How The 1980 Murder Of Viola Hagenkord Was Finally Solved

On February 18, 1980, police were called to the Anaheim, California, apartment of 79-year-old Viola Hagenkord after a neighbor found the elderly woman deceased in her bed. As reported by Law & Crime, Hagenkord had been brutally murdered. Authorities later confirmed she was gagged, beaten, and raped before she ultimately suffocated on a piece of her own pillowcase –- which her attacker shoved into her mouth.

Although there were no signs of forced entry into the elderly woman's apartment, law enforcement officials said there were signs of a struggle in Hagenkord's bedroom. Law & Crime reported authorities believe she attempted to defend herself against the attack.

According to The Orange County Register, detectives collected evidence from the scene, including performing a rape kit on the victim. However, there were no suspects in the case and DNA technology was not available at the time. It was also difficult to establish why anyone would harm Hagenkord when everyone who knew her said she was quite friendly and generous.

Born in 1900, Hagenkord spent most of her life in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. As reported by the Los Angeles Times, Hagenkord was married at one time. However, she and her husband divorced in 1928. According to her family, she never remarried. Her granddaughter, Janet Black, said Hagenkord simply did not seem to be interested in having a romantic relationship and "never dated" after the divorce.

Viola Hagenkord moved to Southern California to escape the crime in Milwaukee

Viola Hagenkord worked at a department store in Milwaukee and remained in the city until the late 1970s. However, the Los Angeles Times reports she moved to Southern California in the late 1970s to escape the increasing crime rates and to be closer to her family.

Hagenkord eventually moved into Anaheim's Pebble Cove Apartments, where her neighbors described her as "very sweet." One of her neighbors, who was a high school student, said she called Hagenkord "grandma" and she often took cookies to the elderly woman.

As reported by the Los Angeles Times, Hagenkord was also trusting of her neighbors and would routinely leave her door unlocked and propped open with a soup can. Although her neighbors had expressed that keeping her door open in the evening was unsafe, Hagenkord did not seem to be concerned.

According to the City of Anaheim, Hagenkord was well-known within the community, and her neighbors became concerned when they had not seen her for several days. They were stunned to learn their elderly neighbor had been beaten, raped, and brutally murdered.

Authorities conducted an extensive investigation of Hagenkord's murder. However, they were unable to identify any suspects or establish a motive, and the case eventually went cold. Although the brutal crime was revisited several times throughout the decades, detectives were unable to find any new or valuable information.

Viola Hagenkord's murder remained unsolved for 21 years

In September 2020, the City of Anaheim reported detectives took a look at Hagenkord's murder case once again, and with assistance from several sources, including the Orange County Crime Lab and the FBI's Violent Crime Task Force, were finally able to name a suspect. Using DNA technology, which had advanced greatly in the decades following the murder, authorities were able to identify Andre William Lepere as Viola Hagenkord's attacker. 

Although Lepere's DNA was not in any criminal databases, the Los Angeles Times reports authorities used genetic genealogy databases to identify the suspect. As reported by the City of Anaheim, authorities in Orange County were assisted by authorities in New Mexico -– where Lepere had retired. The suspect was arrested and charged with murder on April 21, 2021, without further incident.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Lepere struggled with alcoholism throughout his life. After spending one year in the Army, he was discharged following an alcohol-related car accident. His drinking also affected his personal relationships, including his marriage. By 1980 Lepere and his wife were separated, and she had filed a restraining order against him.

That same year, Lepere was 22 years old. The Los Angeles Times reports he met Hagenkord while staying with his sister Denise –- who lived at the Pebble Cove Apartments. According to Lepere, he was seduced by the elderly woman and the sex they had was consensual.

Andre William Lepere insists Viola Hagenkord seduced him, but he did not kill her

According to The Orange County Register, Andre Lepere said Viola Hagenkord "was talking about how she was lonely and she missed companionship and it had been a long time ... She asked me if I would show her what it was like to be held and have a little intimacy."

During his trial, Lepere said he and Hagenkord had consensual sex on two occasions, with the second happening around the time she was killed. Although he claimed he had been intimate with Viola Hagenkord shortly before she was killed, he insisted she was alive and was even "giggling" when he left her apartment for the last time.

During the subsequent trial, The Orange County Register reports Lepere's attorney, Lee Stonum, agreed that his client had sex with Hagenkord, which accounted for his DNA being found when performing the rape kit. However, he argued that Lepere's DNA was not found anywhere else on Hagenkord's body or in the apartment. As reported by Los Angeles Times, Stonum pointed out that the DNA of an unknown male was found on the gag inside the elderly woman's mouth.

Stonum also argued that Lepere did not have any criminal record in the decades following Hagenkord's murder. During the trial, he said, "in the 42 years since this crime, Mr. Lepere has lived a normal, hardworking life full of love ... It just doesn't fit with the kind of person who would do this."  

Andre William Lepere was ultimately convicted of Viola Hagenkord's murder

As reported by the Los Angeles Times, Andre Lepere's defense team also called several character witnesses, including his current girlfriend, who testified that she did not believe he was capable of raping or killing anyone. Prosecutor Christopher Alex, however, said it was "ridiculous" to believe someone else attacked, raped, and ultimately killed Viola Hagenkord within hours of Lepere leaving her apartment.

The Los Angeles Times reports Alex said it was unlikely that another man raped Hagenkord without leaving behind any DNA evidence. He said the jurors would have to believe "the most incredible string of coincidences that could ever befall an innocent man" to consider Lepere's version of events. In February 2022, the Associated Press reported Lepere was convicted of first-degree murder with special circumstances, as he also raped the victim.