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Dakota man arrested in murder case (10/14/2012)
By Emily Buss
The man accused of shooting and killing Paul Petras, 56, and his son, Andrew “A.J.”, 19, inside their photography store in downtown La Crosse last month is in the custody of the Winona County Sheriff’s Department.

Prosecutors have charged Jeffrey Peter Lepsch, 39, of Dakota, with two counts of first-degree intentional homicide and one count of armed robbery in connection with the double murder that occurred at May’s Photo on September 15, 2012.

The nearly four-week investigation led authorities to a residence in Dakota last Wednesday afternoon.

“Within the first week and a half of investigating the case, we had developed a pretty solid lead,” La Crosse Police Chief Ron Tischer said.

Tischer addressed members of the community and media Thursday morning, and said surveillance footage obtained from the incident was a “major piece of evidence leading up to the arrest.”

Footage captured from neighboring businesses showed a male wearing a gray hooded sweatshirt and carrying a backpack enter May’s Photo at approximately 1:52 p.m. that September afternoon and leave just after 2:30 p.m. It showed the man carrying four large duffle bags as he got into a blue Dodge minivan parked nearby.

Police were called to the shop shortly before 5:30 p.m. that same evening and found both Paul and A.J. shot to death. Tischer said Lepsch used a .22 caliber handgun during the attack.

On the afternoon of October 10, members of the La Crosse Police Department, Winona County Sheriff’s Department, and five other law enforcement agencies executed a search warrant at Lepsch’s home in Dakota. Inside the home, investigators found more than $16,000 worth of camera equipment.

“Some of the equipment recovered was identified by serial numbers as belonging to May’s Photo,” Tischer said. “Some were found in a safe and others were found throughout the home.”

Police took Lepsch into custody without incident. Tischer said Lepsch doesn’t have a violent criminal record but said he was convicted of a felony in 2003 after stealing more than $60,000 of merchandise from an Ace Hardware warehouse in La Crosse.

An hour after the press conference Thursday morning, Lepsch attended an extradition hearing, where bail was set at $10 million. 

Investigators are withholding information regarding a motive or what Lepsch’s wife has said thus far in the investigation, but Tischer said he believes she was not involved.

“The arrest is only the initial part of this investigation,” Tischer said. “We have a lot of work to do before we can bring this case in front of the courts.”

Winona County District Judge Nancy Buytendorp has appointed a public defender for Lepsch and he is to appear in court again at 9:30 a.m. on Thursday, October 18 when proceedings for extradition to La Crosse County will begin.

Six area agencies worked with the La Crosse Police Department on the case. This is the fourth homicide in La Crosse this year.

Keep reading the Winona Post for more details as this case continues to develop. 


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