‘Am I safe sleeping next to him?’: Murder victim’s words expose husband
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KENTWOOD, Mich. (WOOD) — When Richard Guichelaar strangled the life from his wife’s body, he thought he had silenced her voice forever. He was wrong.
Police records reveal it was Amber Guichelaar’s own words that helped expose her husband’s murderous rage.
Target 8 used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain investigative reports compiled by detectives from the Kentwood Police Department.
In his report, Detective Tim Dykgraaf wrote of the discovery police made while searching the 32-year-old wife and mother’s minivan one day after her death.
“In the center console I located loose leaf notebook papers, written in marker,” Dykgraaf wrote in his report, later noting that Amber Guichelaar’s parents confirmed her handwriting.
“The papers appeared to have been there for a while and a liquid had been spilled on them so some of the writing was no longer legible,” the report continued. “However, they appeared to be notes that Amber had written about Richard, one of which said, ‘He isn’t someone I want around my children. He is dangerous’ and ‘I have literally thought to myself, “am I safe… asleep next to him? Would he ever kill me?’”
Amber Guichelaar went on to document the violence she had endured at the hands of her husband Richard Guichelaar, 39.
“On one of the pieces of paper,” wrote Dykgraaf in his report, “she listed off the following:
“-He has beaten me
-Kicked and punched (blotted) me
-Threw a mug (blotted words) big screen TV
-Smashed my cell phones
-Punched glass shower door
-Broken four doors
-Smashed counter w/ hammer
-Punched hole in the wall”
“MY WIFE ISN’T BREATHING”
At 3:29 a.m. on Monday, Nov. 16, 2020, a seemingly distraught Richard Guichelaar called 911 from the couple’s home on Andrew Street in Kentwood.
“My wife isn’t breathing,” he told a dispatcher, stumbling over his words amid panicked sobs. “She had, I think she, she, she had a, she had a, a, a sweatshirt around her neck, and she’s not breathing.”
When the dispatcher asked if he thought his wife was beyond help, he responded, “I do. She’s purple, and she’s not breathing.”
Later in the six-minute 911 call, the emergency dispatcher asked if there were any children in the home.
“Yes. No. My daughter’s right next to us. She’s right here,” Richard Guichelaar said.
“I need you to take her out of the room. OK?” the dispatcher instructed. “I need you to take … her out of the room and shut the door, OK?”
The Guichelaars’ 8-month-old daughter slept in a crib in their bedroom.
The couple had two children, the 8-month-old and a toddler, and Amber Guichelaar was newly pregnant with their third child.
Richard Guichelaar later told Kentwood police he had slept on a downstairs couch that night because the couple’s bedroom was too hot. He said he had been awakened in the middle of the night by their baby’s cries.
“Richard said he laid on the couch because he was waiting for Amber to get up and give (their daughter) her pacifier,” Detective Dykgraaf wrote. “Richard said, ‘I was waiting, waiting, waiting and waiting. Finally, I didn’t understand what was going on, so I got up to check on (their daughter) and uh, I saw Amber.’”
Richard Guichelaar claimed he thought his wife had accidentally strangled herself.
But Rachel Wustman, the assistant prosecutor on the case for Kent County, told News 8 the autopsy revealed Amber Guichelaar could not have caused her own strangulation.
“She died from asphyxiation, and it was caused by someone else,” Wustman told News 8 in a recent interview, noting the medical examiner documented some abrasions Amber Guichelaar did not have when she FaceTimed with her sister earlier that night.
Wustman added that Richard Guichelaar changed details of his story. None of the versions added up, according to family and friends.
Two of Amber Guichelaar’s close friends spoke with Dykgraaf on the phone 11 days after Amber Guichelaar’s death to share what they learned from a conversation with Richard Guichelaar.
“(She) said they asked (Richard) about what happened before they went to bed (the night Amber died) and she said that Richard told her, ‘I will admit, I was really mad it was taking (Amber) so long to wrap things up,’” wrote Dykgraf in his report, noting that he was referring to his wife locking up the house before bed.
“(She) said that Richard then told (her) that the bedroom was hot, and Richard said the thermostat was set to 78 degrees. (She) said she had has had ‘hundreds of sleepovers’ at Amber’s house and she said that they would never set the thermostat that night,” the report continued.
Amber Guichelaar’s sister, Brittany, lived with the couple at their home on Andrew Street in Kentwood, though she was gone the night Amber died.
In an interview with police, Brittany said Richard Guichelaar only slept downstairs when the couple argued and would not have awakened to the baby’s cries. Brittany explained the medications he takes for mental health issues knocked him out at night. The pills also reportedly made him angry, so he took them right before bed, and, if the girls awakened in the night, Amber Guichelaar made sure she jumped up to care for them.
Wustman, the assistant prosecutor, talked about the valuable information Amber Guichelaar’s friends and family provided.
“What he said made him finally wake up and get up was hearing the baby cry and, again, (Amber’s) sister said he never got up with the baby. That just wasn’t what he did,” Wustman explained to News 8.
Indeed, friends told police Richard Guichelaar did so little around the house that Amber Guichelaar basically had three children: the two girls and her husband. The imbalance of duties sometimes prompted fights, according to one of the close friends.
“(The friend) did not know of any physical violence between Richard and Amber. (She) stated that when she would hear about these fights it would be after the fact when Amber would mention it during conversation by saying things along the lines of Richard is doing better because he broke his Xbox,” Dykgraaf reported.
“(The friend) stated the most recent fight she could think of was during the initial COVID 19 outbreak when everything was locked down and everyone was quarantined in the house together. She stated she did not know what the fight was about, possibly Richard not helping with children, but Richard picked up the high-chair and broke it,” Dykgraaf wrote.
One thing Richard Guichelaar did do, despite his wife’s vehement protest, was watch pornography. The couple fought over the issue in text exchanges one week before the murder.
When Amber’s sister asked by text what she wanted for her birthday, she replied, “a new husband.”
Two days later, Amber Guichelaar was dead and police had a prime suspect in her husband.
“EVERYONE IS SAYING, ‘HE DID IT’”
“When we talked to detectives, they said, ‘You know, we’ve never had this situation before where everyone around these two is saying, ‘He did it,’” recalled Wustman.
In his interview with police, Richard Guichelaar’s father, George Guichelaar, told Dykgraaf there was a 98% chance his son was guilty.
Richard Guichelaar’s sister said her first thought upon learning her sister-in-law was dead was, “Richard did it,” and that he may have “flew into a rage and couldn’t gain control.”
“He is an angry person,” the sister told the detective, according to his report. “Yeah he has a whole other side to him and umm, for a few years there, we thought it was really good he was on good medication, and it was almost as if we could breathe a sigh of relief like maybe we’ve made it through the worst of it. Ummm, but he can get so angry. He’ll throw things, he’ll punch things, he’ll yeah, he… just rage, rage.’”
“(His sister) also added ‘he is able to spin things and be a master storyteller and to get people to believe what …. he wants (them) to believe,” Dykgraaf wrote.
Richard Guichelaar’s brother told police that as a child, he would threaten to burn the house down, kill his brother’s hamster by crushing it, cut his sister with a knife or leave her in a field to freeze to death. His parents said their son developed mental health issues as a young teen after suffering several concussions.
Both parents told Dykgraaf they were scared because Richard Guichelaar was staying with them while police investigated. They said they were “trying to be patient and trust the legal system, but they thought their son needed to be in prison,” Dykgraaf wrote in his report.
Still, despite Richard Guichelaar’s violent history, it seems no one considered he might kill his wife.
No one but Amber Guichelaar herself.
“AMBER WAS DEFINITELY A CHILD OF GOD”
A faithful Christian, Amber Guichelaar was three days shy of her 33rd birthday when she died.
“Amber definitely was a child of God,” said her mom, Amy DeGraaf, in an interview with Target 8. “(She) did her best to live and love like Jesus.”
At the time of her death, Amber Guichelaar was teaching English as a second language to middle schoolers in the Kentwood Public School District. It was a passion likely sparked when she first traveled to Guatemala on a church mission trip as a high schooler.
“Through her mission work and being in Guatemala, I think there was some frustration with the language barrier,” explained DeGraaf, who believes her daughter pursued her degree in Spanish so she could bridge that gap.
In a letter to News 8, Amber Guichelaar’s sister, Brittany said, she was “truly one of the greatest humans I have ever encountered.
“She was one of a kind, honestly. She was rooted in Jesus Christ and her actions and words proved that. Through her mission trips over the years, through her teaching years at South Christian and Crestwood Middle School. Through the way she loved her family, friends, and students. She loved very hard and would never let a day go by without you knowing how much she loved you. Her children were her everything.”
Amber Guichelaar met Richard Guichelaar when she taught Spanish at South Christian High School, where his father was principal.
“(Amber) was very fun,” her mom said. “She could always make you laugh. She had a wonderful sense of humor. She could turn a negative situation into something fun and something happy, and that joy was contagious.”
DeGraaf said her daughter put God first and her family second, especially her beloved daughters, who were ages 2 and a half and 8 months when their mom was stolen from them.
The girls are now being raised by Amber Guichelaar’s sister, Brittany, and her husband.
“Her children are her living legacy and they will grow to know how much their angel momma loved them and be raised on the Living Word of Christ,” Brittany wrote to Target 8.
Though Amber Guichelaar wrote notes documenting her husband’s abuse, it’s clear those papers were a secret dairy. She told no one about the physical assaults she was enduring.
Her sister told the detective that she knew the couple had a physical fight several years earlier but thought things had gotten better.
Her mom, who FaceTimed with her daughter multiple times a day during quarantine, said she had no idea the violence her daughter was enduring, nor the danger she faced.
“For some reason, she chose to stay in a situation that obviously cost her her life, and that is the mystery of Amber’s story and the unknown of Amber’s story but also of domestic violence and domestic abuse in itself. The mystery of why does someone choose to stay when it could cost them their life?” Amy DeGraaf said.
“The fact that she would go to the extent of writing those (notes) and that she was trying to deal with it all on her own, and shouldering that all on her own shoulders is just such a heartache for her Dad and I, for her brother and sister, for her friends… Sadness and just so many unknowns… and just the devastation of what domestic violence can lead to,” she said.
AMBER WAS A LOVING, CARING “FIXER”
The assistant prosecutor, Wurstman, said it’s common for domestic violence survivors to hide the abuse.
“I think the hard part is, Amber did a really good job of covering for him,” Wustman said. “Probably because of the kind of person she was. She was just so loving and caring and a ‘fixer’, and she always wanted him to be better and covered for him. So people only got to see, I think, little glimpses of the bad things about him and, unfortunately, I don’t think they realized how bad it was getting.”
While several of Amber Guichelaar’s close friends knew her husband had extreme mood swings and would sometimes break things in fits of anger, they told the detective they never saw him physically assault her.
“A lot of people knew that he did have mental illness and that he did take medication for that. But again, it seemed like Amber tried to get people to at least believe that the medication was working, that things were going well… What happens behind closed doors, people don’t necessarily see,” Wustman said.
The assistant prosecutor told Target 8 she doesn’t know why the violence turned deadly that night in November, nor whether Richard Guichelaar had planned to kill his wife. Because prosecutors could not prove premeditation, they charged him with second-degree murder instead of first, as well as intentionally assaulting a pregnant person.
Richard Guichelaar pleaded guilty Feb. 21 in a six-minute hearing before Kent County Circuit Court Judge Mark Trusock. He choked back tears as he acknowledged in open court that he intentionally strangled his wife and knew she was pregnant at the time.
Outside the courtroom the day of the plea, there was an incredible show of grace as Amy DeGraaf hugged Richard Guichelaar’s father, George Guichelaar.
“I am sorry, George,” DeGraaf said tearfully. “I don’t know why that happened. It’s senseless.”
George Guichelaar told Target 8, “We’re all just broken by this. We’re just broken.”
On Thursday, Richard Guichelaar was sentenced to the longest prison term allowed by guidelines — a minimum of about 33 years and a maximum 100.
The DeGraafs are determined to honor Amber, and God, by helping others.
Amber Guichelaar’s sister, Brittany, reminded those in abusive relationships — “whether that be physically, mentally, emotionally” — that there is help in the form of friends, family, church members and a number of professional organizations in West Michigan.
“…Reaching out and letting someone know may free you of the loneliness, shame, isolation, fear that you feel due to the abuse of your abuser,” Brittany wrote. “Relationships should be free of abuse! Do not let your abuser hurt you anymore. Know you are worthy and loved by so many.”
“That is our biggest hope,” Amy DeGraaf said. “That by speaking out and sharing Amber’s story, if someone is in a relationship like this, please know it could cost you your life and please, please seek help.”