A former UT student added to the FBI’s Top Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list last December turned himself in last Thursday afternoon after more than three decades on the run.
Robert Van Wisse, 51, surrendered to law enforcement officers in Laredo, Texas, according to the Austin Police Department, and has since been booked at the Travis County Jail. Van Wisse is accused of murdering and sexually assaulting 22-year-old Laurie Stout in 1983.
“I’m proud to stand here before you and announce that Van Wisse has been arrested and taken into custody,” said Christopher Combs, special agent with the San Antonio Division of the FBI, at a joint press conference last Friday morning. “This has been a combined worldwide effort.”
In September 1983, then-18-year-old Van Wisse was in an Austin office building after hours registering for a course. APD found Stout’s body the next morning and later ruled her death as a homicide due to strangulation and asphyxia, according to the FBI.
Travis County issued a state arrest warrant for Van Wisse on Oct. 3, 1996, after he was charged with Stout’s murder, according to an APD press release. In March 1997, Van Wisse was charged with flight to avoid prosecution and a federal warrant was issued. On Thursday, APD arrested Van Wisse on this charge.
It wasn’t until December 2016 that Van Wisse was added to the FBI’s most-wanted list and a $100,000 reward was offered for anyone with information on his whereabouts.
“Closure is an enduring process,” said Hector Gomez, deputy supervisor of the U.S. Marshals Service, to Stout’s family members at last Friday’s press conference. “On behalf of the investigative agencies that have been instrumental in making this possible, we hope today brings you a moment of reflection. We thank you for keeping her memory alive.”
APD and the FBI are still looking into several details of the case, including where Van Wisse had been living and how he was able to avoid capture for so long, Combs said.
“APD, the FBI and our partners were able to bring a laser focus to this case,” Combs said. “We will find these people — no matter how long they have been running — we will find them and bring them to justice. We do that for the families sitting here, the citizens of the United States and the citizens of Austin.”
Travis County will soon begin the process of indicting Van Wisse on a second charge of first-degree murder, according to APD.
“We can’t bring her back, but we can bring her justice,” APD Chief Brian Manley said. “It is justice delayed, but it will be justice.”
Since the FBI’s list was created in 1950, 512 fugitives have been placed on the list, and 481 — including Van Wisse — have been apprehended or located, according to the FBI. Combs attributed the list’s 94 percent success rate to both the combined efforts of federal investigative agencies and to the media.
“By putting someone on the Top Ten list, it generates massive media attention and allows the full resources of FBI to be brought to bear worldwide,” Combs said. “That’s why we put people on the Top Ten, because we believe that through using the media, through using those mechanisms, we can find those people and bring them to justice.”