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UPDATE: Suspect in Murder Mystery Pleas

By: Dana Brueck and Chief Photojournalist Curt Lenz Email
By: Dana Brueck and Chief Photojournalist Curt Lenz Email

UPDATED Friday, October 9, 2009 --- 8:15 a.m.

News Release from Wisconsin Dept. of Justice

JUSTICE FOR THOMASINA DUNIVANT
COLD CASE INVESTIGATION NETS CONVICTED MURDERER

LANCASTER - The Wisconsin Department of Justice Cold Case Unit in cooperation with the Grant County Sheriffs Department and the Grant County District Attorneys Office worked together to bring to justice a murderer who took the life of Thomasina Dunivant on December 7, 1980.

“This was a concerted and cooperative effort by my office and our law enforcement partners – in this case Grant County Sheriff Keith Govier and Grant County District Attorney Lisa Riniker - to get answers for Ms. Dunivant’s family. The result is a dangerous criminal who was eligible for parole is held accountable for this crime as well,” said Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen

Gregory L. Otterbeck, currently serving a sentence of life imprisonment plus ten years for party to a crime in the sexual assault and strangulation death of Jodi Bausman on April 13, 1981 was sentenced today in Grant County Court by the Honorable Robert P. Vandehey after pleading no contest to Second Degree Murder in the death of Ms. Dunivant. Otterbeck was sentenced to 20 concurrent years in prison.

Cold Case Investigators and Grant County Sheriff’s detectives worked side-by-side to identify other evidence and follow leads that proved Otterbeck was responsible for the death of Ms. Dunivant.

Assistant Attorney General David Wambach served as special prosecutor in this case.

Additional federal grant resources were sought and received by Attorney General Van Hollen to aid in solving cold cases. This case benefited from these resources. See information on the grant at http://www.doj.state.wi.us/absolutenm/anmviewer.asp?a=864&z=4.

This case was featured as a part of Madison’s NBC affiliate WMTV Channel 15 and their Dana Brueck’s reporting on the Department of Justice’s Cold Case Unit and the efforts of local law enforcement to solve these crimes.

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UPDATED Friday, October 9, 2009 --- 4:00 p.m.

A Wisconsin inmate pleaded Friday to the murder of a young mother almost 30 years ago.

Gregory Otterbeck appeared in a Grant County courtroom Friday afternoon. He pleaded no contest to a charge of second-degree murder.

Otterbeck received a sentence of 20 years concurrent with life sentence he's already serving.

NBC15 profiled this "cold case" in May. The body of Thomasina Dunivant was found the morning of December 10th, 1980, in a ditch along County Highway Z near Hazel Green.

The case remained unsolved but in 2007, evidence was re-submitted to the state crime lab and a suspect DNA profile was isolated.

The case was given a fresh look with help from the Department of Justice and a federal grant for cold cases.

NBC 15's Dana Brueck was at today's hearing for Otterbeck. She'll explain how investigators solved the case coming up Friday night on NBC 15 news at 10.

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Posted Monday, May 11, 2009 --- 3:50 p.m.

Investigators believe they know who's responsible for a long, unsolved murder of a young woman. But they're hunting for more evidence, and they want your help.

"Everybody, the first thing they always say ... oh, you look like your mom, you know."

Margaret Dunivant has her mother's looks....

"... She was a beautiful woman ... "

She also has some vivid memories from childhood...

"We used to walk to the store... sit outside... just stuff like that."

... before her mother's murder.

"I just remember little things here and there, but I do remember."

Others also remember a life cut short.

"Actually it happened in 2003..."

Detective Travis Klaas says someone called the Grant Sheriff's Office with information about a 1980 murder case.

"After we did that interview, we kind of got inquiring to the old case files and stuff like that," he says.

The old case files - many of them handwritten - revealed a mystery spanning three states.

"They check their roads they're assigned to."

The mystery begins along this stretch of Grant County highway one December morning, 1980.

After three days of heavy fog, it finally lifted, and a county highway worker noticed something down in the ditch.

"She was found, I guess you want to say, partially undressed," Klaas says.

The highway worker found the body of a woman. Immediately, investigators from the state crime lab began to process the scene. A coroner's report determined the woman died from blunt force trauma. There also was evidence of strangulation.

"He presumed that she was just thrown from the vehicle or dumped at the roadside ... based off of the marks that the gravel had left on her body."

Investigators later identified the unknown woman as 23-year-old Thomasina Dunivant -- a single mother from Rockford, Illinois. But it would take decades for them to identify a suspect through DNA.

"A search warrant was obtained and we do have a confirmation on the DNA," Klaas says.

But investigators want more evidence tying their suspect to the victim.

"We feel that the suspect has both talked to people about this and that there are people in the public that do have information in regards to her death."

Dunivant was last seen, three nights earlier in East Dubuque, Illinois, outside of a bar known at the time as the Esquire Club. Klaas says people interviewed after the murder say Dunivant was staying in Dubuque, Iowa, while working as a prostitute.

"There was information that she was doing this as a side business to help pay for Christmas ... she had a young daughter at home," Klaas says.

... a 4-year-old daughter who's now a grown woman and a mother herself...

"I tell my kids, all of the time... it's a blessing you have a mother. You know it is. Count your blessings."

Other than the resemblance and the memories, Margaret Dunivant has little left of her mom...

"Nothing but her picture, her picture by my bed."

But after almost 30 years without her...

"It's been too many years... It's time for it to end."

She has had plenty of time to imagine a different life...

"Man I'd be talking to her every day..."

... and to imagine the day she'll see justice.

"I've been wanting that my whole life."

Wisconsin's Department of Justice is assisting Grant County with this case. If you have information to share, contact the sheriff's office or Crime Stoppers.

Call Grant Co. Sheriff's Office
(608) 723-2157

Crime Stoppers
800-789-6600


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