Two people were charged Friday with the murder of 20-year-old Jessi Wilfong, who was reported missing by her mother on May 25. Charged were Wilfong’s uncle, Lawrence Phillip Schanda, and his romantic partner, Teresa Baumgartner, of Millersville.
As reported in last week’s issue of The CBJ, Wilfong had spent the night of May 19 sitting around a bonfire at the Schanda/Baumgartner residence, drinking and talking.
From the surveillance footage of a neighbor’s security camera, Cape County Sheriff’s deputies saw Schanda and Wilfong leave in the uncle’s truck with Schanda driving and then return about 1:09 a.m. May 20. In the footage, Wilfong is seen exiting the vehicle, but she is not observed alive again.
On Wednesday, June 8, Schanda was interviewed by deputies and admitted to having a verbal altercation with Wilfong shortly before she disappeared. The argument was regarding Schanda’s belief that Wilfong was providing law enforcement with information implicating Schanda in illegal drug activity.
A July 1 press release from the Sheriff’s office gives the following additional details:
On June 13, officers spoke with a confidential witness who had a conversation with Baumgartner on or about June 2. Baumgartner told the witness that Wilfong was missing and that the last place Wilfong had been seen was at the Baumgartner/Schanda residence. Baumgartner further told the witness that on the night Wilfong disappeared, Schanda had badly beaten Wilfong following an argument.
On June 15, a search warrant was executed at the Schanda/Baumgartner residence. Deputies observed that carpet and carpet padding from the living room and hallway had been removed from the residence.
Two days later, a second confidential witness met with Baumgartner in an effort to learn what had happened to Wilfong and where Wilfong might be found.
Baumgartner told this witness that Wilfong had been murdered by Schanda inside their residence and that Wil-fong would be found on some property that they had considered buying. The witness provided this information to law enforcement, which led deputies to property approximately two miles from the Baumgartner/Schanda residence.
When contacted by law enforcement, the owner of the nearby property said Baum-gartner and Schanda had both been on his property on May 23 and had spent an extended amount of time in and around the barn area on May 24.
The owner arrived home on May 24 to see Baumgartner’s truck backed up to the barn. The owner saw Schanda sweating profusely that day, not wearing a shirt, and having mud on his boots.
Schanda approached the property owner and handed him an envelope containing $20,000 cash, telling him the money was a down payment on the purchase of the property. When asked what Schanda and Baumgartner were doing on the property that day, Schanda told the owner he and Teresa were cleaning out the barn area. The owner did not approach the barn area.
On June 18, deputies went to the barn where they observed a clearly disturbed area of ground inside the barn. Also located were shovels, a sleeveless men’s shirt and an auger (a piece of equipment used to dig into the ground).
Excavation of the disturbed area revealed the remains of Jessi Wilfong. Buried with the body of Wilfong were multiple knives, a pair of men’s boots, a carpet remnant, and other items.
Deputies tracked the auger rental back to a local business and learned the auger was rented on May 24 by Baumgartner. She was accompanied by a man matching the Schanda’s description when she rented the auger. The couple was traveling inside of a motor vehicle with license plates checking to Baumgartner.
Following the recovery of Wilfong’s body, a second search was conducted of the Baumgartner/Schanda residence. Knives, carpeting, and other items matching or consistent with items found with Wilfong’s body were seized from the residence.
On June 20, an autopsy was performed on Wilfong’s body. The autopsy revealed that Wilfong had been stabbed many times, and her manner of death was ruled a homicide.
On Friday, July 1, the Cape Girardeau County Prosecuting filed charges on Schanda and Baumgartner for murder in the first degree, armed criminal action, and tampering with physical evidence in a felony investigation.
Judge Frank E. Miller issued warrants for the arrest of Schanda and Baumgartner for the charges and set bond at $5 million, cash only.