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Prosecutors tout ‘first of its kind’ conviction after jury takes only 90 minutes to find killer guilty in ‘bodyless murder case’

Allen K. Schimmelpfennig (Peoria County Sheriff's Department)

Allen K. Schimmelpfennig (Peoria County Sheriff’s Department)

In what prosecutors are touting as a “first of its kind” conviction for the office, a 30-year-old man in Illinois will likely spend the remainder of his life behind bars for killing a 34-year-old father despite the fact that authorities were never able to locate the victim’s body.

A Peoria County jury on Wednesday took only 90 minutes to find Allen K. Schimmelpfennig guilty on one count of first-degree murder and one count of concealment of a homicidal death in the slaying of Gabriel K. Cook, who has been presumed dead since 2021, court records reviewed by Law&Crime show.

According to a press release from the Peoria County State’s Attorney’s Office, cases such as this where a homicide victim’s remains are not recovered before trial are often referred to as a “bodyless murder case.”

The investigation into Cook’s whereabouts began when his family on the morning of March 8, 2021, filed a missing persons report with the Peoria County Sheriff’s Department. Only a few hours later, deputies with the PCSD responded to a vehicle fire on Kickapoo Creek Road, where they discovered a Jeep belonging to Cook’s grandmother — but primarily used by Cook — had been set ablaze

Testimony from a witness revealed that Cook and Schimmelpfennig had been seen together earlier in the day, loading a motorbike into the same Jeep. Prosecutors said that was the last confirmed sighting of Cook. Security cameras footage also showed the Jeep near a storage locker rented by Schimmelpfennig.

Despite extensive efforts in the days following Cook’s disappearance, investigators were unable to locate any trace of him. Prior to vanishing, Cook maintained regular communication with his girlfriend and daughter, but all contact ceased abruptly on March 8, 2021.

The investigation eventually led Peoria Police Department detectives to Schimmelpfennig’s rented storage locker. Inside, they discovered a significant pool of dried blood, which investigators say they confirmed to match Cook’s DNA.

Forensic pathologist Dr. Amanda Youmans testified at trial that the quantity of blood found inside the storage locker indicated that immediate medical attention would have been necessary if the victim were to survive such an injury. However, no medical records from any facility in the area indicated that Cook had received such treatment.

Additionally, .380 shell casings matching one found in Schimmelpfennig’s apartment and the motorbike loaded into the Jeep were recovered.

Assistant State’s Attorneys Dave Gast and Jason Ramos presented further incriminating evidence, including cellphone and GPS records, establishing a connection between Schimmelpfennig and Cook on the day of the incident.

“Murder trials without the victim’s body are notoriously challenging to prosecute,” Peoria County State’s Attorney Jodi Hoos said following Wednesday’s proceedings. “The body often provides crucial evidence that answers the ‘who, what, when, where, and why’ of the crime. In this case, we relied on technology and solid police work. We are grateful that Mr. Cook’s family can finally find the closure they have been seeking.”

The next steps in the legal process, including post-trial motions and sentencing, are currently scheduled to take place before Circuit Judge John P. Vespa on June 22.

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.