A Minnesota woman pled guilty in Minnesota to aiding her son in disposing of a corpse in a woods south of Barron.
Connie L. Herbst, 63, of Shakopee, pleaded guilty this week in Scott County District Court to aiding an offender after the fact in the death of Gary A. Herbst in 2013. His remains were found in 2017 in a wooded area after a family dog apparently found them and brought part of a human skull into a driveway in the 1300 block of 10th Avenue.
After extensive forensic research and investigation, Austin J. Herbst was arrested in November 2020 for murder and later convicted and sentenced in June to seven years and nine months in prison, plus about five years extended supervision.
Connie agreed to a plea deal in her court case, pleading to the lesser charge while a count of second-degree intentional murder was dismissed. Sentencing is set for Jan. 24.
In Austin’s case, court documents quote him saying, “I am really hoping she gets a reduced sentence. It wasn’t her fault.” He said his mother was frequently abused and feared his father would kill her if he didn’t take matters into his own hands.
His court defense attorneys stated that Gary had threatened to kill Connie several times in their 30-year marriage, cut her off from family and didn’t allow her to have friends.
“My mother always had bruises that I noticed as a kid,” stated Austin Herbst, who was 19 when he committed the murder in early July 2013, shooting his father while he slept.
More than four years passed before Gary Herbst’s bones were found, and it took a couple more years for his remains to be identified.
In January of 2018, the Barron County Sheriff’s Department sent the bones to the University of Texas Center for Human Identification.
In March of 2019, the bones were sent to DNA Solutions Inc., in Oklahoma City for DNA extraction and forensic genealogy using familial DNA. On Feb. 27, 2020, Barron County detectives received information from the DNA Does Project that a possible match for the remains was Gary Albert Herbst.
Connie Herbst had not reported him missing until July 6, 2014, at the request of Gary Herbst’s brother, who had been trying to contact him because their mother died and the family needed to settle the estate. The defendants claimed he had disappeared July 6, 2013, ransacking their house in Elko New Market, a small town south of the Twin Cities, taking $5,000 cash, a .45 Sig Sauer pistol and Connie Herbst’s wedding ring. They said he left in a gray vehicle with an unknown person.
Police began re-interviewing both defendants in June of 2020.
Police also interviewed neighbors, who reported seeing the defendants through a window scrubbing and cleaning the basement floor. They also saw them carry what appeared to be a rolled up rug or carpet out of the basement between 10 p.m. and 1 a.m. one night and load it into Gary Herbst’s pickup. The next morning the truck was gone.
Neighbors stated that “Gary was a difficult neighbor; he would frequently yell profanities at neighbors and call the police for minor issues,” according to the criminal complaint.
Neighbors also stated that Austin and Connie became much more active and social in the neighborhood after Gary was gone.
Austin Herbst said he and Connie “decided if they dumped the body in a wooded area in northern Wisconsin, (that) bears, wolves and coyotes would consume (the remains) and no one would ever find (them),” the criminal complaint said.
The defendants drove to Barron County, where they stopped after dark at a rural location that included “a wooded tree line where (defendant Austin Herbst) thought would be a good place to get rid of the body.”
The defendants drove into a field entrance, where the body was unloaded and “dragged ... a few feet into the woods from where the field drive was (located).”
The defendants brought along a shovel to conceal or bury the body, the complaint said. However, they discovered that the ground in the woods was too hard to dig. Instead, Austin Herbst said he used leaf and ground debris to cover the body.
Afterward, the two stayed at “a hotel in the Barron area” and returned to Elko New Market the next day, the complaint said.
Austin Herbst also told police that he threw the gun into the Turtle-Flambeau Flowage.
Within months, Gary Herbst’s possessions were sold in a garage sale and the home was sold as well. Connie Herbst later forged his signature while selling the couple’s 2003 Chevy Impala, a detail noticed by police in their investigations.
Austin Herbst and Connie Herbst were arrested Nov. 19, 2020.
Both Connie and Austin Herbst are charged in Barron County Circuit Court with concealing a corpse. But it is unclear when they will be extradited to face those charges.
In response to an email inquiry Monday, Barron County District Attorney said he had no timeline for when Connie and Austin Herbst would face charges in Barron County.