A 26-year-old man has pleaded guilty to fatally shooting his father in the family's Scott County home in 2013 and then plotting a coverup with his mother that allowed the body to go undetected for years in the woods of northwestern Wisconsin, according to prosecutors.
Austin J. Herbst, of New Prague, pleaded guilty last week in Scott County District Court to second-degree intentional murder in connection with the death of 57-year-old Gary A. Herbst, whose bullet-punctured skull was sniffed out by a dog in Dec. 2017 south of Barron, Wis., and brought back to its owner's home.
The defense and prosecutors have reached no agreement about what Herbst's sentence should be when he goes before Judge Caroline Lennon on June 4.
Herbst's mother, 63-year-old Connie L. Herbst, remains charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and is due back in court on April 27.
Austin Herbst admitted late last year to the killing and said his father's abusive ways made him do it, Scott County Attorney Ron Hocevar told the Star Tribune. Hocevar said Connie Herbst only learned afterward what her son had done.
Hocevar said that Gary Herbst was killed in the family's home in Elko New Market by Austin Herbst on July 6, 2013. The body remained in the home until mid-August, Hocevar said, when the mother and son hauled it out after dark and dumped it in the woods near Barron.
Following the discovery of the skull in late 2017, the rest of the skeletal remains were soon located by Barron County sheriff's deputies. It took another 2½ years before authorities identified the remains as those of Gary Herbst, thanks in large part to the DNA Doe Project, a volunteer organization based in California that helps law enforcement solve especially challenging "Jane and John Doe" mysteries around the country.
About a week after authorities announced the identity of the remains in late June 2020, former neighbors told police they saw the Herbst pickup backed up on the grass behind the home after dark in mid-August 2013. One of the neighbors said they saw Connie and Austin Herbst load into the pickup something that looked like rolled-up carpeting.
Police interviewed Austin Herbst on July 28, 2020, and learned that he and his mother had gone camping in northwestern Wisconsin on the weekend following the last known whereabouts of his father.
Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482