Public Safety

Friends miss Jon, the slain bondsman who was witty, smart and caring

Trial of man accused of fatally shooting him starts Monday

Jonathan Wieseler and Harmony Hauser are shown in their engagement photo. (photo contributed by Harmony Hauser)
Jonathan Wieseler and Harmony Hauser are shown in their engagement photo. (photo contributed by Harmony Hauser)
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Adam Santi said he was frustrated that April morning when his friend Jon hadn’t responded to his text for an hour — it was unlike him.

 

“I drove by Lederman (Bail Bonds) about 11 a.m. April 23, 2017, and saw the open sign, so I know Jon was there,” Santi, 36, of Coralville, said. “I’m so glad now I didn’t stop.”

Santi has his 3-year-old daughter, Lila, in the car, so he decided not to stop. She was going to be the flower girl in the wedding of his friend, 34-year-old Jonathan Wieseler. Santi drove home and soon got a call from another friend who told him Jon was dead.

Just moments earlier, Brian Vakulskas, 43, a Sioux City lawyer, received a text from his mom. “Jon was murdered last night,” he said the text read. “I couldn’t understand. … I was like, ‘What?’”

Vakulskas was driving at the time and tried to call his brother Dan, also friends with Wieseler, but couldn’t reach him. The three had grown up together in Sioux City, Wieseler’s hometown and where his mother still lived.

Brian Vakulskas decided to go to his parents’ house in Sioux City, where he knew Wieseler’s mother, Linda, would be.

Dan Vakulskas had called Santi and asked him to drive by Lederman again to see if this was true. Santi drove to the Lederman office in Iowa City about 12:30 p.m. Police were everywhere, and then he saw the crime scene tape.

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“I asked what was going on and the cop wouldn’t tell me,” Santi said. “He finally told me it was true. He was killed. I just couldn’t believe it.”

“We were all in shock by this time,” Brian Vakulskas said, “and Linda was on the phone in my parents’ kitchen talking to someone at the scene.”

Santi said he wished it would have been a car accident — not something as tragic as being shot. “I can’t think about what pain he went through,” he said.

Wieseler, a bondsman, died the night of April 22, 2017, at Lederman Bail Bonds in downtown Iowa City. Police say he was shot five times during a robbery sometime between 10:20 and 10:32 p.m. Curtis Jones, 42, of Mount Pleasant, is charged with first-degree murder in Wieseler’s death.

His trial starts Monday in Polk County District Court, moved from Johnson County because of extensive pretrial publicity.

Jones was previously convicted of first-degree murder by a Scott County jury in November for the fatal June 2017 shooting of Ricky Lillie, an Iowa City cabdriver.

Santi and Brian Vakulskas both said they hope Jones gets a fair trial and that he will be convicted if he is the person who killed their friend.

Little information has been released about what happened that night, so Santi is going to the trial, even though he knows it will be difficult to hear and see graphic details of his friend’s death.

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Santi and Vakulskas know it won’t change anything. The man who was the “astute observer” — like a character out of a Woody Allen film with a witty sense of humor, and the biggest “movie buff ever known” — isn’t coming back.

Santi, an administrator at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, said Wieseler was almost “obsessive” about movies, especially, those nominated for Academy Awards. Wieseler made a commitment to see all the award movies — going back to the 1940s.

“It was like his Super Bowl — the Oscars,” Vakulskas said. “He was a big sports fan, too, but he loved movies. He ran a pool each year and got all his friends involved but somehow, he always won.”

Wieseler was also an avid reader, from classics to best-sellers. He loved history and thrillers. Vakulskas hosts a radio show in Sioux City where he interviews authors from all over, “Having Read That on KSCJ Radio, and Wieseler became the segment producer. He would also read many of the books.

Santi said their friend also loved the obscure books — “Something nobody else would read. He read anything to make sense out of the world.”

“Wieseler would have been a professional student if he could,” Vakulskas said.

Wieseler graduated from the University of Iowa with a bachelor’s degree in political science, then got his law degree and ended up back in school at the University of Minnesota, where he got a bachelor’s degree in biology.

Wieseler never wanted to practice law, Vakulskas said. He loved living in Iowa City, and Vakulskas put him in contact with the manager of Lederman.

“I think he loved the fact of working on the fringe of the court system,” Vakulskas said. “He was comfortable in his job. He had a lot of freedom and independence. He did a lot of extra things for the company. He didn’t have to go out looking for people who didn’t show up for court. He was getting them out of jail.”

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“He was the good guy — the savior for them,” Santi added. “He really cared about the clients. He would call to remind them about court and treated them with respect.”

Wieseler was happy as a bondsman and his main focus was getting married and having children.

The weekend after his death, Santi and others had planned to take him to Las Vegas for his bachelor’s party. Wieseler and his fiancee were getting married in June.

“I really miss him every day,” Santi said. “Something happens and I pick up the phone to text him. I forget it for a moment. What happened to him was horrible, and I will carry it with me the rest of my life.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8318; trish.mehaffey@thegazette.com

 

 

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