The Murder of Berit Beck

Case Remained Cold for 25 Years

Brantner and Beck
Dennis J. Brantner and Berit Beck. Mug Shot; Family Photo

On July 17, 1990, Berit Beck, an 18-year-old Sturtevant, Wisconsin woman, drove her family's van to a computer class in Appleton. When she did not show up for class, she was reported missing. The family's van was found abandoned in a Kmart parking lot in Fond du Lac two days later.

The following month, Beck's body was found in a ditch about 15 feet off a road in the Town of Waupun. She had been strangled to death and had a blindfold tied around her head that matched a torn red t-shirt that was found in the van.

Here are the latest developments in the Berit Beck case:

Brantner Faces Murder Trial

April 30, 2015 - A 61-year-old Wisconsin man will face trial in connection with the death of a 18-year-old Sturtevant woman who was killed in 1990. Dennis Brantner has been ordered to go on trial on first-degree murder charges in the death of Berit Beck.

Brantner, arrested in March, is being held on $1 million bond. He will be tried in Fond du Lac County where Beck's body was found a month after she vanished.

An attorney for Brantner told reporters that the fingerprint evidence the state submitted to the court does not prove that Brantner killed Beck.

Truck Driver Arrested in Beck Case

March 28, 2015 - A 61-year-old Wisconsin truck driver has been charged with first-degree murder in the 1990 death of Berit Beck, a case authorities called a "bold stranger abduction." Dennis J. Brantner was linked to the case through fingerprints found on items in Beck's van and other evidence.

Investigators said the Kenosha truck driver kept a photograph of Beck in his toolbox and broke down emotionally when confronted with details of her slaying.

Fond du Lac County Sheriff Mylan Fink, who was one of the original investigators when Beck's body was found, said the investigation is far from over, but Beck's family "has been waiting for this day for nearly 25 years."

"I don't see a win in this. I don't see a win for the Beck family. I don't see a win in it for anyone," he said. "I don't feel anything other than it was tragedy."

Brantner was first linked to the case on Feb. 27, 2014 when fingerprints found on items inside Beck's van matched his. Brantner was interviewed at the time and authorities announced that he was the main suspect in the case, but he was not arrested.

Putting his name in the media brought new tips and leads to the investigation, Fink said in a news conference. For example, three co-workers said they remembered seeing a photo of a teen that looked like Beck tacked up on Brantner's tool box.

Brantner told one co-worker the photo was of an ex-girlfriend.

Investigators also discovered that Brantner had a history of offenses against women. They discovered:

  • In 1974, Brantner was questioned by police after a woman reported he stole underwear from her room in the West Allis Inn and left a note saying he would return the clothes if she let him perform a sex act on her.
  • In 1989, he served time in jail for breaking into an unoccupied house across the street from his first wife's Green Lake County home so that he could spy on her.
  • In 1994, Brantner was arrested in Illinois for unlawful restraint and battery after he kidnapped his estranged second wife at knifepoint as she left work.

After Brantner was named as a suspect in the Beck case, a search of his home turned up a gun and he was charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm and jailed.

Earlier this month, investigators collected fingerprints from Brantner and sent them to the crime lab. Five days later, the lab matched Brantner's fingerprints to those found on the inside of the van itself.

Previously, Brantner's fingerprints were matched to items found inside the van - a fast food cup, an employee manual and a hair bleach kit. The fingerprints processed this month matched those found under the front passenger seat and on the inside middle door window.

With the new fingerprint matches, authorities decided to arrest Brantner and charge him with first-degree murder.

Suspect Found in 1990 Cold Case

April 8, 2014 - Wisconsin police have linked newly analyzed evidence from the 1990 murder of a Sturtevant 18-year-old teen who vanished in July 1990. Investigators said an unnamed 60-year-old Kenosha truck driver is the main suspect in the death of Berit Beck.

The suspect has not been named or arrested, Fond du Lac County Sheriff's Office said.

Investigators sent five pieces of evidence gathered in the case to the Wisconsin State Crime Lab to be re-analyzed. According to court papers, the lab was asked to compare the evidence to photographs taken of the truck driver's hands, one of which is reportedly deformed.

Sheriff Mylan Fink said in a news conference that the evidence in question was taken from the Beck's van, which was found in Fond du Lac two days after Beck disappeared.

"In the case, it's been a nightmare since the day it happened. This is the first time we had tangible physical evidence to put someone in the interior of that van," Fink told reporters. "We're actively going forward. It's an ongoing and active investigation."

Beck vanished July 17, 1990 while traveling to a computer seminar in Appleton. Her van was found two days later in a Kmart parking lot in Fond du Lac, about 70 miles north of Milwaukee. Her body was found about a month later in a ditch near Waupun.