Uncle and girlfriend charged in killing of his 20-year-old niece, Missouri sheriff says

Cape Girardeau County Sheriff's Office.
·2 min read

An investigation into a 20-year-old woman’s death has led to murder charges for her uncle and his girlfriend, according to Missouri authorities.

Lawrence Schanda, the woman’s 48-year-old uncle, and Teresa Baumgartner, his 59-year-old girlfriend, were charged with first-degree murder and tampering with evidence in connection with the killing on July 1, according to the Cape Girardeau County Sheriff’s Office.

Jessi Wilfong was initially reported as missing by her mother on May 25. She was last seen on May 20 at her uncle’s home in Millersville, about 100 miles south of St. Louis, the sheriff’s office said in a news release.

The sheriff’s office began investigating her disappearance, saying it “quickly became apparent that foul play was involved.”

The search led investigators to a barn outside Cape Girardeau, near where Schanda and Baumgartner live. Seeing a patch of recently disturbed dirt, they excavated the site. That’s when they found a hole with Wilfong’s buried remains, the June 22 release said.

In the grave, deputies also found “multiple knives, a pair of men’s boots, a carpet remnant and other items,” KFVS reported. An autopsy confirmed that Wilfong had been stabbed, and authorities declared her death a homicide, according to the sheriff’s office.

Investigators reported finding “matching or consistent” items at the grave and Wilfong’s uncle’s home nearby.

The authorities then charged Baumgartner with tampering with evidence on June 22. At the time, they did not name any other suspects.

In their latest update, the sheriff’s office said, “our investigation has led deputies to believe that Schanda and Baumgartner acted together to cause the death of Jessi Wilfong and then took significant steps to conceal her body in an effort to hamper the investigation.”

The Cape Girardeau County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office charged Schanda and Baumgartner with first-degree murder, armed criminal action, and tampering with evidence, the July 1 news release said.

Schanda and Baumgartner are both in custody at the Cape Girardeau County Jail with $5 million bonds, according to jail records.

In an earlier interview with investigators, Schanda told deputies that he had argued with Wilfong the night she disappeared, according to WPSD and WSIL, citing a detailed release about the investigation from the sheriff’s office. The argument apparently stemmed from Schanda “believing Wilfong was providing police information implicating him in illegal drug activities,” the outlets reported.

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