PAYETTE, ID — On November 8, 2012, life in the sleepy small town of Payette, Idaho, changed forever when the dead body of 45-year-old preschool teacher Elizabeth “Libbi” Baune (above) was found in her home.
The popular Head Start teacher had been brutally stabbed almost 30 times. Investigators found blood on the walls, a broken curtain rod on the floor — and a bedroom that had been transformed into a violent and blood-soaked crime scene.
The gruesome murder and the shock waves the crime sent through the close-knit community are documented in “The Kind Sister” episode of Investigation Discovery’s “Murder In The Heartland.“
Sheriff Chad Huff of the Payette County Sheriff’s Office remembered his shock when he realized that the victim was Baune — someone he had known his entire life and been friends with through elementary, middle, and high school. “That was probably one of the most difficult death identifications I ever made,” he said.
Detectives immediately began the process of cataloging physical evidence from the crime scene and attempting to identify suspects. Detective Sergeant Brandon Stromberg believed that the violent overkill at the murder scene suggested a crime of a very personal nature.
Buxton described his shock at getting the late night call from from police, who told him that Baune was dead. “I talked to her at noon. I was in California. Then I tried called her a little after seven, as I was coming into Nevada. Didn’t get an answer,” he said.
“It was just unbelievable,” Buxton said. The couple had been due to marry the Saturday after she was murdered.
After Buxton was ruled out as a suspect, residents of the town were terrified, and began to wonder if the attack had been a random burglar — or if, unbelievably, the killer could be living among them. Residents of the town were baffled by the shocking crime.
Coworkers, friends, and family described Baune as a big-hearted and caring person who would pack lunches for children who did not have them and always tried to give whatever she could to those in need.
“My family jokes a lot that my older sister is the pretty sister; they would tell me I am the smart sister; and we would always say that Libby was the kind sister,” Baune’s sister Joey Peutz said.
“She was a warm and caring person whose passion for little children — their well being and education defined her. There are so many memories and in all I still see the beautiful smile she had that could light up a room,” Linda Guy, a close friend of Baune’s who worked with her for over 20 years at HeadStart, told CrimeFeed.As the community mourned the loss, police focused on the crime scene. Investigators noticed that two vehicles — a white Dodge truck and a 2002 Honda Passport — were missing from the residence.
The Honda Passport was found in an alley behind a church. Inside the car, police found blood from the crime scene along with Baune’s purse and wallet.
Detectives also found bloody shoeprints from what appeared to be two different sets of mens’ shoes left in Baune’s residence.
They also discovered evidence that the killer — or killers, as they now believed — had attempted to clean up after themselves by washing their hands.
Buxton was able to tell investigators that items were missing from Baune’s room, including rare coins, some electronics.
Buxton’s bank card was also missing, and investigators quickly determined that it had been used at an ATM across from a nearby hardware store. When they reviewed the surveillance footage, they got a shock: Instead of two male suspects, they saw a female suspect using the ATM.
The confusion was cleared up once detectives discovered that the bank had given them footage from the wrong time frame. When they looked again at the correct time, they saw two men appear on camera. They were later identified as Jonathan Hernandez and Baune’s second cousin, Michael Culley.Buxton described Culley as “basically my adopted nephew,” and said that his fiancée had supported him when he was going through a hard time.
Culley had been on drugs and, according to Baune’s family, had stolen her laptop from her previously. But, despite her family’s reservations, Baune’s caring nature took over, and she allowed Culley to stay in her home.
“I knew he had a drug problem, and Liz and I had discussed his issues that we felt were mental-health related, just that same day,” Guy said of Culley. “We are too often blind to the monsters drugs can create, and I never really thought anyone, let alone Michael, would do this to her.”
After detectives found bloody clothes from the crime scene in a nearby dumpster, they began closing in on Culley. But one of Baune’s sons found him first — and in a bizarre twist, it was Culley who called police, because he was afraid of being attacked.
Culley and Hernandez were arrested, and confessed to police that the killing had been a burglary gone wrong.
Buxton also wanted answers and confronted Culley. “When he was caught I wanted to kill him, but I also wanted to talk to him and ask why,” Buxton said. Culley told Buxton that he and Hernandez wanted to steal the couple’s valuables to get drugs.
Baune had been in the residence asleep — and when she woke up, according to Buxton, Culley told him that “things went wrong.” That’s when they hit her with a hammer and curtain rod, and viciously attacked her.
Each man blamed the other for instigating the crime, but Culley admitted that it had been he who drove a large kitchen knife through Baune’s head — which he later claimed had been to “put her out of her misery.”
The mens’ defense attorneys attempted to explain difficult childhoods and various cultural and socioeconomic factors that led to the crimes — but the judge still sentenced them each to 45 years to life for the murder.
Guy said that she believes that her friend’s murder has resulted in “more locked doors, less trust, [and an] intense sense of loss” in their small town. “Has it changed the way I view life? Yes,” she said. “I find myself a lot angrier at all the people in positions of power to make changes about mental health and drugs and who talk the talk but do nothing.”
Buxton, who still visits Baune’s grave, says that he still struggles with the loss. “I miss her tremendously. She was the love of my life. She loved everybody,” he said.
To learn more about this case, watch “The Kind Sister” episode of Investigation Discovery’s Murder in the Heartland on ID GO now!
Recommended For You:
Main photo: Elizabeth “Libbi” Baune [Investigation Discovery]