Russell Bertram, a former police chief from South Dakota who was charged with killing his 26-year-old fiancee, Leonila Stickney, in 2009, took out hundreds of thousands in multiple life insurance policies before she died. He also ended up marrying his fiancee’s sister.


This past September, Bertram was indicted for intentionally shooting his fiancee during a hunting trip in October 2009. Bertram’s trial is scheduled to begin in February, reports AP. Prosecutors plan to present evidence that Bertram filed for bankruptcy in 2008 and took out a $750,000 life insurance policy for his fiancee in January 2009, and another in February with a $150,000 accidental death benefit. Bertram was listed as the beneficiary on both of the policies. An expert is also expected to testify that Stickney was pregnant during the time of her death.

Initially, Stickney’s death was believed to be an accident. Bertram, who served as police chief in Harrisburg from 1996 to 2004, told authorities that he was putting his gun into a vehicle when it accidentally went off and hit Stickney. Charlie Wolf, the police sheriff at the time, told AP that Bertram’s questionable behavior following the death and inconsistencies in his story “sparked a little more interest.”


In 2010, state authorities took over the inquiry as a cold case. Additional evidence eventually led to Bertram’s arrest in September of this year. He has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder. If convicted, Bertram faces the death penalty or a mandatory life sentence.

Contact the author at

Image via Shutterstock.