Wisconsin Man Takes Alford Plea In 1990 Homicide

Berit Beck was strangled to death almost 28 years ago.

A judge's gavel.
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Berit Beck was strangled to death almost 28 years ago.

A Wisconsin man could spend the next decade in prison after entering an Alford plea in the 1990 killing of an 18-year-old woman.

A judge in Fond du Lac County, Wisconsin, accepted the plea Friday from 64-year-old Dennis Brantner and found him guilty of second-degree reckless homicide in the death of Berit Beck.

Beck was last seen July 17, 1990, when she left her home to attend work training in the city of Appleton. Her skeletal remains were found five weeks later in a ditch near Waupun, Wisconsin. Medical examiners determined she had been strangled.

The case went cold for nearly 25 years. Then came 2014, when the investigation led police to Brantner after following up on a series of tips. Detectives learned from his co-workers that Brantner kept pictures of teenage girls, including Beck, in his toolbox. When they interviewed him on March 28, 2014, he denied being in Fond du Lac when Beck disappeared and having seen her or the van she was driving.

Police say Brantner also gave inconsistent answers when asked if he killed her including, “No, I did not” and “I don’t know.”

When investigators found his fingerprints on items in Beck’s van in April 2014, an emotional Brantner told them, “I don’t know how I got in the van.” Police also asked him if he disposed of Beck’s body, to which he replied, “If I did, I don’t remember.”

Brantner has never revealed a motive for the killing or when he first encountered Beck. Authorities say he abducted her sometime after she made a purchase at Walgreens the day she went missing.

Police, however, say he has a documented history of trouble with women, including two ex-wives. He was arrested in 1989 for stalking his first wife. In 1994, he was charged with holding his second wife at knifepoint.

Brantner was arrested and charged with Beck’s murder in March 2015. His 2017 trial resulted in a hung jury.

An Alford plea is a guilty plea that allows a defendant to maintain his innocence while admitting there is enough evidence to convict him of the crime.

Brantner is scheduled to be sentenced March 1. If he is not released early, he could spend 10 years in prison.

Beck’s parents were in court Friday morning and said they support the verdict and that they plan to address Brantner at sentencing.

District Attorney Eric Toney said in a statement that whatever sentence is handed down won’t erase what Beck’s family has had to endure for almost 30 years.

“There is no amount of prison time or punishment that can bring Berit back or take away the anguish this family experiences,” Toney said. “My heart goes out to the family and friends of Berit Beck.”