Attorney General Marty Jackley released four key pieces of information on his investigation of the apparent Westerhuis murders, arson, and suicide south of Platte on September 17, 2015. AG Jackley’s intent in releasing this new information is to “confirm that Scott Westerhuis was responsible for the death of his family, before setting fire to his home and taking his own life” and to beat back hypotheses that anyone other than Scott Westerhuis is responsible for the grim events of that fatal night. Such hypotheses have ground through the rumor mill, with perhaps even more vigor after AG Jackley’s first big public presentation of findings during his ill-fated press conference/town healing ceremony on November 3, which seems to have raised more questions than it answered.
For the most part, AG Jackley’s four big revelations (presented via press release this time, not live public speech and Q&A in Platte) tell us tell us that some of our graver suspicions have been nothing but the figments of imaginations looking for diabolical connections where there are simpler, more mundane explanations.
1. AG Jackley nails down the time of at least one of the crimes, the torching of Scott and Nicole Westerhuis’s house. The mysterious last call from the Westerhuis landline to Nicole Westerhuis’s cell phone was placed at 2:57:54 by her home security system. That home security system placed a similar call to Scott Westerhuis’s cell phone a minute earlier, at 2:56:35. AG Jackley says the security system had been programed to call Scott, then Nicole, if the home fire alarm went off. The fire was thus burning and smoking enough to set off the home fire alarm by 2:56:35. If AG Jackley’s conclusion that Scott Westerhuis shot his wife and children, then set the fire, then shot himself is correct, then Scott Westerhuis killed his family before 2:56 a.m. and, given the absence of smoke in the airways of his corpse and depending on the sensitivity of his fire alarm, would have shot himself near but not much if at all after that fateful moment.
As AG Jackley reported in November, the Westerhuises’ employer, Mid-Central Educational Cooperative, deactivated their cell phone contracts seven days after their deaths. That move still seems incredibly irresponsible on Mid-Central’s part, given its potential to destroy evidence in a criminal investigation. However, even if Mid-Central had behaved properly, the content of the voicemails left at 2:56 and 2:57 really is irrelevant; AG Jackley now tells us that all that matters is the metadata: what placed the call and what time it happened.
2. AG Jackley says the white pickup was a tame pheasant chase. KELO-TV’s Angela Kennecke considered it newsworthy that the Clark C-store surveillance video caught a white truck towing a flatbed trailer through Platte, once east, then an hour later west, just before the fatal events at the Westerhuis property on September 17. I considered it not quite newsworthy and disproved Kennecke’s claim that the truck on its first pass was traveling “in the direction of the Westerhuis property….” Kennecke inched that phrase back in her January 1 report, saying that the truck was traveling “in the general direction a vehicle would be going if headed toward the Westerhuis property at 1:28 a.m. that morning” [emphasis mine]. Kennecke explained that the driver of the white pickup had come forward and said he was hauling pheasants to a game preserve.
Kennecke did not mention the details AG Jackley released today, that the white pickup “delivered a load of pheasants from a farm in Gregory County to a pheasant hunting preserve north of Platte.” North of Platte, as in not south of Platte, where the Westerhuis house was.
One odd detail is that the pheasants were delivered to the pheasant facility (take your pick of which Platte hunting lodge might be associated with that), but the white pickup’s trailer was empty on the first pass but loaded on the second pass. But that doesn’t matter to this criminal investigation: AG Jackley says the truck driver, the pheasant raiser, and the invoice all agree, that the return trip showed the trailer loaded with empty pheasant crates stacked and secured, and that, most importantly, this truck wasn’t carrying a hit man or Scott Westerhuis’s missing safe. It was just some guy on the road late at night doing his job.
3. Scott Westerhuis’s safety deposit box held no evidence about the crimes of September 17. You remember the safety deposit box that Scott Westerhuis had maintained for Mid-Central, a safety deposit box that, amidst ongoing investigations into the Westerhuis murders and their own finances, the Mid-Central board thought they could just put their exec Dan Guericke in charge of opening and deciding whether there was anything DCI should see? Yeah, that AG Jackley talks about that box. Mid-Central’s lawyer wised them up, and DCI took a look. Says AG Jackley, “Although the Search Warrant Return has been filed, consistent with the Order to Seal it is not appropriate to disclose the specific contents at this time. Generally, there was nothing of evidentiary value in relation to the death investigation.”
We shouldn’t have expected any information about the September 17 murders: if Education Secretary Melody Schopp’s decision on September 16 to cancel Mid-Central’s multi-million-dollar GEAR UP contract triggered Scott Westerhuis’s decision to kill his family and himself (and that’s the implicit connection every media report makes, right, the only dramatic trigger we can discern in public documents, right?), he wouldn’t have had time to stash any relevant evidence at the bank. Scott Westerhuis was in Takini when he learned of the Schopp decision. He was driving back to Platte through the evening of the 16th. He died before bank hours on the 17th.
4. Jackley still thinks Scott Westerhuis’s safe evaporated. This is part of AG Jackley’s story still smells fishy. AG Jackley’s statement today says multiple witnesses have told DCI about a safe in the Westerhuis house. DCI has found no trace of said safe.
AG Jackley says “the safe is believed to be similar in nature to the SentrySafe 1100 Fire-safe chest that provides only a ½ hour of fire protection.” The safe thus would have had to have faced a fire that was either hotter than normal fires or lasted longer than half an hour. That fire would have to have been strong enough to destroy that safe but not the shotgun that Jackley says Westerhuis used to kill himself.
I have the SentrySafe H2100, bought maybe at Pamida. It’s a step up from the SentrySafe 1100, since it is waterproof, and it costs $60. Why would a guy with two security systems and a panic room in his house buy the same crappy entry-level safe as some cheap blogger?
Come to think of it, if Scott Westerhuis really was running some big financial scam through GEAR UP and Mid-Central, would he really have let multiple people see the safe where he was keeping his most important papers? It seems just as plausible to conclude that this cheap, flimsy safe was a decoy. If Scott Westerhuis had evidence of vast corruption, he kept it somewhere else. (Marty, you guys have run the dogs and metal detector across the remaining Westerhuis office/gym complex and the rest of the property and subpoena’d the crap out Westerhuis’s Internet providers, right?)
* * *
Attorney General Marty Jackley’s statements today focus mostly on dispelling concerns that anyone other than Scott Westerhuis was involved in the death and destruction on the Westerhuises’ property on September 17. AG Jackley’s statements do nothing to help us understand why those crimes happened. But they emphasize that, three and a half months after the crimes, we have no evidence that supports any of the rumors that someone besides Scott Westerhuis pulled the trigger and lit the fire.
AG Jackley’s statements tell us nothing about the investigation of what may well be the bigger crime, the corruption in the GEAR UP program and any other finances that Scott Westerhuis managed for Mid-Central Educational Cooperative in Platte. AG Jackley remained mum on the investigation of that side of this case, other than to say the investigation continues. The results of that investigation may help us understand the motives behind the murder, arson, and suicide. More importantly, they may reveal crimes against all of us, abuses of taxpayer dollars and public trust that our Legislature and we the voters will have to do something about.