A 40-year-old woman, her 69-year-old father and 70-year-old mother were murdered at their Clark home at midday Saturday, police say.
Two Cody teens have each been charged with 11 criminal counts in connection with the case. They made their first court appearance in Park County's Circuit Court Tuesday morning, where Judge Bruce Waters ordered them held without bail pending further proceedings.
Park County Sheriff Scott Steward identified the deceased as Ildiko Freitas, who owned the Big View Road property with her husband, and her parents: her father, Janos Volgyesi, and her mother, Hildegard Volgyesi.
Tanner Vanpelt, 18, and Stephen Hammer, 19, have been charged with counts related to first-degree murder, conspiring to commit armed robbery and use of a firearm in the commission of a felony. Charging documents, citing alleged statements from Hammer and Vanpelt, say the teens had wanted to take Ildiko Freitas' car. Vanpelt shot Ildiko Freitas after she argued with them, wrote Park County Sheriff's Lt. Dave Patterson in an affidavit. The affidavit alleges Hammerthen heard something downstairs and, being surprised to see Hildegard Volgyesi, shot her. The affidavit says Vanpelt saw the woman was still alive and shot her two more times.
Patterson wrote that Vanpelt encountered Janos Volgyesi in the garage. The affidavit says Vanpelt recounted shooting Volgyesi twice in the back as "he (Vanpelt) wasn't going to just shoot him in the legs."
While the affidavit does not explain why the teens were at this particular residence, "Suspect Stephen Hammer previously had lived out in the Clark area and was acquainted with the female victim, Ildiko (Freitas), so there was an acquaintance there and it was not random," Patterson told the Tribune early Tuesday.
Steward's Saturday statement said Hammer and Vanpelt would also be charged with "other crimes." The statement didn't offer any details, but court documents filed Monday contain allegations from police that Hammer and Vanpelt committed the homicides with guns they stole from Cody Sports and Pawn. Tuesday's affidavit from Patterson quotes Hammer as saying the two teens were trying to flee to Denver and that's why they wanted Freitas' Audi.
Ten firearms were stolen from the downtown Cody store when it was broken into during the early hours of Feb. 26.
Cody Police Detective Sgt. Jon Beck wrote in an affidavit made available Monday that, according to Lt. Patterson, Hammer and Vanpelt "both admitted to being present and burglarizing the Cody Sports and Pawn. Furthermore, Lt. Patterson advised me that Hammer and Vanpelt stated that the guns they used in the homicide in Clark, were some of the stolen guns from Cody Sports and Pawn."
Beck wrote that, with Hammer and Vanpelt's cooperation, the sheriff's office recovered two pistols that allegedly were used in the murders and found they were guns taken from Cody Sports and Pawn. The other eight firearms taken from the store — along with a tag from one of the pistols allegedly used in the homicides — were seized at Vanpelt's 29th Street apartment in Cody, according to search warrant records.
Friends and family described Ildiko Freitas and her parents as kind and wondered what would cause anyone to commit such an act.
Steward said the Freitas' vehicle — an Audi A4 — was stolen in the crime, but details about what happened and why remained sparse on Monday.
Big View Road Neighbors noticed an unfamiliar white car when it pulled up to the Freitas' house around 11 a.m. Saturday. Two young men went in the front door.
About 20 minutes later, the sedan and Freitas’ black Audi reportedly sped away from the home, with the family’s dogs in pursuit, neighbors said.
The neighbors went to check on the residence and return the animals, only to discover Ildiko Freitas and her father Janos Volgyesi shot dead. They called 911.
The sheriff’s office later discovered Hildegard Volgyesi’s body in the basement of the home.
“This is nothing short of cold-blooded murder,” Steward said in a statement.
The Clark Volunteer Fire Department was one of the first agencies on scene. When department member Jerry Ruth — a retired Baltimore police officer — arrived, he gathered some information from the neighbors about what they’d seen, helping prepare them to talk to sheriff’s deputies.
Deputies arrived shortly afterward and Ruth, feeling like a third wheel, departed Big View Road for a baby shower at the Clark Pioneer Recreation Center.
But unexpectedly, as Ruth was approaching Road 1AB from Road 8WC near the Bennett Creek Baptist Church, a white Ford Taurus and a black Audi he recognized as the Freitas’ drove right in front of him, headed north toward Wyo. 120.
Well after the murders took place, “I really thought that they would be somewhere in Montana or who knows where,” Ruth said. “I was quite surprised to see them.”
Despite the surprise, he immediately called 911 and provided updates as he followed the two vehicles, hanging about a quarter-mile back to avoid starting a chase.
“Basically I was just going to be a witness, follow the two cars and keep 911 on the phone as long as I could,” Ruth said.
The Taurus and Audi reached Road 1AB’s intersection with Wyo. 120 to find Wyoming Highway Patrol Trooper Dan Walker parked in the Eidelweiss parking lot.
Ruth said after spotting the trooper, the driver in the front white Taurus pulled over, got out and jumped into the black Audi.
“I suspected we were going to have a gunfight, I really did,” said Ruth. He had his gun and Baltimore police badge ready in case the traffic stop went south.
But it didn't.
“At that moment, the state trooper came across the highway from the parking lot — in a very aggressive manner, I guess, very quickly — he drew his gun and pointed it at the driver of the black car and it was done,” Ruth said. “Basically, they gave up right there.”
Lt. Phil Farman of the Wyoming Highway Patrol's Cody office said Trooper Walker did "very well" in ending the incident.
"I think he presented himself well enough that they (the suspects) had to figure it was time to give up," Farman said.
The lieutenant credited the Park County Sheriff's Office for quickly relaying information about the suspects' vehicles.
"If it was not for the diligent effort by the sheriff's department to get the information out, it (the arrest by Trooper Walker) never would have happened," Farman said.
Ruth said he helped keep an eye on the two teens until backup arrived and was glad to play a role in ending the crisis.
“I guess you could say God put me there,” he said.
Murders shock Clark community
The incident reverberated through the far-flung Clark community.
“It’s tough to put into words,” said Robert Bushman Jr., who lives across the road from the Freitas’ home.
“Unreal might be something that could get into it, but it’s ‘speechless,’ I guess,” he said Saturday night.
Long-time Clark resident Don Tolman couldn’t recall a comparable amount of violence in the Clark area since the days Earl Durand — an outlaw who killed five people in the Powell and Clarks Fork areas back in 1939. Durand shot two men above the Clark’s Fork Canyon near Little Rocky Creek when they attempted to storm the place where he was holed up.
Saturday’s murders “kind of shook the people. Everybody, I think,” Tolman said.
Bushman described Ildiko Freitas and her husband John as “real nice people” and said Saturday’s crime came “totally out of left field.”
John, who works in the oil industry, was away on work at the time of the incident.
Freitas worked as a registered nurse at West Park Hospital from September 2008 until September 2012, said hospital spokesman Joel Hunt. Freitas earned her nursing degree through the University of Wyoming.
“She was a member of our hospital family for four years, and our hospital family is grieving right now,” Hunt said. He extended sympathies to Freitas’ kin.
One of Freitas’ co-workers at West Park, Carolyn Pierce of Cody, described Freitas as a very good friend.
“She was a beautiful person both inside and out,” Pierce said. “Smart, beautiful, great sense of humor and very motivated.”
Other friends shared similar sentiments on Facebook, along with complete shock.
“The world has some crazy sick people in it. Helps us to appreciate the beautiful souls we meet,” wrote friend Jessie Rae Brandt in a Facebook tribute. “Thanks for sharing the beauty, Ildiko Freitas, you will be greatly missed.”
The Volgyesis and their children, Ildiko and Thomas, immigrated to the United States from Germany decades ago.
“They were a fantastic family,” said friend Teri Taylor Thompson of Bakersfield, Calif.
Hildegard “was always smiling and VERY kind,” Thompson said. “Ildiko was a very devoted daughter and she did everything in her power to help her parents.”
Thomas Volgyesi said his parents had retired to Wyoming from California four years ago, while his sister Ildiko Freitas and her husband had lived in Clark for six or seven years. Janos and Hildegard Volgyesi lived in a separate home on the same Big View Road property, located in a small subdivision on a dead-end road north of the Clark landfill.Neighbors said the Freitases had been planning to move to Colorado.
Thomas Volgyesi, of California, expressed shock to the Associated Press.
“They were the only family I have and I'm left with nothing now,” Volgyesi said. “To havvole them taken away from me like this, I'm not registering it yet.”
Vanpelt's father said Monday that his son had not been in serious trouble prior to his arrest. Robb Vanpelt said his son was not living with him, and the accusation he was involved in a triple homicide was "pretty much totally out of the blue."
Tanner Vanpelt graduated in December 2011 from Cody High School, where principal Brandon Jensen recalled that the teenager wasn't involved in athletics or after-school clubs, but also never had serious discipline issues.
Hammer attended the school only a year before transferring during his freshman year, Jensen said.
A search of state courts showed no citations for Hammer and no citations involving any kind of violence for Vanpelt.
A former neighbor to the Hammer family, Jennifer Bays, recalled Stephen Hammer as a likable, well-mannered boy.
“I can’t understand what happened to him,” Bays wrote in a comment on the Tribune’s website. “It has shown me that you REALLY never know someone.”
(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)