Luann Beckman, pictured at the age of 32, with her pet bird Teekee. Beckman is remembered by her children as someone who loved to be outdoors and always took her pets with her when going camping. —Contributed Photo
Luann Beckman, pictured at the age of 32, with her pet bird Teekee. Beckman is remembered by her children as someone who loved to be outdoors and always took her pets with her when going camping. —Contributed Photo
This Sunday, May 15, will mark the six-year anniversary of the murder of Phelps resident Luann Beckman.

Beckman, 47 at the time of her death, was found May 17, 2016, strangled alongside a snowmobile trail in Phelps behind Northwoods Village Apartments off Hackley Circle.

The crime scene was on the south side of Noseeum Lake, less than a mile from where Beckman was living with her mother and her mother’s roommate.

Beckman’s full autopsy report has yet to be released from law enforcement officials, however, what has been previously released from Vilas County Sheriff Joseph Fath, was that she died of asphyxiation due to ligature strangulation and smothering.

Chief Deputy Patrick Schmidt with Vilas County Sheriff’s Office, said that over the last six years they have been able to rule out a lot of rumors and rule out many suspects, but Beckman’s killer still eludes them.

The advancement of DNA technology is how Schmidt believes Beckman’s killer will ultimately be brought to justice. “It is not a matter of if, but a matter of when,” he added.

DNA samples were taken from the crime scene and from everyone law enforcement interviewed regarding Beckman’s murder, said Schmidt.

He added that due to Beckman being out in the elements after her death for what is believed to be nearly a day and a half, the level of degradation to DNA samples taken from the crime scene continues to be a challenge.

“We have been able to pull a full DNA profile on some of the DNA, which we were able to run through CODIS,” said Schmidt.

The Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) is the U.S. national DNA database created and maintained by the FBI. CODIS links unknown DNA left during the commission of a crime to offenders who are legally required to provide samples for the database. CODIS is one of the FBI’s most successful investigative tools available, according to the FBI’s website.

Regarding other DNA samples from Beckman’s case, law enforcement has not been able to put together a full profile to be able to run through CODIS, and with that comes the wait for DNA technology to advance so that the degraded DNA can be enhanced.

“We are at a standstill with technology,” said Schmidt. While the sheriff’s office is leading the investigation, Schmidt says the FBI is the expert in DNA and they take the FBI’s promptings on what further testing and when, as it pertains to the DNA.

Schmidt said that over the last four years DNA technology has advanced and with what DNA they have left, they will continue to wait as technology advances to run more DNA testing. He also commented that they are exploring genealogy testing as well.

There are routine conversations with the FBI and state crime lab about the recommendations on what to do next with the DNA samples collected from the crime scene, said Schmidt.

Over the years many stories, rumors and conjectures have been put forth regarding what happened that night and who was responsible for Beckman’s death.

“We investigate every rumor,” said Schmidt.



Mother’s recollection

Beckman was murdered approximately six weeks after returning to Phelps, after living in Florida for several years. She had returned with the hopes and goal of getting her life back on track after facing homelessness and other struggles, said Chris Gunderson, Beckman’s mother.

“Luann was excited to get a job and she had plans to drop off applications she had been filling out that upcoming week,” said Gunderson.

Gunderson said the last time she saw her daughter was early evening around 7 p.m. on Sunday, May 14, 2016.

“I had just made pizza for us to eat for dinner. While I was getting dinner ready, Luann received a phone call and she walked outside to take the call. After she got off the phone, she came back inside and I asked her if she was going to eat and she said she would get some later when she came back,” Gunderson recalled.

Gunderson added that Beckman seemed frustrated and upset after the phone call she received that evening. She said she does not know who it was that called her or what the person wanted.

That was the last time Gunderson saw or heard from her daughter. She added that cameras from Phelps Convenience Center store captured Beckman entering not long after.



Two calls

At 8:42 p.m. that same evening, Beckman’s son, Zach Beckman, received a voicemail recording from Beckman. Zach still has the voice recording of his mom.

Zach explained that he had recently shared with his mother his plans to go to college for animation. He said that he became sad while telling Beckman of his plans because “I was always having to tell her news and stuff on the phone and I became sad because I am wondering when I am ever going to be able to see her and tell her stuff in person.”

He said that he had to cut the conversation short because he was due at work.

In the subsequent voicemail from his mother, Zach said she was calling him to share in his excitement. He thinks that she picked up on his sad tone from the earlier phone call and she didn’t want him to be sad, so she attempted to call because he thinks “it was a lingering sad thought in her head.”

Zach was at a concert that night and did not hear the voicemail until the concert let out much later that evening.

Later that evening, after Beckman’s call to her son, a call was placed to 911 from her cell phone. Sheriff’s office dispatchers answered the call, “but it was an open line, nothing was there,” said Schmidt.

Schmidt added the sheriff’s office has and continues to maintain a policy of responding to all dropped 911 calls and 911 hang ups.

“We responded to the call from Luann’s phone that night. A deputy responded to where Luann’s phone GPS pinged, which was the northwest side of Noseeum Lake, and nothing was found,” Schmidt said.

What deputies did not know at the time was that Beckman was actually on the south side of the lake. It is believed because Beckman’s phone was not a smart phone and that the GPS technology was not precisely accurate, they had no way to know she was in a different area.

“We actually recreated the 911 call, myself personally. I went out to where Luann’s body was found and placed a 911 call from the same phone that made the 911 call we are talking about, and it pinged again to the northwest side of the lake even though I was on the south side of the lake,” Schmidt explained.

Gunderson added that when her daughter did not return home the evening of May 15 or the next morning, she called the sheriff’s office around 4 p.m. on May 16, 2016, to see if they had any information on Beckman’s whereabouts or if there were any reports of a bicycle accident, as Beckman had been getting around town by riding her bicycle.

“The dispatcher told me they did not have Luann in jail and there were no reports of someone being hit on a bike,” Gunderson said.

Gunderson learned the next day that her daughter’s body was found just a short distance from the house.

“They wouldn’t even let me see her. I never got to see her again,” Gunderson said.

In regards to other matters of the investigation, Schmidt was able to confirm that even though Beckman was found shirtless, no sexual assault occurred and he confirmed a rape kit was done.

“We are doing everything we possibly can to get this solved,” Schmidt said. “There have been hundreds and hundreds of hours that detectives and the Vilas County Sheriff’s Office has spent working this case. It is nearly every week that we talk about Luann’s case in some way. She is always on our minds.”

He went on to say that while there are matters of the investigation that cannot be disclosed at this time, and even though family or friends may be frustrated due to the lack of information on some matters, Schmidt cites that they have a responsibility to uphold the integrity of the investigation and ensure nothing compromises potential future prosecution.

“Everything always goes back to what’s best for Luann,” Schmidt said.



Other speculation

Some people believe that someone knows what happened to Beckman and who is responsible for her murder.

One person of that mindset is Laurie Asplund, a psychotherapist in southern Wisconsin.

Asplund was snowmobiling in the Phelps area last year, and while in a local tavern came across a WeTip poster about Beckman’s murder. (WeTip used to be the anonymous tip reporting system that Vilas County Sheriff’s Office contracted with; the department now uses tip411).

Asplund said she noticed from the poster it had been “five years since her murder and I felt compelled to do something.”

Beckman’s story caught her heart and from that moment, she set out to see how she could help find Beckman’s killer. She made contacts with locals who knew Beckman, various family members and also the sheriff’s department.

Asplund explained that she felt like Beckman’s case had fallen through the cracks, “As a person myself who had fallen through the legal cracks as well at one time, yet finally found justice, it stirred something in my soul to try and help move this case along,” she said.

She added that as a result of this stirring, she began a novice in-depth investigation into this case and has invested over 100 hours. She said she is convinced someone knows who killed Beckman and is afraid to come forward and get involved because Phelps is such a small community.

So, with the blessing of various family members, Asplund set up a GoFundMe in order to set up a reward for information leading to an identification, arrest, or conviction of Beckman’s murderer.

“I know someone knows something. Someone here has to know who did it. Phelps is a small town, everyone talks and I think offering a reward for information may be the thing that gives someone the gumption to come forward,” said Asplund.

Schmidt said that Asplund did reach out to the sheriff’s office to consult about her plans to offer a reward through GoFundMe with a goal of $10,000. While Schmidt said they shy away from trying to incentivize people to cooperate, “any information is good information,” and welcomes her efforts.

If in the unfortunate event no one is ever arrested or convicted in Beckman’s murder, Asplund explained the funds would be donated to other programs who help solve cold cases or to women’s programs such as battered shelters, etc.

Schmidt noted that the sheriff’s office will not have a part in administering the money raised for the reward — that will be solely handled by Asplund.

To donate to the GoFundMe, visit gofund.me/49fc57d8.

Anyone with any information relating to Luann Beckman’s murder, contact the Vilas County Sheriff’s Office at (715) 479-4441.

Anyone with information and wishes to remain anonymous, visit tip411 at home.tip411.com.

For more information or to download tip411, visit home.tip411.com.