Murders A-Z is a collection of true crime stories that take an in-depth look at both little-known and famous murders throughout history.
Families are full of secrets. Most are fairly innocuous. But Ryan Wyngarden killed his sister Gail (and her newlywed husband Rick Brink) in an attempt to cover up a dark secret. It would take 20 years for the truth to come out, and when it did, it included not only murder, but also incest and molestation.
The Brinks had only been married 18 months when their dead bodies were found at their home in Park Township, Michigan, on November 23, 1987. Rick, 28, was in the driveway, sitting in the driver’s seat of his Chevy Blazer when his killer shot him twice in the head. Inside the house, police found Gail lying on the couple’s waterbed, dead from three gunshots to her head. She was just 22.
The execution-style slayings of the happy young couple, featured on A Wedding and a Murder, shocked the surrounding communities on the shores of Lake Michigan. Rick Brink’s brother Budd told West Michigan’s FOX17 that at their funeral the priest told mourners, “This is not the work of the Lord, this is the work of the Devil.”
Meanwhile, the behavior of Gail’s older brother Ryan Wyngarden began to raise to suspicions. According to his sister Cheryl Murphree, days after the murder he said, “Sometimes I wonder if I could’ve done it.” On a different occasion, he told his sister Lynn that he wanted to apologize to Gail because "he felt like he raped her," according to the website MLive. Another time, he allegedly made reference to owning a .22 caliber pistol, the same kind of gun used to shoot Gail and Rick Brink.
[Photo: "A Wedding and A Murder" Screengrab]
No one was arrested at the time of the Brink’s 1987 murders, but in 2009, the Ottawa County Sheriff's Office created a cold case team to look into unsolved crimes. In 2011, Detectives Venus Repper and David Blakely began looking into the 24-year-old double homicide. They began pouring over old documents and conducted more than 200 interviews.
“Loyalties change, friendships change,” Repper told FOX17. “People who may have been hiding a secret back then no longer feel the need or have held that secret so long they want to get it off their chest.”
Ryan Wyngarden’s alibi at the time of his sister and brother-in-law’s murder was that he was doing laundry with his new girlfriend, Pam Maracchini. They later married, and they were still together at the time of the reinvestigation. The detectives noticed a discrepancy in their interview transcripts and decided to re-interview Pam in January 2013, and what she told them would break the case wide open.
Pam Wyngarden told detectives that before their bodies were discovered, Ryan had taken her to see his bloody handiwork — Rick and Gail’s dead bodies. He said he killed them because he was jealous of the Brink’s happiness and success and worried that Gail would tell her husband about their terrible family secret that Ryan and Gail had had sexual relations. Ryan would later testify that it was “consensual.” Prosecutors would say it was molestation.
Ryan Wyngarden was arrested on first-degree murder charges and went to trial for the murder of his sister and her husband in March 2014. Under oath, he described three sexual encounters with his sister Gail, the first when he was 12 and Gail was 9, the last when he was 15 and she was 12. In the final sexual episode, he claimed they touched genitals, but protested that "my sister did not lose her virginity to me," according to the Daily News.
On March 28, 2014, the jury found Ryan Wyngarden guilty of two counts of first-degree murder for the deaths of Rick and Gail Brink. It took only four hours of deliberation. Upon hearing the verdict, his own sister, Cheryl Murphree, said, "We're done. We finally got him,” according to MLive. Less than a month later, Judge Jon Hulsing said, "This was a brutal homicide. You are brutal, cold-blooded murderer," before handing him two life sentences without parole.
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