Report cites investigators' missteps in search for killer of Wisconsin teen found dead in '90

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FOND DU LAC, Wisconsin — Investigators' missteps led to delays in charging anyone in the 1990 disappearance and killing of an 18-year-old Wisconsin woman, according to a report published Sunday.

Citing court records and search warrants, a review by the Gannett Wisconsin Media Investigative Team found the investigation into the killing of Berit Beck of Sturtevant was "plagued by long lapses, missteps and flawed theories."

Beck was traveling from her southern Wisconsin home to Appleton for a computer training seminar when she disappeared. Her van was found a few days later in a Fond du Lac parking lot, but her body wasn't found until more than a month later in a ditch in the Fond du Lac County Town of Waupun. An autopsy showed she had probably been strangled.

Last month, Kenosha truck driver Dennis Brantner, 61, was charged with first-degree murder in Beck's death and is being held in jail on a $1 million cash bond. Brantner's defense attorney says Brantner is innocent.

Brantner was targeted as a suspect in February 2014 after a State Crime Lab analyst matched previously unidentified fingerprints from Beck's van to him. Fond du Lac County Sheriff Mick Fink said the evidence in police possession placed Brantner in the vehicle.

But Gannett Wisconsin Media (http://fondul.ac/1HIs4OK ) reports the evidence was not new; it had been recovered from Beck's van and submitted to the State Crime Lab in 1990. Last year, after investigators asked the Crime Lab to retest evidence, a fingerprint match with Brantner was made, officials said.

Investigators in the case also earlier focused on another man who was never prosecuted, Gannett Wisconsin Media reported. That man, a car thief and convicted bank robber, emerged as the top suspect for sheriff's investigators several months into the investigation.

Sheriff's investigators also took the position that the Beck family's conversion van — not the 18-year-old woman — was the intended target of the crime.

The fact that some electronics equipment had turned up missing from inside the van became the primary focus of solving the murder case, Gannett Wisconsin Media reported. "A radar detector and a CB radio were also missing from the van as indicated by the family of Berit Beck," a 1991 search warrant said.

Those particular brands of CBs and radar detectors were common for over-the-road truck drivers around 1990, but that distinction would not rise to the forefront of the Beck murder case until 2014. By then, a new team of sheriff's investigators had been put on the case and was digging for clues, Gannett Wisconsin Media said.

Sheriff Fink, who was one of the original investigators in the Beck case, told reporters on the day of Brantner's initial court appearance that the case "has haunted guys for their whole careers." The sheriff was out of the office Sunday and did not immediately reply to a voice message left on his secretary's phone.


Information from: The Reporter Media, http://www.fdlreporter.com

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