Twenty-four years after a Wisconsin teenager was murdered on a road trip, police on Monday named a possible new suspect in the case based on fresh physical evidence.
Truck driver Dennis J. Brantner, 60, of Kenosha, was named in search warrants related to the 1990 slaying of 18-year-old Berit Beck.
Police said there is forensic evidence that puts him inside the gray GMC van that Beck was driving when she vanished.
"It's the strongest physical evidence we have to date," Fond du Lac Sheriff Mick Fink said at a news conference that raised more questions than it answered.
"We have someone here that we're very interested in and we need the public's help.
"We’re gonna go forward and I hope there’s going to be a charge. I hope he’s going to be arrested," Fink added.
Further muddying the water, Fink later said without elaboration: "He's not the only the suspect at this point."
Brantner did not have a listed phone number and did not respond to a message sent through social media. Authorities did not know if he has legal representation. His employer and a relative declined to answer any questions.
Beck's mother, Diane, told NBC News the new development was a relief.
"We are very pleased with the way the investigation is progressing," she said. "We understand there is substantial evidence against this individual."
Beck was on her way to a computer training seminar in Appleton, Wis., when she vanished. She was last seen leaving Forest Mall, where she had stopped for some cosmetics.
Her van was found two days later in a parking lot near Walgreen's, and her body was found in a ditch six weeks later.
An exact cause of death was never determined, though the medical examiner said she was probably strangled or suffocated.
A search warrant affidavit released by police said five pieces of evidence recovered from Beck's van were recently re-analyzed and some of it is "linked" to Brantner.
The affidavit said that six more pieces of evidence could be analyzed if police had detailed photos of the trucker's hands because of a "physical deformity."
Authorities declined to say if they were trying to match fingerprints. They said they had obtained the photos, even though the warrant was never executed but refused to say how they got them or whether Brantner is cooperating.
Asked how close officials are to making an arrest, Fond du Lac District Attorney Eric Toney said, "We're not imminent."
Fink said the affidavit was released in the hopes that the new information would jog someone's memory about the case or encourage someone with a secret to come forward.
"It has been a nightmare since the day it happened," the sheriff said.
In a strange coincidence, the break in the Beck mystery was made public on the same day that police in Racine County revealed they solved another Wisconsin cold case — the 1997 rape and murder of 14-year-old runaway Amber Gail Creek.
Police planned to announce the arrest of a suspect during a Monday afternoon news conference, but they postponed the briefing when they learned about the announcement in Beck's case.
"Both cases are extremely important and warrant independent exposure to generate investigative leads without unnecessarily confusing the public or diminishing the significance of each," the Racine County sheriff said in a statement.
A news conference will now be held Tuesday. Police said there is no connection between the two cases.
First published April 7 2014, 10:58 AM