The two teens are presumed to be innocent of the charges, but if found guilty, they would face life in prison without parole or — if Park County Attorney Bryan Skoric were to pursue it — the possibility of the death penalty.
“All options are on the table,” Deputy Park County Attorney Sam Krone told a civic group on Wednesday. “We’ve got to visit with the (victims’) family.”
The charges were filed in connection with Saturday’s killings of Ildiko Freitas, 40, her mother — 70-year-old Hildegard Volgyesi — and her father — 69-year-old Janos Volgyesi.
The family — including Ildiko Freitas’ husband John, who was working out of town on Saturday — lived on a remote property on Big View Road. They’ve been remembered by the Clark community as kind people and good neighbors. Ildiko Freitas reportedly was beloved by her friends and co-workers at West Park Hospital, where she worked as a registered nurse for four years.
Clark landfill attendant Leonard Torczon remembered the Volgyesis as friendly folks. Despite English being their second language (after German), the couple loved to chat. They’d talk about their time living in California or about how things were going at the landfill, Torczon said.
Of their murders, “I can’t understand why somebody would do that,” he said.
People who know Vanpelt and Hammer have wondered the same thing.
Park County Circuit Court Judge Bruce Waters ordered the teens held without bail while they await a preliminary hearing that will weigh the evidence against them. Park County Attorney Bryan Skoric had asked for no bail, and court-appointed defense attorneys for the teens didn’t object, pending the hearing tentatively set for Wednesday, March 13.
The account from law enforcement, laid out in court documents and interviews with the Tribune, is that Hammer knew Ildiko Freitas from when his family lived in Clark.
Charging documents, based on statements Hammer and Vanpelt gave to Park County Sheriff’s Lt. Dave Patterson, allege the two teens wanted to get out of town after breaking into Cody Sports and Pawn and stealing guns on Feb. 26, so they made a plan to get Freitas’ Audi A4 and drive it to Denver. Hammer and Vanpelt allegedly brought two of the stolen pistols with them to Freitas’ home, north of the Clark landfill, and used them to kill her and the Volgyesis.
“They (Vanpelt and Hammer) both were interviewed separately and both gave the same story, that their only intention was (being) there to get that car,” said Park County Sheriff Scott Steward. “So we have no indication as to there was anything else involved — no information, nothing to lead us to believe any different.”
Friends of Hammer and Vanpelt alleged to various media outlets that they had been involved with drugs, but Steward said Tuesday there were no indications the suspects had been using drugs or had drugs with them at the time of the incident.
When asked after his arrest if there had been a plan to kill Freitas, Vanpelt allegedly told Patterson “they had not planned it to go down this way.”
Patterson’s affidavit says both Hammer and Vanpelt told him that an argument ensued with Freitas after she let them in the home, as she apparently wouldn’t agree to letting them take the Audi.
Vanpelt told Patterson he began rifling through purses in the home, looking for the keys to the Audi. Vanpelt said when the argument resumed, he pulled out his gun and shot the woman in the head, according to the affidavit.
Hammer said he then heard something downstairs and found Hildegard Volgyesi, Patterson wrote. Hammer is quoted as saying the woman surprised him, so he shot her, then ran from the house to the white Ford Taurus the teens had driven to the home.
Vanpelt allegedly told Patterson that, after hearing the shooting downstairs, he went to where the 69-year-old woman was lying on the floor.
“Vanpelt stated he saw her moving around so he shot her two times,” Patterson wrote.
Janos and Hildegard Volgyesi lived in a separate guest house on the property.
Apparently unaware of what had just happened, Janos Volgyesi walked into the garage of the main home while Vanpelt was trying to start the Audi and leave.
Vanpelt said Volgyesi said something about him being in the car.
“Vanpelt stated that the man then turned around to walk back to hang something up so he shot him,” Patterson said. “I asked Vanpelt for clarification and asked, ‘You shot him in the back?’ Vanpelt replied that yes, he had shot him in the back twice — that he wasn’t going to just shoot him in the legs.”
Neighbors saw the two teens speed away in the Taurus and stolen Audi. Concerned, they checked on the home, found the aftermath of the shooting and called 911 around 11:15 a.m.
“It was a community effort,” said Sheriff Steward. “Without the neighbors witnessing and coming forth with information, law enforcement ... would have been nowhere.”
It was roughly an hour and a half later that Wyoming Highway Patrol Trooper Dan Walker stopped the teens at the junction of Wyo. 120 and Road 1AB and took them into custody without incident. A Clark resident, former Baltimore police officer Jerry Ruth, had been following the vehicles, providing updates to dispatch and being ready to help, if needed.
The affidavit indicates that the teens were unarmed at the time of the arrest, having dumped the pistols allegedly used in the murders in a Line Creek irrigation ditch.
Hammer and Vanpelt reportedly guided sheriff’s personnel and a Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation special agent to the location — several miles up Line Creek Road — after being taken into custody.
Patterson said Hammer’s first statement after his arrest was that he was sorry for shooting “that lady,” apparently referring to Hildegard Volgyesi. In his alleged account of the killings, Vanpelt appears to have said nothing about how he felt about his actions.
Officials couldn’t recall anything similar in Park County history.
“This one here, to have subjects walk into a house and do what’s happened, certainly nothing compares to anything I’ve witnessed since I’ve been here for 22 years,” Steward said.
“Our heart’s out to the community and to the victims’ families,” he added. “It’s just a tragic event that certainly I hope in the rest of my career here in law enforcement we don’t have to deal with. But we’ll follow this through to the extent of the law and hopefully have some justice.”
Park County’s Circuit Courtroom was, for perhaps for the first time in its existence, packed completely full on Tuesday, with some attendees forced to stand outside the courtroom.
Upwards of a dozen of Ildiko Freitas’ close friends were among those there.
“They just feel like they’ve been assaulted with these kids, for no real reason, coming and doing this to three of the nicest people we have out here,” said Clark resident Dave Hoffert, whose wife Susan and daughter Kristie were among those who attended the hearing.
“I don’t think they know exactly how to display that anger, what to do, to stick up for Koko,” he said, referring to a nickname for Freitas.
“When crimes occur, to a lot of people they’re just names in the paper, and to us it’s not just a name,” said Kristie Hoffert.
“It’s important to all of us to make an obvious show of support to the family and friends and let them know that we stand behind them and that we won’t let them be forgotten this way,” she said.
The friends’ presence also was intended to show those in the judicial system that people are watching the case, Dave Hoffert said.
The murders have drawn the focus of the entire area. The topic came up Wednesday at a Park County Republican Women luncheon at the Irma, where local state lawmakers were giving a briefing about the recent Legislative session.
“Terrible thing that happened,” said Sen. Hank Coe, R-Cody, as he opened his remarks. “I don’t understand how or why, but it did, so... hard, hard thing for this community.”
Deputy prosecutor Krone, who’s also a Cody lawmaker, was asked whether the death penalty will be sought in the case. That’s when Krone said all options were on the table.
“I can tell you what the people in Clark want,” said Park County Clerk Jerri Torczon, who is Leonard Torczon’s wife.
“I can tell you what every single person I’ve talked to wants,” Krone replied.