Murder of Leonila Stickney by Russell Bertram featured on Accident, Suicide, Or Murder

Russell Bertram mugshot
Russell Bertram was convicted of murdering his fiance, Leonila Stickney. Pic credit: South Dakota Department of Corrections

Accident, Suicide, Or Murder is featuring the case of Leonila Stickney, an immigrant from the Philippines who was murdered by her fiance, Russell Bertram.

On October 24, 2009, Bertram, of Sioux Falls, drove Stickney to Gregory County Hospital in Gregory, South Dakota, after he said he accidentally shot her during a hunting trip. 

Bertram, a former police chief in Harrisburg, told police that as he was loading his 12-gauge shotgun into his truck, it went off and struck Stickney in the abdomen.

Stickney, 26, died while undergoing surgery. 

An autopsy revealed she was pregnant.

Her death was investigated as an accidental shooting, and Bertram wasn’t facing murder charges.

He moved on with his life and ultimately went to the Philippines to marry Stickney’s sister.

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An investigation into a life insurance claim from Russell Bertram led to a murder charge

Investigators became suspicious of Bertram when Stickney’s estranged husband received a letter from an insurance company.

They said they were processing Stickney’s $750,000 life insurance policy and a $150,000 accidental death benefit.

Shortly after Stickney and Bertram began dating in 2009, they took out a life insurance policy on her and listed Bertram as the beneficiary.

On Jan. 21, 2015, an investigator interviewed Bertram, and he gave a different account of what happened to Stickney during their hunting trip.

After a second interview, Bertram was arrested and charged on Sept. 8, 2015, with first-degree murder.

Money and jealousy were possible motives behind Leonila Stickney’s murder

Investigators believe that Bertram killed Stickney because he wanted to collect the life insurance money.

Defense attorneys argued that the life insurance money was for Stickney’s family in the Philippines, but he reportedly sent them a small portion after she died.

They also believe that he became jealous when he found out about Stickney’s pregnancy.

Unbeknownst to Stickney, Bertram had a vasectomy in the late 1970s and couldn’t have been the father of her unborn baby.

Bertram believed that she was cheating on him with another man, as he allegedly saw late-night phone calls between the two of them. 

In spite of that, Stickney told him that she wasn’t unfaithful.

The two-week trial ended with a guilty verdict

On Sept. 26, 2016, a Gregory County jury convicted Bertram of killing his fiance.

Two months later, a judge at the Tripp County Courthouse in Winner sentenced Bertram to life in prison with no chance of parole.

He filed an appeal, but the South Dakota Supreme Court upheld his murder conviction.

Accident, Suicide, Or Murder airs Saturdays at 8/7c on Oxygen.

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