Public Safety

Man gets life sentence in 18-year-old cold case where wife's body was never found

Former Henry County man will serve time in Coralville

Michael Syperda listens as District Judge Mark Kruse hands down a mandatory life sentence for his conviction in the death of his estranged wife almost 18 years ago, Thursday, Aug. 23, 2018, in a Henry County courtroom. (John Lovretta/thehawkeye.com)
Michael Syperda listens as District Judge Mark Kruse hands down a mandatory life sentence for his conviction in the death of his estranged wife almost 18 years ago, Thursday, Aug. 23, 2018, in a Henry County courtroom. (John Lovretta/thehawkeye.com)
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Michael Syperda was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole and is to pay $150,000 restitution for the murder of Elizabeth Syperda, who disappeared from Mt. Pleasant just over 18 years ago.

Syperda, 58, of Rifle, Colo., and a former resident of Henry County, was convicted of murder in his 22-year-old wife Elizabeth Syperda’s death on June 25 following a five-day trial in May. Judge Mark Kruse found the defendant guilty, despite that her body has never been found. Michael Syperda will be held at the Iowa Medical and Classification Center in Coralville.

Given the opportunity to comment before sentencing on Thursday at the Henry County Courthouse, Syperda responded, “No, your honor,” to Judge Kruse after conferring with his lawyer Kym Auge.

After delivering Syperda’s life sentence, Kruse said the punishment fits the crime. In the 18 years since her death, Elizabeth Syperda would have experienced many things that make life so special, Kruse said. “She may have gone to college. She would have celebrated many Christmases. She would have had times of joy, and like anyone else, she would have had times of sorrow. She may have found a career or careers. She may have had a family,” he said.

Elizabeth Syperda’s mother, Donna Forshee, takign the witness stand to address Michael Syperda, said she will forever live with the question of how she could have prevented her daughter’s death. The worst day of her and her family’s life was when Michael Syperda moved across the street from the Forshees in California, she said. It was then, when her daugther was only 14 years old, that he began grooming her, Forshee said.

Elizabeth Syperda, who worked for Michael Syperda and his wife at the time, Sally Crill, baby-sitting their two children, left her family home and moved across the country with them to Henry County when she was 17, a move her mother greatly protested, Forshee said.

Her daughter married Michael Syperda soon after he and Crill divorced. Forshee said her daughter loved Syperda’s children as if they were her own and wanted so much to have children of her own.

“She was such a sweet, vulnerable young girl, and then she lost her father at the age of 15, which made her even more vulnerable and impressionable,” Forshee said through tears.

Addressing the judge, Michael Forshee, Elizabeth Syperda’s brother, added that it is ironic that it was 25 years ago to the day on Aug. 23 — the day of sentencing — that their father died from cancer. While their father was taken from the family because of disease, his sister was taken by an “avoidable” crime, Michael Forshee said.

“Our lives have been forever darkened because of Mike Syperda’s actions on July 17, 2000,” he said.

During the sentencing hearing, Donna Forshee pleaded with Syperda to tell them where her daughter’s body was, saying that if he had an ounce of decency or compassion he would tell them where she was.

“I hope he lives in misery and pain for the rest of his life,” she said.

Prosecuting Assistant Iowa Attorney General Scott Brown said Elizabeth Syperda’s family has lived the nightmare over and over again since she went missing.

“I’ve had lots of interactions with (Donna and Michael Forshee),” Brown said. “Not once have they acted profanely toward Michael Syperda. The dignity that you heard in their victim impact statements today are exactly the type of people they are. They are good, decent people who had their daughter and sister ripped from them by the defendant.”

As Michael Syperda was ushered out of the courthouse, the Forshees thanked everyone involved in the search for their daughter and seeking justice for her, including Mt. Pleasant Police Chief Ron Archer, Lt. Lyle Murray and the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation for their diligent efforts over the last 18 years

“We will never be able to fully express our gratitude to all who have helped us remember, search for an honor (Elizabeth’s) memory,” her mother and brother wrote in a joint statement. “We still have not been able to bring (Elizabeth) home to be buried next to her father, so we urge everyone to continue to look for her at every opportunity.”

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