Jury finds 81-year-old woman guilty in western Wisconsin cold case murder

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A jury has convicted an 81-year-old Arizona woman in a 1985 western Wisconsin slaying that authorities say was fueled by a love triangle.

Mary Josephine Bailey was found guilty of first-degree intentional murder Thursday in Polk County Circuit Court for the killing of 45-year-old Yvonne Carol Menke, who was shot three times outside her St. Croix Falls apartment before work on Dec. 12, 1985. The trial ran eight days in Balsam Lake, and jurors deliberated for just over two hours.

Yvonne Menke (Courtesy of Polk County Sheriff’s Office)

The conviction carries a life sentence. Bailey is scheduled to be sentenced July 2. Her attorney did not immediately return a call for comment Tuesday.

The Polk County sheriff’s office announced the murder charge against Bailey, of Apache Junction, Ariz., on Nov. 14, saying investigators worked the cold case over two years.

Bailey was considered a suspect in the early days of the investigation, as several people told law enforcement that Jack Owen, Menke and Bailey, whose last name then was Lunsmann, had been “involved in somewhat of a ‘love triangle,’” the criminal complaint says.

Boot prints in snow

Menke was shot three times in her head and neck in a stairwell of her apartment complex just before 6:30 a.m.

An investigator wrote in the complaint that it was his belief that the “up close and personal attack” appeared to show “personal knowledge and a strong emotional reaction” toward Menke.

Investigators found a boot print in snow near Menke’s body, with the word “Arctic” visible in the area where the front of the heel would be, and the same boot prints about a block away.

In an interview a day after the murder, Owen said he was dating Bailey, who worked at a bank in Luck, Wis., and that their relationship mostly had to do with their mutual interest in horses and horse shows. He said his last interaction with her was about a month prior at a party.

A woman who knew Owen from horse competitions told law enforcement that he was always close to Menke even though he was seeing Bailey at the same time.

Mary Josephine Bailey (Courtesy of the Maricopa County Jail)

Bailey told investigators in 1985 that she knew who Menke was but never spoke with her in person.

Bailey’s boots, a pair of size 5 Arctic Cat snowmobile boots, were submitted to the Wisconsin State Crime Laboratory for comparison to the boot prints found at the murder scene. The lab concluded her boots were consistent with the sulfur casts taken by officers at the scene in terms of tread pattern, size and wear pattern, the complaint says.

In 2009, investigators submitted evidence for further testing, including Bailey’s boots, two jackets and a hat. No blood was detected on any of the items.

Latest investigation

Polk County investigators worked the case again in late 2021 and into the winter of 2022, re-interviewing witnesses and others who had knowledge of Owen, Bailey and Menke.

Owen died in October 2021, while living in Montana with his wife.

Investigators spoke with Bailey’s friend in December 2022. She said something had been “bothering her for years and she wanted to disclose it,” the complaint says. About a year after the killing, a man Bailey had dated told her that Bailey had him burn some clothes for her.

When investigators questioned the man about whether Bailey burned clothes at his house or asked him to burn clothing for her, he said he did not recall.

Bailey had since moved to Arizona. Investigators spoke with her in September 2022 and in follow-up interviews. When asked if she ever went to the man’s house to burn clothing, she replied, “No I never burned any. … I was out there. Not that I remember,” the complaint says. She said she did not remember asking him to burn clothes, then added, “Unless it was old rags or something like that.”

Bailey could not explain why the boot prints were consistent with her boots.

An investigator told Bailey that he believed the Polk County district attorney was going to charge her with the murder.

“Mary Jo did not respond and continued to sit at the table without any emotional or verbal response,” the complaint says.

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