The Lentz Family Murders

On Friday, January 12, 2007 Russell Lucht got word first that neither of his grandchildren, seventeen year old Nichole Lentz and her fourteen year old brother, Scott had gone to school.  When he learned that his daughter, thirty-eight year old Danyetta Lentz had also not gone to her job as a daycare teacher he truly became worried and headed over to his daughter's mobile home in Janesville Wisconsin. When Russell entered the home the first thing he noticed was there was blood all over the place.  He would ultimately find the three bodies of his daughter and grandchildren inside the home.

As with most cases no one knew for sure who had committed this crime and so investigators started where they always do.... those closest to the victims.  In this case they started with the father of children and ex husband of Danyetta. He would ultimately be cleared of all involvement.  The bigger problem comes when there are multiple victims.  Sometimes that is made easier if one of the victims seem to have been "killed more" than the others, but that does not seem to be the case here so that did not help investigators.

Soon they made their way to Nichole's boyfriend.  He told investigators that he had talked to Nichole earlier in the evening but that when he tried calling her again around 9:30 pm he had not received an answer, which was odd to him, but obviously not odd enough to warrant any further stress.  He claimed that they had not argued or were having a bad relationship, but of course investigators did not just take his word on that.  However, at some point during their conversation the boyfriend had heard a male voice in the background and he asked who it belonged to.  He said that Nichole simply said it was "Jim" and did not elaborate and he did not question further.

Investigators wondered who "Jim" was and soon learned that James Koepp lived behind the Lentz family in the trailer park and he was known in the community to help fix things for others.  Apparently he had been at the Lentz home in the past helping Danyetta in fixing some things around the house.  Koepp would initially tell investigators that he barely knew the family and had not been in the home the evening before the bodies were found.  

By January 16th, investigators were looking harder at Koepp and apparently he knew it.  They set up another interview with him for the following day.  But, instead of going and talking to the police again Koepp decided to go "on the run."  A police chase ensued and when he was finally caught up with, after officers had enabled "stop sticks" he was charged with knowingly fleeing officers, 1st degree reckless endangerment and offenses related to drunk driving (which apparently were not his first).  For these charges Koepp pleaded guilty on March 30, 2007 and received a four year sentence.

Knowing they had the man they were certain had committed the murders of the Lentz family, investigators took their time before charging him.  He was already in jail so they wanted to make sure to build their case well before officially charging him.  They finally did so on January 11, 2008, one year to the day in which investigators believe the murders had occurred.  

By now Koepp had admitted that he knew the family.  He even admitted to being at the home the night the murders occurred.  He did not however, admit to the murders.  He would claim that he had been having an "affair" with Danyetta Lentz.  Reports of this so called "affair" vary.  Prosecutors would use it as their basis for a motive, stating that Koepp had killed Danyetta to prevent his wife finding out about their relationship and that the teenagers were basically collateral damage.  Friends and relatives of Danyetta do not believe there was an affair at all, while some believe if there had been any romantic interaction it was a one time thing that had occurred several months prior.  Even some investigators seem to believe that the so called affair did not happen but that Koepp had said this so he could explain why his DNA was found in the home.

All three victims had not only been strangled by a tie or a scarf but they had all also been stabbed multiple times.  Some of the stab wounds had occurred after death.  There had been DNA evidence found under the nails of both Danyetta and Nichole that matched James Koepp. Investigators had also found the pants he wore the night of the murders.  The blood DNA found on the pants matched all three victims.  

At his trial the defense would claim (although I am unsure of the facts) that there was unknown male DNA found on one of the knives used in the murders as well as the material used to strangle Danyetta.  Their theory would be that an unknown robber had killed the family for money and prescription drugs.  James Koepp would claim that he had seen a stranger "lurking" around the area around the time he had admitted to being at the Lentz home.  There were several problems with this theory. First, there were no signs of forced entry into the home. Secondly, no one, aside from Koepp remembered or reported seeing anyone strange around the area.  And thirdly, prosecutors argued that Danyetta was a single mother, with very little money who donated plasma to make ends meet.  They also argued that there was no sign that money, debit cards, gift cards or even pills had been taken from the home. It does seem that the one thing they could not account for was a video game system but there seemed to be no more information on that.  

In February 2010 James Koepp was convicted of the murders after the jury deliberated for less than two hours.  The conviction carried a mandatory life sentence per charge.  The only question was whether he would receive that sentence with, or without a possibility of parole.  That was answered when he received three life sentences without the possibility of parole.   

As I mentioned earlier, when he was arrested just after the murders, after his police chase it was not his first drunk driving event, nor was it even close to being his first run in with the law.  James Koepp had previously been involved in home invasions, burglaries and car theft. But, his most serious charge prior to this had come in 1983 when he was charged with sexual assault against two women after forcing them at gun point to perform sexual acts.  It was this conviction that had forced him to register as a sex offender, something some in the area did not know about.  

Upon looking at the Wisconsin Department of Corrections I was sorely disappointed at the information that was provided, or shall I say, the lack there of.  Prior to this I thought the DOC website of Virginia inmates was likely the worse, but Wisconsin has beat that.  All the website provides is the latest current picture of the inmate and statistic related to them, such as birth date, height, weight...etc.  They do not even provide what the charges were that led the inmate to be incarcerated or even what the sentence is that they are serving.  

As of 2012 James Koepp has been denied his appeal.

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