Muskego Police arrest husband in 40-year-old cold case

NOW: Muskego Police arrest husband in 40-year-old cold case

MUSKEGO, Wis. (CBS 58) -- On Tuesday, February 19 detectives from Muskego Police partnered with the Lee County Sheriff's Office in Florida to arrest 78-year-old John Bayerl at his home in Fort Myers.

Bayerl is facing a charge of first-degree murder in the May 6, 1979 disappearance of his wife, Dona Mae Bayerl, who was 38-years-old at the time she disappeared. At the time, John Bayerl stated that Dona Mae stormed out of their home after an argument, and had not been seen since. Dona Mae never returned home. Family and friends of Dona Mae Bayerl were adamant that she would never leave her daughters, and they feared something happened to her. John Bayerl waited three days to report the disappearance to police.

Dona Mae's sister told police the marriage had been deteriorating for quite some time. The sister was helping with the kids and John Bayerl indicated she could be there for quite some time. Bayerl confirmed to police that communication and their marriage had been failing.

According to the criminal complaint, during a visit of the Bayerl home detectives found what looked like splattered blood on the back door to the garage and on a child's seat mounted on the back of a bike. The sister told police it was strange that Bayerl did all the laundry the day after she went missing including rugs and a quilt.

While interviewing with police, Bayerl said that he fought with Dona Mae often and punched or pinched his wife at least six times. He also confessed to having a girlfriend.

Police interviewed Bayerl's first wife before Dona Mae who said that he abused her. Bayerl's third wife who he married a year after Dona Mae disappeared also said she was abused.

John Bayerl remained a person of interest in his wife's disappearance. On May 20, 1980, John Bayerl was granted a divorce from Dona Mae Bayerl and on August 5, 1986, Dona Mae was legally declared dead.

In 2009, Bayerl's daughter Jackie recorded a conversation she had with her daughter when he said that Dona Mae was a loving mother and he didn't think she was still alive. 

In 2018, Detectives updated Bayerl on the missing persons case when he admitted to being a bad father and husband and said he would sometimes abuse his wives. He told police he, "knows in his mind he is not guilty of anything other than being a bad husband."

Muskego Police have had recent contact with Dona Mae's family and friends and no one has ever had contact with her since 1979. No body has ever been found, but there is no proof of life.

Bayerl was arrested without incident in Florida. He made a court appearance Wednesday in Florida and is being held without bond. He waived extradition and is returning to Wisconsin.

In October 2017, Muskego Police released new age progression photos of Dona Bayerl asking the public to help them find her. Police and family working with FBI forensic artists came up with a photo of what Dona Bayerl might look like.

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