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The Palm Beach Post from West Palm Beach, Florida • Page 12

Location:
West Palm Beach, Florida
Issue Date:
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12
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12A THE PALM BEACH POST SUNDAY, JULY 2 1 1 99 1 Suspect in girls' disappearances faces burglary trial 7 i Tammy Belanger, 8, disappeared Nov. 13, 1984. She was on her way to school in Exeter, N.H., where Victor Wonyetye was working. Christy Luna, 8, of Greenacres disappeared May 27, 1984, while she was on her way to buy food for her cats, Boo Boo and Skeeter. "tw Victor Wonyetye's Brushes With The Law drive off that morning.

Two weeks after the girl disappeared, police searched Wonyetye's room at the motor inn and boxes'' of his belongings kept in a furnace room there. They found a scrapbook of Brooke Shields pictures, newspa-! per and magazine advertisements picturing children in underwear and pictures of girls who were about 10 years old. Officers rummaged through the Dumpster behind 1 his motel room and combed through trash at the local dump, where that Dumpster had been emptied. Paul Dubay, who worked with Wonyetye before Tammy disappeared, said he used to talk about disposing of bodies. "He told us, if we ever wanted to get rid of a body, he'd know how to do it," Dubay said.

"We never knew what he meant by that. "At the time, it didn't seem important." Two days after his room was searched, Wonyetye" was arrested for violating his parole. Police had yet to name him as a suspect in the Belanger Luna-Belanger Link Wonyetye's 1975 Oldsmobile had Florida license plates, which were traced to his mother's Lake Worth-address. New Hampshire detectives made calls to Florida and were guided to Greenacres detectives and, the Christy Luna disappearance. Wonyetye became the hot suspect in that Greenacres flew detectives to New Hampshire to information.

Some of the pictures Wonyetye had in New Hampshire were Polaroid snapshots taken outside bedroom windows in Lake Worth. The showed 9- and 11-year-old girls asleep in their beds. Dec. 27, 1984, police named Wonyetye as the only'-suspect in the Belanger disappearance. It was a day before he was scheduled for a parole hearing.

parole was revoked. He was put in a police lineup. Three people said'; they saw a man driving suspiciously around the school the morning Belanger disappeared. Two couldn't identify Wonyetye, and the third picked someone else. There were no other viable suspects.

'I His emergence as a suspect in the Luna case came at a time detectives were having problems with they cases they'd made against the three other suspects in the girl's disappearance. Larry Wesley Jackson, the live-in boyfriend of' Christy's mother, was looking less like a Christy's older sister, Allison, said she was making up those sexual battery allegations against Jackson "be- cause he got drunk, hit mom, and I didn't like it." Jan. 3, 1985, the State Attorney's Office decided to drop the sexual battery charges against Jackson. His lawyer, Donnie Murrell, said of the investigation: "They are under a lot of pressure to solve the 1943 May 7 Victor Wonyetye is born in Pennsylvania. 1962-70 After a childhood dotted with trips to juvenile court and reform school, Wonyetye racks up about 30 burglary convictions in New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Connecticut.

1973 July 27 He is arrested for molesting the 8-year-old daughter of a female friend. 1974 Jan. 17 State drops the case. June 9 He marries the girl's mother. 1977 Sept.

26 His parents retire in Florida. They buy a house in Lake Worth. 1979 Jan. 22 His wife catches him in bed with her 13-year-old daughter. June 8 He is convicted of raping the girl and sentenced to 7'2 to 15 years in prison.

1983 July 28 He is paroled, moves to Rye, N.H., and gets a job in an auto body shop. 1984 May 7 After living with his mother in Lake Worth for two months, he is arrested for night prowling. May 27 Christy Luna, 8, of Greenacres disappears. Aug. 23 He is sentenced to 30 days in jail on the night prowling charge.

Nov. 2 He moves back to Rye, N.H. His parole officer gets him a job at an Exeter body shop. Nov. 13 Tammy Belanger, 8, disappears in Exeter.

Nov. 19 FBI first talks to him about Belanger's disappearance and searches his' car. Nov. 29 He is arrested for violating parole. Dec.

27 He is the first and last suspect identified in the Belanger disappearance. Dec. 28 His parole is revoked. 1991 Jan. 30 He finishes his prison sentence in New Hampshire and leaves for Florida within weeks.

June 4 He is arrested after officers compile videotapes of him masturbating outside children's windows. He is charged with burglary and possession of burglary tools. Detectives search his house and find a scrapbook with a photo of Belanger. Sept. 9 His trial on the burglary charges is set to begin.

disappearance. But they ought to be more careful in slinging around these allegations because it's ruining a lot of people's reputations." The police also were having trouble with the sexual battery charges against the Rambo brothers. Later that spring, a judge would rule that their statements given in the sexual battery case against Luna's 6-year-old girlfriend would be inadmissible in court. As a result, the sexual battery charges were 'What they should say is that for seven years they have tried to make me a suspect, but they VICTOR WONYETYE dropped, and the brothers pleaded cuiltv to a lesser i SUSPECTfrom 1A Wonyetye told the undercover detective to get out of the way, but the detective refused to move. Wonyetye drove away.

The detective then picked up the girls and took them to their parents. After three weeks of surveillance, detectives arrested Wonyetye June 4 on a string of peeping-Tom burglary charges. When they searched the house he shared with his mother, they found a scrapbook of pictures he had cut out and saved. Among them was a published photo of Tammy Belanger, one of the missing girls Wonyetye said he never knew. Trouble From The Start Wonyetye grew up in Western Pennsylvania in Windber, a small town near Johnstown.

His father worked 29 years in the coal mines and raised five children with his wife; Victor was their fourth child. His father drank heavily and was rough on him, while his mother was hard to please, according to a parole report in Wonyetye's many court files. "This rejection by the mother was covered up by her attitude that he was a bad boy, even as an infant," the report says. Wonyetye got his first taste of reform school in the third grade, when he was bounced out of a Catholic elementary school. Through his school years, Wonyetye made four trips to juvenile detention centers for a total of six years.

He had 10 cases in Pennsylvania juvenile courts, mostly for burglary and once for stealing a car, court records show. He left high school three credits shy of graduating. Thrill Of Burglary His father retired from the mines, and in 1959, his family moved to Dover in southeast New Hampshire. The father worked as a night security guard at the nearby University of New Hampshire campus in Durham. His mother got a factory job.

Victor got in trouble. When he was 18, he and two other teenage boys broke into three businesses in New Hampshire and two in South Carolina the next night. During the next eight years, Wonyetye would collect nearly 30 felony convictions for burglaries in New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Connecticut. His break-ins were odd. He rarely stole much of value, sometimes just a pair of roller skates or a carton of cigarettes or $7 from a cash register.

Wonyetye "commits crimes just for the thrill of it without any concern for the consequences," his probation officer wrote. He met his first wife, Frances, through the social worker who visited him in jail near Manchester. Victor and Frances married Oct. 6, 1967. It was a short marriage.

Seven months after the wedding, Wonyetye was back in jail for burglary, and Frances began seeing other men. They didn't live together after that and were divorced by mail. Unnatural Attraction There would be other women. During the early 70s, he worked in a New Hampshire shoe factory and lived with a woman who gave birth to his child after they had separated. Wonyetye then began seeing another woman, a woman who had a daughter from a previous marriage.

The girl was 8 years old when she first told police that Wonyetye was undressing her and putting his penis and fingers on her genital area. July 27, 1973, police charged Wonyetye with molesting her. The girl couldn't distinguish between fact and fantasy, Wonyetye's lawyer said. And the girl's mother didn't believe her, either. The state dropped the case in January of 1974, and Wonyetye married the girl's mother five months later.

Wonyetye and the child now his stepdaughter developed a long-term sexual relationship. The first time it progressed to full intercourse, she had to go to the hospital for treatment, according to court records. She was 11. 1 "After she recovered, he started having intercourse with her again," his former parole officer wrote. It would be another two years before the routine rape of his stepdaughter would result in criminal charges against Wonyetye.

"I always had a feeling that there was something wrong with his kid," said Al England, the former police chief of Rollinsford, N.H., the small town where Wonyetye lived. "The girl was always at the station and crying, but I was never able to get anything out of her." Wonyetye's wife said she never knew it was going on until she caught her daughter and her husband in the act Jan. 22, 1979. Wonyetye disagreed. "This girl's mother had found us in bed many times before, but because I did not leave her she did nothing about it," Wonyetye told the judge.

The wife went to the police. Wonyetye left the state and visited his mother and father, who had been living in suburban Lake Worth since 1977. The police picked him up there the next month and shipped him back to New Hampshire to face rape charges. He went on trial in May 1979. 'Being Crucified Wonyetye wanted to testify, to tell the jury his side of the story.

But his lawyer wouldn't let him. The problem: His side of the story horrified his own lawyer. The lawyer, Daniel Newman, asked that Wonyetye be given a psychiatric exam, citing Wonyetye's "response of amorality and total indifference to customary concepts of guilt." "The total unreality with which the defendant views the alleged repeated rapings of his stepdaughter suggests a psychiatric imbalance that further warrants examination," Newman wrote the judge. The girl said Wonyetye photographed her before, during and after he had sex with her. The girl's mother said he tried to get them to drop prosecution of the case by threatening to release those photos of the 13-year-old girl.

Wonyetye didn't testify at his trial. He was mooning over his stepdaughter, England said. "He was looking over at her and saying 'I love and then he was sending her love letters," England said. The jury convicted Wonyetye, and a judge sentenced him to 7V2 to 15 years in prison May 16, 1979. The judge asked Wonyetye whether he had anything to say.

Wonyetye wanted to know why he was "being crucified" for something that wasn't a crime. The judge sent him for a psychiatric evaluation. A month later, a doctor from the state hospital wrote the judge. "Wonyetye is not a dangerous sexual offender and not in need of psychiatric treatment," the letter said. Wonyetye began writing the judge, using results of the psychiatric evaluation as proof that he had been railroaded.

"This girl used me to get and have anything she wanted simply by saying she loves me and giving me charge of lewd assault. Charles and Willis Rambo! were placed on probation for 10 years after serving a few months in jail or community control. i Waiting For Parole Meanwhile, New Hampshire authorities repeated- ly found reasons to deny Wonyetye parole and keep i him in prison until Jan. 30 of this year. Then the state of New Hampshire couldn't hold him any more.

He had served his entire sentence. i News reporters waited for him outside the Concord prison gates. He slipped away, got on a bus, slumped down in the seat and was gone. A week later, The Exeter News-Letter wrote an editorial saying that it was time to stop connecting him to the Belanger disappearance: i "No charges. No hint of charges.

We have to! believe that if there was any case to be made against this man, our law-enforcement authorities would have been efficient enough to make it during those seven years, when they had their man right where they could keep an eye on him." sex any time I wanted it and didn't even have to ask," he wrote. "She was the one that climbed into my bed." His lawyer tried to get Wonyetye to stop writing "ridiculous poison pen letters" to the judge. But Wonyetye didn't stop. "I gave her money any time she wanted it," Wonyetye wrote the judge in another letter. "I bought her a $1,600 swimming pool.

I gave her all the clothes she wanted. I even gave her a $200 stereo for Christmas. "She missed 35 days of school last year because she would call me up and tell me that I could come home and make love to her if she could stay home from school," he wrote. "She also told me she loved me and would never do anything to hurt me. "Now I'm doing 7 to 15 years because I fell in love with her, because she gave me all her love.

What does she get for this? Nothing." Wonyetye asked the judge to grant him a new trial. "Why is it that justice cannot be in the purest form that it is meant to be?" he asked the judge. "Why was it that I had to be given up as a statistic?" Wonyetye appealed and lost. And in summer 1983 after serving a little more than four years of his sentence he was placed on parole and released from prison. A Year Of Freedom By that time, his second wife had divorced him.

Wonyetye got a room at a motel in Rye, a small coastal town in southeastern New Hampshire, and started working at an auto body shop a couple of miles away. "When you listen to him talk, he seems right up front," said Henry Berounsky, the owner of Ben's Auto Body. "He seemed like a guy you'd want to do something for." Wonyetye's friends nicknamed him "Chester the Molester" because he frequently had young girls with him at his motel room. "He would get irate, bent out of shape when he'd be called that," said Joseph Smith, who lived at the motor inn with Wonyetye for about eight months. Smith and others remember the inside of Wonyetye's car was defaced with the graffiti of 14-year-old girls' names with saying such as "Victor loves or loves Victor" scribbled in pen on the dashboard, the visor, the ceiling and the upholstery.

"I found it strange that a man of his age was hanging around with teenagers," Smith said. "He said they were more innocent; they didn't have all the baloney that other people have." In March of 1984, Wonyetye left New Hampshire, moved in with his parents and got a job as a grounds-keeper at a Wellington golf course. Christy Luna Disappears A couple of months later, he was arrested by an off-duty Lake Worth police officer who spotted Wonyetye crouching in the bushes and peeking in the windows of a Beverly Drive home. Wonyetye said he was looking for a lost cat. He was booked May 7, 1984, on a misdemeanor charge of night prowling.

He posted bond and was released. Twenty days later, Christy Luna, a freckle-faced, barefoot, 55-pound second-grader in a turquoise bathing suit walked around the corner from her Broward Avenue home in Greenacres to buy food for her cats, Boo Boo and Skeeter. It was 2:30 on a Sunday afternoon. The 8-year-old girl never made it home. Wonyetye went to church that morning with his parents and according to police, was at a party that afternoon in Luna's neighborhood.

Someone fitting his description was seen outside the store, police said. But he wouldn't come to their attention for months. Police had no shortage of suspects from the start. Six days after Christy disappeared, police interviewed Willis Rambo, 26, a neighbor who lived with his older brother, Charles, 31. Willis Rambo told police that Christy and a 6-year-old girl in the neighborhood frequently came to their house to play.

Ten days later, police interviewed that girl. She told police that Charles Rambo paid her $2 to take her off, and using dolls as models, she demonstrated how she performed oral sex on him. Three days later, Charles Rambo admitted to sexually molesting the 6-year-old. Police arrested him, searched the Rambo house and dug up the back yard, looking for Christy Luna. Willis Rambo told detectives that he would know where his brother would try to hide the body.

His brother was afraid that somebody might have seen what he did to Christy on the day she disappeared, Willis told police. Three weeks after the girl's disappearance, police made Charles Rambo their first prime suspect. "We've interviewed more than 60 people, and everything has been narrowed down to this one individual," Sgt. Dennis Connell said. A few days later, Christy's 6-year-old girlfriend told police that Willis Rambo also molested her and once tried to have sex with her.

Police charged Willis Rambo with sexual battery. Three days after charging the second Rambo brother, the missing girl's older sister, Allison, 11, told police she had been molested numerous times by her mother's live-in boyfriend, Larry Wesley Jackson, 28. That summer, Jackson and the Rambo brothers would remain the three top suspects in Christy Luna's disappearance. Meanwhile, Victor Wonyetye would serve 30 days in jail on the Lake Worth prowling arrest and then return to New Hampshire. The Belanger Case "He said he didn't like it in Florida," recalls Marge Leathe, the manager of the Rye motor inn where Wonyetye returned.

"He said he was working at a golf range, and the people were too uppity. They were money people, and he liked the people better here." Actually, Wonyetye returned to straighten out his parole problems. He had lived in Florida without getting permission from New Hampshire, and the prowling arrest clouded his parole status even more. Wonyetye's parole officer found him a job in Exeter, stripping paint from cars at Brad's Auto Body. "He didn't miss a day of work until the day of that incident," recalled Brad Bissell, the body shop owner.

The "incident" happened on the morning of Nov. 13, 1984, when 8-year-old Tammy Belanger walked from her Exeter home to the elementary school around the corner from the body shop. She never made it to school and hasn't been seen since. Wonyetye, who was supposed to be at work at 7 a.m. that day, called in sick about noon, Bissell said.

The auto body shop owner figured Wonyetye just had a wild night on the town and decided to sleep in rather than go to work. 'Well, I hope she was worth Bissell remembers telling Wonyetye on the phone. "And he didn't say a word. Just silence." The girl's disappearance shocked Exeter, a picturesque, upscale town of 12,000 and home to one of the nation's best preparatory schools. Two days after the girl vanished, Wonyetye's parole officer notified the local police that the child rapist worked in the town.

The police weren't aware of Wonyetye. Detectives called Bissell and told him to report to them daily on how Wonyetye was acting. "The day after the girl disappeared, he was in a world of his own," Bissell said. "At lunch he just stood by himself, rubbing his key against the hood of a car." Leathe, manager of the motor inn where Wonyetye lived, remembers watching a TV news report about the girl's disappearance and asking Wonyetye: "Do you think they'll ever find that girl?" "Not now they won't," she said he told her. Six days after the girl disappeared, an FBI agent showed up at the body shop and searched Wonyetye's car.

He found a "plastic replica of a penis" in the trunk, a patch of carpet, a chain saw, stolen stereo equipment and other items. Wonyetye went back to the motor inn and told Leathe to tell people that she had seen his car in the lot the entire morning on the day the girl disappeared. "I told him, 'I can't say Leathe remembers. She said she didn't have a view of his parking space, and she also had the faint recollection of seeing him Short-Lived Freedom Wonyetye saved that editorial, taking it with him to Florida. He moved back in with his mother in Lake Worth, got a driver license and got his old job back at the Wellington golf course where he had worked seven years earlier.

i In April, Exeter police received information that someone fitting Wonyetye's description was hanging; around school yards. Detectives couldn't find him. May 2, Exeter called Greenacres and asked whether Won- yetye had returned to Florida. Greenacres police found him after they began a i loose surveillance of his mother's house. In trailing! Wonyetye, police found that he was leaving the house before 5 a.m., driving to the Woodhaven Plaza, at the corner of Kirk Road and Forest Hill Boulevard.

Then he'd walk a short distance to a development ofj apartment houses, where he would peer in the same bedroom window and masturbate. The window looked into a bedroom where three' sisters slept a 9-year-old and twins who were 10. During the next three weeks Greenacres and sheriff's 1 office detectives would watch Wonyetye constantly, Detectives rented an apartment in the complex, They videotaped him from a van parked in the lot and put a tracking device on his car, which led them to the Memorial Day episode in North Florida. Officers posed as joggers and watched him creep through Wellington neighborhoods, too. On some morn-' ings, detectives felt Wonyetye was about to do what they wanted to see.

"He is apparently trying to find a child walking around this morning," Detective Tom Colombritoj wrote after following Wonyetye's car May 23 through Wellington. "He is really making a point of checking these two developments." The weeks of surveillance, which involved about 40 i officers including a detective from Exeter, ended on the morning of June 4 when Wonyetye was arrested as he returned to his car at the Woodhaven Plaza after his regular morning outing. He had no idea how long he was being watched. The State Attorney's Office filed seven counts of burglary and possession of burglary tools. Prosecutors intend to try Wonyetye as a habitual offender.

That would mean that if he is convicted, he could be sentenced to 30 years for each burglary. Ken Selvig, the chief assistant prosecutor, rarely tries cases. But he is personally handling Wonyetye's case, which is set to begin Sept. 9. Wonvetve has written a letter to the iudee askine him to recognize the "blind obsession" law enforce- ment has with him.

And he has written and spoken to newsnanpr rpnnrtprs nntrapprl nvpr the snrvpillanrp that led to the multiple charges against him. I "I believe that they should have arrested me the first time I broke the law," he said. "They should not have set back and sat enjoying me break laws without doing anything about it. "What if a person was killing people? How many would they let him kill before they stopped him?".

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