Pfc Amanda Gonzales was strangled in her barracks on an Army base in Germany in 2001. Her killer was just convicted. U.S. Army photos.

The cold case of a 19-year-old pregnant soldier who was murdered at an Army base in Germany over 20 years ago was finally put to rest. 

Pfc. Amanda Gonzales was found strangled and battered in her barracks room at Fliegerhorst Kaserne, a former U.S. Army base in Hanau, Germany Nov. 3, 2001. The Army conducted hundreds of interviews and eventually offered over $100,000 in reward money to find her killer, but the case remained cold for two decades.

Monday, a jury found that Shannon L. Wilkerson, now 43 and a fellow soldier with Gonzales in Germany, “violently beat and murdered” the Army private, the Department of Justice said in a release. Gonzales was four months pregnant when she was murdered by asphyxiation and blunt force injuries, according to court documents.

Wilkerson, prosecutors said at trial, was married to another woman but believed he was the father of Gonzales child, and almost immediately after the murder dropped hard-partying habits for a quieter church-going lifestyle.

Gonzales’ “dead, bruised, mostly naked body” was found Nov. 5, 2001 in her third-floor barracks room after she did not report for work. Gonzales was a cook on her first Army assignment at Headquarters Supply Company of the 127th Aviation Support Battalion at the time of her death. She had been in Germany only eight months, according to CID.

The investigation into Gonzales’ death spanned more than 20 years with Army and civilian law enforcement investigators. After two years filled with hundreds of interviews and pieces of evidence, the Army Criminal Investigation Division offered $20,000 in reward money for information on Gonzales’ death. By 2011 the reward increased to $125,000.

But discovery of DNA on an old sweatshirt was the breakthrough investigators needed.

“The alleged discovery of DNA on the grey sweatshirt is what caused the government to charge Mr. Wilkerson after decades had passed in the investigation into the murder of Ms. Gonzales,” according to court documents.

An ‘anniversary gift’

Task & Purpose was unable to reach Gonzales’ family after the verdict, but her mother and stepfather, Gloria and Mike Bates, were interviewed by the Catch My Killer Podcast interview in September 2020.

In that interview, Gloria Bates recalled the phone call where Gonzales told her, “Mom, I already have your anniversary gift,” when she told her mother she was pregnant. “The baby was to be due on the day which was our anniversary,” she said. Gloria also told the interviewer that Gonzales’ friends told her that her daughter was assaulted multiple times but didn’t report it.

“Amanda was the type that – she really didn’t tell anybody anything. She kept to herself. We didn’t even know she was an honor student until after she passed the course,” Gloria said.

Gonzales had several relatives, including her biological father, who also served in the military. For Gonzales, however, she looked to the Army as a means to pay for college to become a physical therapist. Gonzales completed the Army’s delayed entry program only months after graduating high school, her parents said. 

Gonzales would call her parents almost every week but on the weekend she was killed, they didn’t hear from her, Mike said. He also said the barracks didn’t have video surveillance so people “could come and go” as they pleased.

In 2020, the parents said that they were kept in the dark during the investigation and that the case was passed between at least 10 different investigators. The only reason that investigators called the family once a month was because former Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison got involved, Gloria said.

Her parents told the podcast reporter that Vanessa Guillen’s 2020 murder brought renewed attention to Amanda’s cold case with the “eerily” similar facts between the two women. Both were young, hispanic and murdered on a military base. Gloria particularly related to the public role that Gloria Guillen, Vanessa’s mother, took in advocating for her daughter.

“Everything that [Guillen’s] mother was going through, I went through it and if I would’ve known about this that this wasn’t just me going through this – I would’ve been telling everybody ‘don’t let your child join the service’ because this is going on,” Gloria said.

Cold case verdict

A federal jury in Pensacola, Florida, convicted Wilkerson of second-degree murder in May. Wilkerson’s sentencing is set for Aug 8 where he faces a maximum penalty of life in prison. 

Wilkerson was a Light Wheel Vehicle Mechanic on active duty from July 1999 to July 2004. He deployed to Iraq from April 2003 to October 2003. Wilkerson’s last rank was sergeant, according to the Army, until he was discharged from active duty in July 2004 and from the Army Reserve in June 2007, according to a federal indictment.

The defense argued that the case against Wilkerson was “circumstantial.”

Beside new DNA, prosecutors presented what they said were incriminating statements Wilkerson made before and after the murder and evidence of a “substantial” change in his behavior following the murder. Gonzales’ DNA was found on a grey sweatshirt that Wilkerson borrowed the night of the murder and that he wore during the period of time the government believed the murder occurred, according to court filings. 

According to court documents, Wilkerson had a “minimal criminal record” consisting of convictions for minor alcohol-related and traffic offenses, as well as previously-dismissed domestic violence and disorderly conduct charges. 

‘Radical change in behavior’

Court documents show that Wilkerson’s behavior following the murder was a point of contention before the jury trial. The government argued that after Gonzales’ death, Wilkerson showed a “radical change of behavior,” ending his interest in partying and drinking while beginning to attend church more regularly.

“Going to night clubs, drinking excessive amounts of alcohol, getting into fights, and pursuing extramarital sexual relationships is not evidence of a prior crime or wrong,” the government argued. “Rather, the government is seeking to introduce evidence of the defendant’s sudden change of behavior.”

In response, the defense argued to limit the government’s use of Wilkerson’s actions post-incident, claiming “providing the jury with dubious evidence of partying, tussles, extramarital affairs, and religious attendance as purported consciousness of guilt,” would introduce “unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues, and [mislead] the jury.”

“This is in addition to the already highly prejudicial setting of the case, the alleged murder of a U.S. military [soldier] who was four months pregnant by a defendant who is not the father but was previously sexually active with the victim and was a married man at the time,” the defense said in a motion.

Wilkerson’s defense team introduced 45 letters in support of Wilkerson from friends and Army peers who described him as a “positive influence in his community,” mentoring and coaching young people and someone with the “willingness to help anyone in need.”

They also said he was a giving person who once anonymously donated $1,000 to help with burial costs of girl who passed away.

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