SHAWNEE — A convicted sex offender who pleaded guilty Thursday to the brutal 2010 beating death of 19-year-old Ethan James Walton was spared a possible death sentence after he agreed to help law enforcement officials in Wisconsin with an unsolved double-murder dating back to the early 1990s.
Glendon Carl Gouker, 42, was sentenced to life without parole for Walton's murder and also pleaded guilty to eight other offenses, including rape, forcible oral sodomy and possession of a controlled substance with the intent to distribute.
The victim's mother, Kathleen Kline, addressed District Judge John Canavan on Thursday before Gouker was sentenced, calling the convicted killer “a monster” who destroyed her family.
“I see a monster,” Kline said. “I see someone who could have been stopped, or at least corrected, when he was younger and wasn't. I think that's the problem.”
Kline initially wanted to see Gouker put to death for killing her son, but said she changed her mind when she learned he was a person of interest in a pair of killings out of Wisconsin.
“There are other families out there that deserve to know that Gouker's not going to be able to get to them anymore,” she said. “That way Ethan didn't die in vain. I beg that they continue.”
About the case
According to prosecutors, Gouker beat Walton to death on Sept. 8, 2010, and raped the victim's girlfriend a short time after the murder.
Records show that Walton was trying to arrange the sale of some land that his father owned and that Gouker may have showed interest in buying some of it.
Walton's girlfriend at the time, who was in the courtroom Thursday but did not speak, eventually escaped Gouker's residence and ran across a dark field to a neighbor's house for help. The woman, who was 20 at the time, had been raped repeatedly by the time she fled the residence.
When authorities arrived at Gouker's rural residence near Prague on the day of Walton's murder, they found the victim had been crammed into a 55-gallon drum.
He was handcuffed, his ankles were taped together and officers at the time said it was apparent he had been bludgeoned to death. His girlfriend's clothes were found under his body.
Gouker's half sister, Michele Gouker, was arrested in connection with Walton's murder, as well.
At the time of Walton's murder, Gouker and his half sister lived together on the property, along with two of Michele Gouker's children.
Walton's former girlfriend said Michele Gouker shot at her as she fled the home the siblings shared.
She also said Michele Gouker checked on her numerous times while she was handcuffed to a bed in the home.
Michele Gouker was sentenced nearly a year ago to 20 years in prison. She is currently doing time at Mabel Bassett Correctional Center in McLoud, just a few miles from the home she shared with her half brother.
Pottawatomie County District Attorney Richard Smothermon said Gouker has never said why he killed Walton.
Following Gouker's court appearance Thursday in Pottawatomie County District Court, authorities from Wisconsin spoke with reporters about the convicted murderer's possible connection to the unsolved killings of Tanna Togstad, 23, and Tim Mumbrue, 35, who were stabbed to death in March 1992.
Waupaca County Sheriff Brad Hardel, who was a deputy at the time of the killings, said Gouker is a person of interest in the case but would not describe him as a suspect.
He said on Thursday he was limited as to what he could say due to the ongoing investigation.
Hardel said Togstad was sexually assaulted during the slayings and that the killer left behind physical evidence.
He would not say during Thursday's news conference whether Gouker's DNA was a match to the physical evidence left at the crime scene.
In February, Gouker was charged with rape in Waupaca County after his DNA linked him to the sexual assault of a young woman who was abducted at knifepoint and led into the woods before she was attacked. The woman was raped Nov. 5, 1990, when Gouker was only 19.
Authorities expressed optimism that DNA will help solve the killings of Togstad and Mumbrue.
“We have some work to do, but we're really on the right track,” Hardel said. “This is huge, what's going on here.”
Hardel said he wasn't sure why Gouker was living in northwestern Wisconsin in the early 1990s.
“All we really know is that he and some family members had moved to Wisconsin to live for a couple of years,” he said. “Why, what the connection was, we really don't know at this point.”
Even though he never made it to his 20s, Kline said her son lived a full life.
“Ethan mattered ... the life of a young boy, not a man ... was robbed,” she said. “It was robbed from a multitude of people.”
Kline said her son had moved to Oklahoma to “better himself” and that he met a girl he intended to marry while living on his father's property near Prague. She described her son as easygoing and hardworking.
“A goofball, an absolute goofball,” Kline said about her son. “He enjoyed life.”
Kline said Walton was an avid reader and that he worked as a lifeguard before his death.