Two men charged in two separate murder cases

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Two men were each charged with second-degree murder in Minneapolis murders that were separated by 25 years, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman announced Thursday.

Jerry Westrom, 52, of Isanti, was charged with second-degree murder in the stabbing death of 35-year-old Jeanie Childs on June 13, 1993 in a south Minneapolis apartment. Richie Vessel, 46, of Minneapolis, was charged with two counts of second-degree murder in the shooting deaths this past Saturday night of 67-year-old Eileen Marks and her daughter, 42-year-old Jennifer Angerhoffer in Marks' apartment. Both men are expected to make their first court appearances Friday.

According to the criminal complaint, Vessel lived across the hall from Marks. Other apartment residents told police that Vessel owned a handgun and had threatened to kill another resident. Police executed a search warrant and found possible blood on the walls, light switch and clothing in Vessel's apartment. They also found a trash bag in the dumpster that had a .40 caliber Smith & Wesson handgun, ammunition and mail and a prescription bottle with Vessel's name on it.

In his news conference Thursday, Freeman credited good police work because “he tried to discard the gun in the trash,” but the police got to the dumpster before the garbage collectors.

“We had witnesses who heard loud music, they heard arguing and they heard gunshots,” Freeman said. “When police interviewed Mr. Vessel, he said he didn’t hear anything, notwithstanding the fact he lived across the hall.”

In the other criminal complaint, police used the help of a genealogist and a commercial genealogy website to zero in on Westrom as a suspect. They also learned that he lived in the Twin Cities metropolitan area during the time of Childs' murder. When police arrested Westrom Monday at his Waite Park business office, they took a DNA swab from him and it matched DNA found in the apartment where Childs was killed.

“The process is similar to the one used in the Golden State Killer case,” Freeman said, referring to the charging of a former police officer as a serial killer in California. “There was a number of blood samples taken (at the apartment). His DNA was found on a number of them.”

At the time of Childs’ murder, DNA was in use. However, Westrom did not have a felony record, so no DNA would have been on file for him. With the assistance of a genealogist and a commercial genealogy site, Minneapolis police were able to narrow down to two people who could be responsible to the DNA in the apartment.

Police started to follow Westrom and, at a hockey game, watched him use a napkin to wipe his mouth and then toss it in the trash, Freeman said. The investigators retrieved it and testing indicate it was a likely match.

“When you discard a thing in the trash, the Supreme Court says it is fair game,” Freeman said. “Saliva is one of the principal ways to get DNA. The best I can tell, it was legitimate.”

Westrom Criminal Complaint (PDF)

Vessel Criminal Complaint (PDF)

Video of Freeman news conference