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A Minnesota woman awaits sentencing after pleading guilty to helping her son dispose of the corpse of her allegedly abusive husband.
Connie Herbst, 63, pleaded guilty last week to aiding an offender after the fact in the death of her 57-year-old husband, Gary Herbst, in July 2013, reported the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.
Police said in charging documents from November 2020 that Gary Herbst finished his shift at a machine shop in Bloomington, Minn. on July 8, 2013 and never returned to work or notified his employer of his status. On July 5, 2014, Connie Herbst reported her husband missing at the suggestion of the latter's brother, who was attempting to settle their recently deceased mother's estate.
In the 2014 missing person's report, Connie Herbst said that, in early July 2013, her husband came to their home in Elko New Market, Minnesota — about 30 miles south of Minneapolis — while she was out, packed clothes, her handgun, her wedding ring and $5,000 in cash and left in a grey Honda with an unknown person. She said he left his cell phone and his pick-up truck and hadn't been seen since.
On Dec. 3, 2017, a Barron County Sheriff’s Office in Wisconsin received a phone call from a man in rural Maple Grove — about 85 miles northeast of Minneapolis — whose dog had brought what appeared to be a human skull to the home's driveway and had been "chewing on it" when the homeowner noticed. The home where the skull was retrieved was on a 15-acre wooded property, and the homeowner said the dog rarely strayed off their land.
The Wisconsin man showed the responding officer what he believed to be a bullet hole in the skull he'd taken away from his dog.
Officers conducted a search of the property that day and the next and, in a field adjacent to the road, discovered more skeletal human remains, including parts of "human ribs, backbone, legs and other bones, some clothing, and a full set of dentures" on the first day, and more remains and a tag for men's Wrangler jeans the next day.
The coroner later determined that the death was the result of a contact gunshot wound to the back of the head at a downwards trajectory. The remains were not immediately identified but, in March 2019, were sent to a laboratory in Oklahoma City in an effort to extra DNA for genealogical analysis.
In February 2020, the nonprofit DNA Does informed the Barron County Sheriff that the remains were a probable match for Gary Herbst.
In initial interviews, Connie and Austin Herbst repeated the information from the missing person report, adding that the date Gary Herbst supposedly left was July 6, 2013 and that he had been abusive to Connie Herbst throughout much of their marriage.
Using DNA from Austin Herbst, the remains were positively identified as Gary Herbst in March 2020.
Subsequent investigations revealed that neighbors of the Herbst family in Elko New Market knew Gary Herbst as a "difficult" and unsociable man who often screamed profanities at them but was very proud of his pick-up truck. After his disappearance, both mother and son appeared in public more often than they had before — and, on Aug. 30, 2020, held a garage sale to dispose of men's clothes and tools.
Multiple neighbors reported that, in mid-August 2013, Connie and Austin Herbst loaded what appeared to be a rolled up carpet into Gary Herbst' truck, which was parked on the back lawn of the property near some basement sliding glass doors. Neither mother or son was seen for a couple days thereafter. The house was sold in the following months, and mother and son moved away.
Gary Herbst's truck, with his signature on the title, was sold in December 2017; Connie Herbst claimed to police that her husband regularly signed and dated his automotive titles years in advance.
The new owners of the Herbst house allowed police to conduct a search of it in June 2020, pointing out that, when they had remodeled the basement in 2019, they'd discovered an unusual stain on the basement concrete floor. The stain tested positive for human blood, and other tests for the presence of blood turned up positive in "the drywall directly next to the stain on the concrete floor in the basement; The wood studs behind the drywall; [the] Lower track and door area of the sliding glass door leading out of the basement; A small stain on the floor north side of the garage (where the cadaver dog indicated); [and] Rubber mats that were previously in the basement."
On July 28, 2020, police searched the homes of and interviewed Connie and Austin Herbst. Connie Herbst volunteered no new information, but Austin Herbst indicated that he'd disposed of his mother's gun in the Turtle-Flambeau Flowage lake in Wisconsin —about 120 miles northwest of where Gary Herbt's remains were discovered — when the two were boating and camping there on the weekend neighbors noticed them gone in August 2013.
Austin Herbst also said that his father's verbal and physical abuse of Connie Herbst had increased in 2013 and that he'd become his mother's protector.
An analysis of electronic devices collected during the search indicated that, starting in June 2020 — when police indicated they were investigating the death of Gary Herbst — Connie Herbst had texted her son indicating she was concerned about the investigation and thought he should be as well.
Connie and Austin Herbst were arrested in connection with the death of Gary Herbst in November 2020, the Star-Tribune reported. Scott County Attorney Ron Hocevar told the paper at the time that Austin Herbst had confessed to killing his father to protect his mother.
In sentencing documents presented to the courts, as reported by the Star-Tribune after Austin Herbst's March 2021 guilty plea, his lawyers argued that years of threats to his mother's life and the physical and verbal abuse committed by his father, Austin Herbst felt he had no choice. Gary Herbst had reportedly threaten to hurt Connie Herbst — who was at the library at the time of her husband's death — that day and was napping with Connie Herbst's gun under his pillow.
Austin Herbst admitted to taking the gun and shooting his father while he slept.
"To this day, I believe he was going to kill her that night," Austin Herbst told the court in his pre-sentencing motion. "If I would have stood aside, my mom would be dead. I knew what I did, and why I did it, and to this day I am confident that my decisions were justified."
Connie Herbst is due to be sentenced for her role in helping her son cover up the death of her husband in January 2022.
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