man to the house. He asked her questions about the family's cars, she said, and took some notes in a notebook. He then drew a small automatic weapon and told her to lie on the floor. He bound her ankles and wrists with adhesive tape. The man asked her where the money was kept.
Whatever the suspect’s plans, they were about to be interrupted.
A friend, Vera Zimmer, came to the door and rang the bell. When no one answered, she knocked and the robber opened the door, pointed his gun, and told her to get inside. He took $15 from Zimmer's purse, bound her with adhesive tape and had her lie on the floor beside Cunningham.
The man got away with about forty-some bucks but left other valuables behind, leading investigators to wonder whether robbery was really his motive. If his motive had been rape, Vera Zimmer’s arrival may have somehow spoiled the experience for him and he left with only a few dollars.
An eyewitness also reported seeing an older model blue car cruising the neighborhood that morning. I wonder if it was a blue Plymouth or Dodge sedan, like the one seen at McClintock Park on the day David and Ellen were murdered?
There was also a good physical description of the perpetrator.
The suspect is described as a white male about 30 years old, with a clean-cut appearance, dark hair and a mustache. He was wearing large-lensed glasses, a striped tie, brown slacks and a brown leather jacket. Police are investigating the possibility that the robber could be the same person who robbed and raped a De Pere woman on Tuesday.
I haven’t been able to uncover any further news on whether the De Pere/Appleton rapist was ever caught or identified.
Could it have been Ray?
Talking strictly about the possibility that it could have been Ray, I believe it’s possible. In full disclosure, though, I almost didn’t include these assaults as possible crimes by Ray Vanniewenhoven because they’re so different, and not in the same Marinette and Oconto County region where the murders of Patricia Wisniewski and Cynthia Allen happened.
However, a wisp of information caught my attention. At the end of the story about the assault on Olive Cunningham and Vera Zimmer, the Green Bay Press-Gazette included this little blurb:
A similar incident, involving a man of similar description, took place last Saturday in Marinette County.
Marinette County. That is in the stomping ground of Ray Vannieuwenhoven, and I had previously not noticed that little nugget of information. Prior to the attack on the unnamed De Pere woman, and before a man attacked Olive Cunningham and Vera Zimmer in Appleton, someone attacked a woman in Marinette County with a similar ruse.
A Third Incident in Marinette County
I originally intended to write about the De Pere and Appleton rapes in a tentative fashion with regard to Ray as a possible perpetrator, but I had not previously encountered any reporting of a third incident, in Marinette County. That warrants more investigation.
Based on the reporting that the Marinette County event took place “last Saturday,” I began to search for any stories about the mysterious attack.
In a stroke of very bad luck, “last Saturday” was March 12th, 1977. That same day, headlines trumpeted the now-infamous rape case against director Roman Polanski, which would dog him for decades.
As a result, the search results for any research I attempted about this mysterious rape case in Marinette County were absolutely clogged with news about Roman Polanski. There are no reports that I can find about the reported Badgeman case from Marinette County. The story appears to be lost, other than that brief mention from the Press-Gazette.
Nevertheless, a media report that there was an attack in Marinette County, similar to the De Pere and Appleton rapes, enflames my curiosity.
That’s right in Ray’s home turf.
Let’s look at what we have.
1971: Diane Cartier Murdered in Green Bay. Leland Jarvey convicted, 2000.
1972: Mary Kay Zenz Murdered in Green Bay. Randy Schimmel convicted, 1979.
1972: Cynthia Allen murdered near Grover. Unsolved. Ray Vannieuwenhoven possible perpetrator.
1975: Mrs. Pat Wisniewski Murdered near Amberg. Unsolved. Ray Vannieuwenhoven possible perpetrator.
1976: David Schuldes and Ellen Matheys murdered. Ray Vannieuwenhoven convicted, 2021.
March 12, 1977 (approx): Rape by Badgeman in Marinette County. Unsolved.
March 14, 1977: De Pere woman raped by Badgeman in her home. Unsolved.
March 16, 1977: Olive Cunningham and Vera Zimmer raped by Badgeman in Appleton. Unsolved.
The final three entries on that list could possibly be attributed to Ray Vannieuwenhoven but I am unconvinced at this point. Nevertheless, we’re amassing quite a list, and we’re not close to being done.
In the next chapter, we’ll talk about a double murder that fits in the 90-mile circle where Ray lived and so many of these rapes and murders took place.
Troy Larson is a harbinger of things that go bump in the night; a true crime writer, researcher, and digital content producer with hundreds of podcast and broadcast credits to his name. Subscribe to the Until Night Falls Newsletter on Substack. Reach out: firstname.lastname@example.org
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