Matthew A. McDowell told police on Sunday that he killed his girlfriend.
He said they fought over the weekend at his home in the 2000 block of 61st Street in Kenosha, and that during the argument, he put his hands around her neck. He heard a cracking sound, he told police, and when he checked, Erin Ziemendorf, 30, of West Allis, was not breathing.
McDowell, 40, put her body in a duffel bag, he told police, then loaded that into the trunk of Ziemendorf’s car, and drove it to Chicago. He left the car at a parking lot near the Greyhound bus station in the South Loop, and took the train back to Kenosha. Chicago police found her body shortly after McDowell turned himself in to Kenosha police.
The Kenosha County district attorney’s office filed charges of first-degree intentional homicide and hiding a corpse. If convicted, he could be sentenced to life plus 10 years in prison.
He remains in custody on a $350,000 cash bond. If released, he is to have no contact with Ziemendorf’s family.
McDowell made his first appearance in court Tuesday. He wore a knee-length, blue gown, usually issued to inmates who are on a level-one suicide watch.
He glanced toward the back of the courtroom after he sat down next to his attorney and was told to face front. He has lived in Kenosha all his life, and is a Tremper High School graduate. He is a massage therapist, and works out of Elements Therapeutic in Delafield, his attorney said, and is a volunteer massage therapist at hospitals.
Public Defender Kristyne Watson asked for the intentional homicide charge to be dismissed, saying the information in the complaint did not support that charge.
In the confession outlined in the complaint, McDowell told police he heard the crack while he and Ziemendorf were fighting. He said she had her thumbs in his eyes, and that he had his hands around her neck, choking her. He wondered if his body weight had broken her neck, he told police.
McDowell is 6 feet 3 inches tall and weighs 260 pounds, the complaint states; Ziemendorf was 5 feet 6 inches tall and weighed 120 pounds.
Court Commissioner Jon G. Mason said the charges would stand.
Deputy District Attorney Mike Graveley asked for a $500,000 cash bond.
“It takes a high degree of violence to snap a neck or strangle them,” he said. “The high cash bond is also necessary based on efforts to hide the body early on. He put her in a body bag and transported her with her own vehicle, and then takes a train back here. That all looks like highly deceptive acts.”
— Friday: Erin Ziemendorf and Matthew McDowell started fighting about their relationship and money. They had split up for a time, McDowell told police, but were now planning a vacation to Hawaii.
— Saturday: The argument continued the next day, McDowell told police. While in a bedroom at his home, he told police “Erin bumped him” and grabbed his ribcage. They started pushing each other, and at one point, he said, Ziemendorf picked up a corkscrew and swung it at him. He pushed her onto the bed, he told police. He had his hands on her face and neck, and she was choking. She had her thumbs in his eyes, he told police, and after her hand left his face, he heard a crack. After realizing she was dead, he told police, he put her body in her car, and drove it to Chicago, leaving it behind and taking the train home.
— 2:30 p.m. Sunday: McDowell contacted his brother and told him to come to their parents’ house. The brother told police that McDowell said he found out Ziemendorf was cheating on him, and that he “blacked out” When he came to, Ziemendorf was unconscious, and McDowell “freaked out,” and put her in the car and drove to Chicago. The brother said McDowell asked to be taken to the police department to turn himself in.
— 5:15 p.m. Sunday: McDowell turned himself in to police, and said he wanted to report an “accidental death.” He told police about the argument, and where he had left the car.
— 7:25 p.m. Sunday: Chicago police found Ziemendorf’s car, with her body in a bag in the trunk.
— Monday: The Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office determined Ziemendorf died because of blunt neck trauma from an assault, and ruled her death a homicide.
— All information in the timeline comes from the criminal complaint filed Tuesday in Kenosha County Circuit Court.