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A Missouri woman is accused of tampering with evidence in the murder of her boyfriend’s young niece, whose remains have been found in a barn.
On Wednesday, Teresa L. Baumgartner, 59, was arrested and charged with tampering with physical evidence in a felony investigation.
Jessi Wilfong, 20, was reported missing by her mother on May 25 and from there an “intensive investigation began,” according to a press release from the Cape Girardeau County Sheriff’s Office.
Investigators on Wednesday, June 15 searched a home in Millersville — about 100 miles south of St. Louis — which is the town in which Baumgartner and her boyfriend live.
“From the evidence collected and other information obtained from the investigative process, it was suspected that foul play was involved in the disappearance of Ms. Wilfong,” the sheriff’s department noted, adding that deputies on Saturday then began searching a different property located in close proximity to the first.
“Subsequent investigation revealed the site of a recently dug portion of ground inside of a barn structure,” they stated. “Excavation of the area revealed the remains of Jessi Wilfong.”
An autopsy conducted on Monday revealed that Wilfong's manner of death was homicide.
Baumgartner and Lawrence P. Schanda — Baumgartner's boyfriend and Wilfong's uncle — allegedly picked up the young woman at a home about 30 miles west of them in Fredericktown on May 19, according to court records obtained by KVFS. Police say they then brought Wilfong back to Baumgartner's home in Millersville.
Baumgartner allegedly told investigators that she, the murder victim and her uncle had spent that night “sitting around a bonfire at her residence drinking and talking.”
Police say she told them that Wilfong asked to be taken back to Fredericktown, but the couple denied her request — so Wilfong, she allegedly said, must have left on her own after the older woman went to sleep.
Investigators allege that something more sinister happened, and believe that Baumgartner and Schanda worked in cahoots to dispose of Wilfong's body after her death, according to KVFS.
Schanda has not been charged to date, but the Cape Girardeau County Sheriff’s Office noted on Wednesday that “The investigation remains ongoing, and additional charges are anticipated against one or more individuals.”
Schanda allegedly told investigators that he and his niece got into a verbal altercation during the early morning hours of May 19, according to the Southeast Missourian. He allegedly claimed that he believed Wilfong was going to provide information implicating him in illegal drug activity to investigators.
The outlet reports that investigators also allegedly discovered portions of carpet missing from the living room and hallway of the home.
An auger — which is a drill-like power tool used to dig into tough soil — was allegedly found near the barnyard structure, and had been rented out by Baumgartner on May 24.
It’s not clear if Baumgartner has an attorney.
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