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Stolen reptiles, guns, and murder: Complaint details fatal shooting in Waupaca County

Published: Oct. 22, 2020 at 12:19 PM CDT
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WAUPACA COUNTY, Wis. (WBAY) - A fight over stolen exotic reptiles--some of them poisonous--ended in murder in Waupaca County, according to documents obtained by Action 2 News. These documents name the 18-year-old victim’s mother as one of the suspects.

Investigators estimate the reptiles stolen from a home in the Town of Dayton to be worth more than $27,000. However, it was humans in this case that proved more deadly than the animals, according to the court documents.

Family have identified the victim as Ryelee Manente. A GoFundMe has been set up for funeral expenses.

Charges of 1st Degree Intentional Homicide have been filed against William C. Zelenski, 44, and Tiffany R. Powell, 34. Powell was the victim’s mother.

REPTILES AND GUNS STOLEN

On Oct. 19, William Zelenski placed multiple calls to dispatchers in Waupaca County regarding a burglary at his Dayton home the week prior. He reported that two handguns, alcohol, and several reptiles had been stolen during the burglary.

Zelenski said those reptiles included a lizard valued at $17,000 and a crocodile valued at $2,000. Some of these reptiles were known to be poisonous. A boa constrictor and pythons were also missing.

Zelenski said he had received a tip that the 18-year-old Manente and 17-year-old Ashton Tody were responsible for the thefts.

That evening, at about 10:25 p.m. officers responded to a fatal shooting in Waupaca. Zelenski called 911 and told the dispatcher he had confronted the victim. Zelenski claimed the victim had attacked him and he shot him.

Tiffany Powell, mother of Manente, told police that Zelenski had received information that her son was involved with stealing Zelenski’s reptiles. Zelenski set out to confront the victim. Powell said they spotted her son walking on the sidewalk and stopped to confront him.

Tiffany Powell stated that her son “took off his shirt and said he wanted to fight Zelenski.” That’s when Zelenski grabbed a gun from his vehicle and shot him, according to the complaint.

CAUGHT ON CAMERA

Officers obtained doorbell video camera that captured the shooting. It shows Zelenski and Powell in a vehicle at the intersection of Van and Shearer Streets. There’s an altercation with the victim.

“At one point during the altercation, Zelenski was seen holding a long gun and then handing the long gun to Tiffany Powell. Zelenski was heard on the video telling Tiffany Powell to hold the gun on her son. The video then shows Tiffany Powell holding the gun and pointing it at VICTIM. The long gun was a double barreled 12 gauge shotgun with two slugs in the chamber. At one point, Powell gave the gun back to Zelenski and VICTIM was heard yelling at Zelenski to put the gun down and fight like a man. Zelenski and VICTIM were seen circling each other in a fighting stance with Zelenski holding the long gun and the VICTIM unarmed,” reads the criminal complaint.

WITNESSES

A witness reported hearing a gun shot and looking out the window. The witness saw Zelenski and Powell sitting in a car and “a lump of something directly behind his vehicle.” The witness ran outside and saw that it was the victim, who she knew very well. She described Powell and Zelenski were “very calm.”

The witness noticed that the victim was not moving and was bleeding heavily. The witness stated that Zelenski told her that he had shot the victim three times.

Evidence shows Manente was shot once, according to the complaint.

The victim was pronounced dead at a hospital.

Another witness told officers that Manente fought with his mother on Oct. 17. The victim told the witness that his mother told him, “you’re dead to me.”

Police searched the car and found a 12-gauge shotgun (alleged murder weapon), handcuffs, knives, ammo, an axe, a hammer and other items.

The criminal complaint lists weapons located by police in the vehicle.
The criminal complaint lists weapons located by police in the vehicle.(Waupaca County District Attorney's Office)

TEEN CHARGED IN REPTILE THEFT

Separately, Ashton R. Tody has been charged with Burglary, Theft, Criminal Damage to Property and Criminal Trespass related to the theft of the reptiles.

A criminal complaint lists the stolen animals and items as:

1. Alvarez Mexican Bearded Lizards - $17,000

2. Two-foot Nile Crocodile - $2,000

3. Red Tail Boa Constrictor - $575

4. Baby Burmese Pythons - $7,000

5. Bitis Rhinocerous (West African viper) - $875

6. 20 gallon fish tank

7. 10 gallon fish tank

8. Tupperware bins

9. Water dishes - $350

The criminal complaint states some of these reptiles are poisonous and require special handling.

Officers located the stolen reptiles at Tody’s home, according to the complaint.

William Zelenski’s wife recovered them on Oct. 20.

Tody charged with stealing reptiles.
Tody charged with stealing reptiles.(Waupaca County Jail)

COURT

Tiffany Powell is being held on a $500,000 cash bond. Her next court appearance is scheduled for Oct. 27.

William Zelenski was ordered to be held without bond. His next court appearance is Oct. 27.

A $1,000 signature bond was ordered for Tody. His next court appearance is scheduled for Nov. 17.

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