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Brutal campsite murder outlined

Before James Vannberg was beaten and left for dead in the South Yuba Campground area, one man charged in his murder gave him false assurances, according to a search warrant document filed in Nevada County Superior Court.

“Hang in there, James. We’re heading to the hospital,” David A. Burke II told a moaning Vannberg on the night of July 9, a search warrant affidavit says.

Vannberg never reached a hospital.



Instead, he allegedly was driven in his own Jeep from Campsite No. 14 at the federal Bureau of Land Management campground to an area five minutes away.

“Upon arrival and unloading the victim from the vehicle, the victim continued to moan, whereupon Burke struck the victim several more times in the head with a crowbar,” the affidavit says.




That account was given by one of Burke’s co-defendants, David C. Leffingwell, who went to authorities four days after the killing with Heather Gereau-Baer, who’s charged with accessory to murder in the case.

Statements by Burke’s accusers are in a search warrant affidavit that investigators filed before searching the campsite shared by Burke and Leffingwell. The document also outlines Gereau-Baer’s alleged role.

Leffingwell, according to the affidavit, said Burke forced him to participate in the killing of Vannberg but at first believed Burke was going to “beat up” Vannberg to shoo him from the campground.

The Sheriff’s Office has said Burke was upset over Vannberg’s alleged theft of food stamps from another camper.

“Burke instructed Leffingwell to wake up Vannberg, who was sleeping in his red Jeep Cherokee, and get him out of the Jeep so Burke could assault him,” the affidavit says.

Burke struck the awakened Vannberg in the head from behind with a crowbar provided by Leffingwell, and several blows followed after Vannberg fell to the ground, according to the document.

Next, Burke drove the Jeep to Vannberg, “purposely ran over the victim,” and told Leffingwell to help him load Vannberg into the vehicle, the document says.

After Vannberg was dumped and beaten again, Burke and Leffingwell allegedly returned to the campsite, where Leffingwell got into his own truck before following Burke toward Nevada City along North Bloomfield Road, according to the affidavit.

They saw Gereau-Baer, 21, walking in the same direction, and she joined Leffingwell, 23, in a trip to Greenhorn Creek, where Vannberg’s vehicle was set on fire, the affidavit says.

Gereau-Baer told investigators “that she gave Burke the Bic lighter used to set fire to the victim’s vehicle. (She) stated that Burke had commented on wanting to destroy fingerprints and other evidence in the victim’s vehicle.”

A map to Vannberg’s body was among dozens of items listed in a search warrant inventory. It also indicates blood was found on a concrete slab and a post at the campsite, and samples were sent to the state Department of Justice. Also itemized are audio and videotape interviews with the three defendants, and interviews with other witnesses.

Burke, 24, gave detectives two interviews, records indicate.

In a later interview with The Union, he said Vannberg, 26, was beaten at a neighboring campsite where Leffingwell was visiting, and that campers from Texas might be involved.

In the search warrant inventory is a BLM permit envelope for campsite No. 9 that lists a Texas license plate number.

Meanwhile, the three defendants are back in court Thursday.


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