Winthrop man charged with murder at farm in Sibley County
The accused was a farmhand for the victim, documents say
WINTHROP, Minn. — A 46-year-old Winthrop man was charged with second-degree murder Monday, March 13, related to a death in Sibley County in September.
Travis Joel Bauer was arrested Friday ahead of the formal charge in Sibley County District Court. The investigation into him stemmed from the death of Dennis Duane Weitzenkamp, 76, on Sept. 20, 2022, at a farm site in rural Winthrop.
Second-degree murder is the most serious charge someone can face via formal complaint, according to a release by the Sibley County Attorney's Office, as charges above it require grand jury indictments. The charge against Bauer indicates the alleged offense was carried out with intent to cause death but without premeditation.
An autopsy on Sept. 21 determined Weitzenkamp died from a gunshot wound to the back of the head from an undetermined range, according to a criminal complaint.
The complaint states Bauer called 911 at 2:35 p.m. Sept. 20 and said Weitzenkamp was unresponsive at the farm site.
Winthrop Police Chief Logan Anderson arrived on scene and reported finding Weitzenkamp in the machine shed slumped over in a chair with a pool of blood below him. Anderson said he saw a wound on the back of his head, and it appeared the man had been shucking corn right before the injury.
The crime scene had no evidence of theft or burglary, and no signs of anyone other than Bauer and Weitzenkamp being at the farm that day. Bauer, the complaint states, "had helped (Weitzenkamp) farm his land for many years and was considered part of the family."
Police interviewed Bauer, who reportedly said the two were at the farm before going to their homes for lunch. He said he returned to the farm around 1:30 p.m. to work on a tractor, then left between 2-2:15 p.m. to pick up antifreeze and other items at NAPA in Winthrop.
While driving to NAPA south on County Road 57, he said he briefly stopped and chatted with Weitzenkamp, who was driving north on the same road.
Once back from NAPA, he said he went to the machine shed with the antifreeze, saw Weitzenkamp, and called 911 after he yelled his name and received no response.
Law enforcement investigators reported using cellphone location data to confirm the two men were at the farm until noon, followed by Weitzenkamp going home to Winthrop by 12:12 p.m. and Bauer going home to rural Winthrop by 12:15 pm. Bauer reportedly was back at the farm site by 1:21 p.m., Weitzenkamp headed there at 2:05 p.m., and the two were both there at or before 2:16 p.m.
Investigators allege that the cellphone data showed Bauer's statement to police wasn't accurate, including the claim that Bauer didn't see Weitzenkamp at the farm after the two left for lunch. The complaint states Bauer was seen on 521st Avenue near his residence at 2:22 p.m., then was going west on Highway 19 at 2:27 p.m. before getting to NAPA at 2:28 p.m., different routes than where he claimed to cross paths with Weitzenkamp.
The last time Weitzenkamp was seen alive, according to a squad camera, was 2:07 p.m. A total of 28 minutes elapsed between that point and when Bauer called 911.
Police interviewed Bauer again on Sept. 28 and told him the cellphone data and surveillance footage indicated his original claims about his route to NAPA couldn't be true. The complaint states he admitted to lying because he was nervous, and he reportedly agreed he took the route indicated by the cell data.
At the end of their first interview with Bauer, police collected his clothing. Bauer stated the last time he fired a gun was three weeks earlier, according to the complaint, but lab results suggested gunshot residue was found on Bauer's cap and pants, while "elements indicative of" gunshot residue were found on his shirt and belt.
The investigation also found Bauer was in significant debt at the time of Weitzenkamp's death. Trust documents indicated Bauer would "receive significant financial benefit from (Weitzenkamp's) death," the complaint states.