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Woonsocket death believed to be the first homicide in Sanborn Co. since 1972

WOONSOCKET -- The Sanborn County Sheriff believes last week's alleged murder in Woonsocket is the county's first since 1972. According to Sanborn County Sheriff Tom Fridley, who took office in 1991, the alleged killing of 25-year-old Jennifer Gib...

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Authorities arrested Matthew Novak, right, on one count of second-degree murder in Woonsocket on Wednesday. Jennifer Ann Gibson, left, was identified as the victim. (Photo courtesy Sanborn Weekly Journal)

WOONSOCKET - The Sanborn County Sheriff believes last week's alleged murder in Woonsocket is the county's first since 1972.

According to Sanborn County Sheriff Tom Fridley, who took office in 1991, the alleged killing of 25-year-old Jennifer Gibson by Matthew Novak is the first suspected homicide in the county since the shooting deaths of Volney T. Warner and Pearl Warner 44 years ago.

Novak was arrested on Aug. 31 on one count of second-degree murder for allegedly killing Gibson, although details about the incident have not been released. If convicted of the charge, Novak would receive a mandatory life sentence.

The last convicted murderer in Sanborn County, according to Fridley, is Larry Gene Faller.

Faller remains in prison for shooting the Warners through the window of their Woonsocket home. Faller was 19 at the time of the shootings, and was sentenced to life in prison in 1973.

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Fridley was not serving as county sheriff at the time of Faller's conviction, but he was sheriff when Faller asked for a reduced sentence for the crime he committed decades before. With more than 40 years between the shooting of the Warners and Gibson's death, Fridley said homicides in his small county are rare.

"We're just a nice, peaceful, relaxed county like most of the rural ones," Fridley said. "Stuff happens once in awhile that you don't expect or want in your communities."

Fridley said the death has also had an impact on the residents of Woonsocket.

"It's like any (town), they don't like being in the news, not this way," Fridley said.

Novak, 33, now sits in custody awaiting a hearing in Sanborn County Court on Sept. 13, and bond has been set at $350,000. Fridley said he has an understanding of what happened in Woonsocket last week, but no official autopsy reports have been filed.

Fridley was not certain when affidavits and autopsy reports would be made public in the case, which is being managed by the South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation, but Novak has been charged with second-degree murder. Unlike first-degree murder, murder in the second degree occurs without a premeditated design.

Although Gibson's death is believed to be the first homicide in 44 years, a Woonsocket man was charged with second-degree murder in 2004.

Tully Knigge was accused of giving Shane Feistner morphine that led to Feistner's death from an overdose in 2004. Knigge was ultimately charged with the manufacture, distribution or possession of drugs, but the second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter charges were dismissed.

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Woonsocket was also the home of Rachel Cyriacks, who went missing in 2013. With Cyriacks still missing, no charges have been filed.

While the Sanborn County Sheriff's Office is trained to handle a homicide, and has responded to a potential homicide as recently as 2004, Fridley said it remains difficult to mentally prepare for the rare homicide in his county.

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Investigators with the Division of Criminal Investigation search the home of Jennifer Ann Gibson, 25, who was murdered in her home on Wednesday in Woonsocket. Matthew Novak, 33, was arrested after local law enforcement responded to an incident at 9 a.m. at 206 S. Third Ave. in Woonsocket, according to the South Dakota Attorney General’s Office. (Matt Gade/Republic)

Related Topics: WOONSOCKETCRIME
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