CORVALLIS, Ore. - The man who pleaded guilty to killing college student Brooke Wilberger kidnapped her at knifepoint, raped her and then bludgeoned her to death, according to the Benton County district attorney Monday.
District Attorney John Haroldson released the chilling and horrific details of Wilberger’s abduction and death Monday at a news conference after Wilberger's body was discovered over the weekend.
According to Haroldson, before Joel Courtney abducted 19-year-old Brooke Wilberger five years ago in the parking lot of the Oak Park Apartments, he reportedly tried to abduct two other women, one from Oregon State University, in areas Courtney deemed as too visible to the public.
Courtney made note of Wilberger’s presence in the apartment's parking lot as he drove past and doubled back after attempting to abduct a second woman, Haroldson said. Courtney circled his van in the apartment's parking lot in a such a way to block the public’s view. Courtney then approached Wilberger with a FedEx package.
“In Brooke Wilberger’s abduction, she was trapped, at the end of a parking lot with no way out and no one to see,” said Haroldson.
Courtney then forced her at knifepoint into his van, drove a short distance, and bound her with duct tape.
Courtney kept her in the woods for 24 hours, except for a short time to get food.
According Haroldson, Courtney "was using drugs, and that at one point he got hungry: That he bound her and came back to town."
The next day he raped and killed her. Haroldson said that Courtney was “surprised she fought so hard,” when he raped her.
Courtney killed her by striking her in the head.
Haroldson said that Courtney told investigators, in detail, the location of Wilberger’s body but did not accompany investigators to the site.
Cammy Wilberger, Brooke’s mother, was at the news conference as well as other family members, and she spoke of her gratefulness to law enforcement and the Benton County district attorney’s office for their efforts to resolve this case.
“We’re grateful to all of the law enforcement – people who have searched diligently for so long and who never gave up hope,” she said.
She said she was grateful to finally have her daughter’s remains discovered and returned to her family.
She also said she was thankful that justice was served and she had a surprising thank you for Courtney.
“It might be hard for you to understand,” she said. “But at this time we just really feel gratitude even to Mr. Courtney that he could see fit to tell us where he left Brooke,” she said.
Courtney pleaded guilty Monday to killing Brooke Wilberger, who vanished in May 2004 while she was working for her sister outside an apartment complex near Oregon State University in Corvallis.
Prosecutors charged 42-year-old Joel Patrick Courtney with aggravated murder, even though Wilberger's body had not been found.
On Monday, the Benton County District Attorney's Office said Courtney agreed to plead guilty and was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole in exchange for providing information about where Wilberger's body was located.
Haroldson said that her body was found in the coast range of Benton County, but he would provide no more details on the exact location.
Court documents released last year revealed details showing that Courtney was in Corvallis when Wilberger disappeared and that the green van he was driving was spotted by several people, including an OSU employee who identified him from a photo lineup. Officials said that Wilberger's DNA was found inside the van.
There were also blond hairs in a hair tie inside a personal duffel bag that Courtney carried. Courtney was extradited from New Mexico to Oregon in April 2008 following his conviction in 2007 in New Mexico for the unrelated sexual assault and kidnapping of a foreign exchange student at the University of New Mexico.
He was sentenced to 18 years for that crime, which was remarkably similar to the Wilberger disappearance - a young blonde woman with blue eyes abducted near a college campus.
Courtney is once again headed back to New Mexico where he will serve out his sentence.
Courtney was staying with his wife's parents in Portland when Wilberger vanished. They told detectives that he left their home early the morning of her disappearance and did not return until late the following night.
Brooke's mother grateful to those who never gave up
Video coverage of Monday's events:
- Entire Press Conference
- Margy Lynch looks at the history of this story
- Courtney pleads guilty, court documents examined
- DA describes Courtney as a predator
- McMinnville Police Chief reflects on Wilberger case
KOMO Staff & News Services contributed to this report.