A Wisconsin prisoner’s jailhouse confessions have led to murder charges in a case that has gone unsolved for 37 years.
Donald Wayne Maier, 60, was charged with first-degree murder for the stabbing death of Benny Scruggs, 29, the Wisconsin Department of Justice announced Wednesday. Scruggs was killed in the early morning hours of July 17, 1985 while sleeping in the waterbed of his Wisconsin Rapids trailer home.
Shortly before 3:00 a.m., the victim’s wife, Yvonne Scruggs, who was 21 at the time, called a neighbor for help. That neighbor found Scruggs “moaning, full of blood, and bleeding, squirting blood” in the bedroom, according to a criminal complaint reviewed by Oxygen.com.
A postmortem examiner noted that the killer used “one hell of a big knife, like a butcher knife” to stab Scruggs once in the chest. He added that "another 3/8 of an inch and there would have been a hole in the waterbed."
A butcher knife was reported missing from Scruggs’ home but was never recovered.
Yvonne — who passed away in 2015 — spoke to detectives on the scene. However, her story about what happened after the pair returned from a bar shortly after 1:00 a.m. was never consistent.
First, Yvonne Scruggs told officers that, at some point after the babysitter left, Benny had fallen asleep but she hadn't, and that eventually she heard the couple's 2-year-old son crying. She claimed she'd got up to look in on the child and spent 10 minutes in his room before feeling something was off. That was when, she said, she went to go back to bed but noticed a strange shovel leaning against the fridge and the trailer door open, after which she called her neighbor.
In a later interview, Yvonne however said that both she and Benny had fallen asleep and their crying 2-year-old walked into the bedroom, waking them both up. Then, she said, she'd taken the child back to his room, waited 10 minutes, noticed the shovel and the door and then checked on Benny. That's when, she said, she found her husband in a pool of blood and called the neighbor. (The neighbor, however, said Yvonne never told him that Benny had gotten stabbed.)
And, in the course of the second interview, officers heard Yvonne tell her friends, “I was asleep next to him, he got stabbed, I don’t know it,” — a third version of events — according to the criminal complaint.
In her final interview of the evening, Yvonne said she and Benny had fallen asleep together and she woke up to him vomiting and their son entering their room and crying. Police noted that, in the fourth recounting, Yvonne said Benny was on the opposite side of the bed on which he was found.
Police said she was subsequently “uncooperative.”
Officers canvassed the area and spoke with neighbor Donald Maier, who was living in a nearby trailer with his then-girlfriend. Maier told police he believed that Yvonne had killed her husband, “stating that Yvonne does have a temper,” according to the criminal complaint.
Maier also told police that he and Yvonne were previously in a sexual relationship and that just weeks before Scruggs’ murder, Yvonne invited Maier over and engaged in sexual intercourse in her living room.
“Yvonne had told the defendant that if the defendant wanted her, she knew how to get rid of Benny,” according to the criminal complaint. Yvonne eventually admitted to the affair but denied suggesting that Maier kill her husband.
Yvonne later remarried and allegedly made several remarks to the man with whom she was having an affair and his mother, telling the mother “I killed one husband, I can kill another one,” and the boyfriend "Well, I killed him" while claiming she'd been intoxicated, the complaint stated.
Wisconsin Rapids police said the case “remained dormant” from 1992 to 2012, when Donald Maier was on trial for 10 counts of stalking jurors who convicted him in a 2006 trial for threatening a judge. (He was later convicted for six of the 10 stalking charges).
“The resurrection of this cold case was initiated by the defendant,” the criminal complaint read, suggesting that Maier had gone to police to implicate Yvonne in the murders. Among other things, police said Maier claimed that he'd been at Yvonne's place for a sexual encounter a week before the murder, at which time she invited him into the bedroom and he was sure there were fingerprints there.
But, in the course of the interview, Maier also allegedly drew an intricate diagram of the Scruggs' trailer — including the location of the missing knife — and admitted to knowing several other things about the crime scene, including that the door to the bedroom from the hallway wouldn't open, and that the back door of the trailer was screwed shut.
Maier also allegedly mentioned that, while he'd incarcerated, he spoken to two of his cellmates about "all his problems" — including two with ties to the Scruggs.
In interviews with those inmates, all of them noted that Meier had claimed he and Yvonne were involved in an ongoing sexual relationship at the time of Benny Scruggs' murder, and that she instructed him to throw the murder weapon into his garbage before the morning trash collection.
He allegedly told one that Benny had caught him and Yvonne having sex shortly before the murder.
In 2015, Yvonne Scruggs died of acute alcohol poisoning. She was apparently never charged in her husband's murder.
Another cellmate told police in 2017 that Maier also admitted the crime to him — referencing a deck of playing cards that cited the cold case — and said he was deliberately playing with the cops by pretending to be cooperative. He reportedly told the cellmate that he'd killed Scruggs because Yvonne refused to have sex with him again until her husband was dead, and alleged (and later recanted the allegation) that Yvonne let him into the trailer on the night of the murder.
The same cellmate told police that he'd heard Maier discussing the murder on a prison phone call. In recordings of the call to Maier's mother, obtained by police, he allegedly said, “I’m glad I killed that motherf***er, and I’m glad that b***h is dead, too.”
The Wisconsin DOJ declined to comment to Oxygen.com beyond what was stated in their release.
“Wisconsin DOJ is proud to work with law enforcement agencies across the state to pursue justice,” said Attorney General Josh Paul. “Thank you to the prosecutors, investigators and scientists whose tireless work has resulted in this 37-year-old case being charged.”
Maier is scheduled to appear in the Wood County Circuit Court on Friday.