Neighbor accused of killing Ottawa County woman

Wendell Earl Popejoy's mug shot.

CROCKERY TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Detectives describe it as an uncommon case: neighbor accused of killing neighbor.

“It is a unique situation. I can tell you that,” said Capt. John Wolffis with the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office.

Sheila Bonge, 59, was found dead Thursday night behind her home in the 14000 block of 104th Avenue in Crockery Township, east of Grand Haven.

Photo: An undated courtesy photo of Sheila Bonge. (Courtesy Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office)

On Friday, her neighbor, 63-year-old Wendell Popejoy, was locked up in the Ottawa County Jail on a felony homicide charge. Popejoy is being held without bond and has an arraignment hearing scheduled for Tuesday.

The victim and suspect shared a private drive and lived next door to each other, off a quiet gravel road next to a small cattle farm. But a friend of the victim said they were anything but neighborly.

Raymond Vanier said Bonge told him last week about the latest dispute.

“She was so mad. (She) showed me this picture on her phone about the neighbor running into her,” Vanier said.

“(It was) something about snowing, or snowplowing, that the neighbor ran into her, and she’s been having a really difficult time with her neighbor,” he added.

Vanier drove to Bonge’s home on Friday, hoping for answers. He was shocked to learn his friend’s body had been found in the woods behind her home.

“What a miserable way to go, oh my God,” Vanier said.

24 Hour News 8 also talked to nearby residents who say Bonge had a lot of issues with her neighbors.

“She wants to start problems with everyone around here,” said Bryan Gould, who lives down the street.

Other neighbors shared videos of Bonge yelling obscenities, make crude gestures and threatening them. They say they repeatedly contacted police.

Ottawa County sheriff’s deputies said they’d been to the area more than five times recently for disputes between neighbors, including one within the last month. However, they wouldn’t elaborate Friday.

“Our department has responded to this location in the past on disputes, I can tell you that. There’s been some disputes reported among neighbors out here,” said Wolffis.

“I try to avoid her at all costs,” said Gould, who added that Bonge had recently berated his 81-year-old mother.

“She doesn’t get along with anybody around here,” he said.

But he was shocked to see the police cars Thursday night.

“It definitely surprises me here,” Gould said. “Nothing like that happens around here. It’s a pretty quiet neighborhood, other than this.”

Bonge, who lived alone, was reported missing by her family late Wednesday. They’d last talked to her by phone on Christmas Day.

Searchers found her body in the woods behind her home. They weren’t saying how she died, or where she was killed.

Her family told detectives Bonge would have had no reason to be back in the woods and wasn’t one to wander away.

Bonge’s daughter, Sandra Kay, told 24 Hour News 8 Friday evening that she’d “prefer not to provide comments that could possibly interfere with the investigation” of her mother’s death, instead reflecting on her life:

“Our mother Sheila lived a life filled with love. She adored her grandchildren and loved spending time with family. She filled her life with those she loved, and blessed their lives with her sweet, caring, fun and humorous personality. She will be deeply missed by her family and friends.”

Popejoy has no criminal record other that a speeding ticket, according to area court records.

Neighbors describe him as a great and helpful neighbor who was a voice of tolerance when it came to Bonge.

According to a nephew who has not seen the suspect in five years, Popejoy is a native of the Adrian area who lived on 104th for about eight years.

Popejoy is expected to be formally charged in the case Saturday.