WILBER, Neb. — Aubrey Trail told a new story Wednesday about how Lincoln store clerk Sydney Loofe was lured to her death during a Tinder date in November 2017.
In at least his fourth version of events, Trail said he murdered Loofe to protect his “good life” with girlfriend Bailey Boswell. Trail said he wanted to prevent Loofe from telling police that he was stealing money and engaging in group sex in the couple’s basement apartment in this farm town southwest of Lincoln.
It made no difference.
A three-judge panel sentenced Trail, a 54-year-old ex-con from Tennessee, to die by lethal injection for a slaying a judge said involved “cold, calculated planning.”
“Ms. Loofe was needlessly mutilated by Mr. Trail as part of the plan to satisfy his intellectual curiosity or his sexual desires,” said Saline County District Judge Vicky Johnson, the presiding judge.
Her killing demonstrated “a mind totally and senselessly bereft of any regard for human life,” the judge said, reading from the 31-page sentencing order.
The slaying was one of the most sensational, and sad, murder cases in state history, involving talk of witchcraft, killing someone to “gain powers” and the death and dismemberment of a young woman seeking a new friend over the internet.
The death sentence was announced at the Saline County Courthouse, just a few blocks from the apartment where authorities said that the 24-year-old Loofe was lured using the internet dating app Tinder on the pretense of a date with Boswell.
The question that hung in a humid air after the sentencing was whether anyone believed Trail’s latest version of events.
Initially, he denied that he or Boswell was involved in Loofe’s disappearance, and that they’d dropped off Loofe at her friend’s house in Lincoln after their date. Later, in calls to reporters, he said Loofe had died accidentally, of asphyxiation, during a consensual sexual fantasy. Later, the story evolved — things went too far during rough sex.
Only Trail’s defense attorneys seemed to buy the new story, saying it was their client’s attempt to “help” Loofe’s family.
Her family members sat in the front row of the courtroom, as Trail — dressed in an orange prison jumpsuit and sitting in a wheelchair — read his written statement.
Susie Loofe, Loofe’s mother, dabbed tears occasionally as Trail read his statement. Her husband, George, who wore a purple T-shirt that pictured his slain daughter on the back, glared at Trail from time to time.
Loofe’s parents left the courthouse holding hands without commenting on the sentence. They have indicated that they are withholding comment until after Boswell, Trail’s 27-year-old girlfriend, is sentenced sometime later this year.
Judge Johnson, who presided over Trail’s trial 11 months ago, said that the jury rejected his past version of events, and that he admits to being “a thief and a con man.”
The Nebraska Attorney General’s Office, which prosecuted the murder, issued a statement saying the judges “provided a well-reasoned order.”
Trail’s court-ordered defense attorneys, Joe and Ben Murray, said they were not surprised by the sentence. They are pursuing a motion for a new trial, arguing that when Trail attempted suicide during his trial, by slashing himself with a smuggled razor blade, it prejudiced jurors and he wasn’t able to get a fair trial.
All death sentences in Nebraska require an automatic appeal, which could take months. Typically, it takes years to carry out an execution because of the multiple appeals afforded in state and federal courts, though Trail, in phone calls to reporters, has said he deserves to die for the crime.
He joins 11 other men on Nebraska’s death row, which is located at the state prison in Tecumseh.
In his statement, Trail said that he had used his girlfriend to lure several other young women to the Wilber apartment for sex and criminal enterprises. At his trial, three women testified about how Trail flashed wads of cash and promised to take care of them financially, if they joined their group, engaged in group sex and helped to defraud antique dealers and buyers.
Trail said that he “seriously misjudged” Loofe, and that when he explained the ground rules of their lifestyle she “somewhat freaked out.”
Trail said he tried for 30 minutes to calm her down, without success, then bound Loofe’s hands and led her into a bedroom, telling Boswell that they were going to talk.
“I had no doubt that she would tell people if I let her go,” Trail said. “At the time, (Boswell and I) had multiple arrest warrants and were living the good life through our criminal activities. I was willing to do things to protect that.”
He said he choked Loofe to death with an electrical cord and decided to dismember the body — into 14 segments — so he could remove it from the apartment.
A dramatic video shown during his trial, taken from surveillance cameras at a Lincoln Home Depot, showed Trail and Boswell purchasing hacksaw blades, tinsnips and a utility knife just hours before Loofe’s last, fateful date with Boswell. A strong smell of bleach — another item the pair purchased that day — was reported by the upstairs residents on Nov. 16, 2017.
“I can’t say I’m sorry because that would be an insult for what I’ve put you through,” Trail said. “I’ve done some terrible things in my life, but this is the only thing I feel regret about.”
He insisted he was telling the truth, adding, “With no disrespect to the court, I could care less what you do to me today.”
Trail showed no emotion as the sentence was read. He had a smile on his face as he was wheeled out of the courtroom in a wheelchair, an apparent concession to a heart attack and other health issues he’s had since his arrest in 2017.
The disappearance of Loofe, who worked at a Menard’s store in Lincoln, touched off weeks of searches. Loofe arranged an initial date with a woman who said her name was “Audrey,” later identified as Boswell, in Lincoln on Nov. 14, 2017, then agreed to a second date a day later.
Loofe had told friends she worried that Audrey had a boyfriend. It turned out she did — Trail, who has a criminal history in multiple states for crimes involving writing bad checks to antique stores, armed robbery and escape.
Loofe’s remains were found on Dec. 4, 2017, wrapped up in a dozen trash bags and dumped along a lonely gravel road in Clay County, about an hour’s drive from the Wilber apartment shared by Trail and Boswell.
Sex toys, a dog leash and a plastic sauna suit were among the items found amid the remains, which were located by a sleuthing Lincoln police officer using data from Boswell’s cellphones.
Trail and Boswell were ultimately tracked down and arrested in Branson, Missouri, where they were found with newly purchased camping gear and a map of the U.S.-Mexico border area.
Trail was found guilty of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder after a trial in which the jury deliberated for less than three hours, barely enough time to pick a foreperson and review the evidence. Prior to the trial, he pleaded guilty to improper disposal of human remains.
On Wednesday, he was sentenced to serve 50 years in prison on the conspiracy charge, and two more years for improper disposal of human remains — terms that would be meaningless if his death sentence is upheld on appeal.
In court Wednesday, it took more than 90 minutes for Judge Johnson to read the sentencing order reached by her and fellow judges, Susan Strong of Lincoln and Michael Smith of Plattsmouth.
The judges ruled that Trail deserved to die by lethal injection rather than the alternative sentence for first-degree murder, life in prison without parole. They said the crime was comparable to others that resulted in a death sentence.
Johnson said Loofe’s murder showed exceptional depravity because Trail selected his victims based on certain characteristics: young, attractive women who were attracted to Boswell. Exceptional depravity is one of the aggravating circumstances required to impose a death sentence.
Johnson also said that the depravity of the crime outweighed the only mitigating factor found — that Trail grew up disadvantaged and poor, in and out of foster homes and juvenile facilities, and was first sent to prison, for armed robbery, at age 17.
The judge said that Trail talked often with Boswell and others about murder and abduction, that he was aroused sexually by torture, and, in the end, relished the murder, a senseless act involving a helpless victim.
Boswell awaits a sentencing trial that begins June 30 to determine if she would qualify for a death sentence. If sentenced to death, she would be the first woman sent to death row in Nebraska.