WYOMING, Mich. (WOOD) — The yearslong search for the head of a Kent County murder victim is now over.
The Wyoming Department of Public Safety says a medical examiner Wednesday positively identified a skull found last week northwest of Grand Rapids as that of Charles Oppenneer. The medical examiner used dental records to identify the remains.
A farmer discovered the skull on March 24 in woods along Kenowa Avenue north of 6 Mile Road in Alpine Township near the Kent-Ottawa county line. That’s more than 17 miles away from where Oppenneer’s decapitated body was found at Gezon Park nearly five years earlier.
Capt. James Maguffee said based on the Kent County Sheriff’s Department’s investigation, it doesn’t appear the skull was left there recently. He said there was animal activity in the area.
Police say it’s unclear why Oppenneer’s head was placed there. His murderer traveled a lot for work, but there is no known connection with the property at this time.
Maguffee said at first, Wyoming police didn’t have an inkling the remains would solve the final loose end in the murder case.
“But as soon as we heard remains were found in the form of a skull, instantly in our minds certainly went back to 2014 and we were anxious to hear for sure. And we were in communication with the sheriff’s department early on,” said Maguffee.
Oppenneer, 25, was murdered in Wyoming in 2014 along with his girlfriend, 18-year-old Brooke Slocum, who was eight months pregnant.
Investigators say the couple connected with Brady Oestrike on Craigslist and agreed to meet him at Gezon Park in a sex-for-money deal at 12 a.m. July 13. It was there that Oestrike killed and beheaded Oppenneer.
The medical examiner said evidence indicates Oppenneer likely died from a single gunshot wound to the head before he was decapitated.
After killing Oppenneer, Oestrike kidnapped Slocum, whom he held in his basement for several days.
Police discovered Oppenneer’s decapitated body covered by sticks in the park on July 16, which quickly led them to Slocum’s home in northeast Grand Rapids. Her roommate told police about the sex-for-cash ads on Craigslist, which led detectives to uncover messages they linked to Oestrike on July 17.
Oestrike strangled Slocum that same day, her death certificate showed.
That evening, police were outside Oestrike’s home on Taft Avenue SW, waiting to obtain a search warrant when Oestrike drove away, leading to a brief chase. That chase ended when Oestrike crashed on the Burton Street bridge over US-131, where he fatally shot himself in the head.
Officers found Slocum’s body in a suitcase in Oestrike’s trunk. Slocum’s unborn daughter, already named Audi, did not survive.
Records, photos and video later released to Target 8 in 2016 as part of a Freedom of Information Act showed Oestrike had prepared his home for his victim. Detectives found ropes, restraints and sex toys in the basement, as well as surveillance cameras. Police reports say he videotaped much of his assault on her and it appeared he had convinced her that Oppenneer was alive.
The day after Wyoming police released the videos and records from the investigation, then-Chief James Carmody told Target 8 he believed Oestrike had already killed Slocum by the time investigators arrived outside Oestrike’s house and remained waiting for hours for a search warrant.
“There’s only one person responsible for Brooke Slocum’s death and her baby’s death and that’s Brady Oestrike. Period,” Carmody said.
“It gets very emotional,” he added. “That’s why I am very sensitive to the suggestions that maybe a delay might have caused something here. You weren’t there standing over that suitcase looking over that young girl who’s now dead and knowing she had an 8-month-old baby who’s now dead, who had no choice in this matter. That stays with you. That haunts you.”
The Oppenneer family declined to comment Wednesday.
“You know it’s hard to evaluate exactly what they are feeling right now, but I can tell you the hearts and minds of the Wyoming police that put so much time and effort and emotion in this case. They are just hurting for them. And I’m sure it’ll bring it all back up to the surface and our heart breaks for them, but we certainly hope there will be some peace that (the discovery) brings with it,” Maguffee said.