June 18, 1997 – Madison, WI
Brian Offerdahl reported that his pregnant wife tripped and fell off their pontoon boat,
at about 10 p.m. while traveling across Lake Waubesa. Her body was recovered eight days later.
Suspicions of criminal behavior, however, surfaced when search warrant document filed in
Dane County Circuit Court revealed that an obscure bone in Daniela Offerdahl's throat had
suffered damage consistent with strangulation. An X-ray of the hyoid, a three-sectioned
bone that supports the tongue, was taken on June 26, the day Daniela Offerdahl's body was
recovered from Lake Waubesa. Initially reported to detectives that the left leg of the
hyoid had been broken, which was not consistent with either a fall from the boat or a
propeller injury. But a magnetic resonance image of the hyoid, which provides more detailed
information than an X-ray, showed the bone had suffered only cartilage damage. Meanwhile,
Offerdahl's attorney, Stephen Eisenberg, wondered why the search warrant documents were
made public. In many cases, law enforcement officials ask the courts to seal these documents
to maintain the integrity of their investigation, such as protecting the identity of a
According to Offerdahl “After watching the sunset, they motored from Olbrich Park
to Babcock Park on Lake Waubesa. While moving across the water at
24 mph to 25 mph, a front gate on the pontoon boat opened. The gate was part of the
knee-high railing around the boat. Daniela jumped up and began to go toward the gate at a
half run. While going toward the gate, she tripped on a partly folded lawn chair and went
into the water 'just like a dive.' As soon as she went overboard, he heard a 'clunk' noise
near the boat, perhaps the motor lifting out of the water. He searched the water around
the boat with a flashlight for about a minute and then called 911 from his cellular phone.
He continued to search with his flashlight and jumped in the water to look for his wife
under the boat. He estimated he was in the water for about 30 seconds when rescue boats
began arriving. As the night wore on and the rescue operation turned up nothing, more
sheriff's deputies began to question Offerdahl. But after giving statements to two sets of
investigators, he stopped talking and refused to consent to a search of his pontoon boat.
He also brought Eisenberg, a noted Madison criminal defense attorney, onboard. 'If you had
20 cops coming down on you doing their Mutt-and-Jeff routine, you'd exercise your
constitutional right and get a lawyer, too,' Eisenberg explained.
After Daniela Offerdahl's death, Brian attempted to collect on two life insurance policies
-- one taken out in 1991 and the other in 1995 -- but American Family Insurance Co. went to
court, asking a judge to decide if Brian Offerdahl should get the $150,000. Dane County
Circuit Court Judge Mark Frankel signed an order placing the money in a certificate of
deposit, in the names of Brian Offerdahl and Annette Nolley, Daniela Offerdahl's sister.
The money will remain in the CD until further court order.
As of June 2008 Brian Offerdahl has never been charged with any crime relating to his
Thursday, June 24, 1999
Brian J. Offerdahl, whose wife Daniela drowned in Lake Waubesa twoyears ago, was arrested
after a police officer caught him and a woman in a car with cocaine and marijuana. The woman,
Heather Van Bever of Beaver Dam charged with cocaine and marijuana possession and
possessing drug paraphernalia.
Brian Offerdahl (31)
Daniela Offerdahl (31)
Heather L. Van Bever (27)