Timothy Reineccius waited 18 years to find out what happened to his sister, who was on the brink of leaving an unhappy marriage when she vanished overnight.
On Wednesday, he got some answers.
After years of suspicion, authorities charged his former brother-in-law — Norman A. Bachman Jr. — with murder in the disappearance of Toni Bachman, who was last seen outside her White Bear Township home in April 1997.
“Every time you hear a story on the news about a body or something being found someplace, you’re on an emotional roller coaster,” Reineccius said of his sister, whose body has yet to be found. “You start scouring … for any news that you can hopefully find.”
Norman Bachman, Jr., 53, was charged in Ramsey County District Court with second-degree murder without intent and first-degree manslaughter. Authorities wouldn’t say what prompted them to press charges after all these years, other than that the pieces finally came together.
“We believe that it’s time for justice,” said Ramsey County Attorney John Choi.
A combination of forensic evidence, uncharacteristic behavior by Toni Bachman and information from Norman Bachman’s three sons from a previous marriage helped build the case against him, according to a criminal complaint.
The boys — children at the time — told police of a muffled scream from behind a door, an unresponsive Toni Bachman sprawled across a mattress and an odor that lingered in the home afterward.
They also told of a trip to a family farm in a car that reeked of a human corpse.
When Norman Bachman was arrested Tuesday, he denied having anything to do with his wife’s disappearance and gave police information that contradicted details his sons had shared with investigators.
The last people to hear or see any sign of life from Toni Bachman were the boys, who called her “mom.”
According to the complaint: In a November 1997 interview with police, Norman Bachman’s middle son, then 12, said that the boys were watching TV on Saturday, April 26, when their father went into his wife’s bedroom. She screamed.
“He said that the boys all thought the defendant had killed her,” the complaint said. “He said that after Toni disappeared, the house smelled ‘bitter’ …”
Toni Bachman, 38, did not report to work on Monday, April 28. Her mother reported her missing two weeks later.
Norman Bachman told police that they had argued on April 25, and that his wife left him two days later. He also said that she called from an anonymous number the next day to apologize.
In a May 1997 interview with police, the middle son said that on the Wednesday after Toni Bachman disappeared, his father took the boys out of school and drove to a farm in Verndale owned by his sister. In the back of the car, the boy told police, were large coolers.
Charges said the middle son later shared more: The car smelled “bitter and awkward.”
Heard ‘a muffled sound’
More interviews with police in the years that followed revealed other unsettling details.
In 2003, Norman Bachman’s youngest son, then 16, told police that he saw his dad go into Toni’s room with an X-Acto knife and then he heard “a muffled sound like someone trying to say something from under a pillow,” the complaint said.
That same year, the middle son, then 18, told police that after his dad left Toni’s room, he saw her lying on the bed on her stomach, her arms under the pillow, her eyes closed.
In a 2012 interview with police, the youngest son, then 25, said that the car smelled strange on the trip to Verndale.
“He said he has since worked at a funeral home and that based on that experience he now knows that the odor he smelled in the car was the smell of a human corpse,” according to the charges.
The youngest son said in that same interview that he had confronted his father about what happened to Toni.
“He said that the defendant admitted killing Toni but said that nobody could prove it,” the charges said.
After his arrest, Norman Bachman allegedly said that there were no coolers in the car on the trip to Verndale.
Dogs searched the Verndale property and land owned by Norman Bachman’s stepmother in 1998, but found nothing.
During a 1997 search of the White Bear Township home, authorities discovered several spots of what appeared to be blood throughout the basement, the complaint said.
Fat and muscle tissue were also found.
DNA tests on 12 of the spots and one piece of fat tissue showed they matched Toni Bachman’s DNA profile, according to the charges.
Ramsey County attorney spokesman Dennis Gerhardstein said the DNA tests were performed years ago and more recently, but could not say how recently.
The charges also showed that Toni Bachman became romantically involved with a man from West Virginia in January 1997. The two met online and communicated almost daily via e-mail, instant messaging and telephone.
She complained to the man about her marriage but gave no indication that she was leaving her husband the weekend she disappeared, the complaint said.
Charges show that Norman Bachman was aware of his wife’s flirtation and desire to end their 10-year marriage.
Shortly after his wife’s disappearance, Norman Bachman began dating another woman.
In 1998, he pleaded guilty to first-degree criminal sexual conduct for binding the woman’s hands and feet, holding a knife to her throat and face, raping her and threatening to commit murder-suicide.
Bachman also threatened to mutilate her breasts. The woman, who eventually escaped, had broken up with him the previous day, according to court documents.
Bail for Bachman, who made his first court appearance Wednesday on the murder charge, was set at $250,000.
For Reineccius, who attended the hearing, the charges are bittersweet. His parents died never knowing what happened to Toni.
“Hopefully,” he said, “we’ll get an end to the disappearance, and our final closure.”
Staff writers James Walsh and Kevin Duchschere contributed to this report.