MUSKEGO, Wis. — A former Wisconsin man is charged with first-degree murder decades after the disappearance of his wife, whom he said stormed out of their home after an argument in 1979 and has not been seen since.
Cash bond for John Bayerl, 78, was set at $500,000 on Thursday. Bayerl remained in the Waukesha County Jail.
Officers from the Muskego Police Department arrested Bayerl at his home in Fort Myers, Florida, on Tuesday. Bayerl was charged last week with murder in the disappearance of Dona Mae Bayerl.
John Bayerl reported his wife missing on May 9, 1979. He said his wife, who was 38 years old at the time, left their home in Muskego in southeastern Wisconsin after an argument three days earlier. She never came back and was legally declared dead in 1986.
The Muskego Police Department said in a statement that "numerous leads were followed, and countless people interviewed" during the investigation into Dona Bayerl's disappearance. The couple had two daughters, who were 4 and 7 years old when their mother disappeared.
"Family and friends of Dona Mae Bayerl's were adamant that she would never leave her daughters, and they feared something had happened to her," police said.
John Bayerl was granted a divorce from Dona Bayerl in 1980. He remained a person of interest in her disappearance, and the case was reclassified from a missing person to a homicide, police said.
"While the case ran cold, the Muskego Police Department never closed the investigation, and officers continued to be assigned to the cold case," police said.
According to the complaint, John Bayerl told police he argued with his wife on the evening of May 6, 1979. He said she stormed out of the house, but he was not concerned because she had done the same thing before, the complaint said.
Late that night, Bayerl said he was awakened by the slamming of the front door. He said he got up but found no one home. He assumed it was his wife and that she had left again, the complaint said. He said she did not take any of the family cars.
Police later found apparent spattered blood on a garage service door. Searches of the neighborhood, landfills and gravel sites found no trace of the missing woman.
The criminal complaint does not indicate why prosecutors decided to charge Bayerl now. An online court filing says prosecutors plan to use John Bayerl's statement and DNA evidence. Waukesha County District Attorney Susan L. Opper was not in her office Thursday to comment.
Bayerl waived extradition from Florida on Wednesday. He's due back in court Feb. 28.