WAVERLY — The wife of a rural Fairbank man accused of murdering his son said her husband was acting strange, didn’t know where he had driven himself and didn’t recognize the people around him in the hours before she found his son dead in their home.
Annie Niebuhr took the stand Wednesday in the first-degree murder trial of her husband, Daniel Gail Niebuhr, 59, who is accused in the March 22, 2019, shooting death of his son, Brock Niebuhr, 36.
Annie Niebuhr — who has been married to Dan Niebuhr for 13 years — testified that on the morning of the slaying as she got ready for work, her husband said he wanted to deliver furniture to Brock and Brock’s wife, Lauren.
She helped Dan load the furniture. Dan then told her he planned to go to Peppers Grill in Cedar Falls to meet friends and watch the March Madness basketball tournament. But Dan called her at work a couple of hours later.
“He sounded really stressed,” she said. “He said, ‘Annie, I’m in Fairbank,’ and then he hung up.”
Concerned for his mental health, Annie called a friend, Susan Kneppe, and then called another friend to locate Dan’s truck, which was found at a church.
She and Kneppe drove to the church and found Dan outside talking to a pastor, she said.
“He was real distant. He just acted really paranoid and afraid, even of me,” Annie said. “He didn’t seem to know me or something. It was odd.”
Annie said Dan wanted her to go with him in his truck to “make amends” with his brother, Kevin, as well as his former wife. Annie said she didn’t want to go, and Dan hopped in his truck and took off, she said.
Annie then called Brock, who met her and Kneppe at the church before driving back to Dan and Annie’s Vine Street home near Fairbank to wait for Dan.
They spotted Dan’s truck coming home, but Dan saw them too and turned around. That prompted Brock to jump in his truck and follow his father, eventually convincing him to return to the house, Annie said.
Kneppe left to grab food and give the family privacy, Annie said, and Brock gave his father a heart-to-heart.
“I remember Brock telling Dan, ‘You’ve gotta stop doing this. Look what you’re doing to Annie. Look what you’re doing to everybody,’” Annie Niebuhr said. “‘You’ve gotta get back on your medications, get some help.’”
Dan “was kind of in a daze, and wasn’t responding that well,” Annie testified, but the father and son smoked cigars together in the driveway, giving each other a hug.
“They kind of looked like they thought everything was gonna be all right,” Annie said.
Kneppe returned with food and the family ate together. Brock asked Dan if he wanted to visit Brock’s home to see Brock’s wife, Lauren, and their young daughter.
“Dan said he didn’t think that was a good idea,” Annie said, and Brock decided to stay the night instead.
Dan agreed to begin taking his medication, but said he had thrown it all out. So Annie and Kneppe drove to a Waterloo pharmacy to pick up more, and drove to Brock’s Dike home to pick up a change of clothes for Brock.
When they returned a short time later, Annie said she saw Dan outside, “slumped down” behind a vehicle.
“I flew out of the car and I ran up to him and he was just moaning, wasn’t talking,” Annie said.
She ran inside, spotting Brock, who “looked like he was watching TV,” and yelled for help with Dan. But when Brock didn’t respond, Annie went around to see why. She touched Brock’s face, which she said was cold, and spotted “a little blood,” she said.
“I ran outside and I was screaming at Dan, ‘What did you do?’” Annie said. “And then I yelled at Susan to get in the house and call 911.”
The women went inside, noticing a line of rifles lined up on the porch as they went in. They locked themselves inside and called police.
“He was just kind of wandering around,” Annie said. “We were just waiting for the police to come. We didn’t know what was going on with all the weapons.”
On cross examination, Annie said she wasn’t sure if Dan was suicidal, but that he had a history of mental illness and mixed feelings about the medication used to treat it.
“He rarely took anything,” she said. “He had told me that he believed his mother had died because they put her on medication which caused her to kill herself.”
Forensic experts and a medical examiner Wednesday testified Brock Niebuhr was killed by one jacketed hollow point bullet fired at the base of his skull and through his neck from a .9 mm luger Sig Sauer pistol.
A Bremer County sheriff’s deputy testified when he arrived on scene and asked Dan Niebuhr what had happened, Niebuhr replied, “Insanity.”
Niebuhr waived his right to a jury trial, opting to have a judge consider the evidence. Testimony began Tuesday in Bremer County District Court in Waverly and continues Thursday, and is viewable virtually via Zoom.