This article was last modified on October 29, 2019.

Fox Cities Killer: Leslie James Weinke (1961)

born August 17, 1924 in Winnebago County to Julius Herman Weinke and Elizabeth Jane Olson.

by 1930, 6-year old Leslie was sent to an orphanage in Sparta, Monroe County. His parents were still alive, but possibly divorced.

August 1, 1953: Leslie, 28, married 18-year old Shirley M. Benotch of Kaukauna. The service was conducted by a justice of the peace in Neenah.

Their son, Christopher Lee Weinke, was born in May 1954, but died very shortly after.

July 15, 1958: daughter Linda Sue was born in Kaukauna.

January 1961: The Weinkes are separated.

On January 13, 1961, Weinke went to Egan’s Sport Shop and ordered a gun from William Egan. The gun arrived about a week later and Weinke purchased it along with two boxes of shells. There were eight other handguns in the store, but Weinke wanted that particular model.

February 8, 1961: Leslie was discharged from Kaukauna Community Hospital at 9am, after getting treatment for the past day and a half for an infection. On this day, he was home recovering rather than at his work, Les’ South Side Service Station (1420 Crooks Avenue). Around 3:15pm, Leslie, 36, shot his wife Shirley, 25, in their three-room bungalow at 308 West 12th Street, Kaukauna. Leslie was on his way out for a pack of cigarettes, and to shoot rats for target practice, when Shirley arrived.

Shirley had gotten off of work at 2pm. She was an employee of Hehner’s Dairy Lunch (1713 South Oneida, Appleton), owned by her stepfather. She was stopping in to pick up clothes, check on the oil burner and feed the dog. Their 2-year old daughter Linda Sue was with her grandmother, Mrs. Louis Hehner of Kimberly, at the time of the altercation. For the past month, Shirley had been living at her mother’s home because of marital difficulties.

An argument ensued, ending with Leslie taking a gun from a nearby table and firing.

Immediately after the shooting, Leslie called for an ambulance and Shirley was taken to Kaukauna Community Hospital, but died a little over an hour later. The ambulance driver, Howard McCabe, later claimed that Weinke said, “We had a quarrel and I filled her full of holes.” In fact, the police and ambulance were slow to arrive because Weinke gave the address as “312 West 8th” rather than “308 West 12th”, but Weinke called back when he realized the error.

Shirley’s body was found in a doorway between the kitchen and living room, with four spent cartridges nearby. An automatic .22 pistol was on the couch; the weapon was the one that had been purchased three weeks prior from Egan’s Sports Shop in Kaukauna. A bullet hole was noticed in a ceiling. And a frightened black and white dog was chained to the leg of the refrigerator. Outside in the squad car, Weinke told Officer Dean ball, “I didn’t think it would end like this.”

An autopsy at St. Elizabeth Hospital hospital found one bullet hole in Shirley’s left forehead, and another in her left temple. Burn and powder marks indicated that the shots were fired at close range. The examination was done by pathologist James Erchul. Mr. and Mrs. Louis Hehner talked with reporters, saying that arguments had been going on since the previous July. Shirley was always pushing Leslie for a bigger house. According to the Hehners, on New Years, Leslie had told Shirley, “I’d rather shoot you than let someone else have you.”

Leslie Weinke was questioned extensively at the Kaukauna police station by Chief Harold Engerson and Officer Charles Arnold, and again from 7:15pm to 9:30pm by the county sheriff. After given a late supper, Weinke signed a statement admitting his guilt. According to Sheriff Robert Heinritz, Weinke was “quite cooperative.” He did, however, claim that he had no memory of shooting his wife, and merely offered, “I must have pulled the trigger and shot her… I don’t remember picking up the gun or pointing it. Everything happened so fast.”

The following morning, Weinke was arraigned before Judge Oscar John Schmiege, the charge being first-degree murder. A bond of $35,000 was set. Defense attorney Allan Cain asked for a preliminary hearing, which was scheduled for February 22. Cain also indicated that he would seek a mental examination of his client. On February 22, Schmiege approved the mental exam and Weinke was sent to Waupun for a 60-day evaluation.

A summary of Schmiege’s background: In 1925, Schmiege received his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from University of Wisconsin. He worked for the Wisconsin Highway Commission and a railroad. Schmiege served in the Wisconsin State Assembly from 1927 to 1933 as a Republican. While in the Wisconsin Assembly, Schmiege received his law degree from the University of Wisconsin Law School in 1928 and was admitted to the Wisconsin bar. Schmiege was district attorney for Outagamie County, Wisconsin and then became a criminal court judge.

On April 2, while Weinke was still at Waupun, Judge Schmiege appointed Samuel Sigman to act as a special prosecutor alongside district attorney Nick Schaefer. The DA requested a partner, arguing the importance of the case.

Around April 23, Weinke returned to the Outagamie Count jail from Waupun. He appeared in court April 25, where the report on his mental health was returned; Weinke was declared to be “not insane” and “not feeble-minded,” fully competent to stand trial. Facing first-degree murder, Weinke pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, defying the report. Trial was initially set for July 10, but pushed back to July 24 so a second mental examination — this time by Dr. F. J. Schubert — could be conducted.

July 24: The trial began with jury selection. The original pool was 75, reduced to 36 by the judge, and then reduced to 12 by the attorneys through the “strike” process. Those chosen were: Anthony J. Haid (Kaukauna), Mrs. Don Kenney (Kaukauna), Ruth Bell (Appleton), Erma Bankert (Appleton), Wilmer Johnson (Appleton), Helen Dunbar (Seymour), Mabel Row (Seymour), Mrs. Edward Peotter (Seymour), Gaylord McLaughlin (New London), Herbert Poppe (Bear Creek), Glenn Wickesberg (Black Creek).

Jury selection was quick enough that the attorneys were able to get their opening statements in that same afternoon. Special prosecutor Samuel Sigman described Weinke as an “enraged husband” who had advanced plans of murder. Defense attorney Allen Cain portrayed his client as a “tormented” man who could not handle his wife’s indiscretions and “extramarital activities,” and was also suffering from physical abnormalities such as an enlarged heart and repercussions from tuberculosis. Cain also noted the murder could not have been premeditated; the gun used in the assault was ordered from the local sport shop at a time when there were fifty on the shelf. A killer would buy what was available, not wait for the mail. Cain told the jury, “We are not dealing with a normal individual. He is not as you and I and never has been since birth.” Cain then explained that Weinke had been in and out of broken homes and orphanages his entire life.

The first day even had time for a few witnesses. Martha Hehner, Shirley’s mother. She told the jury how she saw bruises on her daughter’s arms, legs and neck. The couple had never fought in front of her, but clearly something was wrong. Mrs. Frank Sherwood, the Weinkes’ neighbor in Kaukauna, testified that she personally witnessed Leslie hitting Shirley on two different occasions.

On July 25, service station employees John Damro (38) and Lester Joseph Wyngaard (17) were put on the stand, and told of how Weinke had been losing interest in his work. They said he was looking physically worse and worse over the past six months, losing weight and refusing to eat. Wyngaard said there were times when Weinke would come in to work mad and say things like “he would just as shoot her as divorce her.” Wyngaard said he never took the comments seriously, even when Weinke said that Shirley came home late one night with another man. William Tamborino (36) testified that he was a patient in the Kaukauna Community Hospital, and that Weinke explicitly told him he was going to kill his wife, and as Weinke was discharged, he told Tamborino, “You’ll see my name in the newspaper tomorrow.” Louis Hehner testified that he had called Weinke at one point and gave him the names of three men Hehner’s stepdaughter was dating.

July 26 was largely a spat between attorneys. Defense attorney Cain wanted to introduce into evidence the contents of Shirley’s purse, including any telephone numbers. When Sigman objected, calling it a “fishing expedition,” Cain responded, “You betcha!” At another point, Cain did not want the pathologist to go into “the gory details” of the autopsy. Instead, he stipulated that there were three entry wounds, each 8 to 10 inches from the victim, and those wounds were the cause of Shirley’s death. Cain further said he agreed that there were powder burns and the bullets all came from the gun taken from his client. After this exchange, Judge Oscar Schmiege volunteered, “We have really made progress in the last minute.”

Weinke took the stand in his own defense on July 28. He insisted the killing was not pre-planned. On the day in question, a quarrel broke out and his wife told him she was sleeping with other men and that he would never see his daughter again. In the heat of the moment, he pulled his gun from a nearby table and shot her. Of course, Shirley was not around to contradict this account. And even if he overreacted with one shot, why three? Defense attorney Cain also had Weinke tell of growing up in a Sparta orphanage. Weinke told of meeting Shirley at the Waverly Beach skating rink and falling in love. How they grieved together when their first child died, and how Shirley said they could try again and they had a beautiful daughter. According to Weinke, things fell apart on New Years Eve 1960 when he saw Shirley “throwing herself” at her stepfather and the two getting suspiciously close. At this same party, Shirley was feeding alcohol to their daughter. Not long after, Louis Hehner allegedly began telling Weinke he could do better. (This is all very suspicious — the only person who could confirm any of this was Hehner, who would obviously deny trying to chase his stepdaughter.)

During cross-examination, Sigman began his questioning by telling the jury to notice that Weinke had no tears in his eyes while recounting the story. Weinke conceded that he may have told people he wanted to kill his wife, and knew keeping a loaded gun in the house and pointing it at people was dangerous.

A surprise witness was Richard Macumber, who confirmed that he had taken Shirley out for drinks and lobster. On one occasion, Louis Hehner allegedly called him and told him to “leave my wife alone.” (Hehner agreed that he made the call, but denied referring to Shirley as his “wife.”)

The trial wrapped up on July 29 in the most unexpected way. The attorneys each made their closing statements, with the defense putting blame on Louis Hehner, followed by Judge Schmiege giving the jury their instructions. He even read to them the legal definition of “temporary insanity” in case they wanted to pursue that route. But then, at the last moment, things took a turn. Schmiege drank from his glass of water and then began to slump to the side. He was at first helped by deputy clerk of courts Florence Lawrence, but once people realized something was wrong, he was surrounded by people easing him to the floor and applying oxygen. Schmiege, only 59, was rushed to the hospital, but was pronounced dead. The jury, apparently in shock, remained in their seats throughout this whole ordeal.

July 31: After much discussion, Judge Andrew Parnell declares a mistrial. There was some speculation that by declaring a mistrial, it would free Weinke because trying him again would be double jeopardy. However, it was decided that installing a new judge at the last minute would be unfair, and until one full trial was completed, Weinke was still under the “first jeopardy.”

Judge Gustave J. Keller, handpicked by the governor to replace Oscar Schmiege, made a speech before the Outagamie County board on August 8, which was received with a round of applause. Keller was officially sworn in the next morning. On August 28, Keller declared that Weinke’s second trial was going to begin December 4. The 12-person jury was to be selected out of a 150-person pool.

What could have been a long second trial came to an abrupt end on October 27, 1961. The prosecution offered Weinke a plea deal if he would plead guilty to second-degree murder. He did, and was sentenced by Judge Gustave Keller to 25 years in prison, with the possibility of parole after five years. The last word went to Samuel Sigman, who addressed the judge, “I strongly felt and I still do that he planned the killing of his wife. There are, however, facts in this case that could make a jury hesitate to convict him of first degree murder, and even agree with his counsel that his condition physically and mentally, and other facts surrounding the conduct of his wife, played a large part in the events which followed.”

Weinke died on January 12, 1987 in Neenah. He was buried in that city’s Oak Hill Cemetery.

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