New Prague woman sentenced to 27 months for role in husband’s murder

A New Prague woman was sentenced to 27 months behind bars for her role in her husband’s murder, court records show.

Connie Lou Herbst, 63, was sentenced to two years and three months at Minnesota Correctional Facility – Shakopee Thursday for aiding an offender in the murder of her husband, Gary Albert Herbst, in 2013. She received credit for 462 days served. Her son, 27-year-old Austin James Herbst, was convicted in June of aiding and abetting the second-degree murder of his father and is serving a 12-and-a-half year sentence in Minnesota Correctional Facility – St. Cloud.

Connie Herbst was originally also charged with second-degree murder in 2020, but that charge was dismissed after she pleaded guilty to aiding an offender as an accomplice after the fact in October.

Years-long investigation

On Dec. 3, 2017, the Barron County Sheriff’s Office responded to a call from a man who’d found a human skull in the driveway of his home in rural Wisconsin, according to a criminal complaint. There was a bullet hole in the top of the skull. The caller said their dog had found the skull, brought it home and was chewing on it.

Upon searching the area, deputies found skeletal human remains near field drive near the edge of some woods — they included human ribs, leg bones, backbones some clothing and a set of dentures in a depression in the soil, the complaint states. The next day, deputies found additional remains.

Later that month, the Midwest Medical Examiner’s Office ruled that the skull had a close-contact gunshot wound, which caused the victim’s death. The remains were then sent to the University of Texas Center for Human Identification, Forensic Anthropology Unit on Jan. 11, 2018 for further inspection.

In March of 2019, the Barron County Sheriff’s Office sent bone samples to DNA Solutions Inc. in Oklahoma for forensic genealogy. In February of 2020, the bones were determined to have ancestral ties to Wisconsin and that they were a possible match to Gary Herbst.

Gary Herbst had been reported as a missing person from Elko New Market in July 2013, but no police report was filed with Elko New Market police until July of the following year, according to the complaint.

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In February of 2020, Connie Herbst told police her husband had left home and never returned; he allegedly left home with $5,000 cash, a .45 caliber pistol, clothing and Connie Herbst’s wedding ring. Son Austin Herbst told his mother that Gary Herbst had left in a gray car with an unknown person. The three lived together in Elko New Market. Austin Herbst also told police that his father was often verbally and physically abusive toward his mother, as well as occasionally to him, the complaint says.

In March 2020, investigators were able to confirm Gary Herbst’s identity using DNA from his son.

In June 2020, investigators spoke with some of the Herbst’s former neighbors who said that the mother and son had a garage sale in August 2013 and seemed to be selling Gary Herbst’s belongings. They also saw a pickup truck back up to the back door of the family home at night, which was unusual, and the mother and son load something into the bed, which may have been rolled carpeting, the complaint states. The pair then hitched a boat to the truck and left for a few days to fish. The neighbors never saw Gary again.

Another neighbor said that Gary Herbst often yelled and called police “over frivolous matters.” They corroborated seeing the mother and son load a rolled-up carpet into the back of the truck and thought it was unusual as Gary Herbst was very particular about his lawn, the complaint says. The neighbor also reported seeing the mother and son scrub the basement floor, carry out “several large black colored bags,” then leave for a few days. That neighbor, too, never saw Gary again.

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Police also spoke with Gary Herbst’s former employer who said Gary didn’t show up for work after July 8, 2013.

Investigators carried out a search warrant at the Elko New Market house in July 2020, and using Luminol, found multiple bloodstains in the basement drywall, wood studs behind the drywall, on the sliding glass door leading to the basement in the garage and rubber mats that had been in the basement, according to the complaint. However, the sliding glass door stain didn’t match Gary Herbst’s DNA and the other stains didn’t have enough genetic information to make a match.

Officers also executed a search warrant at Austin and Connie Herbst’s current home in New Prague and seized their cell phones, the investigation of which led to warrants being issued for the mother and son on Nov. 18, 2020.

Both Connie and Austin Herbst remain in custody.