Suspect in 1985 Wood County cold case pleads not guilty

Benny Scruggs (File photo 1985)
Benny Scruggs (File photo 1985)(WSAW)
Published: Dec. 6, 2022 at 1:38 PM CST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

WISCONSIN RAPIDS, Wis. (WSAW) - The Wisconsin Rapids man who prosecutors say killed his neighbor as he slept has pleaded not guilty. Don Maier was charged in September with the 1985 murder.

Maier, 60, appeared by video conference Tuesday in Wood County Circuit Court where he entered the plea. A judge also ruled there is enough evidence for the case to head to trial.

Maier is charged with stabbing Benny Scruggs to death. Scruggs’ body was found in his bed in his home on July 17, 1985 by his wife.

Donald Maier
Donald Maier(Wisconsin Department of Justice)

When police arrived, Benny Scruggs’ wife, Yvonne said she and Benny had been out that night. After returning home, Benny went to bed, but she could not sleep. Yvonne, who was 21 at the time, said the couple’s son started to cry so she went to console him in his room. Yvonne told police she got an uneasy feeling. She said she left the boy’s room only to find the trailer door open and Benny in a pool of blood.

An autopsy showed Benny Scruggs was likely stabbed while he slept as he had no defensive wounds. The knife has never been recovered.

A 27-page criminal complaint detailed key events and statements of the case.

Court documents state Maier had been living with a woman who lived near the Scruggs. She said Maier and the Scruggs were friends. Maier was interviewed by police on July 26, 1985. He said he had known Yvonne since high school. He said that six weeks before Benny’s death, the two had sex. Court documents state Yvonne had told Maier that if he wanted her, she knew how to get rid of Benny.

On Aug. 27, 1985, Yvonne Scruggs admitted to detectives that she had not told them of her sexual encounter with the Maier because she did not think it was that important and because she was embarrassed to tell anyone that it had happened. She claimed it was her only sexual contact with Maier and denied saying that if Maier wanted her, she would get rid of Benny.

The Wisconsin Rapids Police investigation into this matter remained dormant from 1992 until March of 2012. Prosecutors said the resurrection of the cold case was initiated by Maier. Investigators said Maier knew he was facing additional prison time in a separate case. According to the criminal complaint, Maier requested a meeting with the Wisconsin Rapids Police Chief to discuss the Scruggs’ case.

Maier reportedly told an inmate he walked into the house, walked into the bedroom, stabbed Benny once in the chest, walked out, went home, took a shower, took off his clothes, showered, got dressed, took the clothes and the knife and went outside and threw them away.

In 2012, Maier told a detective that his DNA being in the bedroom would prove he did it. Maier said that he has had nightmares about this case throughout his life and that it has caused a lot of damage in his life.

The criminal complaint states Maier and another inmate were playing cards. The card they were using featured information about Wisconsin cold cases. At least 10 states have tried the playing-card idea to help solve cases. Maier reportedly held up the card featuring Scruggs’ case and said “That’s the one I committed”.

Maier is accused of also confessing to another inmate. During that conversation, the witness listened to Maier’s story and realized he knew the victims. The witness said when he told Don he knew the Scruggs, Maier changed his story and said, “well, I’m just coming from the viewpoint of what I would have done.”

Many of the witnesses in the cases, including Yvonne Scruggs have since died.

Assistant Attorney General Robert Kaiser is prosecuting the case.

A clerical court appearance is scheduled for April 17.