Investigation: South Dakota business manager killed wife, 4 kids, self

PLATTE - Scott Westerhuis was solely responsible for the deaths of his wife and four children, before he took his own life. That was one of the findings announced during a news conference Tuesday afternoon in Platte.

The information was first reported Monday by KSFY News, following the filing of death certificates for the six family members.

South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley held a news conference at the Platte Community Center, to provide an update on the investigation into the September 17th fire and murder-suicide of the Westerhuis family.

The bodies of Scott and Nicole Westerhuis and their children Kailey, Jaeci, Connor and Michael, were found in the burned ruins of their rural home just south of Platte.

The murder-suicide occurred just hours after the state Department of Education informed Mid-Central Educational Cooperative that it was losing a $4.3 million federal contract because of financial problems and failure to follow proper accounting procedures. Scott Westerhuis served as Mid-Central's business manager. The co-op employed Nicole Westerhuis as assistant business manager.

During the news conference, Jackley went through a timeline of events. He says Scott Westerhuis had a phone call at 6:22 p.m., September 16. During that phone call, Westerhuis was being made aware that a contract with Mid-Central Educational Cooperative was being terminated.

At approximately 2:00 a.m,, September 17, a phone call was made from the Westerhuis' home phone to Nicole Westerhuis' cell phone. A voice mail message was recorded. Investigators were unable to retrieve the call however, because the phone was destroyed in the fire.

During the news conference, Jackley also showed aerial photos of the Westerhuis home before and after the fire. He walked those in attendance through what crews found as they went through the burned-out home. Crews found a 12 gauge shotgun within three feet of Scott Westerhuis, who was in the kitchen. Maggie, an arson dog trained by the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) to detect accelerants was able to detect an accelerant in the kitchen area, but the samples were not strong enough to determine what accelerant was used.

Jackley said there was a safe in the home, but it was not found in the fire. He said there are three possibilities about what happened to the safe. It was either destroyed in the fire, it was moved by Scott Westerhuis or someone stole the safe.

A toxicology report shows Scott Westerhuis had a BAC level of .024. Evidence also shows all of the victims died before the fire.

Jackley said this has been a thorough investigation. He said witnesses have been interviewed and evidence has been tested. Investigators started going through financials on the afternoon of September 17th. Jackley said a financial motive exists, but he can't discuss it further.

The news conference was attended by members of the media, as well as dozens of people from the Platte community.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)