The fraught criminal cases against a woman and her son have neared closer to the end. Connie Lou Herbst, 63, pleaded guilty last week to helping her son Austin James Herbst, 27, get rid of her slain allegedly abusive husband’s body several years ago, according to the Star Tribune.
The charge is aiding an offender after the fact in 57-year-old Gary Albert Herbst’s death. Connie Herbt’s son in June got a relatively merciful punishment after pleading guilty to second-degree intentional murder: 7.75 years to be served prison, with the remaining 4.75 years of the 12.5-year sentence to be completed on supervised release. This was far less than the state guidelines of at least 21.75 years in prison.
According to the criminal complaint, Gary Herbst disappeared in July 2013. At the behest of the Gary Herbst’s brother, Austin Herbst finally reported his father missing in March 2014, saying that the missing man came home, packed some clothing, took $5,000, and left in a grey Honda driven by an unknown person.
Gary Herbst turned up dead on Dec. 3, 2017 in Barron County, Wisconsin. A dog found Herbst’s skull and brought it to the property owner’s driveway. The resident reported this to sheriff’s deputies, who found the rest of the skeletonized remains nearby. There appeared to be a bullet hole at the top of the skull, authorities said.
The DNA Doe Project helped deputies identify the remains as belonging to Herbst. Investigators interviewed Connie and Austin Herbst. The son said that he had not seen his father since the disappearance.
“When he turned 17 or 18 things got a lot more tense between his mother and father,” authorities wrote, citing the son’s account.
All told, neighbors described Gary Herbst as belligerent, cursing them out and calling the police over small things. Both Connie and Austin Herbst became way more social once he was gone. Austin appeared to have more friends over, said one of the neighbors. Neighbors also said mother and son had a garage sale after Herbst’s disappearance. From the complaint:
[A neighbor identified as JDG] recalled that DEFENDANT 1 and DEFENDANT 2 held a garage sale, for which GARY was not present, selling mostly men’s clothing and various tools. (GARY was a mechanic by profession).
Two neighbors said they saw the mother and son carry a rolled-up carpet or rug out of the basement sometime in 2013. They witnessed them cleaning and scrubbing the basement and in front of the glass on the lower level patio door. From the complaint:
* Sometime in 2013, they recalled seeing GARY’s pickup truck parked in the backyard outside the lower level walk-out doors.
* They found it very unusual because GARY had a history of keeping the yard in good condition.
* They saw the truck in the back yard between 10 p.m. and 1:00 a.m.
* While watching out the window, they saw DEFENDANT 1 and DEFENDANT 2 carry a large item, appearing to be a rolled-up carpet or rug, from the basement walkout doors.
* DEFENDANT 1 and DEFENDANT 2 put the rolled-up item into the bed of GARY’s pickup.
* They saw DEFENDANT 1 and DEFENDANT 2 through the window cleaning and scrubbing the basement floor, and in front of the glass on the lower level patio door.
* He also saw them carry out several large black colored bags from the house and place them in the truck.
* The next morning the truck was gone.
* They did not see DEFENDANT 1 or DEFENDANT 2 for a day or two, nor did they see anyone around the house.
* They never saw GARY after the incident.
These two neighbors said they never saw Gary Herbst ever again. Connie and Austin Herbst had the garage sale after that, selling men’s clothes and tools, according to these neighbors.
Another neighbor gave a similar account, claiming to see mother and son load something into the back of a black pickup truck, “possibly rolled up carpeting.”
Residents of the Herbst family’s former home also told investigators they found an unusual stain on the basement concrete floor while remodeling. Investigators determined that stain was blood. More testing found blood on drywall, wood studs, around the area of the sliding glass door leading from the basement, a small stain on the garage floor, and rubber mats previously in the basement.
In further talks, Austin Herbst told investigators his father was verbally and physically abusive toward his mother.
“He intervened many times and basically became his mother’s protector,” the complaint stated.
According to investigators, Connie Herbst texted the following to her son after investigators identified the body:
An examination of both DEFENDANT 1 and DEFENDANT 2’s cell phones revealed that:
* On June 24, 2020 at 10:33 a.m., DEFENDANT 1 texted DEFENDANT 2, “It was on Channel 9 News last night.” (On June 23, 2020, Barron County Sheriff’s Office issued a press release on the remains being identified and investigated as a homicide.)
* On July 18, 2020, at 3:03 p.m., DEFENDANT 1 texted DEFENDANT 2, “You need to call me ASAP, actually right away.”
* On July 18, 2020 at 3:37 p.m., DEFENDANT 1 texted DEFENDANT 2, “Might have a problem, they are searching 347. Don’t mean to fuck up your vacation just wanted u to know. It’s in the paper.” The investigation showed that on July 18, 2020, DEFENDANT 2 was on vacation with friends at the Flambeau Flowage in Wisconsin. Interviews with DEFENDANT 2’s friends confirmed he took a phone call from his mother.
As far as Austin Herbst was concerned, he believed he did the right thing by killing his father.
“To this day, I believe he was going to kill her that night,” he said in the Star Tribune. “If I would have stood aside, my mom would be dead. I knew what I did and why I did it, and to this day I am confident that my decisions were justified.”
[Booking photos via Scott County Jail]
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