Dona Mae Bayerl was last seen in Muskego, Wisconsin on May 6th, 1979. Her husband John Bayerl said that she "stormed out" of their home and left in the family car after an argument.
He stated that he woke up to the sound of the door slamming around 11 p.m. and assumed that she had returned.
John said that he heard a car turn around in the gravel lot across the street and then drive away. He came downstairs to look for her and found the car in the garage, the garage door was open and the drift pin that normally held the door shut was missing. The drift pin has never been found. All of There was no sign of Dona and all of her clothes appeared to be in the home.
Dona is a white female, 5’6”, and 130-150 pounds. She has brown hair and brown eyes. She was last wearing blue slacks and a white blouse. She wears glasses with dark brown frames.
Three days later, John reported his wife missing. He told police that there were problems in their marriage and that he wasn’t concerned about her absence. However, Dona Mae's family insisted that she would have never left behind her two children, who were ages 7 and 4 at the time and the youngest child was suffering from the chicken pox.
Police searched the house 10 days later, when Dona’s sister, who was watching the children, called to say that she had found blood on some clothespins in the garage. They also found blood on a child’s seat that was attached to a bicycle and on the rear service door of the garage. Dona’s sister told police that John did laundry the day after Dona disappeared, including rugs and a quilt, which is something he would never do. The quilt and one of the rugs still had stains on them after they were washed. After the bloodstains were discovered, police started to suspect foul play. There was not DNA testing in the 1970's. Authorities were able to test the blood that was found and determined that the blood was Dona Mae's and not John's.
John appeared to be unconcerned about Dona being missing and went bowling right after her disappearance. He didn't tell his coworkers that his wife was missing and he wouldn’t tell anyone what he and Dona had been arguing about the night that Dona disappeared.
Dona had a career and was a very independent woman before marrying John. That all changed after she married John. She stopped working, becoming very dependent on him and and John didn't allow her to have very much money.
Investigators learned that Dona was afraid of John and that she had been physically abused by him. John admitted that he had struck Dona on multiple occasions, and that he had been having an affair for two years prior to Dona's disappearance. Dona was John's second wife. According to police reports, both his first and third wives told police that he was physically abusive to them. John filed for divorce three months after Dona disappeared.
It's reported that less than a year before Dona disappeared, she told her best friend that she feared for her life and that her husband had thrown her down the basement stairs. She told her friend that John had asked her to sign a document saying that if anything happened to her, that the house would revert to only him. She refused to sign it.
Dona Mae was officially declared dead in 1986 even though her body had never been found.
The police continued to investigate this case and to follow up on all leads and tips over the years. John continued to be a person of interest in this case.
Over the course of the investigation, the case was reclassified from a missing persons case to a homicide.
In October 2017, the Muskego police with the help of the the FBI lab at Quantico released an age progressed photo of Dona Mae. Forensic artists used photos of Dona Mae, her parents, her sister and daughter to determine what she might look like at the age of 77. They had hoped that this photo would help bring information, hoping someone would remember something from around that time in 1979.
In February 2019, forty years after Dona Mae Bayerl disappeared; police arrested Dona's husband, John Bayerl. He was charged with first-degree murder.
This was a circumstantial case with the prosecution focusing on the history of abuse. DNA testing wasn't available forty years ago. New technology today allowed for a bottle with possible blood that was recovered from the Bayerl home to be re-tested in 2018, and it matched Dona Bayerl's DNA profile. One of the key pieces of evidence in in this case was a recorded phone conversation that John had with his and Dona Mae's youngest daughter in 2009. John stated: "Something happened and I, it, I, I’m sure that her heart’s not beating. Because if it was, she would have found her way back, whatever. You know what I mean? I don’t think she’s alive."
John did not testify during his trial. The defense argued that the prosecution had not proved its case beyond a reasonable doubt.
It only took the jury about five hours to find him guilty of first-degree murder.
On August 30, 2019, John Bayerl was sentenced to life in prison for the 1979 murder of his wife, Dona Mae Bayerl. John maintains his innocence, refusing to say where Dona's body is.
Detective Stephen Westphal said that the search for Dona would continue and that they would continue to seek answers as to what happened on May 6, 1979.
Dona was 38 years old when she went missing. She would be 82 years old today.
Any leads or information should be directed to:
Muskego Police Department
Stephen Westphal, Chief of Police
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