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Crime News Family Crimes

Woman Sentenced For Helping Son Hide Body Of Her Allegedly Abusive Husband

A Wisconsin man found Gary Herbst's skull in his driveway four years after he disappeared, and it would take an additional three years for authorities to identify him. 

By Jax Miller
Connie Lou Herbst Pd

A woman in Minnesota has been sentenced for her role in helping her son dispose of her husband’s corpse after he was murdered.

Connie Lou Herbst, 63, of New Prague, was sentenced to 27 years behind bars, according to court documents. As previously reported, Herbst pleaded guilty last October to aiding an offender after the fact for helping her son hide the body of her husband, Gary Herbst, 57, back in 2013.

The son, Austin Herbst, 27, pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting second-degree murder in March 2021 and admitted to shooting his father in the head as he slept. According to court records, he was sentenced to serve 150 months behind bars.

During the trial, Austin Herbst claimed he killed his father for fears that he would hurt his mother.

“To this day, I believe he was going to kill her that night,” Austin Herbst told the court during a pre-sentencing hearing. “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.”

A murder investigation began on the afternoon of Dec. 3, 2017, when a man from Maple Grove, Wisconsin, found a human skull in the driveway of his rural home, according to a 2020 criminal complaint. The witness, identified only by his initials, said his dog recovered the evidence and was chewing on it. Deputies with the Barron County Sheriff’s Department responded to the scene and noted the skull “appeared to have a bullet hole in the top.”

Deputies searched the area and found more human remains near a field along the edge of the woods. Their findings included ribs, a backbone, clothing, and dentures. An autopsy revealed that the unknown decedent died of a gunshot wound to the head, but the manner of death was listed as undetermined.

In 2019, Barron County deputies sent bone samples from the cadaver to DNA Solutions. In 2020, they were contacted by the DNA Doe Project, which uses genealogical research to identify John and Jane Does. The Wisconsin Department of Justice — who also assisted in the case — announced they’d finally identified the man as Gary Herbst of Scott County, Minnesota.

In June 2020, Barron County Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald said they would be investigating the case as a homicide.

Austin James Herbst Pd

According to a report dated March 25, 2014, Connie Lou Herbst reported that her husband disappeared on July 3, 2013, the criminal complaint stated. Connie told authorities Gary returned to their Elko New Market home and packed clothes and $5,000 cash before leaving with an unknown individual, never to be heard from again. He left his cell phone behind.

In 2020, Connie further told investigators that she learned Gary was gone when Austin — the couple’s only child — called her at the library. When she came home, her bedroom had been ransacked, and her gun and wedding ring were gone, as per her initial account.

Officers presented Connie with the title of Gary’s car, which was signed in 2017, according to the complaint. She claimed her husband “routinely” pre-signed and pre-dated his vehicle titles.

Officers then interviewed the Herbsts’ neighbors across the street, who claimed they took notice when about one month after Gary’s disappearance, they saw a pickup truck on the grass of the Herbst property, parked near a sliding glass door that exited to the backyard. It was nighttime, and the neighbors witnessed Connie and Austin “loading something in the back of the pickup, possibly rolled up carpeting.”

Connie and Austin left in the truck and didn’t return for one to three days.

Other neighbors recalled Gary as “difficult” and prone to profane outbursts over frivolous matters. They also stated they’d seen the pickup, as described by the other neighbors, as well as seeing Connie and Austin “cleaning and scrubbing the basement floor” through a lower-level window.

Two or three months later, the Herbst home went on the market.

In June 2020, investigators gained access from the home’s new owners and discovered human blood on the basement floor. A second search provided hits by a cadaver dog and more blood was detected on the sliding glass doors and behind the drywall.

Texts between Connie and Austin also indicated their role in Gary Herbst’s murder.

“You need to call me ASAP, actually right away,” Connie texted her son on July 18, 2020.

She later said, “Might have a problem, they are searching 347,” referring to the address where she and Gary lived. “Don’t mean to f*** up your vacation just wanted u to know. It’s in the paper.”

Authorities announced Connie and Austin’s arrests in New Prague on Nov. 19, 2020.

“These arrests in this cold case were the result of tremendous multi-agency teamwork, spanning across state lines,” said Scott County Sheriff Luke Hennen. “

Connie Lou Herbst will serve her sentence at the Minnesota Correctional Facility - Shakopee, while Austin Herbst remains at the Minnesota Correctional Facility - St. Cloud.

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