81-year-old Mary Josephine Bailey sentenced to life for murder in 1985 love triangle slaying

July 09, 2024

On December 12, 1985, the body of a woman who had been fatally shot was discovered in the stairwell of an apartment building in St. Croix Falls, Polk County, Wisconsin.

The woman was identified  as 45-year-old Yvonne Menke, a worker at Centuria Commercial Laundry. Yvonne lived in the apartment with her 20-year-old daughter Julie, and was on her way to work on the morning she was shot.

Julie said her mother had left the apartment at approximately 6:25am, and had gone outside to warm up the car on what was a cold winters day. Julie said she heard two gunshots and rushed to the window in time to see what she believed was an unknown man fleeing the scene.

She described her mother's attacker as standing at around 5ft 8in tall and of average build, clad in a stocking cap, scarf, and a long, dark grey overcoat.

She quickly called the police who arrived at the scene and found Yvonne’s body face down in a pool of blood in the stairwell of the building.

Autopsy revealed that she had been shot multiple times with a .22 calibre weapon, including once in the throat and in the back of the head after she had fallen to the ground. She died from blood loss before she could receive medical attention.

Casts of the boot prints left behind in the snow were taken and put into evidence.

Julie Menke said that a couple of days before her mother was murdered, an unknown caller had enquired to ask about the victim's routine, including what time she left for work each day. When Julie asked who was calling, the caller hung up the phone.

Over the next several months police questioned Yvonne's friends and work colleagues. They admitted that they had investigated suspects, clearing one, and not having enough evidence to convict another.

In a Star Tribune article published Jul 25, 1986, Sheriff Paul Lindholm of the Polk County Sheriff’s office suggested Yvonne Menke’s death could have been "the result of romantic jealousy."

When investigators questioned Yvonne's family, one of her other daughters revealed that the victim had a boyfriend named Jack Owen. Owen, she added, was involved with another woman named Mary Jo. Jack Owen was subsequently questioned by police, and admitted that he had been romantically involved with Mary Jo, but said he hadn't seen her for weeks at that point. The love triangle had been going on for a number of years before Yvonne was murdered.

On the day of Yvonne Menke’s murder, Owen said he woke up at 6am, completed some chores, went back to sleep, and then went to the bank, where one of the tellers expressed how sorry they were for his loss. It was at this moment, he said, that he found out about Yvonne’s murder.

Mary Jo herself said she had been Christmas shopping that day, and had taken the day off work. She appeared shocked when she was informed of Yvonne’s murder by police. She told them she woke up at 7am, and did chores that day.

Through questioning, Police discovered that Mary Jo owned, or had owned, a .22 Calibre Pistol, as well as a .22 Calibre Rifle. She said she had given the pistol to her boyfriend to sell on her behalf, and claimed that she did not know how to operate the rifle.

Police took a pair of boots from her home and sent them to the Wisconsin Crime Lab- at the time they were considered a match in regard to the pattern on the tread of the sole and size. The evidence was considered circumstantial at the time, and not enough to arrest.

The case got a second look in 2021, and Polk County investigators interviewed additional witnesses for the first time in 4-decades of investigation. They also conducted another interview with Mary Jo, who was a main person of interest in the case. Yvonne Menke’s son also revealed that the phone calls his sister received at the apartment a couple of days before their mother’s death had been happening for years, and although the caller had been attempting to disguise their voice by muffling it, in his opinion it sounded like Mary Jo. Jack Owen had shrugged the whole thing off at the time and told the family not to be concerned.

Jack Owen went on to marry another one of his girlfriends and the pair relocated to Montana. According to Owen’s then wife, Mary Jo did not give up, and allegedly travelled to the Owen's residence and broke in. Owen's wife said she discovered defaced  photographs of she and her husband taped up on the cupboard doors with curse words scrawled across them.

New witnesses made statements that further incriminated Mary Jo, and told officers that another man the suspect had been involved with had confessed that he had burned clothing belonging to Mary Jo after the murder.

Decades later an arrest in the case has been made- 81-year-old Mary Josephine Bailey, who went by Mary Jo Lunsmann at the time, was charged with first degree murder and found guilty by a Jury in May 2024.

She has been sentenced to life in prison.

Assistant District Attorney Holly Wood-Webster said in the prosecution’s statement:

“Other than her lack of denial, Ms. Bailey has not admitted what she did, she has not taken accountability for her actions, she has shown no remorse.”

“In fact, she told the bailiff after she was convicted that she can now retire and not worry about it. This is first-degree murder.

Ms. Bailey should not be eligible for parole. She committed the highest offense – first-degree murder.

She shot Yvonne Menke in cold blood and left her to die in a cold, dark stairwell alone. Ms. Bailey will not suffer that same fate, but when it does come time for her death, it should be in prison.

So, your honor, if Ms. Bailey reaches 101 and is able to appeal to the parole board, the state recommends that life should be life.”


If you have any additional information you can contact Polk County authorities. at 715-485-8300.

Sources: [X][X][X][X][X]

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