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Courts
Trail tells FBI agents how Sydney Loofe was killed, what happened afterward in video shown to jurors

WILBER, Neb. — Aubrey Trail was combative, often veering off the subject and inspiring comments of “bulls---” more than once from his FBI interrogators.

But in a three-hour videotape played Friday, Trail laid out his gruesome version of the slaying of Sydney Loofe.

Trail, in a June 11, 2018, interview with two FBI agents, told his oft-repeated story that Loofe, a 24-year-old Menards clerk from Lincoln, willingly agreed to participate in a staged sexual fantasy with him and two other women he refused to identify.

He said Loofe had complained about money problems and had accepted $5,000 for her role. Trail said that she knew it would involve rough sex, but that she was accidentally strangled with an electrical cord.

“It was too many times, too long,” Trail told the investigators at one point. “I let a fantasy go down that I knew, when it was set up … that it had the potential for going bad.”

He said he’d been paid $15,000 for the fantasy by the two women, and let it happen “because I was greedy.”

Other new details emerged during the video statement, the first time jurors got to hear Trail’s account during the trial.

For the fourth straight day — since he slashed himself in the neck in court on Monday — Trail did not attend the trial, which is scheduled to continue until at least July 8.

Trail, a 52-year-old ex-convict, is charged along with Bailey Boswell, his 25-year-old girlfriend, with first-degree murder in the slaying and dismemberment of Loofe. Both face the possibility of the death penalty if convicted.

Loofe’s remains were found Dec. 4-5, 2017, scattered along country roads near Edgar, Nebraska, and wrapped tightly in black plastic trash bags.

Trail, in the videotaped interview played Friday, said that Loofe’s body was deposited in Clay County, Nebraska, because a cemetery there was “a special place” in his beliefs. He added that the body parts were located in a certain way along the road ditches to speed her “incarnation.”

“I don’t believe in the God you believe in,” he told the two agents, as they questioned Trail in an interrogation room at the Saline County Jail.

Trail’s story about the intentional placement of Loofe’s remains doesn’t match previous testimony by law enforcement officials, who have said the body parts appeared to be randomly tossed in ditches. There has been no mention of any cemeteries in Clay County, or any searches there, in prior trial testimony.

Trail, who had an antique business with Boswell and was convicted last year with her of scamming a Kansas couple out of $400,000 in an antique deal, revealed on the tape that he had a second occupation — conducting “hardcore” sexual fantasies for people whom he contacted over the Internet.

He said he got paid up to $30,000, and once staged a fantasy for a woman from Alabama who came all the way to Wilber.

“Everything in the world is based on money,” Trail said, boasting that his life was “money, sex and women.”

He rejected the suggestion that Loofe was forced to participate.

“It’s always been, ‘I’ll pay you this much money. This is what you have to do. Yes or no,’ ” Trail said.

He added that another woman, a prostitute, was to participate in the choking fantasy but had backed out, which led him to suggest it to Loofe.

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The agents, Mike Maseth and Eli McBride, expressed disbelief at some of Trail’s comments, told him to get back on the subject of Loofe’s slaying and pressed him on how Loofe’s body could have been cut up “without a huge mess.”

After several minutes passed, Trail said that he had drained Loofe’s body of its blood, and deposited the blood and her “soul” in a place that law enforcement had not located.

“I’m a low-down piece of s---, a monster, whatever,” he said during the interrogation. “But I’m not giving anyone up.”

That included the two unidentified women whom he said had paid for the sexual fantasy involving Loofe. In it, he said, Loofe was supposed to be brought “to the brink” of death during sex.

“My job was to keep the monsters in the cage,” he said of the fantasies.

“I’m not per se lying,” Trail said at one point during the videotape. “Am I covering some people’s tracks? Yes. Am I going to make it easy for you? No.”

Trail, after being pressed by the FBI agents, denied that Loofe’s heart was removed as the body was cut up. But that led to his dissertation on his “belief system,” including that everyone who was there when Loofe died had to leave “something they liked” — which included a sex toy — with the body parts as part of an “apology.”

Trail also, more than once, maintained that he alone was responsible for Loofe’s death, and that Boswell was not present when Loofe died. Trail claimed that Boswell was later forced to help cut up and dispose of the body.

Jurors stared with troubled looks at the video as it played on three screens. Loofe’s mother left the courtroom at one point.

The mood in the courtroom Friday was by far the most somber during the trial, and this was after photographs of the body parts were shared with jurors earlier in the week.

Notable crime news of 2019

Plus
Free trade proponents, long backers of the GOP, find themselves at odds with Trump's approach

WASHINGTON — Free trade proponents are seeking to rebuild broad support for the concept after it suffered a rhetorical beating in the 2016 presidential election.

Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., was a keynote speaker at a Capitol Hill event this week promoting trade.

“We’ve had some bipartisan opposition to free trade in recent years, and I don’t think we did a good enough job talking about the benefits of free trade,” Bacon told the audience. “Free trade gives us growth, it gives us opportunity, it creates innovation, it gives us efficiency and it gives us choices as consumers, and it gives us value.”

That event was organized by the Charles Koch Institute. The billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch have funded various advocacy groups, such as Americans For Prosperity, that promote free trade, lower taxes and less regulation.

Their fundraising network has also been a major financial support for Republicans over the years, but the businessmen now find themselves at odds with significant parts of President Donald Trump’s populist agenda.

Attendees at the Capitol Hill event were handed a booklet Phil Levy wrote as a senior fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. Levy took issue with the Trump administration’s approach to trade in no uncertain terms.

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“What if the Trump administration continues on its course of unilateral erection of trade barriers coupled with unorthodox, abrasive, and haphazard negotiations?” Levy wrote.

He noted that negotiations on the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement have concluded but that it’s unclear whether it will pass the House, and other major trade agreements with Japan and Europe are unlikely to be finalized anytime soon.

Meanwhile, other countries are negotiating trade deals that cut out the United States, he wrote, while U.S. tariffs have driven crop prices down and the cost of imported parts up.

“These were the short-term costs,” Levy wrote. “The more serious, long-term penalties are still to come.”

Trump has repeatedly defended his approach to trade, defending the power of tariffs and maintaining that it will all work out in the end.

At the G-20 summit in Japan this week, Trump has been upbeat about the prospects of talks with China. He said that he expected a meeting with President Xi Jinping to be “productive.”

Bacon told The World-Herald that he disagrees with the kind of harsh assessment that Levy offers of Trump’s trade agenda.

“If his policy was tariffs without an end state, I would agree, but I think this is a strategy to get us to a free trade deal — or a freer trade deal, anyways — with China, and it remains to be seen if it works,” Bacon said.

But Bacon said he would not give the president a “straight ‘A’ ” on trade and said that it was not wise for him to threaten tariffs on Mexico after the USMCA already had been negotiated.

Democrats have certainly been willing to criticize Trump’s trade policies.

During their party’s presidential debate Thursday night, Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado talked about the need to build alliances with other countries to confront China.

“I think the president has been right to push back on China, but has done it in completely the wrong way,” Bennet said. “We should mobilize the entire rest of the world, who all have a shared interest in pushing back on China’s mercantilist trade policies, and I think we can do that.”

Rep. Adrian Smith, R-Neb., serves on the House Ways and Means Committee that has jurisdiction over trade issues. Smith represents a largely rural district that has felt the pinch of trade disruptions.

On a recent conference call with reporters, Smith talked up the importance of international trade and said he’s relayed his opposition to tariffs to the White House.

Still, he said he thinks the president is doing a good job when it comes to trade and said that some Democrats who were previously more supportive of tariffs have come around as they criticize Trump’s actions.

“I’ll take that,” Smith said. “If we can join up and pursue trade agreements and trade actions moving forward that can avoid tariffs, I think we’re in a better spot.”

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, is chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, which deals with trade. Grassley told reporters this week that the problem isn’t bringing the public along, but the rest of Congress.

Grassley said tariffs come up during his meetings back in Iowa, but don’t seem to be driving his constituents to abandon the president.

“There may be some anxiety, particularly among farmers, about what Trump’s doing, but I haven’t had any of those people tell me that they’re not sticking with Trump,” Grassley said.

Meet the Nebraska state senators

Money
'This is a tech hub': Omaha, Lincoln to launch ad campaign aimed at luring workers from four cities

High-tech workers in four Midwestern cities will soon be seeing ads pop up on their computers and smartphones touting the benefits of making their careers in Omaha or Lincoln.

The “Opt In” campaign sponsored by the Omaha and Lincoln chambers seeks to lure workers from Chicago, Detroit, Denver and Sioux Falls to help address the region’s shortage of tech workers.

The two chambers joined forces on the $150,000 ad initiative, which pitches the two metro areas as an attractive “super region” of 1.3 million people that’s both tech heavy and tech savvy.

“The super region is based on the fact we have a growing base of tech companies that are fueling the economy of both of our cities,” David Brown, CEO of the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce, said in a Friday event kicking off the initiative. “By leveraging the combined strength of our region, we offer an even stronger message to potential talent.”

Chamber officials say they’re not the only ones who think the region is great for tech careers. Business news website MarketWatch earlier this year called Omaha and Lincoln America’s No. 1 “New Tech Hot Spot.”

The ads sell Omaha and Lincoln as not only places with lots of tech job opportunities, but also places where they can make a difference, create their own startup as a “side hustle,” and find arts, entertainment and a strong “foodie” culture.

Today’s tech workers “want to be part of an urban core, they want to have recreation and a dynamic food culture,” said Mindy Simon, the chief information officer for Conagra Brands. “What better than to offer that talent not just one place, but two.”

The ads will be linked to a web portal, live now, where job candidates can search available tech jobs and learn more about the cities.

Omaha, Lincoln and most other cities across the country are dealing with a shortage of software engineers, app developers and other high-tech workers. Some state business leaders in March sounded an alarm, saying the state is losing out on thousands of jobs as Nebraska firms unable to fill tech jobs decide to locate them elsewhere.

“Talent is everything,” said Dan Houghton, co-founder of fast-growing Buildertrend, an Omaha construction management software firm. “Finding the talent we need was our biggest issue at the start of the year, and that hasn’t changed.”

As part of its five-year strategic plan, the Omaha chamber has set a goal of getting 10,000 new tech workers into the local market. But to make that happen, it needed a strategy, said Dee Baird, the Omaha chamber’s vice president for economic development.

As a result, representatives from a dozen companies with tech hiring needs came together in a working group to develop a strategy for growing, retaining and attracting high-tech workers.

The long-term strategy will ultimately involve producing more tech graduates from Nebraska colleges and universities and raising awareness about tech careers for kids in K-12 schools. That plan is still in the works.

But the group decided a targeted advertising campaign aimed at workers outside of Omaha would be a way to get more immediate help. The first ads will begin appearing July 8.

The chambers worked with an outside vendor that’s able to get the digital ads to pop up specifically in front of tech workers when they are on social media or other common websites.

“If you are an app developer or software engineer in Chicago and have an interest in learning about different jobs, they can find you,” Baird said. “It’s a sophisticated tool that can reach the types of workers with skills that we need here.”

With big-name Fortune 500 companies and a new wave of ambitious startups, “we have more jobs than we do people,” reads the site’s pitch. “That’s where you come in. Join us as we step into a bold, new era for Omaha and Lincoln — it’s tech-focused, people-fueled — and your next career step-up is waiting.”

The four initial metro areas for the campaign were chosen in part because they’re in the region, have significant numbers of tech workers and offer pay that is similar to or less than what it is here. Kansas City will soon be added as a fifth market.

The messages in the ads were developed in focus groups with people who have come to Nebraska for tech careers or who have boomeranged back to their home state. The “Opt In” motto for the campaign is itself tech-themed, referring to when a computer user opts to allow a program to use his current location.

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The Omaha chamber’s 3,000 members and financial supporters of the Lincoln chamber are able to advertise jobs on the Opt In site for free. Other firms can pay to have their jobs listed.

Opt In organizers also point to industry leaders already making their homes in Omaha and Lincoln, noting: LinkedIn recently announced an expansion making Omaha the third-largest employee base in North America; Toast, the creator of a restaurant payment system platform, has more than 230 workers in the Omaha office opened in late 2017 and plans for more; and Hudl, the Lincoln-based sports video software company, announced in May 2019 continued growth plans (the organization currently has 540 Nebraska-based employees — 490 in Lincoln, and 50 in Omaha).

Conagra also said its recent acquisition of Pinnacle Foods brought a need for IT and other specialized jobs in Omaha, where the company currently employs about 1,300.

“Our message is tech jobs are here,” Baird said. “This is a tech hub.”

List: The Omaha area's largest employers

Music
Review: Rock and soul revival heats up Memorial Park after the sun goes down

School’s been out. The temperature has been creeping up. Pools are open. Memorial Day was awhile back.

But it doesn’t quite feel like summer in Omaha until the Memorial Park concert.

As is tradition, music, fireworks and thousands of people — more than 60,000, officials said — blanketed Memorial Park to ring in summer on Friday night.

The annual City of Omaha Celebrates America concert took over the park. On the slate was music from Omaha band The Firm, classic rock-styled Chris Isaak, Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Little Steven and, of course, a massive fireworks display.

Early on, the areas of the lawn open to the sun stood largely empty. It was just too dang hot.

Meanwhile, the shady, tree-lined portions of the expansive park were full of kids tossing footballs, people throwing Frisbees, folks eating picnic dinners and a large amount of attendees taking a break from the sun.

As the sun descended behind the park’s western pines, the park flooded with people.

Brooke Spenceri came just as the sun was going down. The event has become a family tradition for Spenceri and her 11-year-old daughter, Presley Powers.

“We come no matter what,” Spenceri said. “I like the music.”

Presley and her friend, Josie Gentle, had a different reason: “The fireworks!”

Looking like the most comfortable people in the park, Zach Davis and Katherine Schaub sat nearby in large inflatable loungers next to Steph Anderson.

They were relatively new to the Memorial Park tradition, but they’d been sitting in the sun since early in the evening. Early on, they sat under a large umbrella to stay away from the sun. Once the sun receded, they were ready to be entertained.

“The bands were really great,” Davis said.

“There’s the fireworks, the drinks, the company,” Schaub said.

“And the people watching,” Anderson added. They laughed.

ELSIE STORMBERG/THE WORLD-HERALD 

Mary and Dave Mausbach of Omaha, who have been going to the concert for 15-plus years, dance.

Around them, people meandered through the park, drank from red plastic cups and wiped the sweat from their brows.

The festivities started for some when they laid their blankets down, marking spots in the park as early as 5 a.m. But the party really began when the music kicked off.

“Good evening Omaha!” Little Steven said from the stage. “We have to come to celebrate summer here in this wonderful Memorial Park. Such a great tradition. We are honored that you asked us to come this year. Thank you so much!”

Little Steven is Steven Van Zandt, the guitarist for Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, and his 13-member band, the Disciples of Soul, is packed with famed songwriters, killer session musicians and former E Street Band members. Dressed in bright patterns and dark vests, they looked like a roving band of rock ‘n’ roll wizards ready to ensnare you with their funk and soul. Van Zandt’s trio of backing singers were particularly engaging as they danced in lockstep and sang like soulful angels.

Largely playing his new album, “Summer of Sorcery,” Van Zandt had people up off their lawn chairs to dance to “Party Mambo” and groove to “I Visit the Blues.”

It was a full-on rock ‘n’ soul revival, and easily one of the most exciting acts to play the annual event.

It was also fueled by Chris Isaak, who played earlier in the evening.

Wearing a rhinestone- and-sequin-encrusted nudie suit, Isaak took the stage while the heat was still bearing down.

ELSIE STORMBERG/THE WORLD-HERALD 

Chris Isaak rocks a blue-sequined suit for his performance at Memorial Park on Friday.

But he still hit the high notes of “Wicked Game” and ran into the audience in his heavy wool suit.

Isaak plays a style of old-school rock that’s something of a combo of Roy Orbison and Elvis Presley, but Isaak’s funnier and somehow even more charming.

Isaak played his own hits, “Blue Hotel” among them, but he also worked in covers of “Ring of Fire,” “Pretty Woman” and “Can’t Help Falling In Love.”

Isaak’s final number was “Baby Did a Bad, Bad Thing,” and he brought several women, among them Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert, onstage to dance with him.

Both bands made for a real rock ‘n’ roll show, and the people in the massive crowd rolled right along with them.

That is, until the music went dark, and they prepared themselves for maybe most anticipated part of this summer tradition: the fireworks.

And so, thousands turned their heads skyward to welcome summer with the crackle of colored explosions overhead.

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Photos: Memorial Park concert with Little Steven and Chris Isaak