By Eugene Kane Senior Writer and Columnist Published Apr 03, 2013 at 1:05 PM

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. 

Eugene Kane Senior Writer and Columnist

Eugene Kane is veteran Milwaukee journalist and nationally award winning columnist.

Kane writes about a variety of important issues in Milwaukee and society that impact residents of all backgrounds.