MORRISON – When Larry Van Oosten was roused from a deep sleep by a masked man dressed in black, holding a handgun and talking through a voice-altering device as he fired a stun gun at him, he thought he was confronting a terrorist.
In fact, a waking nightmare for him and for his wife, Connie, had just begun.
After 6-and-a-half-hours of testimony, arguments, and tearful, heart-wrenching statements from his victims and their children, Chad C. Schipper was sentenced Wednesday afternoon to 60 years in prison for kidnapping the couple from their Erie farmhouse and holding them hostage, shackled in a dungeon, while he tried to extort $350,000 from them.
It’s essentially a life sentence for the 42-year-old Schipper: Because he must serve at least 85 percent the term, he’ll be imprisoned until he is 93.
Schipper pleaded guilty Nov. 14 to two counts of aggravated kidnapping and home invasion. Fourteen other charges, including six other aggravated kidnapping charges, theft, two counts of armed violence, two counts of aggravated battery and two counts of aggravated unlawful restraint, were dismissed as part of his plea agreement.
Because the Van Oostens are older than 60, the crimes were eligible for a sentence enhancement, from a maximum of 30 years to a maximum of 60 years.
Judge Stanley Steines did not hesitate, levying the full sentence State’s Attorney Terry Costello sought for the man Costello called “cold, calculating and dangerous.”
“There are few crimes that are more heinous, few crimes that are more sinister, than someone breaking into our home ... while we were asleep, with a mask and a firearm ... that’s something that we only see in movies, not here in Whiteside County,” Steines said.
Public defender Brian Brim had hoped for 20 years, and at one point, Schipper was offered 40.
Schipper, once the Van Oostens’ Sunday school pupil, broke into their basement around 3:30 a.m. on Feb. 7, 2017, waited until daylight to grab them, stuffed them in the trunk of his Caprice and took them to a secret room in a vacant home he owned in Geneseo. There were surveillance cameras in all four corners, a mic taped to the ceiling, an intercom system. The master monitor was in a bedroom upstairs.
He cuffed them to bars on the wall and used a stun gun and a Walther PPS handgun to keep them subdued. He duct-taped their eyes, and always wore a ski mast and used the voice-altering device, to conceal his identity.
He told them he worked for a group that went around the Midwest, kidnapping and stealing from people; that this group would kill their son, their daughter, their grandchildren if they did not comply.
On Feb. 8, he forced Connie to go to a branch of her bank in Albany to get a $350,000 cashier’s check to pay their ransom.
That was his biggest mistake.
While in the bank, trying to act normal despite the fact she still was in the pajamas she was wearing when she was abducted, and terrified for Larry’s safety, Connie went to the bathroom and wrote a note: My husband and I are being held at gunpoint. Do not react. Do not follow us.
To keep her safe, the bank gave her the cashier’s check, made out to Store Edge, a company owned by Schipper, and called the police.
A Caprice was caught on surveillance tape; one matching its description was registered to Schipper.
He was caught later that day after a high-speed chase ended in a crash when he drove to the Van Oostens’, saw officers parked in the driveway, was recognized, pulled over, and fled.
He confessed to everything.
The subsequent investigation proved he had been planning the crime for more than a year.
The subterranean room in which he kept them he had built in a home he owned in Erie in October 2015 – shortly after Larry Van Oosten chided Schipper, a financial adviser and owner of Schipper Financial Services LLC, for trying several times, unethically and unsuccessfully, to borrow money from the couple after looking at their financial statements.
Five months later, Schipper stole a random set of license plates; they were on the Caprice when it crashed. A black mask and the gun were found in the Chevy.
He also left multiple to-do lists at his home in Geneseo, and at the home in Erie: Get duct tape. Get zip ties. How to avoid detection. How to destroy evidence. Acid?
The cashier’s check also was found in his Geneseo home.
Although he had been planning the crime for a year and a half, Schipper “pulled the trigger” when he did because he was about to be discovered committing another crime, Costello said. As her financial adviser, he had taken $308,000 from his grandmother; his uncle found out and threatened to sue.
Schipper wrote him a cashier’ check to cover the theft just days before, and it was about to bounce, Costello said. “He was desperate to act to cover that check.”
To add insult to injury, after a year in the Whiteside County Jail, Schipper, pretending to be a woman who had been the victim of a similar crime, sent two letters to the Van Oosten, asking them to forgive Schipper, and help him get a lenient sentence. They took them to the sheriff.
Whiteside County Detective Sgt. Rob Luyando recognized the envelopes as being the same as those issued by the jail commissary.
Because they were monitoring his mail, investigators also recognized Schipper’s handwriting. Four counts of harassing a witness were dismissed as part of his plea deal.
A letter also was found outlining his intent to have a friend help him escape the jail.
Today’s sentence is by no means the end of Schipper’s legal troubles.
On Nov. 13, he was charged with theft in the new case, accused of obtaining “unauthorized control” over more than $100,000 but less than $500,000 in currency belonging to Barry C. Leeds, 62. He faces 4 to 15 years in prison if convicted. He has a pretrial hearing on July 9.
The Erie High School graduate also being sued by his parents, Marlyn E. and Linda Schipper, who say he stole more than $444,000 from them over 4 years in his capacity as their financial investor. The next case management conference is Sept. 27.
Nor is it the end of the Van Oostens’’ nightmare.
“The past few years have been almost as bad as those few days,” Larry told Steines. “We thought we were going to be killed. We asked ourselves if we were ready.’
Their idyllic life in the house Larry grew up in is now marred by constant anxiety and lingering fear. They’ve installed a security system.
“We just don’t want to live this way,” he said.
“The hardest thing for me to see is how it has changed Connie,” Larry said. “This has changed her in ways I can’t even explain.”
Now Connie – a gregarious woman who used to travel all over on business, by herself, without a second thought – doesn’t like leaving the house, is jumpy around sudden noises, uncomfortable in crowds, has nightmares, he said.
Schipper took them at 7 in the morning – she doesn’t like to wake up before then; that hour is a constant reminder.
In fact, whenever his mind is idle, the events of that day come flooding back, Larry said.
For Connie, too.
“I can remember every detail, because I live it every day,” she told Steines, her voice quavering.
Steines noted the trauma that still plagues the Van Oostens.
“There’s no way Mr. Schipper can compensate the victims for all the damage he has caused in their lives. It will be their own spirit, their own strength, that gets them through.”
For his part, Schipper acknowledged his “selfishness,” and the damage he’d done, “all for money.”
In a statement the Van Oostens found disingenuous, and typically manipulative, Schipper addressed the court before sentencing.
“I only thought about myself. I never thought about the ramifications to their lives. I changed their lives forever, and I’ll never be able to change that.
“I deserve everything that’s happened to me. God has disciplined me, and rightly so ... I don’t look forward to prison, but I deserve it.”