Westerhuises Maintained $1.3M Property, $900K Gym on $131K Salary

MCEC Business Manager Said Federal Audit “Favorable” Week Before State Canceled Contract

KELO-TV reported last night that Scott Westerhuis, the Platte man whom Attorney General Marty Jackley has said killed his wife and four children, set his house ablaze, and killed himself last week, owned a very expensive rural home:

36705 279th Street, Platte, SD. screen cap from Google Maps, 2015.09.22.
36705 279th Street, Platte, SD. screen cap from Google Maps, 2015.09.22.

Before the Westerhuis home went up in flames nearly a week ago, it was very impressive. The $1.3 million rural Platte property included a 7,600 square foot house. There is also a $900,000 gym that KELOLAND News is told has a basketball court; weight lifting area; computers; and a loft with rooms for guests, a meeting room and kitchen [Angela Kennecke, “Westerhuis $1.3M Property And Non-Profits That Took Grant Money,” KELO-TV, 2015.09.23].

Kennecke’s text is unclear, but it would seem the $900K gym complex is value in addition to the $1.3M. (Play with this building calculator, see what you can spend on a 7,600-square-foot house.)

Scott Westerhuis was business manager for Mid-Central Educational Cooperative in Platte. The most recent MCEC board minutes, from September 10, show that Westerhuis’s MCEC salary was $66,866.98. His wife Nicole Westerhuis was also drawing an MCEC salary, $63,682.84. Their combined salary was $130,549.82.

I plug $130,549.82 into the Zillow mortgage calculator, spot them a $100K down payment, and learn that Zillow says the Westerhuises could afford a $786,813 house. Obviously, there was other income involved in building the rural complex pictured above.

By the way, at that last MCEC meeting, Scott Westerhuis reported to the board that (in the words of the minutes) “the Federal auditors have reviewed the findings from the Legislative Audit of Gear Up, and the results are favorable.” The board took no action.

Six days later, the state Department of Education canceled MCEC’s contract to handle the $4.3-million federal GEAR UP grant. In the wee hours of the next day, a shotgun ended the Westerhuises’ lives and a fire destroyed their luxurious house.


55 Responses to Westerhuises Maintained $1.3M Property, $900K Gym on $131K Salary

  1. mike from iowa

    San Jose Mercury News had this to say about Nicole- ecords for the American Indian Institute for Innovation back to 2012 list no compensation for Scott Westerhuis in his role as CFO. Nicole Westerhuis was paid about $38,500 in 2013 as business manager and an officer of Oceti Sakowin Education Consortium.

  2. I do not believe the guy killed himself and his family. No note and no reason to do so as he would not have been in any trouble with the bunch of crooks he has been involved with. There is way to much moolah involved. Kind of like Benda being the fall guy, here we go again with Marty at the helm. Do we call him the consigliere yet?

  3. Im with Jerry, I dont know how 1 person could shoot 5 people with a shotgun without 1 running away or getting away. In my semi-crazy mind, they embezzled some money, and someone wanted it back, they rounded up the family threatened to shoot them, got the info, then shot them anyways… A house that big is impossible to wipe down and get rid of all evidence so they just torched it. Everything just has that eerie too perfect feel to it.

  4. Bill Dithmer

    Right now I’m thinking their contractor had a very good time building their house. $171 per sf is only $60 or so more then average. But then it doesnt take much to bring that cost up if you have expensive taste. A marble bath here and lights with bling and a good contractor could get that cost right up there.

    The gym is a little high but not bad. $140 a sf with all that stuff in there. It looks like roughly $100,000 to $125,000 in landscaping. It was never going to be the place their neighbors to the north have.

    What interest me is how much they would have been spending on electricity. It had to be over a grand a month, and more in the cold months because I didnt see any geothermal loops in those pictures.

    If I was the curious kind, I’d find out what the heavy equipment was doing there. Some setting close to the shop, and much more in the southeast corner of that quarter section. It looks like they were working on a home site or a gravel pit or a dam. If so the money could have come from there.

    The Blindman

  5. mike from iowa

    Maybe someone was thinking ahead and decided to move in equipment to clear the rubble beforehand.

  6. from the time stamp on the photo, this satellite picture was from 2013.

  7. Paul Seamans

    This whole episode brings to mind the movie/book “In Cold Blood” by Truman Capote. To keep the four member family constrained while they shotgunned them the perps tied them all up first. Hard to feature shotgunning five people without doing so first. Had Scott Westerhuis read this book?

  8. Where’s the line to receive these “federal” or “state” contracts. Too many of us may be living wrong.

  9. This is not a current photo of what the estate looked like; more additions and projects have been added since 2013.

  10. Your on the right track Mr. Seamans on what the authorities want you to believe. You mention “they” and that would make some kind of sense to this, but one person to just go around with a shotgun because of an audit that is full of holes, makes no sense. If this was so horrible to Scott, why didn’t the other parties involved feel the same remorse? That bunch has moved on to find another carcass to feed upon. This has the feel of a hit as it once again stops with the shotgun smoke before it goes any further up the ladder.

  11. larry kurtz

    the contrast with the american indian kids these people were contracted to assist is nearly infinitely omnifarious.

  12. Roger Cornelius

    If I were a betting man, I’d wager that Jackley, the DCI, and others involved here have not been interviewed.

    Paul is right, this is a odd crime scene. I can imagine Scott killing himself, but when did he do it knowing that he would incinerate himself. The cases of murder/suicide that I am familiar with the murderer doesn’t feel a need to also commit arson.

  13. Exactly, Larry. The Indian kids, the Westerhuis kids, and justice are the victims. Despite the house and computers burning, remote servers, perhaps the cloud, likely hold a pretty complete record of the activities of the household and the non-profit. Where’s those subpeonas? It ain’t rocket science (as Hillary is teaching us). Or does the state not want us to know? “nothing to see here folks, move along”. Or will the pabulum apply that “the family suffered enough.” Perhaps the Indian kids and taxpayers are able to claw-back something from the property value and insurance. This multi-faceted tragedy should not lead to other tragedies for Indian kid education or a full taxpayer write-off.

    Who else is on suicide watch tonight? I’m jus’ asking’.

  14. Paul Seamans

    Very good point Roger. What did Scott Westerhuis have to gain by torching the crime scene and then committing suicide. I could see the arson if he wanted to, as a survivor, blame the deaths on the fire.

  15. Deb Geelsdottir

    I wonder who will profit from the insurance? Of course, those profiting from the silence is an entirely different matter. Isn’t it?

  16. Well the Minnetonka dad shot up his family without them getting away. It happened in the night when they were all sleeping. It seems like the accelerator to start the fire could be traced back to when it was bought. Has the FBI been brought in to investigate? They should be.
    I have heard of cases where the criminal starts a fire and then kills himself.

  17. But it happens—see this example of murder-suicide-arson from New Jersey at the beginning of this month:

    http://www.nj.com/monmouth/index.ssf/2015/09/deaths_of_4_long_branch_family_members_ruled_murde.html

    Jenny’s Minnetonka example didn’t involve torching the house, but the husband killed his wife and three children before killing himself, amidst financial troubles and plans to move to a smaller house:

    http://www.startribune.com/documents-shotgun-bought-a-day-or-two-before-lake-minnetonka-murder-suicide/328731881/

    Even more so than Richard Benda’s suicide, the Platte murder-suicide-arson seems inconceivable even to those among us who are suffering various stresses—no trouble can be so bad that it would motivate methodically killing the people one loves most, can it? But it happens.

    Whatever evidence Westerhuis may have destroyed, John makes a good point about the evidence trail that may lie elsewhere with respect to MCEC. Unlike Joop Bollen, Westerhuis was still working a much more public job and running entities that had to file public 990s. If there was corruption afoot, we’ll have a much better chance of finding it.

  18. It takes a village to move through this much money on a regular basis. Keep digging.

  19. If the wife was on the payroll as well as the husband, it’s possible she was in as deep as he was. Maybe she was going to leave him, and blow the whistle?

  20. I suppose that Jackley would say that the “Trigger stick” burned up in the fire! There are way too many people who think something is far too rotten in South Dakota when $millions are involved and cases closed by shot gun blasts.

  21. Jeff Barth

    There is a saying that you can’t take it with you. I have read that in other similar cases that white, middle-aged men sometimes try; his kids, his wife, his house.

  22. barry freed

    They must have found accelerant and smoke in his lungs to conclude what they did. .

  23. Jeff Barth

    What a horror for the families, neighbors, classmates and friends of the deceased and my sympathies go out to the firefighters, sheriff’s people, DCI Agents and the Medical Examiner who had to recover the remains and examine them.

  24. Jeff, I could not agree more with you!! I cannot imagine.

  25. I can t imagine that the people of Platte didn t question what was happening 3 miles south of town knowing the families of husband and wife. $1.3 million dollar spread with $900,000 hoop area? He works for an education service!!!!!
    How do the board members feel since they approved hundreds of thousands of spending monthly to the same entity. I randomly picked one month (Feb 2014) board minutes and added some numbers. Gear up received over $145,000
    In payments for a variety of things from travel, cars, rent, salary, phones , ect!

  26. mike from iowa

    How about an outside,independent investigator for this crime and EB-5?

  27. mike from iowa

    BTW did South Dakota get a replacement US Attorney for Johnson?

  28. larry kurtz

    I just twitter-bombed both the USDoJ and South Dakota’s USA office.

  29. when the busted 5 bar above rapid city burned down all my band’s $tens of thousand of dollars of top of the line rock’n roll gear in 1974, to collect insurance on the piece -o-sheit steel building, beer kegs and pic-nic tables, they bulldozed the site within mere days. perhaps two days. i am still pissed. changed my life. bastards. fire marshall said it was an accident, probably.

  30. mikeyc, that's me!

    Did Pat Duffy really die from natural causes?
    Hmmm….

  31. oh mikey, trying to be clever and it always fails you.

  32. I grew up in Platte and still go back to visit. I didn’t know the Westerhuises, but I’d heard they had a gym out there and were very generous about letting people use it. Did people wonder? Well, yeah, some did, vaguely, but hey, they were a great family, faithful church members. Scott was, from all reports, a devoted dad, and the thought of him pulling the trigger has people reeling.

  33. mikeyc, that's me!

    Not trying to be clever. Just a disturbing pattern developing here.

  34. To question a death that had to do with political corruption, I don’t think anything is out of bounds to question that. Not that many months ago, we read about another shotgun death. That time it also involved political figures to go along with 120 million of disappeared money, to date, nothing on that while the autopsy in that case, is non existent. So the disturbing pattern is questionable republican deaths that are associated with disappeared money, in this case, it is my money that has been corrupted. Why aren’t you pissed about that? Taxpayer money has been stolen right here in “conservative” South Dakota.

  35. The level of assumption surrounding this story continues to baffle me. Sure the guy could have been on the take. Or maybe he was just savvy and was finding clever ways to boost his income.

    I’ve heard he had family wealth due to a lot of land – so unless someone is privy to the family 1040s perhaps you should just back off a bit. I know of a man who lives in a home valued in seven figures with a master bedroom larger than many homes… yet the only way he has ever earned money is by sharing a last name with his father.

    When and if the facts come out we can gossip all we wish, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. This is no doubt a tragedy but let’s not try to make it even worse.

  36. There are always levels of assumptions when corruption is involved. Even if you do not look at a 1040, it is clear that there are funds lost, strayed or stolen from the accounts that had federal grant money going into them. Who really cares how big a bedroom anyone has, it all has to do with how that bedroom was financed. If the fellow had his own money from his own sources, then that really adds to the dilemma as he could have simple bought his way out of the situation. No one should be getting ahead of themselves but no one should be naive enough to think that because Marty says something, it is a fact. Marty does not have a very clear track record when it comes to corrupted suicides, murders or any combinations of the two. Benda’s autopsy still is a mystery to many, including me.

  37. Bill Fleming

    As much as we feel we need to, we may never know why what happened here happened. That said, I’m far more inclined to believe it was tragic act of family despair than I am a murder/coverup by a third party. Just never been big on conspiracy theories.

  38. bearcreekbat

    I guess I touched an area that no one wants to consider – whether the religious views about the afterlife might have justified the slaughter of his wife and children in Westerhuis’ unfortunate mental state. Absent murder by some third party I am hard pressed to offer a more rational explanation of Westerhuis’ completely irrational act.

    The reality is that the continued presentation of a feel good myth (heaven) can lead a mentally ill person to commit horrendous acts of violence on innocent children.

    http://myth-one.com/memorial.htm

  39. mike from iowa

    Bill Fleming-has anyone in state law enforcement done anything to dispel doubts about what really happened here? Do you have faith that this investigation will be handled better than the previous State employee suicide? I probably didn’t word this right,but as Newquist said above,w/o free flow of information getting to the bottom of these mysteries is a worry.

  40. Bill Fleming

    Mike, you’re right. I don’t really understand what you’re getting at. I don’t think it’s law enforcement’s job to tell us all why what some of us think might have happened didn’t happen. if we’re luckey, they might actually figure out why something happened. But, to use a Kurtzism, often times it just ‘remains a mystery,’

  41. larry kurtz

    We’re all aware of the need for salt on a hot and arid planet like this, Professor, but it’s a mystery, and I don’t like mysteries. They give me a bellyache and I’ve got a beauty right now.

    https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Star_Trek:_The_Original_Series#The_Man_Trap

  42. Deb Geelsdottir

    BCB, you’re right. Sometimes views of religion do lead individuals to perpetrate bizarre acts. Facts show that men do annihilate their families due to feelings of despair. The despair usually involves feelings of failure. Although Westerhuise appears to be economically successful, he could well be subject to pressures others are unaware of.

    Did he feel he was losing what he had, that his economic perfidy would soon be discovered, that he was being blackmailed? Did Westerhuise commit the crimes and burn the crime scene hoping that life insurance would pay off?

    I sure don’t know. I’m just making guesses, trying to imagine why a man might murder his entire family. When a brain is very stressed, it doesn’t work well. A few years ago Wisconsin man murdered his 3 little girls to get back at his wife for divorcing him. Things that seem absurd in the calm and rational light of day, are reasonable to an individual who is mentally ill or under great strain.

    Personally? I don’t trust the SD Koch/Republican cabal one half inch.

  43. bearcreekbat

    Deb, think of the Muslim suicide bombers who believe that they will be rewarded in heaven with all those virgins (what did the virgins do to deserve such a fate anyway?). Despair causes all sorts of unfortunate behavior. Couple despair with a belief that there is a better life awaiting in heaven for you and your family and you have a recipe for disaster, wouldn’t you agree?

  44. bearcreekbat

    And the Wisconsin killer you describe could justify the killing of his children as not really hurting anyone but the mother if he held a particular religious view believing that the kids would have a happy afterlife.

  45. mike from iowa

    Bill Fleming-I can see this crime? being a mystery to Jackley and crew because,frankly,I doubt Jackley could find his butt with either hand.

  46. Bear, naturally, I would take issue with any man’s religion that would allow him to do what A.G. Jackley alleges Westerhuis did. Religions that allow or encourage earthly evil are deeply flawed.

  47. Deb Geelsdottir

    BCB, it had nothing to do with the children. That monster (Who else but a monster kills 3 little girls, his own daughters?), admitted he did it because it was the worst way he could think of to hurt his ex wife. The little ones were just means to an end, spousal abuse. That’s beyond monstrous.

    BTW, just this summer the mother dedicated “Three Little Angels Playground” in her hometown. It was funded by donations. She decided the best way to honor her daughters, in addition to the playground, is to put her life back together and go on. She’s had tremendous support and professional help. She’s incredibly heroic.

  48. bearcreekbat

    Deb and Cory, CNN reported today (10-2-15) that the Oregon college shooter asked students if they were Christians and told the students who said they were Christians to stand up. He then told them they would be meeting Jesus in just a few seconds and murdered them in cold blood.

    I haven’t yet seen any reports about the shooter’s actual religious beliefs, but even if he was not a Christian himself it appears something about the Christian religion was behind his horrible acts.

  49. Bear,

    Whether it be Westerhuiss or the guy in Oregon, it is irrational (even if at the moment it seems rational to the person). Period. A person having a perverse idea of Christianity isn’t an indictment of Christianity just like a rapist isn’t indictment of sex. That said, the way the Oregon killer said they get to meet God seems to reflect he was being sarcastic and didn’t believe there is a God.

  50. bearcreekbat

    Troy, I fully agree that anyone committing such acts is behaving in an irrational manner. I merely point out a possible source – religious beliefs – for the irrational thinking.

    Whether or not the Oregon shooter was being sarcastic, there seem to be too many cases where someone acts in the good faith belief that he or she is actually benefiting their victims.

    http://www.awkwardmomentsbible.com/pastors-wife-murder-children-for-jesus/

  51. bearcreekbat

    See also:

    http://myth-one.com/memorial.htm

    which identifies several other cases of homicide based on the belief that the victims would be in a better place.

  52. Deb Geelsdottir

    I haven’t heard enough details to have a definitive response to the killer’s motives. From the bits and pieces I have heard, I thought it was punishment for the victims being Christians. I thought the ‘meeting Jesus’ comment was sarcasm.

    I agree with you BCB, that the ‘better place’ thing happens. One of the ways that is furthered is funeral comments about the deceased being in ‘a better place’. Makes me grit my teeth when I hear that.

  53. I suspect the motive in the Westerhuis case was money, despair over losing it, and perhaps fear of going to prison. I’ll grant that an honest commitment to Christian principles would have stayed the hand of the killer.