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December 31, 2013 8:49 am

2013 a look back: Teens take three lives in Clark area

Written by Tribune Staff

Stephen Hammer is led to a jail van after being sentenced to life in prison without parole. Tanner Vanpelt received the same sentence. Stephen Hammer is led to a jail van after being sentenced to life in prison without parole. Tanner Vanpelt received the same sentence. Tribune photo by John Wetzel

On a Saturday morning in March, two young men with no histories of violence gunned down three residents at their remote Clark home.

In just a matter of minutes on March 2, the Clark community lost 40-year-old Ildiko Freitas, her mother Hildegard Volgyesi, 70, and father Janos Volgyesi, 69. It was one of the worst outbursts of violence in Park County’s history.

The killers, Tanner Vanpelt, then 18, and Stephen Hammer, 19, later told a Park County Sheriff’s Office investigator that “they hadn’t planned for it to go down that way.”

Vanpelt and Hammer had broken into a Cody pawn store and stolen guns a few days earlier. They wanted to steal a vehicle and flee the area; they’d wrecked their own car a couple weeks before.

Ildiko Freitas, a friend of Hammer’s family, invited the teens inside when they arrived at the residence that morning. When she declined to give them her car, Vanpelt pulled out one of the stolen handguns and shot her in the head.

“I’m pretty sure if you’d just showed her the guns, my sister would have just handed you the keys and they’d all still be alive today. ... There was no reason to kill them,” Thomas Volgyesi, Ildiko’s brother and Hildegard’s and Janos’ son, told the teens in court.

Instead, Hammer was surprised to see Hildegard Volgyesi in the basement and shot her. Vanpelt did, too. Vanpelt then killed an unsuspecting Janos Volgyesi in the garage before speeding away in the Audi.

Thanks to alert neighbors and law enforcement, the two teens were apprehended hours later and confessed to what they’d done.

In August — just six months after the shootings — Hammer and Vanpelt took deals their court-appointed attorneys reached with Park County Attorney Bryan Skoric. In exchange for having the possibility of the death penalty taken off the table, they pleaded guilty to counts of first-degree murder and agreed to spend the rest of their lives in prison with no chance of parole. District Court Judge Steven Cranfill accepted the deals.

Skoric said the crimes shook the county and state in a way that “full closure for the victims’ family and the community will likely never occur.”

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