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Husband Arrested in Wife’s Death

May 28, 1999

YUTAN, Neb. (AP) _ The body of Sandy Schnabel was found under her burned and smashed minivan in what appeared to be a fiery auto wreck.

But prosecutors now believe her husband either planned his wife’s death or beat her in a fit of passion and then placed her under the torched minivan to cover up the crime.

Mark Schnabel, 43, was arrested Wednesday _ at his wife’s funeral service _ and booked on suspicion of criminal homicide.

Prosecutor Tom Jaudzemis said Thursday that the couple had been having marital and financial difficulties and that Schnabel had taken a $200,000 life insurance policy out on his wife about a year ago.

``She may have been alive when placed under that van and died of burns,″ Jaudzemis said.

Mrs. Schnabel, 40, taught business and computer courses for 12 years at Yutan High School. She also coached varsity volleyball. Her teams won a state championship in 1992 and competed in the tournament seven times.

``She was a great lady,″ said Deb Wagner, computer coordinator at the school. ``She never had anything bad to say about anybody.″

Mrs. Schnabel’s students and the couple’s three children were among the roughly 1,000 people who attended the funeral. It was after the burial service that Schnabel was led away in handcuffs.

Authorities initially attributed Mrs. Schnabel’s death to a traffic accident, but within hours began suspecting foul play.

Many in this farm community of 1,400 were surprised by the arrest.

``Up until this morning, I thought Mark was innocent, and I still don’t know,″ said Yutan High School Superintendent Kevin Johnson.

Two passersby said they spotted the fire on the couple’s farm, just yards away from their home, at about 1 a.m. Saturday. They said they awakened Schnabel, who called authorities.

Schnabel’s attorney, Chuck Forrest, said his client is innocent and was in bed after last seeing his wife at 10 p.m. Friday.

But Jaudzemis said it is unlikely Schnabel could have slept through the crash and the fire.

Mrs. Schnabel’s skull had been fractured and she had broken ribs. During a search Wednesday of the couple’s farm, blood was found spattered on the walls and ceiling, and a vehicle owned by Schnabel had blood in it.

The Schnabels’ three children, ages 4, 6 and 9, are staying with their grandparents. The couple had been married since 1986.

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