Arrest shocks, upsets residents of mobile home community

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Thursday, January 18, 2007

While detectives combed a bloody trailer Friday afternoon looking for clues in a triple killing, James C. Koepp stood 100 yards away, sharing a cigarette with his neighbors and talking about the murders.

"I hope they get whoever did this," Koepp said that afternoon.

Shivering in a black winter jacket and baseball cap, the slight Koepp told a Janesville Gazette reporter that in December he had boarded up a broken window in Danyetta Lentz's trailer, which is kitty-corner from his.

Today, Koepp, a resident of Janesville Terrace, 3315 S. Highway 51, is in custody. He is expected to be charged Friday with the murders of Danyetta Lentz, 38, and her two children, Nicole and Scott Lentz, ages 17 and 14. The Lentz family was found dead early Friday.

On Friday, Danyetta Lentz's best friend, Angela Puckett, said she was shocked that Koepp, 47, was bold enough to stand on her front porch and comfort her Friday.

"He came up and hugged me and said, 'I know I don't know you very well, but I'm sorry,'" Puckett said. "I just broke down in tears when I heard they had him."

Rock County Sheriff Bob Spoden personally told Danyetta's father, Russ Lucht, about the arrest. Lucht told the Gazette he wanted to commend the sheriff's department, and he said the arrest showed a job well done by investigators.

"I'm pleased with their job and the time they did it in," he said Wednesday night.

He and his family were upset to learn that Koepp was a registered sex offender.

"Nobody even knew he was a sex offender out there," he said. "People probably would have been a lot more cautious. That's the only thing that's making us upset now."

Perhaps the murders could have been prevented if people had known Koepp's history, he said.

Lucht said he had never seen Koepp and had never heard his daughter or grandchildren talk about him.

Rita Westby-Larson, 45, a Janesville Terrace resident, attended Edgerton High School with Koepp and had considered him a friend at the time.

School officials confirmed this morning that Koepp attended Edgerton High School from August 1974 to January 1976.

He was a trusted neighbor until about a month ago when he made comments about his criminal record that made her uncomfortable, Westby-Larson said.

"I'm shocked. He's been in our home. I've been here alone with him," Westby-Larson said. "It could have just as easily been anyone else."

Westby-Larson said it is difficult to picture Koepp, a man she often saw playing outside with his grandchildren and enjoying summer evenings with his family, as capable of committing such a gruesome murder.

"The family was always together. It's hard to picture that and then picture this," Westby-Larson said."

Westby-Larson called in sick to work the day after police found the Lentz family. Her stomach has settled a little now, she said, but she still feels confused and frightened.

"I can't believe a person I used to trust would do something like that," Westby-Larson said. "You kind of hope that it isn't him. But you kind of hope that it is because you want the person to be caught. You want to feel safe around here."

Chris Zoellner of Janesville said he played poker with Koepp, fished with him, enjoyed beers with him and worked with him at Papa John's Pizza in Janesville. He can't imagine that Koepp killed the Lentzes.

"It kind of took my breath away," Zoellner said of Wednesday's announcement. "I was very surprised and shocked because he was one of my closest friends there at Papa John's. I can't see him doing something like this."

Zoellner called the Gazette to give his opinion. He said he has seen Koepp yell in anger, but he has seen nothing to suggest that Koepp could be violent.

"He was a pretty easy-going guy. He'd get along with just about anybody," Zoellner said.

Zoellner said he worked with Koepp at Papa John's, 401 N. Parker Drive, for about three years until about two years ago. The last time he talked to him was about a year ago, he said.

Koepp owned a boat, and Zoellner was going to buy it, Zoellner said. They had fished together on the Rock River. They played poker and drank at Koepp's home at Janesville Terrace.

"I hope they got the wrong guy," Zoellner said.

After the arrest, the shock echoed through the trailer park, with many saying they had considered Koepp a trusted neighbor.

"I'm shocked," Michael Stibbe said Wednesday night. "I just talked to him (Monday) when we were out shoveling. I told him whoever did it should get the death penalty."

"It's a shocker," agreed Michael's brother, Steve Stibbe, whose trailer is only a few doors up from Koepp's. "I've sat right here at this table and had a beer with him. I would never have thought he was capable of it."

Steve, who has lived in the mobile home park for six years, guessed that Koepp had lived there for about two.

He did not know Danyetta Lentz personally, but he said he watched her children grow up.

"I'm really sad about it. Geez, there was a 17-year-old girl and a 14-year-old boy who had their whole lives ahead of them. This is really scary, especially for a small trailer park like this. We would always leave our doors unlocked."

While Steve and his family said they were relieved that police had a suspect, they expressed concern for Koepp's family and hoped that justice would be served.

"I hope they're not just trying to nab somebody and put an innocent man in jail," Steve said. "Police can be under a lot of pressure, and they can make mistakes."

Neighbors weren't the only ones surprised by Koepp's arrest.

A former co-worker, who wished to remain anonymous, said he worked with Koepp at the pizza restaurant for a few years and just saw him a week or two ago.

"He did have anger issues, but you never expect something like to happen," he said.

Koepp rarely showed his anger at work.

"He was usually pretty professional, but ? he did have his occasional explosions," the co-worker said.

He added that Koepp had recently worked at a milk hauling company but had been laid off a week or two ago.

Koepp told stories about his time in prison, he said.

"He said he pissed off Jeffrey Dahmer," he said.

Although Koepp "seemed all right" at work, co-workers heard rumors about a troubled home life and alcohol addiction, the former co-worker said.

"Guess he had kind of a drinking problem; sometimes he'd get a little violent I guess ? from what I heard," he said.

Koepp got married in 1999, but the relationship was rocky, he said.

"He and his wife have been having marital problems as long as I can remember," he said. "They would split up and get back together."

Last updated: 8:19 am Monday, December 17, 2012

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