Murder of Brooke Wilberger
|Born||Brooke Carol Wilberger
February 20, 1985
Fresno, California, USA
|Died||May 25, 2004
Corvallis, Oregon, USA
|Known for||Missing person and murder victim|
|Parent(s)||Greg and Cammy Wilberger|
Brooke Carol Wilberger (February 20, 1985 – May 25, 2004) was a student from the state of Oregon who was abducted and later murdered. Her disappearance was covered by the national media, and hers was one of the most publicized murder investigations in Oregon history.
Wilberger was born in Fresno, California on February 20, 1985 to Greg and Cammy Wilberger. She had three sisters and two brothers. Described as a devout Mormon, Wilberger was a graduate of Elmira High School near Eugene, Oregon. She had just completed her freshman year at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah at the time of her abduction. During that time, her boyfriend, Justin Blake, was serving as a Mormon missionary in Venezuela.
Wilberger was abducted from Corvallis, Oregon on the morning of May 24, 2004 by Joel Patrick Courtney. He drove her into the woods outside of town. He returned to town to buy food while he still had Brooke bound in his van. He kept her alive throughout the night before raping her the next morning. He bludgeoned her to death when she tried to fight off the rape. At the time of her disappearance she was on summer break, visiting and working for one of her sisters in Corvallis. She was last seen cleaning lamp posts in the parking lot of the Oak Park Apartments on the edge of the Oregon State University campus, which her sister and brother-in-law managed.
When Wilberger disappeared, the police began investigating immediately – against normal procedure, which would typically allow a few days in case the person vanished by their own choice. The Wilbergers' church organized a search by citizens of Corvallis.
Wilberger's remains were found on September 21, 2009, more than five years after she disappeared. The man accused of her murder, Joel Courtney, revealed the location of her remains as part of a plea agreement to avoid the death penalty. He pleaded guilty to aggravated murder, the only crime subject to capital punishment in Oregon, and was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
The investigation initially centered on Sung Koo Kim, who was named as "person of interest" in the disappearance. Kim was later dropped as a suspect, but received an 11-year prison sentence for multiple counts of burglary and theft of women's personal property in Yamhill County, Oregon, crimes uncovered while he was being investigated for the Wilberger disappearance. He was released in December 2012 after serving about 7 years.
On November 30, 2004, a University of New Mexico student was beaten and raped, before escaping and identifying Joel Patrick Courtney as her abuser. On September 12, 2007, Courtney pleaded guilty to the beating and rape of the 22-year-old University of New Mexico foreign exchange student. Courtney's plea agreement called for a prison sentence of up to 18 years, plus five to 20 years on parole. Courtney would also need to register as a sex offender. Police eventually linked Courtney, a native of Beaverton, Oregon, to the disappearance of Wilberger and in August 2005 he was charged on 19 counts of aggravated murder, kidnapping, sexual abuse, rape and sodomy. Court documents released in 2008 revealed details showing that Courtney was in Corvallis when Wilberger disappeared and that the green van he was driving was spotted by several people, including an OSU employee who identified him from a photo lineup. Officials said that Wilberger's DNA was found inside the van, along with her hair.
Courtney was extradited to Benton County, Oregon for the Wilberger case on April 8, 2008. He was scheduled for his first appearance on April 9, 2008 at the Benton County Courthouse, facing 14 counts including aggravated murder, two counts of kidnapping and single counts of rape, sodomy and sexual abuse in connection with Wilberger's disappearance. Charges were filed despite the absence of the body of the alleged victim at the time; the prosecutor in the case announced that he would seek the death penalty.
The FBI briefly considered Courtney a suspect in two to three disappearances under investigation but have since eliminated him as a suspect. The case was covered several times on the television program America's Most Wanted.
Courtney's attorneys worked towards a trial, as well as towards a speedier resolution. The trial was set for February 1, 2010. He was expected to be charged in connection with the unrelated kidnapping, attempted sexual assault, attempted rape, attempted sodomy and attempted murder of two Oregon State University students, the same day Wilberger went missing.
On September 21, 2009 Joel Patrick Courtney pleaded guilty to aggravated murder and was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for Wilberger's death. The deal spared Courtney from the death penalty, in exchange for providing information about the location of Wilberger's body. In addition, the deal also called for Courtney to be imprisoned in his home state, New Mexico, instead of Oregon where the crime was committed.
The Benton County District Attorney announced the recovery of Wilberger's body (without specifics or its location) in a press conference the day of Courtney's confession. Wilberger's remains were found on private property in Benton County in the Oregon Coast Range.
- Moran, Jack (September 22, 2009). "Killer’s guilty plea brings family closure". Eugene Register-Guard. Retrieved 2009-09-22.
- "Brooke Wilberger's remains found in coastal range, killer sentenced to life in prison". Salem, Oregon: Statesman Journal. September 21, 2009. Retrieved 2009-09-22.[dead link]
- "Authorities Charge Man With Murder". America's Most Wanted. Retrieved 2007-04-13.
- Schabner, Dean; Sarah Netter (September 21, 2009). "Brooke Wilberger found: Killer gives location of remains to avoid death penalty". ABC News.
- Hunter, Donna (August 14, 2008). "Vanished: Two coeds, two horrifying mysteries". 20/20 (ABC News).
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- Netter, Sarah. "Brooke Wilberger Found: Killer Gives Location of Remains to Avoid Death Penalty". ABC News. Retrieved 2009-09-21.
- "Sung Koo Kim gets nearly six years for underwear thefts". KATU.com. Retrieved 2007-04-13.
- KVAL.com Staff. "Killer spared death penalty after leading police to student's body". KVAL.com.
- Associated Press. "Man Charged in Wilberger Case Pleads Guilty in N.M. Assault Case". KSL.com. Retrieved 2009-09-21.
- "Joel Patrick Courtney, serial killer & rapist". Retrieved March 8, 2006.
- McCall, William (April 19, 2008). "Suspect's van seen in Corvallis". Deseret News.
- Slain BYU student's Ore. mother grateful case over
- KATU Web Staff and Associated Press (April 8, 2008). "Joel Courtney back in Oregon". KATU.
- Associated Press (December 12, 2007). "Effort begins to extradite Wilberger murder suspect". KATU.
- Frazier, Joseph B. (February 23, 2006 (updated August 20, 2006). "FBI drops Joel Courtney as suspect in two cases". KATU. Check date values in:
- Brooke Wilberger on America's Most Wanted
- Booth, Michael (September 5, 2009). "Courtney headed for trial". Corvallis Gazette-Times. Retrieved 2009-09-22.
- Beck, Rachel (September 22, 2009). "Wilberger's remains recovered; Courtney pleads guilty to murder". gazettetimes.com.
- Rosu-Urdes, Sabina (September 22, 2009). "BREAKING NEWS: Press Conference - Brooke Wilberger's Remains Found".