Popejoy faces murder charges

Becky Vargo • Jan 24, 2018 at 12:27 PM

A Crockery Township man will face murder charges at the Circuit Court level as the result of a hearing Wednesday morning in Ottawa County District Court.

Wendell Earl Popejoy, 63, is charged with one count of open murder and one count of felony firearm in the December 2017 death of his neighbor, 59-year-old Sheila Bonge.

Arraignment was scheduled for 2:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 5, in front of Judge Karen Miedema. Bond was denied and Popejoy was taken back to the Ottawa County Jail.

District Judge Craig Bunce said there was enough evidence provided during the preliminary examination, including Popejoy’s own statement, to indicate that it was probable that the man had used a gun to kill his neighbor.

As noted in an earlier story, reports obtained from the court indicated that Popejoy said in a police interview that he saw Bonge snow-blowing their shared driveway on the morning of Dec. 26, 2017. He grabbed a handgun, went out behind her and shot her in the head, police said.

Wednesday’s two-and-a-half-hour hearing included testimony from Bonge’s daughter, Jane Luke, and Bonge’s brother, Jeff Luke, as well as Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office detectives David Sparks and Ann Koster. Popejoy’s live-in girlfriend, Rhonda Clark, also took the stand.

Jane Luke, in response to questions from Ottawa County Prosecutor Ron Frantz, said she feared that her mother suffered an attack as a result of medical issues. That’s why she went to her mother’s home at 14961 104th Ave. on Dec. 27 after receiving a call from her aunt, who had been unable to reach Bonge for a normal daily telephone call.

Jane Luke noted that it was unusual to see the vehicles at her mother’s home covered with snow, the front door unlocked and the snow blower parked outside. Inside the house, Luke found her mother’s cellphone and purse, but no sign of Bonge. Luke said she called family members and 911 to report a missing person.

Jane Luke; her uncle, Jeff Luke; and police all testified that the search of the property went on until about 2 a.m. the next day with no results. Family and police returned to the property hours later and continued the search, along with the help of state police K-9 units, but were still unsuccessful in locating Bonge.

That’s when Jeff Luke and some other family members decided to search Popejoy’s property, Jeff Luke said. They formed a line to search through the ankle- to knee-deep snow and were just turning back when Jeff Luke saw what looked like a heel possibly revealed after they walked by. Brushing some snow aside, Jeff Luke realized they had found a body, although he did not know for sure at the time it was his sister. He confirmed that she was nude.

Both Sparks and Koster said in their interviews with Popejoy that he denied any knowledge of what happened to Bonge and had no idea how her body had ended up on his property. Popejoy did confirm there was an ongoing dispute with the property owners about the shared driveway to the three homes located on 104th Avenue, south of Leonard Street.

Later on the afternoon of Dec. 28, detectives arrived with a search warrant for Popejoy’s property, Koster said.

When blood was found on a camouflage sled and a snowsuit belt buckle found in a burn barrel, detectives requested Popejoy accompany them to the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office for further questioning, Koster said. The interview started at about 11 p.m., the detective said. And when they showed Popejoy the picture of the belt buckle found in the burn barrel, he asked for pen and paper.

Koster testified that Popejoy said, “Let’s finish this. What’s done is done.”

The detective read the short statement to the court, part of which said: “I, Wendell Popejoy, on the spur of the moment decided to shoot and kill Sheila.” The statement went on to note that he then disposed of the body.

Further questioning revealed that Popejoy came out of his house, walked between some trees and used his .22-caliber revolver to shoot Bonge in the back of the head. Koster said Popejoy told them he didn’t think she even knew that he was there.

Popejoy claimed that his girlfriend came out and asked what he had done, Koster said. Popejoy said he held up the gun to show her, according to the detective.

Popejoy returned the snow blower to Bonge’s house, retrieved a sled from the garage and took Bonge’s body down the hill behind his house, the detective said. He also removed Bonge’s clothing and burned it, Koster said he told them.

On the stand later, Rhonda Clark denied that had happened and claimed she knew nothing about the shooting. She testified that she slept a lot due to medical conditions and was sleeping at the time.

Koster said that, during one of the interviews, Popejoy told them he had obtained the gun 20 years earlier from a friend who has since died.

After the shooting, Popejoy put the gun in his garage, Koster said. Once police started investigating the missing person report, Popejoy got nervous, retrieved the gun and said he threw it into the Grand River off the 68th Avenue bridge in Eastmanville, the detective said.

In response to questions from Frantz and defense attorney Phil Sielski, Clark confirmed that there had been issues for years between Bonge and all of the neighbors.

“She was an evil woman,” Clark responded.

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