A 78-year-old man has been convicted of killing his wife who disappeared without a trace four decades ago.
John Bayerl was found guilty of the 1979 cold case murder on Wednesday in Muskego, Wisconsin. He faces life in prison without parole when he is sentenced in August.
His then-38-year-old wife Dona Bayerl had disappeared on May 6, 1979, and her body was never recovered. She was officially declared dead seven years after her disappearance in 1986.
For years John Bayerl, of Fort Myers, Florida, stuck to his story that Dona stormed out of the family’s home in Muskego after their turbulent marriage reached breaking point.
The father-of-two claimed their union had been suffering for ‘some time’, and after a dispute about an unfixed television set, Dona walked out of the front door and drove off.
John Bayerl, 78, was convicted in the 1979 murder of his wife Dona Bayerl on Wednesday in Muskego, Wisconsin. The defendant, who is hard of hearing, is seen inside the courtroom
For years John Bayerl stuck to his story that Dona stormed out of the family’s home in Muskego after their turbulent marriage reached breaking point. The couple are pictured in the 1970s
The testimony portion of Bayerl’s trial concluded Tuesday after the defendant declined to take the stand and the defense waived the opportunity to present its own evidence.
The prosecution focused its case on the forensic evidence and Bayerl’s statements to law enforcement after Dona’s disappearance.
The testimony portion of Bayerl’s trial concluded Tuesday after the defendant (above in his mugshot) declined to testify
Members of the Muskego Police Department took the stand and testified on the husband’s behavior in the early days and weeks of the search, including when they informed him about blood stain’s found in the couple’s garage.
‘He had a white T-shirt on, and the area of his heart started moving when we told him about the blood stains,’ John Johnson, former lieutenant, said in court.
It wasn’t until 2018 that blood found at the home could be tested using improved DNA technology. The profile matched Dona.
Detective Stephen Westphal testified about interviewing Bayerl last year.
He said the 78-year-old slammed his fist when asked about his past relationships with women.
‘Do you think John Bayerl killed Dona Bayerl?’ the district attorney asked Westphal.
‘Yes,’ the witness replied.
After the jury handed down its verdict following four hours of deliberation, Westphal told reporters: ‘This isn’t a day of winning and losing. We’re looking for closure. We’re still looking for closure.
‘We’re not going to quit. We’re going to keep looking (for Dona Bayerl’s body). This is one step in the road.’
Bayerl faces life in prison without parole when he is sentenced in August
Muskego authorities have vowed continue searching for Dona’s remains and called her husband’s conviction ‘one step in the road’. The mother-of-two is seen in a photo from 1969
John said the couple’s marriage had been suffering for ‘some time’ and the pair would regularly argue (pictured left to right: John, Jackie, Dona, Jodie, two years before Dona disappeared)
The case reopened decades after Dona’s disappearance was based largely on suspicious statements Bayerl had made to detectives over the years, according to a criminal complaint.
Bayerl claimed that hours after his wife left in a fit of rage, he heard the front door slam, assumed she had returned and went back to sleep.
When the family awoke the next morning, their car had been returned but Dona was nowhere in sight. She was never seen or heard from again.
‘The police would come I would just tell them basically what I was told from my dad I think, which was that I went to bed, he heard some noises like a door slam or something like that and when I woke up she wasn’t there,’ said the couple’s eldest daughter, Jodie Jarvis, 46, to WTMJ-TV in 2017.
‘Just imagine if you didn’t know where your mother was. It’s not a nice way to grow up.’
At the time of their initial investigation, Muskego Police were suspicious of the idea that Dona would disappear into the night of her own free will.
Her sister, Joan Bourgeois, told officers in a 1979 interview that Dona wouldn’t even go into the backyard of her home to let the dogs out at night, let alone venture out on her own.
She also told authorities that Dona wouldn’t leave her children’s sides under ‘any circumstances’.
As the police continued with their investigation, Bourgeois moved into the Bayerl family home to help John with the girls.
In a separate interview she remarked how John ‘didn’t seem concerned’ about his missing wife, and that he’d been acting suspiciously on the day of her disappearance, washing everything in the home, from the rugs to the quilts.
She added that John would never do the laundry. When Dona hemorrhaged during her pregnancy with second daughter Jackie, it was Bourgeois who had to come round to do the washing.
John claimed Dona had stormed out of their Finnamore Lane home (pictured) in Muskego, on May 6, 1979. He said he heard what he thought was Dona slamming doors at 11 pm that night
Following her recollection, Muskego PD conducted a second search of the Bayerl family home on May 16, 1979, and this time found blood splatters in the garage and in the basement.
John told officers the blood in the basement was a result of him cutting his finger on a mower blade a year before.
He offered no explanation for the blood in the garage.
When questioned about the splatter, one officer noted that John’s heart began to beat rapidly, pounding visibly beneath his shirt.
Further interrogation discovered that John had either beaten or pinched Dona at least six times during their marriage, often resulting in bruising.
He also had a secret girlfriend, a local bartender named Diane, whom he visited multiple times a week.
John’s first wife, Agnes Pascavis, described John as a violent man with a wicked temper and detailed one particular assault where he had choked her so severely a bruised hand-print appeared on her neck. They later divorced.
During his arrest in February of this year, John reportedly told officers that Dona ‘wouldn’t have left on her own’.
He also purportedly added he ‘knows in his mind, he is not guilty of anything other than being a bad husband’.
Dona was 38 years old when she disappeared. She was declared dead seven years later in 1986