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On the stand, Trail changes story about how Loofe died; isn't this 'your biggest con?' prosecutor asks

WILBER, Neb. — After first denying any role in the death of Sydney Loofe, then maintaining that it was an accident during the filming of a sexual fantasy, Aubrey Trail spun a new story on Tuesday.

Before a hushed courtroom at his murder trial, Trail said those prior versions were all “bulls---.”

“There’s no video, there’s no sexual fantasy, there’s no two other people in the room,” Trail told jurors.

It was a stunning change of story for Trail, who had most recently claimed that two women had paid him $15,000 to film a sexual fantasy with a third woman who would be choked nearly to death. Things got out of hand, he said, and he choked Loofe — who he said had agreed to participate for $5,000 — too hard.

But on Tuesday, after taking the stand in his own defense, Trail gave a new version, though he continued to maintain that Loofe’s death was an accident and not premeditated murder.

Prosecutors tore into his latest account of events, saying that his story changed whenever investigators uncovered new evidence in the slaying and dismemberment of the Lincoln store clerk, and that it was a reflection of his life’s work as a criminal and a con artist. Trail himself acknowledged on the stand Tuesday that he had spent most of the past decade in prison for crimes such as forgery and passing bad checks, and had recently been convicted of scamming a Kansas couple out of nearly a half million dollars.

“Isn’t it true, Mr. Trail, that your performance today is your biggest con?” asked one of the prosecutors, Doug Warner of the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office.

Trail denied that, saying he had no reason to lie anymore.

Trail, 52, and his 25-year-old girlfriend, Bailey Boswell, are charged with first-degree murder in the slaying of Loofe. Both face the possibility of the death penalty if found guilty.

Just before the start of his murder trial last month, Trail changed his plea from not guilty to guilty to the charge of improper disposal of human remains — a charge that Boswell also faces.

It was unclear early Tuesday whether Trail would even be in court, much less testify. He had opted not to attend proceedings since June 24, when he slashed at his neck with a small blade in front of jurors.

But he was rolled into court in a wheelchair with his hands cuffed and two bright red wounds clearly evident on the right side of his neck.

When he took the stand, he appeared to stun even his defense attorneys by saying his previous statements to investigators were “all bulls---.”

Trail claimed that he had met Loofe, a 24-year-old cashier at Menards, several months before Loofe arranged two dates with Boswell via the Internet dating app Tinder in November 2017.

He testified that he had felt sorry for Loofe when he first met her because she was crying at her cash register. They eventually struck up a conversation, and he hired her to make scam phone calls for one of his illegal business ventures, paying her $200 per call.

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Trail said that he had met Boswell about three years ago when she was working at a massage parlor in Missouri. They eventually rented an apartment in Wilber to base a business selling antiques — both purchased and stolen — and engage in “weird sex” with various young women.

At least four young women were described to have filtered in and out of their group during 2017, engaging in group sex activities and earning a weekly allowance for obeying Trail and helping with the antique endeavors.

“How did you make that happen?” asked one of Trail’s court-appointed lawyers, Joe Murray.

“Money and sex. There was plenty of money and plenty of sex. … They could get anything they wanted,” Trail responded. “I had it great.”

Loofe and Boswell had entered into a romantic relationship, he testified, right after he met the Menards clerk in early 2017. But he said that Loofe — whom he described as lacking a “criminal conscience” — didn’t approve of ripping off people, which eventually caused her to leave what Trail called “the group.”

Months later, however, Boswell wanted Loofe to rejoin the group, he said. Boswell accidentally came upon Loofe’s Tinder account, according to Trail, and arranged a date. He claimed that Loofe didn’t recognize Boswell’s photos on Tinder, which featured her in more makeup.

After Loofe initially “freaked out” on the first date, they rekindled their relationship, according to Trail. But Loofe, he said, was still reluctant to rejoin the group, which was selling stolen antiques and scamming people out of money for counterfeit coins.

The second date eventually ended up in Wilber, where Trail said he talked to Loofe and showed her a tobacco can full of $100 bills, telling her “she could make that kind of money in 30 to 45 minutes” if she rejoined the group.

That date ultimately turned into a “sex party” involving Loofe, Boswell and himself, Trail said.

At first, he said he had choked Boswell with an electrical cord as she had sex with Loofe, Trail said.

Later, though, it was “her turn,” Trail said, referring to Loofe. She was handcuffed with a pair of fuzzy cuffs, he said, and he began to choke Loofe while Boswell had sex with her. Loofe, he said, began coughing and her lips turned blue.

Trail insisted that it was not his intention to suffocate Loofe.

“I used people for money, I used people for sex … (killing someone) was counterproductive,” Trail said. He later added, “I can’t bring Sydney back. I didn’t mean to, but I did ... .”

During his testimony, Trail claimed that the talk of “witches and vampires” and “torture and killing” among members of the group was just that — talk — and that much of that was conversation during sex or comments by the young women in the group about getting even with someone.

Boswell, he said, enjoyed “rough sex” and being choked during sex. But Trail continued to maintain that she was only “present” when Loofe died, and should not be held responsible for Loofe’s death.

He described Boswell, a former high school basketball standout from Leon, Iowa, as a young girl “whose biggest crime was meeting me.”

Trail said he concocted much of his earlier stories, including one about killing 14 other people, to throw investigators off track in hopes that Loofe’s body wouldn’t be found or that he could talk his way out of it.

“It was talk … it was fantasy,” he said.

Trail said he cut Loofe’s body into pieces using a bow-type saw because he couldn’t think of another way to sneak it out of the basement apartment, which was only a few yards from Wilber-Clatonia High School. He denied using a hack saw that he and Boswell purchased at a Home Depot store in Lincoln the morning before Loofe’s last, fateful date with Boswell.

He said there was no plan, and only panic, in disposing of Loofe’s remains. Initially, he was going to bury them, Trail said, but eventually he tossed them down some randomly selected gravel roads an hour’s drive west of Wilber. Her body wasn’t discovered until Dec. 4 and 5, 2017.

Trail appeared to grin at times during his testimony, which even his defense attorney, Murray, appeared to have a hard time believing.

“How can we tell that you’re (now) telling the truth?” Murray asked.

“You’ll have to decide what you believe,” Trail responded.

Warner, one of the prosecutors, was much more blunt in his questioning, and Trail was much more evasive, often answering his questions with “if you say so.”

Warner recounted how Trail initially denied involvement, and then, after Loofe’s body was found, asked for a cup of coffee and a break in an interrogation “because I need to think.”

Then the prosecutor recounted the scam Trail and Boswell concocted to swindle more than $400,000 from a Kansas couple.

Warner then displayed a photo to the jury and gallery of a portion of Loofe’s bloody arm, featuring a tattoo, that was discovered along a Clay County roadside.

“Now you had to come up with another explanation to explain this,” the prosecutor said.

CHRIS MACHIAN/THE WORLD-HERALD 

FBI agent Mike Maseth testified Tuesday about letters, some written in code, from Aubrey Trail to Bailey Boswell. The letters were found by law enforcement at the Saline County Jail.

Earlier Tuesday, FBI agent Mike Maseth testified that letters clandestinely passed from Trail to Boswell while both were in the Saline County Jail told her “here is your story” about Loofe’s death.

The letters, some in code, also indicated Trail’s desire to paint himself as the villain and to have her tell investigators that she was forced to participate in the disposal of Loofe’s dismembered body.

Also Tuesday, two clerks from the Grand Weaver Hotel in Falls City testified for the defense. They said they saw Loofe with Trail and Boswell at the hotel several weeks before Loofe went on two dates with Boswell in November 2017.

Final arguments are expected Wednesday. If Trail is found guilty, a shorter trial to determine whether he qualifies for the death penalty will be held.

Boswell is scheduled to stand trial in October.

Notable crime news of 2019

Plus
Grace: Judith Welk, 79, saw beauty on Omaha's streets and old buildings — and painted it

The artist loved color. The artist loved shape. The artist even loved the painstaking process of screen printing.

Perhaps most of all, the artist, known to friends as Judy and on her works as J. Simpson Welk or Judith Welk, loved home. Home on Cass Street, where she and husband Bob operated a basement print studio. Home in Dundee, where she and Bob raised four children, could walk to church and stuffed neighborhood flower baskets. Home, for this Cincinnati native and Kent State University graduate, in Omaha.

And her vivid, blocky, folk-art-looking prints bore out this love in colorful, familiar scenes. Sledders at Memorial Park. Cars on Underwood Avenue. Shoppers in the Old Market.

She cast architectural gems like the Cathedral, Central High and the Orpheum in warm, flattering light. She captured summertime fireworks over Memorial’s colonnade, and even made Omaha winter look lovely in snowy streetscapes.

The artist died of cancer in her Dundee home on Sunday, mere days from what would have been her 80th birthday. A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Friday at Dundee Presbyterian Church.

“Summer Twilight” by Omaha artist Judith Welk.

While those closest to her mourn her loss, one comfort is that Judy Welk’s legacy will live on through art that graces the walls of offices and homes in Omaha and beyond. Her stamp was beauty and, said her husband of 57 years, “that’s what she wanted to leave.”

In an artist’s statement, Judy once wrote she was depressed and homesick after moving to Omaha. But before long, she found a remedy.

“My mother often told me to look for the beauty around me,” Judy had written. “I soon found inspiration in the beauty of my Omaha surroundings, my family, my Dundee home, my neighborhood and the Midwest hills.”

Judy did not toot her own horn. She did not hold big sales or advertise. Finding your way to a Judith Welk print was a bit like stepping into the right gallery at the right time (Anderson O’Brien Fine Art has some of her prints), stumbling onto her website (judithwelk.com) or mostly knowing someone who knew someone or plain old calling her up, as I have done, hoping she was home and then getting an invitation to Cass Street.

It’s not that Judy was allergic to art as a commercial enterprise. She was a bit shy, a real homebody who would rather cook — cheaper and better, as she’d tell Bob — than hobnob. Her focus was exclusively on home. She was an artist and a mother who reveled in doing both vocations at Cass Street, especially with Bob helping her print in their basement.

The nonprofit Assistance League tapped Welk to design its annual events calendar, which the League sold for years as a fundraiser, and that raised her profile and kept her busy. Her works graced the cover of calendars from 1979 to 2003, and longtime fan and friend Connie Osborne said she owns at least two dozen Welk prints.

“She’d say I was her ‘Studio North,’ ” said Osborne, who lives a short few blocks from the Welks. “I have so many of her paintings.”

“Cass Street Morning View” by Omaha artist Judith Welk.

Osborne called Judy “cute” when the artist once complained to her she felt overexposed.

“I said, ‘Judy, you can’t have too much exposure,’ ” Osborne recalled. “She was this unassuming, never-knew-how-great-she-was, just the most wonderful person.”

Pete Festersen, a lifelong Dundee-er who represents that part of town on the City Council, has a Judith Welk hanging in his office at City Hall. It’s the fireworks at Memorial Park, and Festersen said Judy — his old junior high carpool driver — gave it to him when he was elected in 2009.

Festersen said he remembers the Welks’ blue station wagon “packed full of kids and her listening to the astronomy reports on NPR.” His parents were friends with Bob and Judy.

Their son Ben lives on Festersen’s block now. That reflects the love Dundee descendants have for their neighborhood and how small-town it can feel, characteristics evident in Judy’s renderings of the area.

One of her screenprints, also called serigraphs, has particular meaning. It shows the green pedestrian bridge over Dodge Street, for which Festersen helped secure funding several years ago for much-needed improvements. He said Welk helped with the project by donating some of those prints.

Peter Manhart, another Dundee lifer who is active in the neighborhood association, called Welk’s devotion to her neighborhood “a Dundee love story.”

“You could go to any dinner party in town and you could see her paintings,” he said.

In her artist’s statement, Judy said her commitment to capturing the beauty around her came as a way “to mark time with the people, places and things I love.” This pretty much sums up why I would hunt down prints to give family and friends for wedding gifts.

A Dundee-living brother who loves movies got her “Dundee Twilight Scene Dundee Theater.” Another Dundee-living brother, who married his Dundee childhood sweetheart, got “Spring Walk Dodge Street Overpass.” My childhood friend who’d meet me at Elmwood Pool every summer got “Elmwood Park, Winter” (no pool in the collection). A Marian classmate who got married at St. Cecilia Cathedral got “St. Cecilia’s, October morning,” which coincidentally also hangs in our living room. And I’ve got a second Welk, her “Old Market Winter Scene,” on another wall at home.

“Dundee School Looking North” by Omaha artist Judith Welk.

These exist because Judy, an art education major at Kent State, met Bob, a graduate student in theater. They married in 1961 and moved to Omaha in 1966 when Bob got a theater job at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, later serving as chairman of the theater department and interim dean of the College of Fine Arts.

Bob needed a theater poster and pretty much taught himself screen printing, an arduous process that involves mesh screens, stencils, ink and time. Each color gets its own screen and must dry completely before the next color is applied. Everything must be lined up perfectly.

Judy offered to design and cut. Bob ran the ink. They worked in tandem and got good at it.

“She was patient. And of course, she was creative,” Bob said. “And she was willing to try things and develop things.”

All the while, Judy kept up her other medium, painting. She liked to paint in the kitchen.

The cancer diagnosis came suddenly in January. Anaplastic thyroid cancer, which is rare and aggressive. She died Sunday in her Dundee home.

In addition to her husband, Judy is survived by daughters Juli Jensen and Rebecca Ashley, and sons Robert Andrew “Andy” Welk and Ben Welk. She is survived by 11 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

And of course the artist is survived by her art, the vivid depictions of home.

Photos: Thought-provoking murals enrich Omaha walls and buildings

Articles
Trump plans overhaul for dialysis and transplants
Order aims to extend lives of kidney patients and others, and save money

President Donald Trump will order a broad overhaul of the nation's organ transplant and kidney dialysis systems Wednesday in an executive order designed to prolong lives and save the government billions of dollars, according to people familiar with the plan.

Trump will outline proposals to keep people with kidney disease off dialysis longer and make treatment less expensive; encourage more live donation of kidneys and livers; and force the 58 nonprofits that collect transplant organs to improve their performance, people briefed on the plan said. He also will try to reduce discards of less-than-perfect organs by transplant surgeons.

In all, the government believes it can make 17,000 more kidneys and 11,000 more hearts, livers, lungs and other organs available for transplant every year, as well as save money for Medicare and Medicaid, which cover much of

the cost of dialysis and transplantation.

The United States has a severe shortage of transplant organs. More than 113,000 people are waiting for them; most need kidneys.

"These are all good ideas. I'm impressed, very impressed," said Tommy Thompson, who worked to boost organ donation when he was secretary of Health and Human Services under President George W. Bush. "They are finally modernizing organ procurement."

The executive order the president is expected to announce Wednesday, first reported by Politico, is one of a series of health care initiatives Trump is announcing in the run-up to the 2020 presidential election. Other recent plans have called for disclosure of health care prices— a plan blocked by a federal judge this week — and reducing transmission of HIV by 90% by 2030.

Kidney dialysis is a grueling regimen endured by about 510,000 of the 726,000 people who suffer from end stage kidney disease, according to the National Kidney Foundation. In the United States, most people receive hemodialysis, a treatment that requires a device to filter waste and toxins from their blood in hours-long sessions three times a week. Most receive it in clinics or private facilities that serve dozens of people each day.

Average life expectancy for a person on dialysis is five to 10 years, but some live much longer.

In some other countries, however, most people receive peritoneal dialysis, a treatment that uses a fluid infused through a catheter implanted in the abdomen, often while the patient sleeps at home. The process is less expensive than hemodialysis but is used only by a small percentage of U.S. kidney patients. With appropriate training, patients also can receive hemodialysis at home.

Right now, the U.S. system creates incentives for clinic-based hemodialysis. Two companies dominate the lucrative market.

Physicians generally are reimbursed at higher rates for care of dialysis patients than for treatment of patients with kidney disease who don't yet need dialysis. And Americans are not accustomed to taking care of themselves at home.

"Do you want to go to the clinic, where the nurses and doctors are there to take care of you? Or do you want to do it at home yourself?" asked Vanessa Grubbs, an associate professor of nephrology at the University of California San Francisco.

Medicare spent about $35 billion on dialysis patients in 2016 — more than $89,000 per person, according to the kidney foundation. Transplant patients, in contrast, cost Medicare $35,000 per person.

Trump will order Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar to test payment models that encourage doctors to treat kidney patients earlier to try to delay or prevent kidney failure. That would cut the rate of hospitalizations and dialysis. The order also would encourage home dialysis.

A key to boosting transplantation will be cracking down on "organ procurement organizations," the 58 nonprofit groups that collect organs from deceased donors and send them to transplant centers for implantation. Each OPO holds a monopoly over a chunk of U.S. territory and collects and reports its own data on how successful it is. Some poor performers have manipulated the numbers, researchers have shown.

New York's OPO, for example, has consistently fallen short of government performance standards but has been able to block HHS efforts to shut it down because data are so unreliable.

"Clearly the current evaluation system is flawed across all aspects," said Kevin Myer, chief executive of the OPO in Houston, where organ recovery rates have increased by more than 40% since he took over in 2013. "First of all, it's self-reported, which is a problem."

"This is an unqualified win for patients," Greg Segal, co-founder of ORGANize, a group seeking to improve organ transplantation, said in a statement.

Trump also will instruct Azar to improve the process of matching kidney donors to recipients, as well as the speed of delivery, to reduce discards of usable organs. A Washington Post analysis of 2.7 million death records from 2016 showed that by expanding the pool of donors to older and slightly less healthy people, the transplant system could yield more than 75,000 organs for transplant annually — enough to put the nation on pace to wipe out organ waiting lists within a few years.

Another Trump proposal would increase payments to live donors of kidneys and livers to covermore of their expenses, possibly including lost wages and child care.

"Anything we can do to make living donation easier for these altruistic people should happen," said Jason Wellen, surgical director of kidney transplants at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.


Articles
Stothert seeks input on lasting street fixes, how to pay for them

Omaha is ready to discuss longterm fixes for city streets after patching up damage from one of the city's worst pothole seasons.

Mayor Jean Stothert on Tuesday announced four town hall meetings set for later this month. At each, the city will share the scope of road fixes needed and seek public input on what residents want to do and how to pay for it.

The city aims to develop a longterm plan for funding and carrying out road maintenance and rehabilitation, Mayor Jean Stothert said. Such a plan could help the city build longer-lasting roads that cost less to maintain.

"With our current revenues that we have coming into the city, we

are not going to catch up the way our citizens expect us to," Stothert told The World-Herald Tuesday. "There's a big gap."

Experts have advised Public Works officials that the city should be spending about $75 million a year on street pavement, Stothert said. This year it budgeted $41 million, a figure that has increased under Stothert.

The city has been reviewing several options on the revenue side, she said, from more bonds for roads to considering a dedicated sales tax increase, which would require a change in state law.

Whatever the city chooses, Stothert said she wants the funding for any plan that emerges from these meetings to go before a vote of the people. She called public buy-in imperative.

The mayor's mention of funding options shows she understands that more money will be needed than the city can access today, said Paul Landow, a political science professor at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

Decades of "minor neglect" of road maintenance and street resurfacing has added up to "a major problem" now, Landow said. City officials appear to recognize that they have to act before the problem gets worse, he said.

"I think recognizing there's a problem that can no longer be put aside is a good first step," Landow said. "Now you have to figure out what to do, when to do it and how to pay for it."

Council member Brinker Harding, who represents west Omaha, said a plan for street improvement and maintenance should help the city with budgeting and give the public more confidence about what's getting done and why.

City Council President Chris Jerram, who represents south-central Omaha, said the city can't correct 50 years of backlogged work overnight. Projects this expensive often take a decade or more to complete, he said.

The result of the mayor's public meetings could be a 10-year plan or longer, costing into the tens of millions and possibly more, Jerram said.

Lincoln voters, for example, passed a quarter-cent sales tax increase in April for street repair and construction. Lincoln officials expect the tax hike to generate about $13 million a year.

Studies show that Omaha would need nearly $1 billion to rebuild all of the city's streets to current standards and catch up with resurfacing.

Recent city budgets have increased annual spending on street resurfacing from $2.8 million in 2010 to $12.2 million in 2019. The mayor says her 2020 budget proposal, which is expected later this month, will include another increase in the resurfacing budget.

The city also plans to spend $66 million on bond-funded roads projects in 2019, based on its Capital Improvement Plan, the mayor said. The city plans to spend $320 million in bond funds on roads from 2019 through 2024.

Public Works has spent much of the spring and summer patching asphalt and repairing concrete damage from thousands of potholes that cracked open after one of Omaha's snowiest winters on record. It's still catching up.

This winter into spring, Omaha spent too much patching potholes, about $13 million, Stothert said. It's time to find a way out of triage — patch, pave and repeat, she said. That's where the public comes in.

The mayor has scheduled road repair planning meetings in west Omaha, north Omaha, South Omaha and central Omaha from July 16 through July 22.

Here are the specifics:

July 16, 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m., Saddlebrook Community Center, 14850 Laurel Ave.

July 18, 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., The Venue at Highlander 75 North, 2112 N. 30th St.

July 19, 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., Salvation Army Kroc Center, 2825 Y St.

July 22, 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m., University of Nebraska at Omaha Community Education Center, 6400 University Drive.

aaron.sanderford@owh.com, 402-444-1135 twitter.com/asanderford