On February 22, 2020, a camper looking for firewood near Sunset Crater National Monument outside Flagstaff, Arizona, spotted a body wearing a gray dress and white coat. Fingerprints soon showed this was 27-year-old Sasha Krause. On January 18, 2020, Krause had disappeared from her small conservative Mennonite community in Farmington, New Mexico, more than 270 miles away.
As a Plain Mennonite, Krause’s religious identity was evident in her simple dresses and covered hair. Her killer, Mark Gooch, was raised as a Mennonite, but says he felt like an outsider as a child and came to resent the Mennonite community. This apparently drove him to kidnap and murder a Mennonite woman he’d never met.
Cell Phone Data Provides a Lead
Some Mennonite groups place varying levels of restrictions on the use of technology such as televisions, computers, cars and cellphones.
“Use of technology, as with many other specific practices, does vary from group to group, place to place, and at times family by family,” Joe Springer, curator of the Mennonite Historical Library at Goshen College tells A&E True Crime. But Krause owned a cellphone, and had it with her the night she went missing. Authorities learned her phone had pinged two cell towers the night of her disappearance.
Only one other phone had communicated with the same towers at the same times. It belonged to Mark Gooch, a 21-year-old Airman stationed at Luke Air Force Base in Phoenix, Arizona.
Investigators also learned that in the early morning hours of January 19, Gooch’s cell phone had been about a mile from where Krause’s body was found in February 2020. Gooch returned to this forest location a couple of days after his initial January visit.
On April 21, 2020, Detective Lauren Nagele interviewed Gooch at his base. He admitted to making the seven-hour drive to Farmington on January 18. He said that, having grown up as a Mennonite, he’d sought fellowship at a Mennonite church. Gooch denied any involvement in Krause’s disappearance or death.
Cell phone data showed Gooch had spent two hours within a half-mile of the church, though he didn’t attend any services there. The time he gave for his return to base was hours earlier than the arrival time recorded on Sunday, January 19, 2020.
Gooch was arrested the day of his interview.
Gooch’s Mennonite Past
Gooch was raised in a Mennonite family in Wisconsin. He attended a Mennonite school through eighth grade and later obtained a GED. He reportedly once told a friend he didn’t want to live as a Mennonite. He said he felt like an outsider because his family wasn’t born into the religion and that he found life on his family’s dairy farm “depressing.”
Although he grew up in a Mennonite community, Gooch also saw how non-Mennonites lived. Springer says that for most Mennonites, “There would presumably be exposure to ‘the world’ in the routines of…going into nearby towns for business, interacting with non-Mennonite neighbors and seasonal visitors to the region.”
Although his parents were members of the church, Gooch chose not to be baptized as a Mennonite. Despite his parents’ disapproval, he joined the U.S. Airforce at 18. He told investigators the military let him leave a life that was difficult, sheltered and restricted.
“What he did as far as joining the military is unusual,” Edsel Burdge Jr., a research associate at the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies, tells A&E True Crime. “Plain Mennonites take very seriously the teaching that Jesus gave about not to resist evil, but to turn the other cheek, and not to use violence.”
“I would interpret his going to the military as very much a statement of defiance against the community he grew up in,” Burdge says.
Gooch’s brother, Samuel, told authorities that Gooch held a grudge against the Mennonite community because he’d felt mistreated (though Samuel didn’t elaborate as to how his brother felt he had been mistreated).
Days before Krause disappeared, Gooch had texted Samuel about surveilling Mennonites: “Even this morning’s surveillance was boring.”
“A bunch of old people without much to live for.”
“Clearly not the people we grew up with. Sad to say another disappointment.”
Another brother, Virginia state trooper Jacob Gooch, texted in 2020 that he’d coughed on a Mennonite driver headed to a wedding in the hopes of spreading “corona[virus].” Mark Gooch responded, “Aha that’s f***ing hilarious.”
Authorities learned Gooch’s car had been detailed the day after it became public knowledge that a body had been found in an Arizona forest.
An autopsy revealed that Krause, whose wrists had been duct-taped together, died of a gunshot wound to the back of her head and blunt force trauma. A bullet was retrieved from her skull.
After Gooch’s arrest, a friend brought authorities a .22-caliber rifle that Gooch had asked him to hold. State crime lab analysts concluded this gun had fired the bullet extracted from Krause’s head.
While in jail, Gooch asked Samuel to remotely erase his phone and SD cards. Unaware that his brother’s rifle had been handed over to police, Samuel also went to retrieve the weapon. He was subsequently arrested for interfering in an investigation.
Gooch’s Trial and Conviction
At trial, prosecutors argued that Gooch’s resentment toward Mennonites had driven him to kill Krause.
Gooch’s defense countered that the case against him was circumstantial, with no DNA or eyewitness evidence. His attorney also pointed out that Gooch had no history of violent acts.
However, Louis Schlesinger, professor of psychology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, tells A&E True Crime, “Most people who kill have a history of other antisocial acts, many do not. It depends on the type of murder.”
On October 13, 2021, Gooch was found guilty of kidnapping and first-degree murder. In January 2022, he was given a life sentence with no possibility of parole.
Where Is Mark Gooch Now?
Gooch is currently an inmate at Arizona’s Eyman Prison. According to his parents, he has turned to religion while behind bars—though it’s unclear exactly which Christian denomination he’s embraced.
Despite his actions, Mennonites in the community Gooch targeted have not turned their backs on him.
“I’m sure in this circle of churches that they regularly pray for him,” Burdge says. “I can imagine there will be people that will pray for him until the day he dies.”