A mother and son have been charged in the killing of the woman's husband and son's father, who had been missing for four years when a dog was found chewing on a human skull with a bullet hole in it in western Wisconsin in 2017.
The skull was found in rural Barron County on Dec. 3, 2017. Search teams then discovered the skeletal remains of Gary Albert Herbst, 63, whose identity wasn't confirmed until months later in 2018. The Barron County Sheriff's Office announced it was investigating the case as a homicide during this past summer.
Prior to his disappearance and death, Herbst lived with his wife and son in Elko New Market, a community south of the Twin Cities in Scott County. His wife, Connie L. Herbst, now 62 years old and living in New Prague, informed police in July 2013 that her husband had come home, packed a bag and took $5,000 in cash before leaving without his cellphone.
Neither she nor their son, Austin J. Herbst, now 26 years old, had seen Gary since he allegedly left that day in July 2013.
This past June, police confronted Connie about a title for Gary's 2003 Chevy Impala, which had been sold in Wisconsin in 2017 – four years after he went missing – with Gary's signature on the new title. Connie claimed that Gary routinely pre-signed his vehicle titles, also pre-dating them, according to the criminal complaint.
During the investigation, officers interviewed neighbors from their New Market residence. One interviewee recalled the date of Aug. 30, 2013, when the Herbsts held a garage sale and were selling Gary's tools and clothing. The interviewee then recalled that sometime before the garage sale they saw a black truck backed up to the sliding glass door on the grass at the Herbst home, something they had never seen before.
The witness then told investigators that Connie and Austin were "loading something in the back of the pickup, possibly rolled up carpeting," the charging document says. They then left with a boat hooked the back of the truck and were gone 1-3 days. After that, the interviewee never saw Gary again.
Another neighbor told investigators a similar story about seeing Connie and Austin placing a rolled up carpet into the bed of Gary's truck, also claiming to have seen them scrubbing the basement floor. They, too, never saw Gary again.
A few months later the Herbsts sold their home in Elko New Market.
The new homeowners were contacted by Scott County deputies and the Minnesota BCA Forensic Science Laboratory on June 29, 2020. They granted permission to have their home searched, and informed investigators that while remodeling their basement in 2019 they "discovered a stain on the concrete floor that seemed unusual," the complaint says.
A chemical test revealed the stain to be from human blood – and a cadaver dog indicated the presence of human decomposition near the sliding glass door in the basement.
The blood at the home did not match Gary's profile, the complaint says, and all other blood samples had "insufficient genetic information to make a statement regarding DNA."
Meanwhile, a staff member at Gary's former employer, RL Tool in Bloomington, informed police that Gary abruptly stopped showing up for work after July 8, 2013.
During another police interview, Austin "never denied involvement in his father's homicide," the complaint says, noting that Austin said Gary "was far more verbally and physically abusive towards his mother" in the months before his disappearance.
Furthermore, the complaint documents text exchanges between Connie and Austin from this past July, where Connie wrote to Austin: "Might have a problem, they are searching 347. Don’t mean to f*** up your vacation just wanted u to know. It’s in the paper."
Both Connie and Austin Herbst have been charged with one count of aiding and abetting second-degree intentional murder.