Aubrey Trail Trial, 6.18 (copy)

Aubrey Trail is shown in court Tuesday. Trail was ill Wednesday and didn't come to court but returned Thursday.

WILBER, Neb. — The persistence of Sydney Loofe’s family and some sleuthing by friends helped to locate the two people accused in her slaying.

Loofe’s mother, Susan, reported her as a missing person, and insisted that it was suspicious, less than 24 hours after Loofe last communicated with friends.

Soon after, a friend of Loofe’s created a fake account on the dating app Tinder, and she persuaded a woman who called herself “Audrey” to share her phone number.

Lincoln police and Saline County deputies eventually tracked that phone number to Bailey Boswell and Aubrey Trail, the pair accused of luring Loofe to her death.

Thursday marked the first day of testimony in the trial of Trail, who could face the death penalty if convicted in Loofe’s November 2017 death and dismemberment. Much of Thursday afternoon’s testimony centered on the effort to identify the woman named Audrey, who agreed to a Tinder date with Loofe.

A good friend of Loofe’s, Brooklyn McCrystal of Lincoln, testified that she set up a fake Tinder account in the hopes of communicating with Audrey.

“I was trying to find Sydney,” McCrystal said, by reaching out to her date.

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Tinder provides only the age and a vague location of those seeking dates, so Audrey was listed as Audrey, 25, 32 miles away. The app also provided a handful of photos of the woman.

McCrystal eventually was able to match with Audrey and convinced her to give McCrystal her phone number. By Nov. 17, only two days after Loofe disappeared, McCrystal was messaging with Audrey.

It took a Saline County deputy, Dillon Semrad, to use the number provided by Audrey to discover her true identity.

The number provided was a “Pinger” phone number — a second phone number added to a smartphone to keep a personal number private — which many people using such dating apps use to mask their true identity. But, Semrad explained, such numbers are linked to real phone numbers, and he was able to link the phone calls with Bailey Boswell using phone tracking technologies.

Earlier Thursday, Susie Loofe, Sydney’s mother, testified that she sensed that her daughter was in trouble when she saw Sydney’s cat.

The prized pet had no water or food when Susie Loofe and her husband arrived at their daughter’s duplex apartment in the Havelock area of Lincoln on Nov. 17, 2017, to investigate. That was less than two days after the last time anyone had heard from Sydney Loofe and the morning after she had been reported missing.

“That’s why we knew something was wrong,” said Sydney’s mother, a Neligh, Nebraska, schoolteacher. “Sydney loved her cat.”

Susie Loofe and a Menard’s supervisor both testified about the struggles Sydney Loofe had with depression.

She had been on medication since graduating from high school in Neligh in 2011 and had told her supervisor two days before she disappeared that she was going to check into a hospital for treatment.

But the supervisor, Leah Shaw, said Loofe was smiling on the afternoon before she went missing and had told her “it was the first day she woke up without crying” in a long time.

Loofe’s mother said Sydney had been very depressed the weekend before, so she and her husband had accompanied their daughter back from Neligh and arranged a doctor’s visit to obtain new medication. The new meds appeared to be working, Susie Loofe said, according to text messages she exchanged with her daughter.

Text messages shown in court Thursday also revealed that the mother was concerned about Sydney’s spending on marijuana. But in a response to a question from Trail’s attorney, Joe Murray, Loofe’s mother said she was unaware of any “sexual practices” of her daughter, and unaware that she had arranged a date with Boswell.

Boswell, now 25, faces trial in October.

Testimony in Trail’s trial was supposed to begin on Wednesday but was postponed, without explanation. Thursday morning Saline County District Judge Vicky Johnson revealed that the reason was that Trail — who has had two heart attacks and a stroke in recent months behind bars — had been ill.

On Thursday, Trail, 52, was pushed into the courtroom in a wheelchair, and sat quietly, listening to the testimony.

He is also charged with conspiracy to commit murder in Sydney Loofe’s death. He and Boswell lured Loofe to her death using Tinder, according to prosecutors. Trail’s attorneys, as well as Trail himself, dispute that the slaying was premeditated. They say that Loofe was a willing participant in the filming of a sexual fantasy with Trail and two other women and that she was accidentally choked to death.

Loofe’s remains were found on Dec. 4, 2017 — about three weeks after she disappeared — in farm fields and ditches in Clay County, which is about an hour’s drive west of Wilber, where Trail and Boswell had rented an apartment.

Reporter - Regional/state issues

Paul covers state government and affiliated issues. He specializes in tax and transportation issues, following the governor and the state prison system. Follow him on Twitter @PaulHammelOWH. Phone: 402-473-9584.

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