OTTAWA COUNTY, Mich. (May 2, 2014)–It’s been more than 26 years since Gail and Rick Brink were murdered at their home in Park Township.
Gail Brink, 22 and Rick Brink, 28 were married for just 18 months when the life they started together came to a tragic end.
On November 23, 1987 their bodies were discovered. Rick Brink was shot twice in the head. His body was found inside his Chevy Blazer that was parked in the driveway of the couple’s home. Inside, the body of Gail Brink was found lying bed. She was also shot to death.
Rick’s brother, Budd Brink spoke out about the day he attended the couple’s funeral saying, “Father North began the funeral like I’ve never heard a funeral start before or will ever again. He said and I quote, ‘This is not the work of the Lord, this is the work of the Devil.'”
The slayings shocked the community, showing up on the cover of newspapers all across West Michigan. But, as time passed on with no answers as to who did it or why, the case eventually went cold.
Then, in 2009, the Ottawa County Cold Case Team was formed. Details of the murders that were stored away in boxes for decades were about to get another look.
In 2011, detectives Venus Repper and David Blakely were assigned to the case.
“Lies end up catching up with us, ya know, you can only tell a lie for so long,” Repper said.
But, digging into a past submerged in lies and secrecy would be all but easy to solve.
“When you get a homicide case you’re trying to familiarize yourself with, ya know, not only the case facts but also the family,” Repper said. “The dynamics of the family. You’re doing background on people you’re going to be interviewing, you’re trying to track them down. I would spend an entire day just looking for one person.”
Repper and Blakely started their investigation by reading thousands of old documents about the case. Over the years, some of the paperwork became flimsy and torn, requiring the detectives to tape the pieces back together. They conducted more than 200 interviews, even crossed state lines, in the hopes that as time passed on the details about what happened the night the Brinks were killed would unravel.
“Loyalties change, friendships change…people who may have been hiding a secret back then, ya know, no longer feel the need or have held that secret so long they want to get it off their chest,” Repper said.
As it turns out, loyalties had changed over the years. Slowly, people began revealing their suspicions about one of Gail’s own siblings, her big brother, Ryan Wyngarden. While being interviewed, family members told the detectives that Wyngarden made bizarre statements shortly after the couple was killed. Both Wyngarden’s aunt and sister quoted him, according to the detectives, as saying, “sometimes I wonder if I could’ve done it.”
It’s a statement that caught the attention of both Repper and Blakely.
“The whole thing, ‘sometimes I wonder if I could’ve done it,’ ya know, that’s not something that your normal person says,” Repper said.
Wyngarden was interviewed within days of the murders. But, he was never considered a suspect at the time. His alibi was confirmed by his then girlfriend, Pam Maracchini. The couple, who later married, told investigators that they were at a friend’s house doing laundry the night that Gail and Rick were murdered.
But, those documents that laid dormant all those years, would reveal a key piece of information that was overlooked during the original investigation.
“The story that was originally given out by Ryan and her, that they were doing laundry, there was a change in that,” Repper said. “There was a statement that was a recantation that wasn’t looked into to our satisfaction.”
The recantation, according to the detectives, was made by Wyngarden’s wife.
On January 18, 2013 the detectives brought Pam Wyngarden to the sheriff’s department for questioning. During the interview, she told detectives that her husband admitted to her, all those years ago, that he killed his sister and brother-in-law. Breaking decades of silence, she gave the detectives a motive and even revealed to them that she was taken to the crime scene just one day after the crimes were committed.
On that same day, within hours of Pam Wyngardne’s confession, Ryan Wyngarden was arrested. But, Repper and Blakely would have to pass their case onto the prosecutor, who would then have to prove to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt, that Ryan Wyngarden was guilty.
The trial began in March, 2014. With more than 60 witnesses, it would last for three weeks. Wyngarden’s aunt, sister and wife were among the people testifying against him.
His sister and aunt told the jury the same thing they told the detectives, quoting Ryan Wyngarden as saying, “Sometimes I wonder if I could’ve done it.”
Then, more details came out about the night the Brinks were killed. As it turns out, Ryan Wyngarden had gotten into an argument with the couple. A fight, that involved Wyngarden’s parents not being allowed to stay in a camper on the Brink’s property. But, anger wasn’t the only motive the prosecution claimed Ryan Wyngarden had to commit the crimes. Details about a sexual relationship between Ryan and Gail began to surface in court. Wyngarden’s wife testified that he told her he killed his sister and brother-in-law because he was jealous and that he didn’t want Rick to find out about the alleged past he had with Gail when they were teenagers. Then, Pam Wyngarden, went on to tell the jury about the day Ryan took her to the crime scene.
“We stopped at Rick’s truck and that’s when I saw Rick,” Pam Wyngarden said. “Then, Ryan grabbed my wrists, walked into the house to the bedroom and that’s where I saw Gail.”
Pam Wyngarden said she kept her husbands secret all these years because she still loved him and also because she didn’t want to go to jail or lose her children.
Her testimony, in addition to the statements made by countless others, were enough for the jury to sentence Ryan Wyngarden to live in prison. It’s a verdict that the Brink’s family credits to those behind the scenes who dedicated countless hours determined to find the truth.
“If it weren’t for the people (Repper, Blakely and the prosecution) behind Melinda and I we wouldn’t be standing here today and we wouldn’t have the verdict today.”
One week after the trial, Repper began boxing up two years of work: a case that she and Blakely can also put to rest.
“It’s been a very emotional case,” Repper said. “It’s about these two people who were murdered, ya know, it’s justice for Rick and Gail. We did our job.”
Ryan’s sister who testified against him, Cheryl Murphree, also thanked the detectives for bringing her closure after all these years.
“My sister’s been dead for 27 years,” Murphree sobbed. “Now, I can go to her grave and say goodbye, ya know, we’re done, we’re done, we finally got him Gail and Rick…you can rest in peace now.”
Detective Blakely retired shortly after the trial ended. Repper said she’s not sure who her new partner, or what her next cold case investigation will be, but that she hopes to continue to bring justice to victims and closure to their families.
Pam Wyngarden is filing for divorce.