October 24, 2009 Russell Bertramex South Dakota Police Chief Sioux Falls called 911. He reported that while hunting pheasants, his shotgun accidentally went off while loading it back into the truck.
The blast hit his fiancée, 26, Leonila “Nila” Stickney, on her chest. Investigators told Bertram that Leonira “took the shotgun” “Accident, Suicide or Murder” broadcast Oxygen Saturday 8:7. Leonila was rushed to the hospital, where she died of her injuries.
The pheasants in Bertram’s truck confirmed his alibi for hunting. But police questioned how an experienced hunter like Bertram could have held a gun in a way that could have led to such a tragic accident.
Investigators learned that Leonira grew up in the Philippines. In 2004, after meeting South Dakota resident David Stickney, she returned to the United States with him. The couple married and had a son. She works in a nursing home and sends money to support her family in the Philippines. But by 2008, Stickney’s marriage had soured. Around the same time, Leonira met Bertram.
An autopsy revealed that Leonella had no defensive wounds and that she had been shot at very close range.
“The survival rate for this type of injury is essentially zero,” said Dr. Brad Randall, former coroner for Minnehaha County, South Dakota.
Forensic pathologists determined the cause of death was a gunshot, but were unable to distinguish whether the shooting was accidental or homicide. The autopsy also revealed that Leonira was several weeks pregnant at the time of her death. Could her pregnancy have been the motive for her death?
“Bertram told law enforcement he didn’t know Neila was pregnant when she died,” Daily Republic reporter Jack Sharma explained to Accident, Suicide or Murder.
On October 27, investigators collected Bertram’s shotgun to check for fingerprints. If Leonila’s fingerprints were on the barrel, that would support Bertram’s claim. But no fingerprints were found on the barrel.
However, on November 30, the manner of Leonira’s death was classified as accidental.According to Randall, it was a plausible way to die. “On the other hand,” he said, “there’s a saying in South Dakota, if you want to kill people, take them hunting.”
Sheriff Tim Drey of the Gregory County Sheriff’s Office said the case is continuing despite the determination that the death was an accident.
In December 2009, David Stickney contacted investigators.He told them he found the life insurance policy worth it Over $900,000 Has been taken from Leonella. Neither he nor their son was a beneficiary. Bertram is the sole beneficiary.
Bertram told law enforcement that Leonila canceled the policies because she was a bad driver. He became the beneficiary so he could distribute the money to Leonella’s family in the Philippines.
The case was on hold until detectives re-interviewed Stickney.He told them that besides Bertram, Leonila had Another boyfriend: Nathan Meeter.
On January 16, 2010, detectives interviewed Mitter, who said he had seen Leonella three months earlier. Mitte said he didn’t know Leonella was dead. He also told police that while he knew she was getting a divorce, he had no idea she was dating Bertram. According to DiBenedetto, on October 22, two days before her death, Nila told Nathan that she was pregnant and that she believed he was the father.
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Meeter also told investigators he did not know why Leonila had died — the two exchanged text messages two weeks after she was shot.
On November 5, Meeter texted Leonila asking if they could get together.
“Someone impersonating Nila texted Nathan saying she would never see him again,” South Dakota Criminal Investigations Special Agent Guy DiBenedetto said.
At this point, investigators dug into Bertram’s background. They discovered that he had filed for bankruptcy and was currently $86,000 in debt.
“He had a very strong incentive to get some money as quickly as possible,” South Dakota State assistant Paul Svedlund said. Attorney General.
Detectives also learned that Bertram had been married and divorced three times. The ex-wife told investigators that Bertram was so jealous and suspicious that he looked at their phone records. Every woman took out a restraining order, Associated Press reports.
Investigators reasoned that if Bertram had looked at Leonila’s phone records, he would have known about Meeter. From the detective’s point of view, the case did not look like an accident.
On 21 January 2011, police questioned Bertram and brought up the topic of Leonila thinking she might be pregnant. He said he couldn’t be a father because he had a vasectomy. Bertram also admitted to texting Meeter because he wanted to make sure Leonila was dating another man.
On October 17, 2011, a civil lawsuit was settled against Leonila’s $900,000 life insurance policy. A third of the money went to Bertram, and the remainder to Stickney and his son.
According to Bertram, the insurance money was intended to benefit Leonila’s family in the Philippines. Investigators would be less suspicious if he had paid the money to her family, they said. Detectives waited to see what happened.
In September 2013, DiBenedetto went to Bertram’s home in Sioux Falls. He is surprised to find that Bertram is married to Leonella’s sister, Melissa Del Valle. Investigators decided to wait for an interview.
Four months later, DiBenedetto is back. Del Valle explained that during their conversation about Leonila, a relationship developed between her and Bertram. They married in July 2013, and she and her daughter moved to South Dakota.
More time passed. Bertram changed his story when questioned again by investigators in January 2014. He admitted that he had seen Leonella’s phone records and knew she thought she was pregnant three or four days before her death.
Investigators theorized that Bertram may have worried that Leonila would change the life insurance beneficiaries.them It needs to be determined whether Bertram paid the insurance to Leonila’s family. In August 2014, they spoke to Del Valle, who said the family was only receiving $200 a month. He told them he wasn’t getting any insurance payouts. That wasn’t the only message he didn’t give her family.
“Russell Bertram told her family that Nila had handled the gun in the wrong way and shot herself,” Swedlund said. “He didn’t tell them he had any role in it.”
Del Valle made the difficult choice of testifying against Bertram.
“I don’t want to see his face again,” she told producers. “But for my sister, I have to be strong. Because I want to give my family justice for her.”
On September 8, 2015, Bertram was arrested and charged with first degree murder.
In September 2016, the case went to trial. Bertram, 64, was found guilty of first-degree murder, Associated Press reports. He was automatically sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.
To learn more about this case, watch the accident, suicide or murder,” broadcast Oxygen Saturday 8:7.