“Life and liberty, freedom — the chance to do what you want,” said John Freitas of Clark, their son-in-law.
“All Janos and Hildegard wanted was to seek a better life for themselves and children in the United States,” said Siggy Gonzalez of Montgomery, Ala., Hildegard’s niece.
However, the couple’s lives — and the life of their daughter Ildiko — were abruptly cut short on March 2, when two young Cody men seeking a getaway car killed the three family members in their Clark home. The 19-year-olds who committed the murders, Tanner Vanpelt and Stephen Hammer, were sentenced to life in prison without parole last week.
Friends and family of Ildiko Freitas, 40, and Janos and Hildegard Volgyesi, 69 and 70, respectively, all recall them as close, loving and kind. Ildiko Freitas knew Hammer from when his family had lived in the Clark area years before and, apparently having no idea that the young men were armed and dangerous, invited them inside her home that March day.
“I want people to know she was a very loving girl, hard-working, caring,” John Freitas said of his wife. “That’s what it got her. Gunned down in her own home.”
Ildiko Freitas was born to Hildegard and Janos in Germany in 1972.
Janos — a Hungarian military veteran — worked as a diesel mechanic, while Hildegard was a homemaker.
“Hildegard was a hard worker, loved the outdoors, loved her flower and vegetable garden and her animals and children,” Gonzalez said. That love of animals would be passed on to Ildiko (see related story below).
In 1985, the family immigrated from Germany to the United States. They spent a short time on the East Coast before moving to Bakersfield, Calif.
Bakersfield is where Hildegard gave birth to the couple’s second child, Thomas Volgyesi. It’s also where Ildiko met her future husband.
“A mutual friend brought her to a party that we were at, so I saw her,” John Freitas said. “I was smitten.”
The two were married in 1995.
John’s work as an oil field driller first brought him to Clark more than a decade ago, and the family ultimately decided the community was where they wanted to live. They bought property and built a house in a remote subdivision on Big View Road.
John and Ildiko Freitas moved to their new Clark home about seven years ago. While John Freitas continued his oil field work, Ildiko obtained a bachelor’s degree in nursing from the University of Wyoming and spent four years as a registered nurse at West Park Hospital. Ildiko was affectionately called Koko by friends — and she gained many of them during her time in the community.
As one of those friends, Jessie Rae Brandt, put it: “She was pretty amazing.”
Nicci Johannsen of Clark became close friends with Ildiko after their husbands had a chance meeting some 13 years ago.
“She was considerate, loving, kind, beautiful and always, always, ALWAYS had a smile on her face,” Johannsen said.
“Her smile kept me so happy,” John Freitas said in court last week. “Anything life could throw our way was fixed with one look from her.”
Ildiko was always happy, despite dealing with chronic pain up until the past couple of years, he said.
Those who knew Ildiko attest to her dedication to her parents; Similarly, Janos and Hildegard were “very devoted parents to their children,” said Gonzalez.
The retirees followed Ildiko and John to Clark several years ago and lived in a separate residence on the property.
Fewer people in Clark knew Janos and Hildegard Volgyesi, but those who did — like Johannsen — recall them with fondness.
“The language barrier between (Hildegard) and others (made it) difficult to understand at times, but she would always smile and nod her head and agree,” Johannsen said. She said Hildegard loved life and living in Clark.
“Every time she saw somebody around town that she knew, she always opened her arms for a hug,” Johannsen recalled.
Janos’ accent similarly made him hard to understand at times, “but he would always ask (people) to help him find the right word to explain what he was trying to say,” Johannsen said.
She fondly recalls Janos’ stubbornness and insistence on always being right.
“Through his stubbornness though, you could tell that he loved his family wholeheartedly and loved challenges,” Johannsen said.
She described the retired mechanic as a skilled repairman who could fix just about anything.
“(Janos and Hildegard) lived their whole life poor, wouldn’t take anything from anybody, wanted to do it on their own,” but would “still give the shirt off their back to help anybody,” John Freitas said. He said his in-laws had it rough growing up during a depression in Europe, then spent their lives working and raising a family before retiring to Clark.
“Now they finally had some time to enjoy for themselves,” John Freitas said. “And it was just cut short.”
For the impression their lives and deaths made on the small Clark community, one needed to look no further than the dozen or so residents who were present at each of the hearings in the criminal cases — there to show their support for the family.
"I will absolutely continue to support John (Freitas) in any and every way I possibly can," said Kristie Hoffert of Clark, one of those who attended the court hearings. Hoffert said all of the supporters are committed to honoring and remembering Ildiko, Janos and Hildegard and desparately wish wish they could ease some of John's pain.
"We want to ensure that he (John) is surrounded by love and support — to help him laugh through the tears, and to know that he never has to be alone," Hoffert said. "John truly does have a broad and diverse network of friends and neighbors in Clark who care deeply for him and will continue to grieve with him.
"We will also do everything we can to create and share happier times through this painful healing process," she said.
The community is one reason why John Freitas plans to stay in Clark.
“I have a way bigger support group here than I would anywhere else,” he said.
Johannsen memorialized the family with a tattoo across her back. It depicts a macaw (one of Ildiko’s many pets), three columbine flowers representing the lost family members and also lists their names in script.
“I wanted to honor my friends with a permanent tattoo because their lives being taken away so suddenly is irreversibly permanent,” Johannsen said.
She said in a time of such sadness, the inking brings comfort. It was painful to receive, Johannsen said, “but I was quickly reminded that it was nothing compared to the pain Koko endured.”
The emotional pain for friends and family continues.
Thomas Volgyesi — who lost all the family he’s ever known in the murders — said in court last week that the six months that have passed feel more like six years, though emotionally, it feels as though it has only been six hours.
“No matter how much time elapses, my mind is always stuck on March 2,” Thomas Volgyesi said.
The pain at first was overbearing, only slowly lessening over time.
“You just build up a tolerance for it, but it just never goes away,” he said.
The loss also remains as difficult to believe as six months ago.
“I still don’t believe it’s true,” John Freitas said. “I still think she (Ildiko) is going to come walking through the door.”
Consider donating to animal shelter
In addition to caring for four horses, four goats, four dogs, six macaw parrots and six cats, the late Ildiko Freitas helped other animals by regularly donating to animal shelters.
“I want to carry on what she was doing,” said her husband, John Freitas.
If anyone wants to do something in his wife’s memory, John asks they donate to the Park County Animal Shelter in Cody.
“They can do it under her name, they can do it under theirs or however they want to do it,” John Freitas said. “I’d really like to see that what she loved and believed in still carries (on).”
The Park County Animal Shelter, located at 5537 Greybull Highway, can be reached at 307-587-5110. Checks can be sent to PCAS, P.O. Box 203, Cody, WY 82414.
Editor's note: This version of the story differs from the print edition in adding comments from Hoffert received after press time.