Sylvia Frens, 82 of Grand Junction, was reported missing on May 29, 2018, by ‘concerned family members,’ the Grand Junction Police Department said in a statement.
Later that year, her son, Richard Vandervelde, 54 – who lived with her at the time – told them she had taken off to California with a friend. With no new address set up and no social media activities, police determined she was dead, but kept the investigation into her disappearance open.
On Wednesday, police announced that detectives obtained a warrant to search the home in March 2022 after they new homeowners reported finding a trash bag in a manhole. They discovered a body had been stuffed into the bag.
Using DNA testing, they were able to confirm Frens’ identity and said she died from a blunt force trauma to the head.
Her son was arrested in Florida on May 19 and was charged with six felonies and one misdemeanor and extradited to the Mesa County Jail. He has been charged with first-degree murder, tampering with a deceased human body, identity fraud, theft of $5,000 to $20,000, motor vehicle theft, and abuse of a corpse, and crimes against an at-risk adult.
Sylvia Frens, 82 of Grand Junction, was reported missing on May 29, 2018, and her body wasn’t found on until March 2022
Her son Richard Vandervalde, 54, was arrested in Florida and charged with murder and tampering with human remains in May 2022. He was initially interviewed by police in 2018 after being arrested for a traffic violation. He told police he did not murder his mother and she had authorized him to use her credit card and car. He had also taken $10,000 from her bank account. He was released after police said they couldn’t keep him for traffic violations
The search for Frens began when her daughter Sharon told police she had been trying to contact her and her brother, unsuccessfully, the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel reported.
The few times she had met with her brother – who she had not seen in 12 to 15 years – they always met outside the house.
When police arrived to the residence, they found all the doors locked, except one window was cracked open. The opening was big enough for a person to fit through and Sharon told officers to enter the house, the Daily Sentinel reported.
Once inside, officers found a note from Vandervelde, telling his mother he was going to Denver for a job. The note also reportedly indicated that there was a dispute between the mother and son, the Daily Sentinel reported.
After obtaining an search warrant, police reentered the home in May 2018 and found a brown stain in the bedroom carpet, but later determined through testing that it wasn’t blood. There was a carpet square that had blood on it, but they couldn’t determine who it belonged too.
They also said they smelled a ‘distinct foul odor’ in the room.
In June 2018, police questioned Vandervelde after he was pulled over during a traffic stop in Colombia, Missouri and told them he was ‘George Williams.’
He was taken into custody on traffic violation and Grand Junction police traveled to Missouri to question him.
It was discovered that he had been using his mother’s credit cards, was driving her car, and had withdrawn $10,000 from her account – more than $5,000 of which was found inside the car.
He told police he was a ‘mommy’s boy’ and that his parents were getting divorce, the Daily Sentinel reported.
When asked if he had killed his mother, Vandervelde told authorities he had hip surgery in January, insinuating that he wouldn’t be healthy enough to kill someone. He also told them he wanted to contact his mother, but the phone records on the two phones found in the car did not indicate that he had tried.
Police announced this week that they found her body in March on their Twitter account
Her body was discovered after the new homeowner found the trash bag in the manhole and reported it to the police. Authorities were able to identify her through DNA and the medical examiner said she died from a blunt force injury to the head
Records showed, however, that he had Google searched: ‘Map of desolate places in Colorado’ and ‘least traveled areas near grand junction co[unty],’ the Daily Sentinel reported.
Searches also included ‘five ways to knock someone out in under 10 seconds’ and ‘how to knock someone out quickly and quietly,’ among other things.
He was released as police couldn’t keep him on the traffic violations.
After the interview did not produce any new leads into Frens’ disappearance, she was marked as deceased.
In March 2022, undercover detectives used an alias to talk to Vandervelde, who told them his mother had died right before his hip surgery, the Daily Sentinel reported.
After the new homeowners found the trash bag, police were able to use the carpet square with blood on to determine he dragged her body in the bag on the carpet square.
Vandervelde is currently at the Mesa County Jail on a $1million cash-only bond. His next court appearance will be June 21.