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Remembering Wil Hendrick: A cold murder case kept alive

MOSCOW, Idaho. – It was a cold winter night January 10, 1999, when Jerry Schutz’s life was changed forever.

It was the day his partner, 25-year-old University of Idaho student Wil Hendrick, went missing from a party at the corner of Almond and C Street in Moscow.

“He was pretty much the light of my life,” Schutz said.

The two were together for five years, and Schutz lived every day thinking Hendrick would somehow come home.

Three and a half years after Hendrick went missing, he was declared murdered, when his skull was found in the woods of Eastern Latah County.

Hendrick’s killer has yet to be identified and brought to justice.

“He would help anyone out, he was one of those kinds of people,” said David Lee-Painter, Hendrick’s theatre professor at the University of Idaho. “And then there was the theatre party, and that’s where everything went off the rails.”

A night that was once full of friends and laughter turned into a night full of questions left unanswered. That party was the last place Hendrick was seen alive.

“Those kids at that party, they were broken,” Lee-Painter said.

Heartbroken, after realizing they may never see their friend alive again.

Hendrick’s car was found parked downtown, interestingly one week after he was reported missing.

His work keys were still inside, mud caked on the wheels, and some other key details only someone as close to Hendrick, like Schutz, could have noticed.

“I remember when I got into the car the seat was back as far as it could go,” Schutz said. “Wil drove with the steering wheel right up into his lap, so somebody who wasn’t Wil had driven that car that day or moved it.”

According to Wayne Rausch, the lead investigator of the Hendrick case, both the driver and passenger windows of the car had been rolled down a couple of inches.

Because of this, the cold winter air seeped through the cracks, washing away any possible fingerprints that could have been used as evidence.

“We should have been able to solve this case,” Rausch said. “This was not an unsolvable crime.”

Back then in 1999, the Latah County Sheriff’s Department and the Moscow Police Department both worked the case, yet they moved from different angles, therefore lacking communication.

“It was extremely frustrating,” Rausch said.

As a dedicated investigator of nearly 20 years at the time, dealing with the lack of follow-through was difficult for Rausch.

Now retired, Rausch just wants to see Hendrick’s murder solved at some point in time.

“Somebody has to pay for it,” Rausch said. “I want this damn case solved.”

23 years after his murder, Moscow PD continues to receive tips and leads about Wil. But tackling a cold case is never an easy task.

“We always believe that there’s always that one piece of evidence that’ll tie everything together, or somebody knows something. We believe somebody knows something out there,” Moscow PD Chief James Fry said.

At the time the case began, several possible suspects were investigated, including a truck driver who lived in the same trailer court as Hendrick and Schutz. Schutz always believed he was the one responsible for his partner’s disappearance.

“He left town the same morning Wil disappeared, in a refrigerated truck,” Schutz said.

However, the truck driver left town to Florida on work business, which was confirmed by his employer.

Although, Rausch investigated one more key suspect; a hitchhiker the truck driver had picked up in Texas. This suspect had a suspicious background, one that led Rausch to believe he was the one who killed Hendrick.

“He had been fired (from his previous job) because he hated gays,” Rausch said.

And because Hendrick was gay, Rausch’s number one belief at the time, and still today, was that the two got into an altercation, and the hitchhiker murdered Hendrick.

However, without physical proof, nothing could be done to arrest the suspect.

“What I can prove in court and what I honestly believe in my heart of hearts are obviously two different things,” Rausch said.

Today, Schutz lives on, and chooses to remember Hendrick the best way he knows how, through his love for theatre.

“Every time I get on stage I think of Wil and thank him for giving me the audacity to get up and pretend like I know what I’m doing,” Schutz said.

If you know anything about the disappearance and murder of Wil Hendrick, please contact Moscow PD.

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