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.
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.
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/
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.
I do wonder if the theroy about a serial killer(s) is correct everytime one of these deaths occurs. The latest seems to be in RI : http://www.foxnews.com/us/2013/04/24/ri-authorities-trying-to-determine-if-body-found-in-providence-is-missing-brown/
I often think about this - and many of the questions Mr. Kane brings up I've also contemplated. With the amount of binge drinking that happens in this state, and on/near college campuses, why is it exclusively these few cities and only very specific looking white men? I agree that girls are less often "allowed" to walk away alone from a group, but the fact there isn't even one? And I would think that if this were a case of simple binge drinking and falling into a river or body of water, why are we not seeing just as many (percentage-wise) happening in places like Oshkosh (also right on a river), Madison, or any town with bars near a river or body of water. I do agree that there are instances where drunk people make horrible decisions and are physically impaired where they could indeed "fall" in on their own, but the limited specifics of white men in these few cities is extremely concerning. Regardless of cause, I truly believe Milwaukee (and other cities) desperately need to install cameras all along the riverwalk.
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