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Murder victim spent life giving

October 20, 2010 | 08:58 AM
Lake Geneva's Sandra Teichow spent much of the last several years helping others — teaching students in places as far away as Bosnia and Belarus, collecting shoes for Guatemalan children and building brick houses in Nicaragua.

But last week, Teichow's desire to make a difference in her hometown of Racine probably led to her death.

Teichow, 67, was found dead in a wooded area near the Root River on West Sixth Street in Racine on Oct. 14 at about 4:15 p.m. She had been strangled and suffered blunt force trauma to her head and upper body. There also were signs of defensive injuries to her hands and arms.

Convicted sex offender Wilbert L. Thomas, 65, Racine, has been charged with her murder. According to the criminal complaint, a brown backpack in the passenger seat of Teichow's SUV was open and had been rummaged through. Earlier in the day, Teichow had talked about collecting $100 in quarters and handing them out to needy people at a Racine laundromat.

A camera found next to Teichow's body apparently broke the investigation open as two photos were discovered on the memory card of the damaged camera. One photo showed a black man walking away from the camera dressed in blue jeans and a black jacket. He had white hair and used a cane. The second photo was a blurred shot of the sky.

Due to Thomas' lengthy criminal record, investigators recognized the photo of him. They obtained a search warrant to his home and collected clothes that matched the items worn in the photo. They also found a jar partially filled with quarters and shoes that matched footprints near Teichow's body.

But, despite knowing some of the circumstances of the murder, the family and those who knew Sandy in Lake Geneva continue to wonder why this happened to a woman who gave so much to so many.

Lake Geneva's Mary Tanner, a neighbor of Denny and Sandy Teichow, said she was shocked by the news of Sandy's death.

Tanner, a member of the city's Historic Preservation Committee, said she often called Denny to make him aware of upcoming meetings. Denny helped the committee by creating the organization's website and both Denny and Sandy were interested in the past and future of the city of Lake Geneva. Tanner said when she tried to call Denny, she usually ended up speaking with Sandy. Other times, Denny and Sandy stopped by her home to visit.

She called the couple "delightful people" and added that Sandy would often talk about their grandchildren and how she and Denny met years earlier.

Tanner said she heard about Teichow's death from Historic Preservation Committee President Ken Etten, who said Sandy was a "person doing good things to help other people."

"I thought — what a loss," Tanner said upon hearing of her death. "Someone who does so much for the community and is good and so intelligent — I just can't imagine what Denny and the family are going through."

But, her family and Lake Geneva people who knew her aren't the only ones saddened by the news. Apparently Sandy had friends across the country.

"I was fortunate enough to know Sandra for a short while as we both worked at a local resort," Kathleen Ruhnke, Franklin, Tenn., stated on the Regional News website. "What I will always remember about her was her soft-spoken demeanor and her luminous smile. I know anyone else that got the opportunity to know this wonderful woman will agree that she was very special. It will sadden me the rest of my life to think that such an impeccable life was cut short."

Dennis and Janice Gibbs, Tucson, Ariz., were stunned by the news and also wrote a message about Sandy on the Regional News website.

"Never was a person born with more spirit and willingness to help others than Sandra," Dennis wrote. "She inspired both my wife and myself at each meeting with her and then her wonderful husband Denny. A born leader with great compassion for mankind as a whole. No one, especially Sandra, deserves to be killed in such a terrible way. The world will be a worse place at her loss."

For the past 10 years, Sandy and Denny traveled the world teaching through Quality Schools International. Their most recent assignment was in Minsk, Belarus. They also taught in Kiev, Ukraine, and Sarajevo, Bosnia.

Sandy also was known for her work with the Sharon Main Street Association and was an assistant to the headmaster at the old Northwestern Military Academy from 1985 to 1988. She also was a part-time teacher at Gateway Technical College for a time.

On Monday, her husband, Denny, said he wasn't ready to talk about Sandy's death. According to cell phone records, he spoke to Sandy for a few minutes two hours prior to her body being found.

"We really want to keep this personal with the family for now," he said.

But, Denny cited in her obituary that Sandy "had a zest for life and a constantly upbeat outlook that endeared her to everyone she met." He wrote, "to know her was to love her. She was the wife, mother, grandmother and friend that everybody wants."

Tanner said part of the shock was just the tragic nature of the death and that this type of thing doesn't typically happen in this area.

"This is unusual for Lake Geneva to have one of our citizens have this happen to them," Tanner said. "We are just a small community and it is just sad. I guess there is a reason for it."

Thomas officially was charged Monday with first-degree intentional homicide, theft from a person or corpse and two counts of felony bail jumping. He is being held on $250,000 cash bond. If convicted, he faces life in prison.

But, for Tanner and others, Teichow will be remembered for how she lived, not for the tragic way she died.

"She is going to be missed," Tanner said. "She was a great help to this world and I will remember all the good things she did."

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