WISCONSIN RAPIDS – More than 37 years after Benny Scruggs was found stabbed to death in his bed, officials have filed a murder charge in the case.
Donald W. Maier, 60, who is serving 15 years in prison for six counts of stalking, is facing a charge of first-degree murder for the July 17, 1985, death of Scruggs, who was a 28-year-old baker from Wisconsin Rapids.
According to the criminal complaint filed Friday, Scruggs and his wife went out to drink at Lance’s Never Inn the night of July 16, 1985. The babysitter they hired to look after their young son told police the couple was in an unusually good mood when they got home that night.
At 3:01 a.m. July 17, 1985, a neighbor called police and said Scruggs was moaning, bleeding and full of blood, according to the complaint. Scruggs’ wife, Yvonne, had called the neighbor to ask for help after she found her husband bleeding in their bed.
Yvonne Scruggs told police she and Benny had gone to bed, and he fell asleep. She got up when she heard their son crying and went into her son’s bedroom, according to the complaint. She said she stayed in the boy’s bedroom for about 10 minutes but then something didn’t feel right, according to the complaint.
Yvonne Scruggs said she walked into the kitchen and saw a shovel leaning against her refrigerator and an open door. She said she became alarmed because she was in the habit of always locking the trailer door before she went to bed at night. She walked into the bedroom and found Benny Scruggs lying in a pool of blood, according to the complaint.
A coroner declared Benny Scruggs dead at the scene. A forensic pathologist determined someone had stabbed him once in the chest. The pathologist, Dr. Robert Huntington III, who has since died, described the murder weapon as “one hell of a big knife, like a butcher knife,” according to the complaint.
Huntington determined Scruggs was stabbed in his sleep, because he had no defensive wounds on his hands or arms. The knife went in parallel to his rib cage, through his left lung, out between two vertebrae and into the final layer of skin on his back.
A butcher knife was missing from the Scruggs’ home, and police never found it. Police drained a pond near Pioneer Village, the mobile home park where the Scruggs lived, but didn’t find the knife.
Maier denies murder; fellow inmate says he confessed
Maier told police and witnesses that he had an affair with Yvonne Scruggs prior to the murder, and she had told him to get rid of Benny Scruggs if Maier wanted to be with her, according to the complaint. Maier denied being the one who killed Benny Scruggs.
Maier was charged in 2005 with two counts of threatening a Wood County judge. A jury found him guilty of the charges in 2006. After Maier began contacting jury members who had convicted him, he was charged with 10 counts of stalking, and a jury convicted him of six counts.
While Maier was in jail awaiting trial on the stalking charges, he reached out to the Wisconsin Rapids Police Department and said he wanted to talk about the Benny Scruggs homicide, according to the complaint. Maier told police he didn’t commit the murder but was the key to solving the case.
During his time in the Wood County Jail and in the Wisconsin prison system, Maier talked to fellow inmates about the Benny Scruggs case, according to the complaint. One inmate said Maier waited outside in the trailer park and saw Benny and Yvonne Scruggs come home. The inmate said Maier told him he knew Yvonne Scruggs would be in her son’s room in the mobile home.
Maier told another inmate he went into the mobile home, entered the bedroom and stabbed Benny Scruggs, according to the complaint. Maier said he then went home, got undressed, took a shower and threw his clothes and the murder weapon into the garbage. Maier said he picked that day to commit the murder because he knew trash would be picked up first thing in the morning.
Maier told an inmate the trash collectors picked up the garbage with the knife in it while police were still at the scene investigating, according to the complaint.
Widow dies, more witnesses come forward
Yvonne Scruggs died Nov. 13, 2015, in Eagle River, according to the complaint. After her death, Maier told a witness that police would never find the knife, because Yvonne Scruggs was dead.
Another inmate said Maier said he had sexual intercourse with Yvonne Scruggs the night before he killed her husband, according to the complaint.
A prison inmate also reported Maier talking about having killed Benny Scruggs. The inmate said it seemed like the murder was “eating (Maier) up inside,” and talking about it helped.
The inmate said he heard Maier talking on a phone and telling the person on the other end he was glad Benny and Yvonne Scruggs both were dead, according to the complaint. Detectives were able to confirm the telephone conversation during which Maier told his mother he was glad Benny and Yvonne Scruggs were dead.
Assistant Wisconsin Attorney General Robert Kaiser is acting as a special prosecutor in the case. Maier, who is in the Racine Correctional Institution in Sturtevant, is scheduled to make his initial appearance on the murder charge Friday. If convicted, he faces a maximum of life in prison.
The Wisconsin Department of Justice Division of Criminal Investigation helped the Wisconsin Rapids Police Department with the case. Interim Wisconsin Rapids Police Chief Mike Potocki did not immediately return a call Tuesday.
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Contact Karen Madden at 715-345-2245 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @KMadden715, Instagram at @kmadden715 or Facebook at facebook.com/karen.madden.33.