MAZOMANIE, Wis. (AP) — Matthew Graville couldn’t read well or remember numbers. He could drive his friends crazy with his incessant talking. But all he really wanted, by all accounts, was to fit in.
When detectives found the 27-year-old autistic man’s body buried in the woods months after he disappeared, they uncovered what investigators say was a horrific story of family violence. His half brother, Jeffrey Vogelsberg, had repeatedly tortured and abused Graville, prosecutors say, and the beatings finally went too far.
“(Vogelsberg) is someone who deserves to be hung up … and left to be tortured,” said Richard Swangstu, who befriended Graville when they were teenagers living in a foster home. “Matt was a brother to me. I didn’t lose a friend. I lost family.”
Vogelsberg is charged with first-degree intentional homicide. An extradition hearing in Washington state, where Vogelsberg moved after Graville’s death last summer, is scheduled for Thursday.
Vogelsberg’s attorney, Lisa Contris, didn’t return several messages, and Vogelsberg didn’t respond to a letter requesting an interview.
Another man who owned the house where Vogelsberg and Graville lived is accused of helping hiding Graville’s body.
Robert McCumber told investigators he went to bed listening to Vogelsberg beat Graville in the bathroom, but he also said the beatings were nothing new. When he woke up on July 1, Graville was dead on his couch; Vogelsberg was gone — on his way to Missouri to see his wife graduate from U.S. Army basic training at Fort Leonard Wood.
Graville was born with Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism marked by an inability to read social cues, repetitive routines and clumsiness. Criminals have long preyed on the disabled. The violent victimization rate for the disabled 2010 was 28 per 1,000 people, almost twice the rate among non-disabled people, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
Still, Graville’s case left Wisconsin investigators shocked.
“In 33 years, 25 as a detective, I find it difficult to find another case where an individual took advantage of a developmentally disabled male for their own entertainment,” Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney told reporters at a news conference to announce the charges. “Matthew lived a living hell.”
Graville’s early life is murky. At some point he ended up foster care. Those records are confidential and his biological mother, Vicki Graville, declined to comment, saying she doesn’t want to jeopardize the investigation into her son’s death.
When he was 16 or 17, Graville moved into a foster home, where he roomed with Swangstu. At first Graville drove him “up the wall” with his incessant talking, Swangstu said, but as he learned more about Asperger’s, he took Graville under his wing. They went to high school together and they worked at the local McDonald’s.
Graville was happy, Swangstu said. He loved listening to rap music, watching funny movies, whittling walking sticks or sitting outside.
“Enjoying the simplicities of life,” Swangstu said of the time they spent together. “Sitting around a bonfire. Drinking soda. Watching fireworks go off. Playing catch in our yard. … Matt was a loving, kind, gentle soul.”
Eventually Graville moved out of the foster home and somehow connected with Vogelsberg, his 28-year-old half-brother. Vogelsberg and Graville went on to rent McCumber’s house in Mazomanie, a village of about 1,650 people 25 miles west of Madison.
Court records show Vogelsberg had been in trouble with the law before. He had been convicted of siphoning gas from vehicles, shooting a man with a BB gun and throwing his dog down his apartment stairs. A former landlord accused him of blowing up her chicken with a bottle rocket.
Vogelsberg’s grandfather reported Graville missing in July. Weeks went by with no sight of him.
In September, investigators caught a break when county workers notified them someone had used Graville’s food stamp card at a Madison grocery store two weeks after he disappeared. According to the criminal complaint, store surveillance video identified the card user as Vogelsberg’s mother, Laura Robar, who has since been charged with identity theft.
She led investigators to McCumber, who told them that Vogelsberg regularly abused Graville, beating him and shooting him with a BB gun repeatedly, according to the complaint. Finally, Vogelsberg became convinced Graville was poisoning Vogelsberg’s children and started beating him in the bathroom.
McCumber said he didn’t interfere because Robar was there and he thought she wouldn’t let things get out of hand.
When he found Graville’s body the next day, he called Vogelsberg, who told him to wrap the body in plastic and place it in a chest freezer in the garage, according to the criminal complaint. Several days later, he and Vogelsberg buried Graville in the woods along the Wisconsin River. McCumber said Vogelsberg had a pistol and he was afraid he might kill him.
Vogelsberg was arrested Nov. 5 in Washington state, where he moved after his wife was assigned to a base near Tacoma. He remains in custody with no bail.
McCumber is set to be arraigned later this month. His attorney could not be reached for comment.
Robar is set to stand trial early next year. Her attorney, Jason Gonazlez, said in court Wednesday that Robar was involved with making “some really bad decisions” and is cooperating with detectives, but he doesn’t believe prosecutors can prove all the elements of identity theft.
Assistant District Attorney Robert Kaiser said in court Wednesday that Robar has said she will do anything to protect her son.
Swangstu said he will always be angry at Graville’s family.
“There won’t be a day when I don’t resent what his family did,” he said. “He was doing everything he needed to do until he connected with his real family. His real family ruined it.”
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