Investigator's Quick Thinking, Papers in Wallet Led to Abducted Woman
By Tom Kertscher, Megan Twohey And John Dietrich, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Racine, Wisc. -- A Wind Lake woman who authorities say was abducted by her ex-husband would have died in a sealed garbage can in Illinois had it not been for a sheriff's investigator rifling through the man's wallet the day after his arrest, according to a criminal complaint filed Monday.
The Racine County, Wisc. investigator found phone numbers and made calls that led to Sunday's dramatic rescue nearly 24 hours after she had been locked up in an unheated storage facility and to charges of attempted first-degree intentional homicide being filed Monday in Racine against David M. Larsen.
Larsen also was charged with kidnapping in Racine County Circuit Court and in federal court in Milwaukee, in what would be a rare parallel prosecution that carries potential penalties of up to life in prison, authorities said.
Teri Sue Jendusa-Nicolai, having survived a beating with a baseball bat and a lengthy exposure to the cold, was in serious but stable condition Monday at a suburban Chicago hospital, family spokesman Josh Kuehn said.
"She is happy to be alive," he said.
Physician Daniel Resnick said Jendusa-Nicolai's body temperature was slightly above 80 degrees when she was brought to Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Ill.
"If she would have been elderly or young and not a young, healthy woman, as she is, she probably would not have survived," Resnick said.
Court records show that Jendusa-Nicolai had accused Larsen of domestic violence numerous times before and after their marriage ended two years ago.
A bleeding Jendusa-Nicolai had defended Larsen against charges of domestic violence shortly after their marriage in 1996, telling a police officer her pet rabbit had scratched her. But eventually she began making domestic violence allegations against him, with restraining orders being issued as recently as two weeks ago.
A somewhat clearer and dramatic timeline emerged Monday from the criminal complaints and interviews:
The weekend incident began when Larsen, 39, and Jendusa-Nicolai, 38, met at Larsen's home Saturday so that Jendusa-Nicolai could pick up their two daughters, Holly Ann, 4, and Amanda, 6.
About 11 a.m. Saturday, a woman called 911 from Larsen's house on Oakridge Drive, saying she was having trouble breathing and needed help. But no one was inside when Racine County sheriff's deputies broke in the door about 15 minutes later.
About 1 p.m., the Milwaukee County Sheriff's Department received a 911 call from Jendusa-Nicolai, who said she was restrained with tape in Larsen's pickup truck and that Larsen was going to kill her.
Alerted to the second 911 call, Racine County sheriff's deputies returned to Larsen's home. They found blood throughout the house and a pair of women's sweat pants in a trash can that had duct tape on them, as well as a piece of duct tape that had teeth marks on it.
Larsen had been seen towing Jendusa-Nicolai's car behind his pickup, according to a neighbor, and authorities later recovered the car in Milwaukee near one of Larsen's rental properties.
About five hours after the second 911 call, shortly before 6 p.m. Saturday, Larsen was arrested at Palwaukee Municipal Airport in Wheeling, Ill., where he works as an air traffic controller. He told police his daughters were nearby with a baby sitter, where they were found unharmed.
Larsen admitted striking Jendusa-Nicolai with a baseball bat, the complaints say. But he said he was defending himself after she appeared suddenly in his home, with her pants around her ankles, standing over him with a hammer, according to a complaint.
Larsen also said he remembered grabbing duct tape but didn't know why and said he couldn't remember her whereabouts.
When she was found, Jendusa-Nicolai told authorities that Larsen had struck her numerous times with a bat after luring her inside his home by saying their daughters were playing a game and wanted her to come in, a complaint says.
Larsen's wallet and other items were seized after his arrest Saturday evening. About noon Sunday, Racine County sheriff's investigator Dan Fleming found phone numbers in the wallet and called a self-storage facility in Wheeling, said sheriff's Capt. William Greer.
An employee at the facility told Fleming that Larsen had been at the facility about 3:40 p.m. Saturday. Fleming asked the employee to check Larsen's unit, which was unheated, and the employee heard voices come from it.
Wheeling police were called, and they found Jendusa-Nicolai inside a plastic garbage can that had been sealed with duct tape and covered with boxes.
On Monday, Larsen appeared in U.S. District Court in Milwaukee. Magistrate Aaron Goodstein ordered him held for three days while federal prosecutors decide whether to file additional charges.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Mario Gonzales said Larsen could be imprisoned for life if convicted on the federal kidnapping charge.
The state court charges filed in Racine, including the attempted homicide count, carry a potential prison sentence of 135 years.
Court records show the couple had numerous conflicts.
In November 1996, seven months after their wedding, Town of Norway police arrested Larsen at the couple's home after a neighbor called fearing that Larsen was beating his then-wife. An officer found Jendusa-Nicolai crying and bleeding from her nose, but she said Larsen had not hit her and that she had only been scratched while nuzzling with their pet rabbit.
Over the next several years, however, Jendusa-Nicolai obtained several temporary restraining orders and a two-year injunction limiting the contact Larsen could make with her. She said in court papers that he had beaten her and threatened her before and after their divorce in 2001.
Larsen and Jendusa-Nicolai live about a mile apart in Wind Lake in Racine County.
The The Associated Press contributed to this report.