A Millcreek woman was beaten to death, struck at least 28 times with a crowbar, and her teen daughter beaten and severely injured, according to charges filed in what Salt Lake County Sheriff Rosie Rivera called “one of the most horrific domestic-violence cases I’ve seen.”
Walter Eugene Brantzeg, 54, has been charged with one count of aggravated murder (domestic violence), one count of attempted aggravated murder, one count of aggravated burglary (domestic violence), and one count of cruelty to an animal, Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill announced Friday.
The charges come after the death of Brantzeg’s wife of 14 years, Valerie Sue Brantzeg, on Aug. 22 in her west Millcreek apartment. Her 13-year-old daughter, whose name has not been released, was severely injured in the same incident.
Gill said it’s too early to say whether his office will seek the death penalty against Walter Brantzeg. That decision will come after a preliminary hearing, a date for which has not been set.
Valerie Brantzeg “did not deserve the treatment that she had,” said her older sister, Jeanne Long. At a press conference with Rivera and Gill, Long, accompanied by relatives, described Valerie as “a good person” who “gave everything that she had to her children.”
“Valerie was an animal lover who took in strays,” Long said. “She’d get up in the middle of the night to feed them …She gave them back when they were ready for adoption. She gave the animals and her children more than she had sometimes.” Long also said her sister loved crafts “and was a fanatic about M&Ms.”
Fighting back tears, Long described how Valerie’s husband “had her under control … We tried to get her out of the house, but he had enough control that he would bring her back.”
Family members are not releasing details on the extent of the 13-year-old’s injuries. “She’s bouncing back. It’s going to take her a long time,” Long said.
Valerie Brantzeg’s two daughters — an older sister was living away from her mother when the homicide happened — “are going to be survivors,” Long said. “They’re not victims. They will be survivors.” Long said a bank account in Valerie’s name is being set up at Mountain America Credit Union.
Gill said Valerie Brantzeg had filed a temporary separation petition against her husband in Salt Lake County Third District Court on July 31. On Aug. 16, Gill said, she texted Walter Brantzeg to inform him she was seeking sole custody of their 13-year-old daughter. According to the probable cause statement issued by Gill’s office, the daughter told police detectives that her father had sexually assaulted her and threatened to kill her if she told anyone.
According to the statement, a Unified Police Department officer responded at 7:05 a.m. on Aug. 22 to Valerie Brantzeg’s apartment at 3942 S. River Hollow Road (about 700 West) in Millcreek. The officer found Valerie in the doorway, “covered in blood and with severe head trauma.” A state medical examiner noted at least 28 separate blunt force injuries to her head. She died at the scene.
The officer then found Valerie’s daughter. Her skull had been fractured, a radiology examination later found, along with hemorrhages consistent with being beaten.
At the entrance, the statement says, the officer found duct tape covering the door’s peephole on the outside, signs that the door had been forced open, a smell of pepper spray, and a crowbar covered in blood.
Witnesses, Gill said, “could hear the screams from downstairs.”
The statement said that when officers later interviewed the daughter, she said Walter Brantzeg pushed his way into the apartment, sprayed the entrance with pepper spray, and began hitting Valerie Brantzeg. The daughter said he hit both her and her mother, telling the teen “if you want to be with your mom so bad, be with her."
About two hours later, Walter Brantzeg was arrested in his car in a parking lot in Murray, about two miles east of Valerie’s apartment. Police tracked him by pinging his cellphone while he was calling Salt Lake City TV stations. He was arrested while talking to a news manager at FOX 13.
“During the call, Brantzeg confessed to killing his estranged wife over a custody dispute, and also explained how he tried to kill his teenage daughter,” Marc Sternfield, news director for FOX 13, said in an Aug. 22 email to The Salt Lake Tribune. “The call ended when Brantzeg told our employee that police had arrived to arrest him.”
At Walter Brantzeg’s residence, police detectives found a dead cat. In the probable cause statement, Gill’s office said Brantzeg told officers after his arrest that “he killed his cat because nobody would be around to feed it.” Gill would not comment on whether the cat’s death is a sign of premeditation before Valerie Brantzeg’s killing.
Rivera stressed the horrors of domestic violence and urged anyone living with an abusive partner to get help.
“If you are in a situation where you may fear for your life, or not sure whether a situation could turn violent, we want you to call us,” Rivera said. “We are here to help you. And we don’t want something like this to happen again.”
Long, Valerie Brantzeg’s sister, echoed that sentiment. “It’s not worth your life. It’s not worth your children’s lives. It’s not worth the horror that we as a family are going through right now,” she said.
Editor’s note: The Salt Lake Tribune and FOX 13 are content-sharing partners.