An Anaheim man who allegedly killed his wife and threatened to systematically “punish” 54 other people was arrested Friday after a posse of Montana deputies chased him down in the rugged, snowcapped mountains of northern Idaho, police said.
David L. Schoenecker, 48, was arrested without incident by mounted Mineral County, Mont., deputies who had tracked him through the wooded, mountainous terrain of western Montana and eastern Idaho, authorities said.
Rick Seemann, a Montana Highway Patrol officer, said Schoenecker surrendered after being surrounded by Mineral County Sheriff Wade Van Gilder and 11 deputies on foot and on horseback in an area of Idaho known as Hoodoo Pass.
The pass through the Bitterroot Mountains along the Montana-Idaho border is just south of the point where Schoenecker’s 1989 Pontiac was found abandoned on an old mining road Tuesday.
Schoenecker was placed in the Mineral County Jail in Superior, Mont., and bail was set at $500,000. At an arraignment hearing, he indicated he would fight extradition to Anaheim, where he is wanted in the murder of his 40-year-old wife, Gail Schoenecker.
Her body was discovered by police Thursday after Schoenecker allegedly sent a five-page letter to Orange County Register columnist Bob Emmers, claiming that he had killed his wife and telling Emmers where the body could be found.
Anaheim police searched the couple’s north Anaheim home and found a body on a bed in the master bedroom that was identified Friday as Gail Schoenecker’s. Police said she apparently had been dead for 5 or more days.
An autopsy revealed that the woman had died of a single gunshot wound to the head from a large-caliber weapon. At the time of Schoenecker’s arrest, Montana authorities said he was carrying a .357-caliber revolver.
In the letter to Emmers, Schoenecker made reference to a list he had left behind of people who would be “punished.” Police said they found a list of 54 names in the Schoenecker house, most of whom live in and around Milwaukee, Wis., where Schoenecker and his wife first met and lived.
“Not everyone on the list will receive total punishment--but they will be punished,” Schoenecker said in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Times. “The images in my mind shows me exactly how and when and where the punishment will be delivered. It has to be done.”
The letter gave no clues as to what allegedly precipitated the killing, and police remained puzzled over just why it happened.
“There was no hatred--I loved her--but the action was necessary because I have a purpose and one that cannot have an interruption or interference,” Schoenecker wrote.
Before his arrest, Anaheim police expressed fear that Schoenecker planned to kill the people on the list, and they worked through Thursday night and early Friday notifying those named that they could be in danger. Some of the homes of people in the Milwaukee area were placed under police surveillance.
One name on the list was Vincent M. Halsall, a vice president for Johnson Controls Inc. and Schoenecker’s former employer.
Schoenecker had some difficulties working with people, Halsall said, “but by and large he did a pretty good job.”
Halsall said he knew about 20 other people on the list, but “I don’t know anyone on that list who I feel had anything in for David.”
Another person on the list was Dave Nuss, 49, of Milwaukee.
“Last night I didn’t sleep well,” Nuss said. He and Schoenecker were high school classmates and were on the school football team, he said.
Schoenecker’s arrest in the hills of Idaho allayed Nuss’ fears, and the focus of the investigation turned to bringing the former Globe Union Co. engineer to California to stand trial.
Schoenecker resigned from Globe in the late 1970s and was fired by two companies, said Halsall.
Lt. Marc Hedgpeth, an Anaheim police spokesman, said detectives would fly to Montana Friday night with an arrest warrant and seek to have Schoenecker returned to Orange County to face charges.
At the 1912-vintage Mineral County jail, officials said Schoenecker was being held in a cell with three other men and seemed calm.
“We’re not talking to him,” said Seemann, the state patrol officer. “We’re waiting for them (Anaheim detectives) to get here. We don’t want to violate his rights.”
Seemann said Schoenecker seemed neither afraid nor remorseful, and his only words since being jailed came after he was given a cup of coffee.
“He said he didn’t like hot drinks,” the officer said.
The capture of Schoenecker ended a nationwide manhunt that had focused both on the small mountain towns of Montana, where Schoenecker was traced to a motel last weekend and where his car was found abandoned, and on Milwaukee.
Mickey O’Brien, a dispatcher for the Mineral County Sheriff’s Department, said Schoenecker was first spotted Friday morning by two people on snowmobiles. He said Schoenecker was walking in snow in the Lolo National Forest with a backpack and sleeping bag.
A posse of 12 men was formed, most of them volunteer firemen and search-and-rescue workers from Superior, to join the manhunt.
“It was so deep (with snow) up there that we couldn’t get snowmobiles in,” O’Brien said. “We had to go in on foot and on horses.”
Advised by Anaheim police that Schoenecker was likely armed and dangerous, O’Brien said the deputies carried rifles and side arms and approached the suspect cautiously. As the posse moved in, O’Brien said a private helicopter borrowed by the Sheriff’s Department scanned the Lolo National Forest and spotted Schoenecker trudging through the snow into Hoodoo Pass.
The helicopter, carrying Sheriff Van Gilder, dropped the sheriff and a member of his posse south of Schoenecker as the posse moved in from the north.
“The sheriff then headed back north toward Schoenecker,” O’Brien said. “The rescue posse was headed south, so they had him surrounded.”
“We waited for him and let him get within 20 or 30 feet,” Van Gilder said.
Schoenecker surrendered peacefully and was returned to Superior in handcuffs by helicopter.
After his arraignment, and before being returned to jail Friday, Schoenecker asked deputies if he could have the Bible, the Book of Mormon and reading glasses from his backpack, authorities said.
With the arrest of Schoenecker, speculation centered on what provoked the slaying and caused Schoenecker to allegedly threaten to punish the 54 people on the list.
“I don’t think that something happened to make him snap,” said Sgt. Chet Barry of the Anaheim police. “It was well thought out over an extended period of time. I would say at least 3 years, but that is just an approximation.”
More than 24 hours after the body was found, police were still trying to develop a profile of the man that neighbors described as quiet and retiring, more likely to spend his days working on the lawn and playing with his two dogs than socializing with neighbors.
Even those who shared the cul-de-sac on East Amanda Circle in north Anaheim seemed unsure of where Schoenecker worked, with some speculating that he was self-employed in the computer business, and others saying he was a private contractor doing work for the county.
What is known is that the Schoeneckers had moved to Orange County from Milwaukee in December, 1987. Gail Schoenecker took at job teaching fifth- and sixth-grade students at Adelaide Price School in Anaheim, where co-workers described her as industrious and friendly.
Randall Wiethorn, the principal at the school, said that Schoenecker had called the substitute answering service last weekend to report that his wife would not be in because her mother had died.
By Thursday, Wiethorn said the school became concerned when they could not reach her by telephone and called the police. By then, the body had been found.
Wiethorn said Gail Schoenecker’s students learned of her death Friday, and a staff psychologist was called in to answer their questions. In the afternoon, the students put together a large poster that turned into a kind of farewell card to their teacher.
The couple belonged to the Yorba Linda United Methodist Church and attended regular Sunday services, and were remembered there as friendly, if not outgoing, people.
“This is a total surprise to us,” said Pastor Kenneth Criswell. “They were perceived here as very nice people. They seemed to want to know people, but in another respect they wanted to keep to themselves.”
Gail Schoenecker was a member of the church choir. She was to perform in concert the night her body was found.
Karen Wyatt, bell choir director at the church, said the couple had wanted to adopt a child and had filled out preliminary paper work with the County Department of Social Services. She said Gail Schoenecker’s inability to have children was the impetus for the adoption and was caused by a severe diabetic condition.
“She was on medication and was very diligent about her health,” Wyatt said. “If we would go out for pie and coffee she would have a piece of fruit or nothing.”
While neighbors said they occasionally heard the couple arguing, there seemed to be no warning of what would eventually happen.
In the letter to the Register columnist, Schoenecker spoke of the “images” he had of people who had wronged him.
“Several times I tried to explain these ‘happenings’ to Gail but she dismissed them,” he wrote. “I was never understood. I knew that as these feelings and ‘pictures’ continued to occur and repeat that I had to prepare a way, develop a plan, make arrangements. And I have done so.”
“Now, I had to eliminate my wife. She wouldn’t believe me. She wouldn’t even listen. So in order to keep her from finding out, I developed a separate plan or storyline that totally misled her, but it did make her happy. She was very happy on Friday.”
Times staff writers Jim Carlton, Andrea Ford and Carla Rivera contributed to this article. Other material was provided by The (Montana) Missoulian and the Milwaukee Sentinel.