The more that Dane County investigators looked, the more they confirmed their suspicions that Penny Brummer was responsible for the death of Sarah Gonstead.

Gonstead, 21, had disappeared after she and Brummer went bar hopping the night of March 14, 1994. Her body would be found nearly a month later off Mineral Point Road, less than two miles from a bar in Pine Bluff where witnesses said Brummer and Gonstead had been seen drinking together.

Brummer had never mentioned the bar when police interviewed her about that night. After she was told she'd been seen there, Brummer said she must have "blacked out."

That omission would form the cornerstone of the case against Brummer when she went to trial that fall. Another would be Brummer's access to a .22-caliber handgun -- now missing and presumed to be the murder weapon.

Prosecutors Judy Schwaemle and Ann Sayles would spend a week laying out other circumstantial evidence against Brummer, then 25:

Brummer said the two ended their night together after she pulled into the lot of the former Club 3054 on East Washington Avenue. Gonstead wasn't feeling well, Brummer said, and said she was going to walk to the nearby apartment of Glenda Johnson, Gonstead's best friend and Brummer's estranged lover.

She told police when she pulled into the lot that several other cars were there, forcing her to park in back. But the club was closed that night, and the lot was presumably empty.

Police interviewed the security guard at the Taco Bell where Brummer said she thought she saw Gonstead talking with a group of people with motorcycles and a van. But the guard said he never saw such a group.

Brummer insisted she'd never been on the stretch of road where Gonstead's body was found. Yet friends and associates said she had pointed it out before as a good route to avoid police on her way to Spring Green.

When Brummer returned to her mother's house in Spring Green in the early hours of March 15, she showered and washed her clothes. Brummer said it was because she'd spilled beer on herself.

The day after Gonstead disappeared, Brummer also had the car she'd been driving cleaned (again, she said, because she had spilled beer in it the night before).

Within days of Gonstead's disappearance, Brummer also sought to re-enlist in the Air Force and got her hair restyled, although associates said she had talked of doing both of those things for some time.

Jealousy as motive?

Brummer's motive, prosecutors argued, was jealousy.

Still pining for her ex-girlfriend, Glenda Johnson, Brummer had considered Gonstead an obstacle to winning her back, they said. Best friends since childhood, Gonstead and Johnson talked constantly. Perhaps she also encouraged Johnson, who was then questioning her sexuality, to go back to dating men.

To bolster their case that Brummer was capable of resorting to violence, prosecutors had hoped to introduce allegations Brummer had threatened to kill another friend more than a year earlier after she learned the woman had had an affair with a previous lover.

When the two women moved to California, according to court records, Brummer allegedly asked a co-worker to help her "get rid" of the friend by getting her an unregistered gun.

Dane County Circuit Judge Patrick Fiedler refused to allow the testimony, saying it didn't involve Gonstead and would prejudice the jury.

But on the day prosecutors planned to rest their case, a 45-year-old loan officer named James Foseid showed up with a startling tale.

'I'm going to waste her'

With the jury gone for lunch on Sept. 25, Sayles said Foseid had come to her office to say he'd overheard Brummer threatened to kill someone. He said he hadn't come forward before because he assumed the police could handle the case without his help, and he didn't want to get involved.

Brummer's attorneys were furious and sought to bar the 11th-hour testimony, complaining they didn't have time to adequately check out his story. This time, however, Fiedler ruled for the prosecution, and Foseid testified three days later.

Foseid said he'd been in the Echo Tap, 354 W. Main St., sometime that early spring when the woman sitting at the bar next to him -- whom he identified as Brummer -- complained to a female companion about a "fat ugly bitch" who was trying to break up her relationship with another woman.

"She said . . . she's trying to talk her into going straight," Foseid said Brummer told him when he asked who she was talking about.

Still stewing, Foseid said, Brummer later told her friend, "I know what I'm going to do. I'm going to waste her."

He said he protested and suggested she work out her problem, but the two women abruptly left.

The defense quickly sought to discredit Foseid, noting he initially told police the conversation happened on a Thursday night; work records showed Brummer worked Thursday nights. Foseid later said it could have been a Friday.

Foseid also first put the event about two to three weeks before he saw Brummer's picture in the newspaper accompanying a story about her arrest. But Gonstead would have been dead at least a week by then.

While many considered Foseid's testimony the prosecution's ace in the hole, jurors largely ignored it, several members of the panel would say later.

"Did this guy really sit down with her or was he doing some attention-seeking?" said Kurt VanSomeren, the jury foreman. "In my mind, the case had been made long before he appeared."

Foseid's credibility was further questioned in 1998, when he told the Madison weekly Isthmus that the woman at the Echo had actually identified herself as Penny, although he'd never mentioned that in court. He declined to comment for this story other than to say he didn't name Brummer because he wasn't asked.

After Foseid's testimony, it was defense attorney Jack Priester's turn. Priester, it turned out, had a couple surprises of his own.

Capital W: Plug in to Wisconsin politics

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