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Neighbors Growing Together | May 22, 2018
Syperda trial

Decades old cold case gets day in court

Trial for 17-year-old cold case began Tuesday, prosecution examines timeline of Elizabeth Syperda’s disappearance
May 02, 2018
Photo by: John Lovretta/thehawkeye.com Michael Syperda confers with his attorney, Kym Auge, during his first-degree murder trial in the death of his estranged wife, who disappeared from a residence she was sharing with a woman in Mt. Pleasant in 2000, Tuesday May 1, 2018 at the Henry County District Court in Mt. Pleasant. The body of the 22-year-old Elizabeth Syperda has never been found. She has not been seen or heard from since the day she disappeared.

By Grace King, Mt. Pleasant News

 

Although Elizabeth Syperda vanished from Mt. Pleasant in 2000, her voice is being heard through witness testimony 18 years later as her estranged husband Michael Syperda is being tried this week for her murder in the first degree.

Trial began with opening statements from prosecuting and defense attorneys Tuesday, May 1, in the Henry County Court House.

Elizabeth was last seen in Mt. Pleasant July 16, 2000 and has not been heard from since. Syperda was charged with her murder on Nov. 30, 2017.

Michael Syperda arrived at the Court House Tuesday wearing a pink, button-down dress shirt, while Elizabeth Syperda’s family and friends filed in with purple ribbons pinned to their shirts representing domestic abuse advocacy. Henry County attorney Darin Stater did not have on a ribbon, but his purple tie did not go unnoticed.

Assistant Iowa Attorney General Scott Brown took the lead in questioning Tuesday for the prosecution, beginning with opening remarks that will set the pace for the days to follow.

Brown began by saying evidence presented over the course of the trial will show that Syperda is responsible for the disappearance of Elizabeth, that her murder was premeditated and that he acted with malice. He will do this by showing, through witness testimony, the “stormy” relationship between Elizabeth and Syperda, dating back to when she was 14 years old.

Syperda’s defense attorney Kym Auge countered, saying that this is a case of Journalism 101. “The state will not be able to prove without a shadow of a doubt the who, what, when, where, why and how,” Auge said in her opening statement.

Three witnesses testified Tuesday: Donna Forshee, Elizabeth’s mother; Sara Beckman, formerly Thomas, Elizabeth’s roommate, whom she had a romantic relationship with at the time of her disappearance; and Terri Miller, formerly Thrasher, Beckman’s girlfriend and roommate before Elizabeth moved in. Beckman’s deposition was recorded via video in Missouri as she is currently nine-months pregnant and unable to travel. Syperda, Brown and Auge were present during her testimony.

Questions from the prosecution and defense centered around two major items. The first was a ring that was unexplainably found in Syperda’s residence after Elizabeth disappeared. The ring, which was emerald and diamond, was given to her by her mother after she graduated high school in Iowa. According to witness testimony, Elizabeth only removed the ring when she would take a bath.

The second were the numerous phone calls Elizabeth received from Syperda, whether at Beckman’s apartment during the month Elizabeth lived there or at her mother’s house in California when she visited in the spring of 2000.

The three witness testimonies laid the framework for the rest of the trial, starting with Forshee’s account of Elizabeth’s adolescence and how she came to live in Iowa up to the day of her disappearance.

Elizabeth met Syperda when he and his wife at the time Sally Syperda moved in across the street from the Forshee family where they were living in Truckee, Calif. Elizabeth began babysitting the couple’s two infant children when she was 14 years old, often spending evenings and nights at their residence.

When Elizabeth was 17 years old and a junior at Truckee High School, she informed her mother that she was leaving California for Winfield, Iowa, where she would continue to nanny the Syperda’s two children. Forshee said that she did not agree with her daughter’s decision, even going as far as calling child protective services to intervene, but to no avail.

Forshee kept regular contact with Elizabeth while she lived in Iowa, calling every few weeks and visiting twice. Forshee described their relationship as good, even when it was long-distance. One of Forshee’s visits to Iowa was for her daughter’s graduation from Crusade High School in Morningside, Iowa, around May 8, 1997. At this time, Forshee gave her daughter as a gift the emerald and diamond ring.

It wasn’t long after the Syperdas and Elizabeth moved to Iowa that Syperda and Sally’s marriage was on the rocks. Although it isn’t clear when Elizabeth and Syperda started up a relationship, before she knew it, Forshee’s daughter was calling to inform her of her marriage to Syperda.

Forshee was not present for her daughter’s wedding. She said she did not support Elizabeth’s relationship with Syperda; however, this did not cause a rift between mother and daughter.

In May 2000, Elizabeth returned to Truckee, Calif., for her younger brother, Michael Forshee’s, high school graduation. Although Forshee said she never witnessed any injuries on Elizabeth at that time and that Elizabeth never expressed fear of Syperda to her mother, Forshee noted that during Elizabeth’s stay with her, they received “over 50” phone calls from Syperda. After these calls, Forshee said Elizabeth was often upset.

Shortly after Elizabeth returned to Iowa after visiting Forshee and her brother in California, she met Beckman through their job at Experian. Mere weeks after Beckman and Elizabeth met, they began having conversations about Elizabeth leaving Syperda, moving out of his house at 415 E. Madison in Mt. Pleasant and into Beckman’s apartment down the road at 605 E. Madison.

 

June 16, 2000

On June 16, 2000, Beckman and Elizabeth found themselves at Syperda’s home with his two children present. Syperda was not home at the time. Beckman and Elizabeth had sex at Syperda’s home, closing the door behind them; however, one of his children saw them and later reported it to Syperda.

Later that day, Beckman and Elizabeth were sitting in Beckman’s apartment when her girlfriend and roommate at the time, Miller, arrived home three hours early from work. This was the first time Miller had met Elizabeth.

Miller and Beckman had plans that evening to go to a wedding reception, but Beckman stood Miller up and she ended up going alone. Upon Miller’s return to the apartment after the wedding reception, Beckman and Elizabeth were at work and Miller was greeted by over 30 messages on their answering machine. While she only listened to five, she assumed they were all from Syperda, who she had never met.

The messages followed a pattern of asking Elizabeth to come home. As they continued, he became more and more angry, Miller said. Miller stopped listening to the messages and took her and Beckman’s dog outside.

As she stepped outside, she heard someone calling her name. This was Miller’s first interaction with Syperda, who had his two children in tow. Miller recalled him looking sad and distraught. She could also tell he had been drinking and was carrying a beer bottle. The children were crying.

Syperda asked Miller to get ahold of Elizabeth and Beckman. It was at this time that Miller realized Beckman and Elizabeth were dating. Miller agreed to go back into her apartment and call them at Experian, alerting them that Syperda was aware of their relationship and was looking for Elizabeth.

After Beckman agreed to leave work and come home with Elizabeth, Miller went back outside with her dog and waited with Syperda. But Beckman and Elizabeth didn’t stop at the house; they pulled up to the street in front of the driveway before speeding off after seeing Syperda and Miller waiting for them.

Syperda began “screaming” at Miller to get into her car and follow them to the Hy-Vee parking lot, Miller said. “I just felt like it wasn’t going to stop. He wasn’t going to leave the yard,” Miller explained when the defense questioned why she didn’t simply go back into her apartment or call the police.

As soon as she parked the car, Syperda jumped out and went to where Elizabeth was locked in the passenger seat of Beckman’s car while Beckman and Miller had their own altercation.

Once Beckman and Miller finished arguing, Beckman unlocked the car for Syperda to reach Elizabeth. Syperda pushed Beckman to the ground and attempted to pull Elizabeth out of the car, ripping her clothes and leaving a laceration on her ribcage in the process, Beckman said. Beckman and Miller wrestled Syperda to the ground before Beckman announced that she and Elizabeth were going to the police department.

Miller was left to drive Syperda back to E. Madison St. On the drive back, Miller recalled Syperda saying, “She’s going to regret it.”

Later, Miller also recalled Syperda saying that if anyone turned him in, he would make them pay. “You don’t know me. If I’m in jail, I have friends who will take care of it,” Miller quoted. Syperda also grabbed Miller by the hair and said, “Do you hear me?”

Syperda was later charged with domestic abuse assault. Elizabeth moved into Beckman’s apartment that night, and a week later Miller moved out.

In cross-examination, Auge questioned Forshee’s knowledge that Elizabeth would wear the emerald and diamond ring on her finger all the time if she only saw her daughter a total of 10 days after giving it to her.

Forshee remained insistent that her daughter loved the ring and wore it constantly on the ring finger of her right hand.

Auge also spent a lot of time on cross-examination having Forshee look at Syperda’s phone records from May 2000 when Elizabeth was staying with her mother. Although there was not the number of incoming calls from Syperda’s number to Forshee’s residence that she claimed, Brown noted that Syperda could have called from any number.

 

Last seen

July 16, 2000

Over the next 30 days, Beckman witnessed an increase in phone calls, mostly “hang ups,” which she assumed were coming from Syperda. Despite the phone trap installed by the Mt. Pleasant Police Department on Beckman’s phone, the calls continued. Beckman said she never spoke to the person making these calls.

As the month continued, Beckman became suspicious that Elizabeth was seeing Syperda again, especially after when she returned from a trip to Chicago and noticed “hickeys” on Elizabeth’s neck and chest.

During July 2000, Beckman was working night shifts from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. at Experian. Elizabeth had been laid off from the company and was between jobs. On July 16, 2000, Beckman and Elizabeth allegedly had a conversation about breaking up. Before Beckman left work that night at 10 p.m., Elizabeth was asleep on the couch.

Their breakup was amicable, prosecution stated, with the agreement that Beckman would allow Elizabeth to continue living in the apartment until she could find another residence.

“She was an alcoholic and that was hard to deal with,” Beckman cited as a reason for their breakup, including that Elizabeth kept returning to Syperda. “That affected us,” she said.

When leaving for work, Beckman stated she locked the door from the outside. She returned around 4 a.m. on July 17, 2000 to find Elizabeth not in the apartment. Upon her return, she did not notice a forced entry and the dog was “put away” in the bathroom as she and Elizabeth always did when they left the apartment.

Elizabeth’s purse and belongings were still in the apartment. Nothing was out of place, Beckman noted, and Elizabeth did not appear to have moved out.

Beckman took a nap after her all-night shift and when she awoke, found that Elizabeth still had not returned. At this time, she became concerned and contacted the police department, who said she had to wait 24 hours before filing a missing person report.

According to a police report, Beckman also reportedly drove by Syperda’s home on July 17, 2000, after waking up from her nap and before going to the police department to file a missing person complaint.

As Auge cross-examined Beckman in the video, she questioned why there was no record with the Mt. Pleasant Police about the first missing person complaint Beckman filed. The defense attorney noted that not only was Beckman the last person to see Elizabeth alive, as their relationship dissolved, she had began a romance with another woman, making the case Syperda might not be the person responsible for Elizabeth’s dissapearance.

In the video, as Auge hammered at inconsistancies in Beckman’s testimony and her numerous responses of “I don’t remember”, in the courtroom Brown stayed the path, explaining why it could have only been Syperda who caused Elizabeth’s dissapearance.

During her testimony, Beckman said it was only after Elizabeth’s disappearance that the “hang-up” calls to the apartment stopped. She never got another one “that she knows of.”

Forshee was first informed her daughter was missing July 17, 2000 by the Mt. Pleasant Police Department, the day after Elizabeth had last been seen. Under oath, Forshee testified that she has not had contact with Elizabeth since.

Elizabeth never picked up her last paycheck from Experian.

Syperda was arrested in Rifle, Colo., taken into custody and extradited to Mt. Pleasant in March. He is being held at the Henry County Jail.

Judge Mark Kruse is presiding over the trial. Syperda waived his right to a jury. Trial resumed Wednesday morning at 9 a.m. and is expected to continue through Friday, May 4.

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