Cops: Crest Hill murder suspect was motivated by money
By Janet Lundquist email@example.com December 2, 2012 8:10PM
The burned out house at 2309 Caton Farm Road in Crest Hill Monday, November 19, 2012. Police say the death of an 89-year-old woman found Sunday in the burning home is a homicide. | Brett Roseman~Sun-Times Media
Updated: January 4, 2013 6:08AM
The man accused of stabbing his elderly neighbor to death then setting her house on fire didn’t have a violent bone in his body, according to one of his three ex-wives.
But police say money may have motivated him to kill.
Bruce J. Gempel, 48, has been charged with murder, arson and concealing a homicide in connection with the death of 89-year-old Dorothy Dumyahn.
He is in the Will County Jail on $1 million bond, due to appear in court again Dec. 18.
“I didn’t see Bruce as a threat. I am totally, totally shocked,” said Gempel’s first wife, Pamela M. Barniville, formerly of Joliet, now living in North Carolina.
“I didn’t see Bruce as wanting to hurt anybody, even over money. He was very low key,” she said. “This is totally blowing me away. I’m praying that it’s not true.”
Police say Gempel stabbed Dumyahn to death, then set her house on fire to hide his crime.
Crest Hill Police Chief Dwayne Wilkerson said money was a motivating factor in the crime. He would not say whether Dumyahn was robbed or whether Gempel had any of Dumyahn’s possessions.
An off-duty firefighter spotted the blaze at Dumyahn’s house just before 9 a.m. Nov. 18 as he was driving in the 2300 block of Caton Farm Road.
Gempel, who was living at his brother’s house next door to Dumyahn’s, was arrested on Thanksgiving after police said he made inconsistent statements to investigators.
After his arrest, Gempel signed an affidavit of assets and liabilities on which he drew zeroes in the blanks for total assets, income and debts.
Gempel married Barniville in 1987, she said. They divorced four months later, after Barniville learned he was cheating on her with a co-worker at Tricon Industries in Downers Grove, where they met.
“He had a problem — he loved women,” Barniville said.
Gempel later married Shelly Gempel, and the couple had two children.
Bruce and Shelly Gempel were divorced by October 1997. Gempel married Antoinette Acha in May 1998.
According to court records, Gempel and Acha divorced in December 2003. At that time, he owed $14,264, primarily in medical bills, court records show. The couple’s total annual income was $35,000, according to the divorce records.
In March 2006, the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services filed a petition on behalf of Shelly Gempel, saying Bruce Gempel owed her $8,267.98 in child support for their then-14-year-old son.
In 2007, Shelly Gempel petitioned for full custody of the couple’s daughter, who was 16 at the time. The girl already had been living with her mom for three years, after Gempel dropped her off and didn’t come back to get her, according to court records.
In her petition for custody, Shelly Gempel said her ex-husband was living in a halfway house in Missouri.
Shelly Gempel declined to comment for this story, saying she just wanted to “stay out of it.”
Barniville admitted she has not been close to Gempel in years, so his personality may have changed with time. But she said the two were on friendly terms.
Recently, through interactions on Facebook, Barniville said Gempel told her he was having trouble finding a job.
“I would never think of Bruce to ever, ever be involved in something like this. I’m in total shock,” Barniville said. “I’m praying to God that it isn’t true.”