$1 million cash bond set for 2nd suspect in Altoona homicide

55-year-old Tracey Clark of Altoona and 46-year-old Brandon Gaston of Rockford, Ill. are both charged with 1st-degree intentional homicide.
Published: Sep. 22, 2022 at 1:11 PM CDT
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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) - Two people have been charged with homicide and both are being held on a $1 million cash bond after an Altoona man was found dead in April.

55-year-old Tracey Clark of Altoona and 46-year-old Brandon Gaston of Rockford, Ill. were charged with 1st-degree intentional homicide and hiding a corpse, both as a party to a crime, on Sept. 15 in Eau Claire County Circuit Court.

The Altoona Police Department said in July that 79-year-old Dennis Schattie of Altoona was found dead in the Rock River in Rockford on April 12. A release from the Rockford Police Department said that the body was found laying on rocks near Fordam Dam, submerged in the water. An autopsy determined the death was suspicious due to the injuries the man suffered. WIFR in Rockford first reported on April 12 that the body was recovered by the Rockford Fire Department.

In April, Altoona Police Chief Kelly Bakken described the investigation as “complex” and that the case involved multiple jurisdictions. In July, the Altoona Police Department named both Clark and Gaston as suspects in the case. The July release indicated the homicide took place in the City of Altoona and that “numerous” evidence items had been collected. Police described the homicide as “financially-motivated.”

Clark and Gaston were charged Sept. 15 as co-defendants, with Gaston appearing in court Friday for his initial appearance and Clark appearing Thursday. A $1 million cash bond was set for both suspects in their respective appearances, with conditions that they not contact each other or members of Schattie’s family. Both are scheduled for preliminary hearings on Sept. 27. Gaston is being held at the Eau Claire County Jail. Clark is being held at Taycheedah Correctional Institution in Fond du Lac after her extended supervision was revoked in an unrelated case.

According to court documents filed with the charges, investigators believe Clark and Gaston were in an apparent relationship going back at least as far as October of 2020. Clark told investigators that she had been living with Schattie since 2019 and had known him for about 22 years. During the time she lived with him, Clark was added as a co-owner of Schattie’s house and vehicle and had been added as a beneficiary on Schattie’s annuity on March 20, 2022.

In the criminal complaint, the homicide investigation began when Schattie’s body was found on April 12 in Illinois. Investigators said the body had been cut in several places and had been burned, and several items, including a saw, a kitchen knife and a hammer, were found along with the body, which was wrapped in a tarp and smelled like “gasoline or some sort of possible accelerant.” The body was identified using fingerprints, as well as dentures recovered with the body that had Schattie’s name on them. An autopsy done at the Winnebago (Ill.) County Coroner’s office was not able to determine the cause of death due to missing body parts and internal organs, labeling the death “suspicious.”

Law enforcement executed a search warrant on April 14 at Clark and Schattie’s home. Police and the Wisconsin State Crime Laboratory found several items that were taken as evidence in the investigation, including a wheelbarrow with a reddish-brown stain on the edge of it that was swabbed and found to be blood, which was later shown to have Schattie’s DNA. Several pieces of mail, including financial documents confirming Clark becoming the new beneficiary of Schattie’s annuity account, were found.

Investigators also found discarded items in dumpsters near the home on St. Andrews Drive, which included a van’s floor mats, one of which had a stain that was again confirmed to be blood with Schattie’s DNA, as well as packaging for a power washer, sanitizing wipes, and several used sanitizing wipes. Several items with Clark’s name, including receipts from businesses in Rockford, were found, and a bag that had four rubber gloves commonly used for washing dishes.

Additionally, the insides of the gloves were DNA tested, with strong support for two of the gloves containing DNA from Brandon Gaston and for one of the gloves having DNA belonging to Clark.

In the criminal complaint filed with the charges, several phone calls between Brandon Gaston, who was in the Dane County Jail, and Clark were recorded and reviewed. In one of the calls, Gaston tells Clark to clean the van and advised to use bleach with hot water and soap, as well as to clean the back part of the van and to get rid of the floor mats. The two also discussed money and both ended at least one of the calls with “I love you.” In another call, the two discuss getting married after probation.

Investigators said that Gaston was transferred from Dane County to Eau Claire County on April 19. Investigators interviewed 46-year-old Eddie Banks in May. Banks, who was an inmate at the Eau Claire County Jail at the time, said that Gaston told him he killed Schattie and that he had planned the murder with Clark while Gaston was still in prison.

Banks was found dead in a ditch in rural Eau Claire County in June. Three people, none of whom are mentioned in the court documents filed with the charges against Clark and Gaston, are charged in Banks’ homicide death. According to a criminal complaint in that homicide case, 37-year-old Philip Novak of Milwaukee, 25-year-old Vanessa Ketteman of Eau Claire and 39-year-old Kristina Keppert of Cadott are all charged with 1st-degree intentional homicide, with Ketteman and Keppert charged as a party to a crime.

The Altoona Police Department posted on Facebook Thursday that they received a “significant amount of tips from community members” during the investigation.