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Nick Wilcox's body was found in Milwaukee River (PHOTO: WISN.com)

The killer nobody wants to talk about


I've been warned in the past not to talk about a secret killer of white men in Wisconsin who prey on drunken, college-age males in order to find a way to drown them in the river.

I've been warned by police officials, editors and even some colleagues in town who admit although it's a well-known criminal theory that surfaces with each new mysterious drowning, discussing the matter in a public forum just doesn't do anyone much good.

After all, they tell me, there's no real proof and it just gets people stirred up over nothing. I disagree.

After the body of Nick Wilcox, a missing University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, was found in the Milwaukee River last week, his friends and family who conducted a high profile search for months could begin to find some closure over his death.

According to police, there was no sign of trauma on Wilcox's body and the death was ruled as an accident. Yes, that's pretty much the case every time a college age white male goes missing in Wisconsin and later is found drowned in the river.

The same explanation was attached to the case of Thomas Hecht last year in Milwaukee when the 28-year-old went missing after a pub crawl downtown and was separated from his friends. He was found in the river about two weeks later after what police said was a night of heavy drinking.

Wilcox was separated from friends after a night of drinking as well. His friends and family were on local TV frequently during their public campaign with pleas that likely caught the interest of anyone paying attention to the media during that time.

Still, months later, his body ends up in the river and it's the first time anybody's seen it after all this time.

If you look up the term "Smiley face killer" on the Internet, the various reports on drownings in the Midwest and elsewhere linked to a serial killer will likely strike you as either informative or sensational attempts to lend credibility a theory by former New York detectives and others.

The "Smiley face killer" monicker comes from the authors who have examined a pattern of mysterious deaths of college-age white males in various states including Wisconsin and concluded a serial killer or a group of serial killers have been preying with murderous intent for some time.

More than nine deaths due to drowning were reported in Wisconsin college towns over the past decade, many in or near LaCrosse. I've received messages from readers in that area who always insisted police in the area know it's the work of a killer but don't want to admit it or be accused of incompetence.

Every cop I've talked to with any knowledge about those drownings has always insisted there's no way that could ever be true.

With this latest death by drowning in downtown Milwaukee of all places, the people who want to sound an alarm about drunken white males who stumble into the river don't want to hear anything about a serial killer.

For them, the true villain has a name - and it's alcoholism.

More than a few people I've discussed this issue with insist the real problem is that drunken young whites males go out on a bender and get separated from friends who apparently aren't looking out for them.

Some were parents of college-age white males who insisted they knew what they were talking about so I had to take their word on that. But I'm still intrigued why black males who drink a lot don't end up in the river and why that particular racial angle seldom gets discussed.

Years ago, black and Hispanic men of a certain background started disappearing from the lives of their families and friends but nobody paid attention until it was too late.

That killer's name was Jeffrey Dahmer.

This time, whether it's alcoholism, public intoxication, lack of control or all of the above, I just want to know for sure what this new killer's name is and what we can do to stop it for good.

Talkbacks

krstmarie | May 25, 2014 at 6:26 p.m. (report)

I don't want to debunk the serial killer theory, but in my experience going out downtown, there is something I ALWAYS see. Why do men always climb over safe barriers and stand at the edge of the river and pee in it? I have seen this too many times...and these men stand so close to the edge...especially over different bridges you have to cross for parking. I always thought this was so dangerous...and just a theory...because they are all men falling in. Please guys...be safe and do your business inside...not at the edge of the river where you can fall or or be easily pushed or even accidentally pushed by a passerby!

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itisaserialkiller | March 13, 2014 at 2:24 a.m. (report)

One night a bunch of friends are out getting drunk. His friends and him do some shots. Yes they have been drinking alot. However they are college kids, it aint there first rodeo. They are not newbies, they have very high tolerance to alcohol. They may get beligerent, obnoxious, they are having fun. Why would they suddenly choose to separate from the crowd of friends theyve been enjoying company with all night, without telling anyone where they were going or even saying goodbye? Because suddenly they feel an overwhelming urge to go to the river alone, think about it, Does that make sense to you?? No, not really to me. Does it sound very unlikely and uncharacteristic of the situation? To me yes, very. Why would they just wander off? It is alcohol, which most kids have consumed since their teens in large quantites, makes for high tolerances, dont keep blaming alcohol. There is the work of a serial Killer. The victims have been mostly men so far but I think he's switching to women as well, there was a girl in LaCrosse that disappeared from a bar in Onalaska, and was found near the train tracks a little ways from the bar. It made no sense. So what would make these Men wander off? A woman serial killer? prob not. These are fit young strong men. Probably a man. How is he getting them to wander away with him without anyone noticing? He has to get them to come willingly. Why would they ever do that? Authority. The killer is a cop. He watches. Waits. They seem drunk enough, they walk from bar to bar. a few friends walk a little ahead.... the killer cop stands in the alley in the shadows, he says, Come here, I need to talk with you for a second. The unsuspecting victim follows and obeys the officer, after all its a cop. He says whats this about Sir? Officer asks to see his wrists, checking him for weapons. He has gloves on. The poison absorbs through the skin, through the wrist. victim becomes groggy. Please please run as many toxicologys as u can on these victims. No matter how much money, effort, time it takes. It is a cop from LaCrosse and he will kill again unless you stop him. RIP to the victims, my sympathys to the familys. Angels now.

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j106 | Jan. 23, 2014 at 8:54 a.m. (report)

One thing that always strikes me in this debate is the following (and I know that I'm tiptoeing into dangerous territory by bringing gender into it, but here goes.) Comments saying there must be a serial killer come overwhelmingly from women. Why is that noteworthy? Women don't walk to a riverbank, end of a dock, bridge, etc. to pee in the water. Guys do that. I've done that. Every guy I know has done that, especially when drunk. Guess what? It's easy to slip and fall into the water when you're hammered and teetering on the riverbank while peeing. My admittedly pure conjecture is that women might not recognize that possibility as easily as guys do. Here's something else. As noted above, ordinarily down-to-earth reasonable people can do outrageously stupid crap when drinking. Some buddies in college decided to swim across the Root River and back while drunk. Another very down to earth guy had to be physically restrained because he was drunk and determined to go swimming in a lake in freezing January temperatures. These tragic stories are the result of things like that, sad to say. Nothing more.

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homer777 | Dec. 16, 2013 at 11:11 p.m. (report)

And yet nother similar death.. Freshman U of M student found dead on bank of Mississippi River. Again, healthy, intelligent, good looking young man, not into drugs. Somehow accidentally falls and hits his head? I doubt it... http://minnesota.cbslocal.com/2013/12/16/police-continue-to-investigate-after-u-student-found-dead/

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saildoon | April 29, 2013 at 10:29 p.m. (report)

If you look at the reports, it's not 10 Wisconsin deaths in a decade, it's speculated there may be more than 100 deaths across a much greater geographic area, generally along the I-94 corridor, and more likely over a few more years. A great concentration of potential victims appears to be in the area spanning from Minneapolis, through Winona, and into LaCrosse, but includes cities all the way to the east coast, including Milwaukee, Kenosha and Chicago. Many of the stories include curious ejection of victims from bars or strangers interfering or "helping". Alcohol is not involved in all of the stories. People still take the theat seriously enough in LaCrosse that there continues to be a volunteer weekend river watch, manned by many university students and locals, though for the unfamiliar, the Mississippi River is NOT immediately adjacent to the downtown bars in LaCrosse, making many of those stories all the more curious. Taking the logical approach, you can't blame local police as they analyze single incidents, and without evidence of foul play how can they investigate further. But, it is way overdue that the FBI take this assult and deadly hunting of our young men seriously. There are no coincidences. Thank you for your article and please keep this issue in the public eye. People have been urging this be investigated for so many years. It's heartbreaking.

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