This article appeared on Page 3 of the national edition of
The Chicago Tribune on October 25, 1985.
By Joseph Hanneman
Special to the Tribune
MADISON, Wis. — The national president of the Ghost Riders motorcycle club and two other club members have been convicted of first-degree murder, arson and insurance fraud in a fatal tavern fire near here in 1983.
Convicted Wednesday were Alvin Hegge, 45, president of the club, based in Washington state; Scott Howard, 30; and Will Highfill, 41. Howard and Highfill also were convicted of endangering safety.
A Dane County Circuit Court jury deliberated for nine hours before delivering the verdict. The men were sentenced to life imprisonment on the murder charge. They will be sentenced on the other charges later.
Catherine L. Christian, 22, died in the March 1983 fire at Rosa’s Cantina, 5 miles southeast of Madison. Prosecutors contend the men planned to set the fire at the financially troubled tavern to collect insurance money and kill Christian, who the prosecutors say the three men believed to be a police informant.
Defense attorneys contend the fire was accidental, caused by faulty wiring.
Rosa’s Cantina became a hangout for the Ghost Riders when they tried to establish a chapter in Madison during 1982 and 1983, but those plans were abandoned shortly after the fire, according to court records.
Dane County Assistant District Atty. Robert DeChambeau, one of three prosecutors, said the verdict will significantly hurt the club.
“The Ghost Riders are pretty much through,” he said.
Hegge’s lawyer, Ralph Kalal, criticized the prosecutors for using convicted criminals to testify against Hegge. Kalal said the prosecution’s case was built “on a foundation of shifting sand. Yet the prosecution makes Mr. Hegge out to be the kingpin who ran the entire operation. It doesn’t make sense.”
Two other members of the bikers group were convicted last spring on lesser charges in the case.
Washington state officials say they have waited for the trial here to end and will now extradite Hegge and Howard to face federal and state charges in Spokane.
An arrest warrant has been issued for Hegge in connection with the shooting death of a Spokane police officer in 1983, according to the Spokane County Prosecutor’s Office. Officer Brian Orchard was killed during a police stakeout of Ghost Riders suspected of selling stolen weapons. Two club associates have been convicted of the murder.
Hegge also has been indicted in Spokane on a charge of conspiracy to possess with intent to deliver cocaine, according to the U.S. attorney’s office in Spokane.
Howard also was indicted on federal charges of conspiracy to possess with intent to deliver cocaine, unlawful transport of firearms and use of a firearm in a felony, according to the U.S. attorney’s office in Spokane. Both men will stand trial Dec. 9 on the federal charges.
Law enforcement officials who track the Ghost Riders in Washington state say the club has been one of the fastest growing groups in the country, but will be hurt by Hegge’s conviction.
Brent Pfundheller, a detective with the Washington State Patrol in Olympia, said Hegge was a strong group leader. “He was definitely in control of the Ghost Riders,” he said. “If he said to do something, it was done. You didn’t cross Al Hegge.”
The Ghost Riders are considered to be very dangerous and are monitored closely by law officials, said Larry Boyd, chief sheriff’s deputy in Grant County, Wash., where the group was formed in the mid-1960s.
With chapters in Washington state, Billings, Mont., British Columbia and Alberta, Canada, police estimate the group has between 75 and 150 members. •
EPILOGUE:Alvin Hegge was sentenced to life in prison for murder conspiracy and given 30 years for arson and theft by fraud for his role in the Rosa’s Cantina fire. He was also sentenced to life in prison for the second-degree murder of officer Orchard in Spokane, Wash. Highfill was sentenced to life in prison plus 34 years. Howard was given a life sentence for murder and arson in Wisconsin; and a six-year sentence for a drug conviction in Washington state.
Top photo: A view of Rosa’s Cantina on the 1983 day the fire killed Catherine L. Christian, 22. — State Journal photo by Joseph W. Jackson III.
I was among a team of reporters who covered the Ghost Riders trial for the Wisconsin State Journal.
This article appeared on Page 1 of the Aug. 4, 1987 issue of the Racine Journal Times.
By Joseph Hanneman
Racine Journal Times
Robert Lee Jordan stood in Racine County court Monday and called the judge a racist, said jurors in his case were biased and claimed witnesses who testified against him were liars.
Then he was sentenced to 52 years in prison.
A litany of robbery-related charges stemming from a Jan. 6, 1987 attempted robbery of the Piggly Wiggly store, 3900 Erie St., was read as Jordan’s sentence was announced.
Judge Emmanuel Vuvunas, after listening to a blistering verbal attack from Jordan, said, “The only thing society can do to protect itself is to lock you up for a very long time.”
Jordan called Vuvunas “nothing but a racist, biased judge” and warned, “someday you’re going to pay for it.”
He was removed from the court and watched his sentencing on a television monitor in an adjacent holding room.
Jordan, 38, was sentenced on charges of attempted robbery, carrying a concealed weapon, possession of a firearm, battery to a police officer, two counts of endangering safety by conduct regardless of life, resisting arrest and obstructing police.
He was convicted in June for the robbery attempt, in which he struggled with an off-duty Racine police investigator and threatened to kill him.
The total prison term handed down was was 65 years, but several of the sentences will run concurrently.
Monday’s courtroom scene was likely a familiar one for Jordan, who has been in and out of prison constantly since the mid 1960s. Sometimes he was out on parole. Other times he escaped.
His life since his teen years has been characterized by armed robberies and escapes. Vuvunas said Jordan’s record “is one of the worst records this court has ever seen.”
According to court records, Jordan’s problems with the law began between 1961 and 1974, when several times he had run-ins with Racine police.
In September 1964, Racine County’s juvenile court turned him over to the Department of Health and Social Services and he was placed in the Wisconsin School for Boys at Wales. He was released in January 1965.
In 1965, he was convicted in Racine of armed robbery and burglary, but that conviction was erased in 1974. In April 1967, he committed an armed robbery in Effingham, Ill., and was sentenced to one to three years in prison. After serving time in Illinois, Jordan was returned to Wisconsin and paroled in July 1970.
Less than one month later, he committed another armed robbery in Racine. While in Illinois attempting to help recover items taken in the robbery, Jordan escaped from Racine police. He was captured and in February 1971 sentenced to 12 years in the Green Bay Correctional Institution.
In February 1973, Jordan was transferred to the State Farm in Union Grove. Eleven months later, he escaped from the farm. A 2½ year sentence for the escape was stayed and Jordan received probation.
He was again paroled on Nov. 19. On Nov. 20, 1974, Jordan was arrested and charged with committing armed robbery while an escapee from the Union Grove farm. Charges in that incident were considered later in a separate case. Three months later, Jordan committed armed robbery in Janesville and was sentenced to 10 years in prison, with a six-month jail term to run concurrently.
Jordan was sent to Oakhill Correctional Facility in Dane County. On Aug. 31, 1978, he escaped. Eventually he turned up in Avon, Mass., where on Dec. 1, he robbed a bank. He was charged with kidnapping, three counts of assault with intent to commit murder, assault and battery, use of a dangerous weapon, armed robbery and unlawful carrying of a firearm.
He was sentenced to six to 15 years and sent to the Massachusetts Correctional Institution at Walpole. On Dec. 15, 1986, he was paroled and returned to Wisconsin. On February 25, 1986, Jordan was released from prison on his mandatory release date for the 1975 robbery.
On Jan. 6, 1987, he was arrested for the Piggly Wiggly incident.
Jordan represented himself during the trial, which became characterized by his flashes of hostility toward Vuvunas, Assistant District Attorney Eric Guttenberg and the jury.
He said the case was decided by an “all-white, biased jury.” Referring to witnesses who testified against him, Jordan said, “All these people came and lied.”
But Vuvunas got the last word.
“The evidence in this case was absolutely overwhelming,” Vuvunas said. “The evidence was so overwhelming in this case that it really didn’t matter whether you had an attorney.”
Vuvunas, citing Jordan’s extensive criminal record, said it is clear the only choice was to impose a stiff prison term.
“You are an armed robber,” Vuvunas said. “I don’t think you’ve changed your spots. You’re still an armed robber.
“This court has to make sure that a person as dangerous as you be kept out of the community for a very long time.” •
EPILOGUE:Jordan remains incarcerated at the Stanley Correctional Institution in Chippewa County, Wis. He filed a number of lawsuits from prison, one seeking $2 million from the Racine County district attorney, the Wisconsin attorney general and the head of the Wisconsin Department of Corrections. A federal judge denied his motions for damages and early release from prison.
Television reporter Tom Hanneman thought he was going to die on May 19, 1979 when a combatant in a violent feud between factions of the Red Lake band of the Chippewa Indians held a gun to his head and threatened to pull the trigger.
Hanneman and cameraman Keith Brown of WCCO-TV Channel 4 in Minneapolis were getting video footage of a fire on the Red Lake Indian Reservation when they were attacked by an armed 20-year-old man. While Hanneman sat in a rental car, his cameraman was outside. “We came to the main road and wanted to get a final shot,” he said at the time. “A short time later I heard a ‘smack’ like a rock hitting the pavement.
“It was a bullet. Keith said it missed his head by about two inches.”
A tribal member armed with a pistol approached the journalists and ordered Brown to smash WCCO camera equipment valued at $60,000. He then ordered the men to lie down on the road. “He tormented them by holding the gun at their heads ‘cocked back and saying he is going to blow our heads off, how would we feel,'” Hanneman said, according to an account in the Minneapolis Star. “I thought I had had it.”
While Hanneman and Brown were prone on the pavement, the man got in their car and tried to run them over. “He got in the car and started coming at us,” Hanneman said. “I got up and put my hand up and tried to talk to him. He told me to get back down. But when someone tells you to lie down and is trying to run over you, I didn’t want to stay down.”
The gunman eventually left with the rental car. A nearby family offered the journalists refuge, and then helped them get to Bemidji, Minn.
Earlier that day, an armed faction of dissidents raided the Indian Bureau of Law Enforcement building on the Red Lake reservation and took four police officers hostage. They later set fire to the building and a number of law enforcement vehicles.
On the WCCO 10 p.m. news that night, Hanneman recounted the terrifying day. A transcript of the dramatic interview is below. A video of the newscast (from TC Media) is at the end of this story.
WCCO Anchor Don Shelby: Tom, tell us your story.
Hanneman: “We found the main road leading into Red Lake was blocked by a Red Lake fire truck. We got out of the car to shoot some scenes at the police station, which was still smoldering. At that time we heard shots fired and some ricochets off the fire truck that we were standing next to. Obviously we were being shot at. We threw our hands up and a group of Indians came over and wanted to know what we were doing and we explained.
“We left that area to go and shoot some more scenes. Keith Brown drove to a back route to shoot the police station, and also a police car that was aflame, an abandoned police car. He went into the woods and came running back a few minutes later. They had fired on him and the bullets hit the water right in front of his feet.
“We had three incidents that happened this afternoon, Don, the third was by far the worst. We were about ready to leave the area and Keith was going to shoot the final shot of the main street. I was in the car. Keith was outside with the door, the back door open. At that moment I heard what sounded like a rock hitting the car. It was a bullet. It hit the door, ricocheted up and Keith said it missed his head by no more than two inches. A man again came at us with a pistol, ordered us out of the car, and at gunpoint had Keith smash our videotape camera and the tape recorder onto the road.
“He then had us lay in the road in the median, threatened to blow our heads off holding the gun at our heads, tormented us for a while and then got into our rented car, turned around toward the road, sped up — what seemed to be an obvious attempt to run us over. I got up. I just couldn’t sit there and let him go at me and he told me to lay down, and drove by and again threatened us many times with a gun to our heads. He finally left the area, telling us to stay. A short time later he drove off a few blocks and parked, went into an area.
“We got up, just, we were afraid if nothing else that a passing car might hit us. Didn’t really know what to do until someone that lived right in the area, in a trailer home, yelled for us to come over. We were a little concerned that, we didn’t know what we were getting into at the time, Don. We went into hishome and (he) gave us refuge. A half-hour later took us, swept us out of town into Bemidji and we got out safely.
Don Shelby: How does it look up there now Tom, your last sight of the place?
Hanneman: “Most of the residents of Red Lake have left the area. It seems that a group of maybe 100, 150 Indians are in town. They’re all armed. It seemed to be a deserted town with just a few people running around firing guns.”
Don Shelby: How about the FBI? Have they arrived on the scene?
Hanneman: “They are there now. They have blocked off the main road into Red Lake at this time. They were nowhere to be seen at 3:30, 4 o’clock this afternoon.”
Don Shelby: You have not told your story to the FBI.
Hanneman: “No I have not. Not yet. We have just really gotten here and just starting unravel now.”
A few weeks later, the FBI arrested Gordon Wayne Roy, 20, and charged him with assault with a deadly weapon. On July 30, 1979, Roy pled guilty to one charge of assault with a deadly weapon. Five other assault charges were dismissed as part of a plea deal. Police said Roy had been in jail on the reservation when the dissidents stormed the building. They released him, and later that day he accosted Hanneman and Brown.
Five other men were convicted of various crimes in association with the armed takeover of the law enforcement building and the shooting deaths of two youths. Sentences ranged from 10 to 26 years in prison. The violence that day stemmed from a running dispute the dissidents had with long-time tribal chairman Roger Jourdain, according to news accounts.
Seven years later, in September 1986, Roy was arrested again; this time for murder. In early 1987, he was convicted of stabbing and slashing Edward White with a machete after a dispute. Roy was sentenced to life in prison.
Hanneman is a first cousin to the proprietor of this web site. He is a well-respected sportscaster in the Minneapolis TV market and beyond. For more than 20 years he was play-by-play announcer for the Minnesota Timberwolves of the National Basketball Association. He has also worked as reporter and sports anchor for CBS affiliate WCCO-TV and as an analyst for Fox Sports North. Here’s where he fits in the Hanneman tree: Matthias Hannemann >> Charles F.C. Hannemann >> Carl F. Hanneman >> Donn G. Hanneman >> Tom Hanneman.
The story of the Hanneman house in Mauston and its ties to the historic Mauston Brewery was retold in a 2019 issue of Breweriana magazine. The article was written by Mauston historian Richard D. Rossin Jr., a friend of these pages.
In the brewery history magazine, Rossin tells the story of the Mauston Brewery, which operated at the corner of Morris and Winsor streets from 1868 to 1916. He also recounts the Hanneman family story of a tunnel that was said to run from the house at 22 Morris Street under Winsor Street to the former brewery site.
Rossin said when he first encountered the tunnel story, he and a group of friends rang the doorbell at the Hanneman house to ask about it. My grandmother, Ruby V. (Treutel) Hanneman (1904-1977), answered the door. She took the children back to the pantry just off the kitchen. She showed a trap door in the floor, which was slightly different in color from the surrounding floor boards. Ruby told the children the tunnel ran from a cistern beneath the pantry across the street, Rossin recalled.
That’s a slightly different tale than the one I recall hearing from Grandpa Carl F. Hanneman (1901-1982) and my Dad, David D. Hanneman (1933-2007). I recall as a child going down very steep stairs into the basement, where Carl had a bar. He showed us a large archway in the north wall. It was filled in with bricks. He said behind the wall was a tunnel that at one time ran across the street. I don’t remember any mention of the Mauston Brewery. According to Rossin’s research, the home across the street once owned by Dr. Samuel Hess Jr. had a beer cellar with a similar stone archway.
I recall as a child someone pulling up that trap door in the pantry and allowing us to peer down into the deep darkness of the cistern. I think we were told it had been used to store rainwater but was no longer functional. It only added to the allure of the old house, with its stained glass accent windows, four-footed bathtub and a “secret” servant’s staircase from the kitchen to the upstairs.
What we know as the Carl and Ruby Hanneman home was built around 1893 by Charles F. Miller, owner of the Mauston Brewery. Miller took full control of the brewery in 1888, according to Rossin’s article, and sold his interest in 1901. Miller and his wife Frederica had six children. Miller died in August 1907 at age 54. Mrs. Miller lived in the home for nearly two more decades. She remarried in the 1920s and sold the Morris Street property.
Myrtle Price bought the house in 1932 and began renting it to Carl Hanneman in 1936. The Hannemans bought the home from the Price estate in the 1950s. They raised three children there: Donn Gene (1926-2014), David Dion and Lavonne Marie(1937-1986).
SUN PRAIRIE, Wisconsin — After a journey of 114 years along a path that remains shrouded in mystery, the ornate gold chalice used by a young priest at his first Holy Mass has come back to his home parish just in time for Christmas.
Henry Joseph Kraus, who was known as Otto, was 22 years old when he said his first Mass at Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary Catholic Church on Sept. 7, 1905. He was ordained to the priesthood four days earlier by Archbishop Sebastian G. Messmer at St. Augustine Catholic Church in Milwaukee.
Parishioners at Sacred Hearts gifted Kraus with a gold chalice, which held the Precious Blood at the Solemn High Mass said by the newly ordained Father Kraus. Along the outside of the foot of the chalice, the inscription reads: “In Memory of My First Mass September 7, 1905 — Presented by Sacred Hearts Congregation, Sun Prairie, Wis.”
Some 114 years andthree months later, the chalice was held up next to the rectory Christmas tree by Msgr. Duane Moellenberndt,pastor of Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary. “It’s a wonderful gift to the parish,” he said, reflecting on how such a precious, blessed artifact made its way back to Sun Prairie. “It’s a marvelous gift.”
Otto Kraus studied for the priesthood at St. Francis de Sales Seminary near Milwaukee, under its longtime rector, Msgr. Joseph Rainer. He went to the seminary just before the turn of the 20th century from his family’s 115-acre farm a few miles east of Sacred Hearts church. His parents, Engelbert and Emma Kraus, eventually sent two sons into the priesthood.
Otto was the only priest ordained in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee on Sunday, Sept. 3, 1905. The following Thursday, the new Fr. Kraus celebrated Solemn High Mass at Sacred Hearts, using the inscribed gold chalice to hold the Precious Blood of Christ.
The chalice has engraved and extruded details on the foot, stem and node. The bowl has an engraved band halfway down from the lip. The foot of the chalice is hexagonal with slightly in-curved sides. The top of the foot features debossed images of vegetation. The foot is inscribed, but not with Fr. Kraus’ name; something that later presented a challenge in determining its original owner.
Atop the first-Mass remembrance cards given out that day were two scriptural references: “By the grace of God I am what I am” (1 Cor. 15:10), and “A priest forever” (Psalm 110:4). The bottom of the card read, “I will sacrifice to thee O Lord the sacrifice of praise” (Psalm 115:17).
The Mass was just the joyous occasion the parish badly needed, coming just weeks after the sudden death of its longtime pastor, Rev. Alouis J. Kuehne. Father Kuehne, 48, had led the Sun Prairie parish since 1880. Otto Kraus served as sub-deacon for Kuehne’s Solemn Requiem Mass on Aug. 16, 1905. Also assisting at the Mass was Aloysius M. Gmeinder, a parishioner who lived on the farm immediately south of the Kraus property. Gmeinder was a year behind Kraus at St. Francis Seminary.
Moellenberndt said the current practice is for a seminarian to receive the chalice for his first Mass from family. “I don’t know if it was true in those years, but when I was ordained, typically your parents gave you the chalice,” he said. “So it’s important not only because of what it’s used for, but also because normally it’s your parents or your family that gives you the chalice that you use for your first Mass.”
Father Kraus’ first assignment was at Holy Trinity Catholic Church, one of the oldest parishes in Milwaukee. After 18 months, he was named pastor of St. George Catholic Church near Sheboygan Falls, Wis. It’s not clear exactly how long his pastorate lasted, but ill health forced Fr. Kraus into a very early retirement. By mid-1910, he was back home on the family farm near Sun Prairie.
For nearly two decades, Fr. Kraus lived with his mother. After his father died in 1912, the family moved to Sun Prairie, settling in a home just a few blocks from Sacred Hearts. Monsignor Moellenberndt said it’s possible Fr. Kraus celebrated Masses at his home parish during those years, a practice followed by other retired priests over the decades.
After Fr. Kraus’ mother died in October 1926, he moved to Oshkosh, Wis., and became a resident at Alexian Brothers Hospital. That is where he died on Jan. 17, 1929. He was just 46. His younger brother, Rev. Aloysius P. Kraus, sang the Solemn Requiem Mass at Sacred Hearts on Jan. 21, 1929. Aloysius was ordained to the priesthood in 1912 and was pastor at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Waupun, Wis., at the time of his brother’s death. Father Otto suffered from goiter, an enlargement of the thyroid gland at the base of the neck, according to Mary Gehrmann, a longtime Sacred Hearts parishioner and grand-niece of the Krauses.
Monsignor Moellenberndt said it’s anyone’s guess what became of the chalice after Father Kraus’ death. In 2019, it was discovered in one of 40 boxes of materials donated to the Green Bay Diocesan Museum, located some 125 miles northeast of Sun Prairie. A museum staff member noticed the inscription on the chalice and contacted Sacred Hearts. Since there was no name with the inscription, they had to do some sleuthing. With help from the archives at the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, Moellenberndt determined that Fr. Otto Kraus was the owner of the chalice. Sacred Hearts parishioners Gary and Julia Hanson drove to Green Bay and brought the chalice back to Sun Prairie.
“The archivist in Green Bay said she’s happy that we found the priest that it belonged to and doubly happy that it has found its way back home,” Moellenberndt said. “So it’s wonderful to have it back, because this is where it came from. There’s that historical connection to the parish.”
Moellenberndt said once the chalice is polished, it will again be used in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. That could be the first time the chalice has been a part of Mass at Sacred Hearts since that 1905 Thursday when a brand new priest spoke these words and elevated it before the crucifix: Hæc quotiescúmque fecéritis in mei memóriam faciétis — “As often as ye shall do these things ye shall do them in memory of Me.”
(This story appeared on the Catholic World Report magazine web site on Dec. 24, 2019. The author’s family has been a part of Sacred Hearts parish since the early 1970s. His mother, Mary K. Hanneman, taught at Sacred Hearts school for nearly three decades.)
This post has been updated with more detail on the murder and some links to recent media coverage of the case.
More than 20 years after she was laid to rest as Jane Doe, a cognitively disabled Illinois woman found murdered in Racine County has been identified and her alleged killer was arrested in Florida. Racine County Sheriff Christopher Schmaling announced that deputies arrested a former Illinois nurse and charged her with murdering 23-year-old Peggy Lynn Johnson of McHenry, Ill.
“She suffered from significant injuries and had been brutalized by many means over a long period of time,” Schmaling said at a news conference on Nov. 8. From Fox6 Milwaukee:
RACINE — Racine County Sheriff Christopher Schmaling on Friday, Nov. 8 revealed the identity of the young woman whose brutally abused body was found in a cornfield in the Town of Raymond in 1999. Jane Doe has been identified as Peggy Lynn Johnson.
Linda Laroche, 64, has been taken into custody in connection with her death. She is facing one count of first-degree intentional homicide and one count of hiding a corpse.
“This is a day of mixed emotions, ladies and gentlemen,” said Racine County Sheriff Christopher Schmaling. “We are very proud today by the fact that we can finally offer some closure and some peace.”
“In September Racine County sheriff’s investigators received a tip that LaRoche, who was living in Cape Coral, had been telling people that she killed a woman when she was living in Illinois with her then-husband and three of her five children.
After LaRoche met Johnson, who was a senior in high school at the time, she took her in because she was homeless, under an agreement that Johnson would act as a nanny and housekeeper in exchange for living with the family.
Now grown, LaRoche’s children told investigators that their mother was very abusive toward Johnson, who was forced to stay and sleep in a crawl space beneath their home.
LaRoche’s ex-husband confirmed the abuse, describing LaRoche as a “force to be reckoned with.”
LaRoche is being held by the Lee County, Fla., sheriff’s office on a $1 million bond, based on an arrest warrant filed in Racine County Circuit Court.
According to the criminal complaint filed in Racine County, Peggy suffered horrific abuse over an extended period of time. Her nose was broken. She had chemical-type burns over a 25 percent of her body. She had eight fractured ribs, injuries the medical
examiner said were inflicted after death. Four lacerations showed blunt trauma to the head. She had a penetrating wound to the left ear. The throat and upper chest areas showed evidence of burns or scald injuries. Her lower lip was split open on both ends. A number of the injuries were inflicted shortly before death.
“Laroche was verbally and emotionally cruel to Peggy, at times screaming at her like an animal,” the criminal complaint said. LaRoche’s children provided detectives with this information: “One recalled Laroche stabbing at Peggy’s head with a pitchfork, one recalled Laroche slapping Peggy in the head and face. They all recalled seeing Peggy with injuries and one even asked Peggy what had happened to her after noticing a black eye. Peggy told the child, who was then an adult, that LaRoche had punched her.”
The details are horrifying and sickening. Read the criminal complaint here.
Peggy was born on March 4, 1976 in Woodstock, Ill., according to online family trees at Ancestry.com. Her mother, Diane M. (Colligan) Schroeder, was a graduate of Marengo Community High School in McHenry County, Ill. Her high school yearbook photo shows a striking resemblance to her daughter. Diane died on Nov. 26, 1994 in Harvard, Ill., at age 41. She was employed at a nursing home at the time of her death. She had a son (half-brother to Peggy), Jesse A. Schroeder, who died in June 1998 at age 18. After her mother’s death, Peggy ended up homeless, which is why she crossed paths with the nurse LaRoche. Police said Peggy’s father, Scott Johnson, had not been a part of her life. He is also deceased.
No one ever reported Peggy missing. Her maternal aunt took out a classified ad in late 1999 asking Peggy to contact her, according to The Journal Times of Racine. LaRoche’s children and ex-husband were aware of the abuse Peggy suffered, but never contacted police, according to the criminal complaint.
We wrote about this case in July 2015 when “Jane Doe” was re-interred at Holy Family Catholic Cemetery in Caledonia, Wis. At the time I was director of Racine Catholic Cemeteries. Jane was initially buried at the cemetery in October 1999, but had been disinterred in 2013 for forensic testing at the Milwaukee County Medical Examiner’s Office. Sheriff’s deputies served as pall bearers that day as Peggy was reburied in a donated casket and cemetery vault supplied by Draeger-Langendorf Funeral Home.
LaRoche has waived extradition to Wisconsin and will face one count of first-degree intentional homicide and a felony charge of hiding a corpse. If she is indeed guilty of the charges, she shall also face the Just Judge. May God have mercy on her soul; the very mercy she denied to a lost, innocent homeless woman who turned to her for help.
The September 1960 Chicago plane crash that killed all six members of the Richard Rickman family was caused by a faulty engine valve and an intense oil fire, according to a federal investigation report obtained through the National Archives.
Richard E. Rickman, 34, was flying his wife and four children from Wisconsin Rapids to Detroit on Labor Day 1960 when his Beechcraft C35 Bonanza (tail number N-5816C) plunged into Lake Michigan with flames trailing from the engine. Rickman, his wife Helen and children Richard, Robert, Catherine and Patricia were killed in the crash. The plane and its passengers sunk into the dark waters of Lake Michigan off Chicago’s Oak Street Beach. [See related:Entire Rickman Family Killed in 1960 Plane Crash]
It was a horrific, haunting tragedy. The Rickmans, native to central Wisconsin, were returning home to the Detroit area after a Labor Day vacation. Following the advice of the airport manager in Wisconsin Rapids, Rickman flew across Wisconsin and then along the Lake Michigan shoreline to Chicago. That’s where the trouble started. Rickman radioed the tower at Meigs Field in Chicago that he had an emergency and needed to land. [See an aerial view of Meigs Field] He never got the chance. The plane nose-dived into the water about 1 mile offshore from a crowded Oak Street Beach. All six Rickmans were killed.
The Civil Aeronautics Board began investigating the crash just as the sections of damaged plane were recovered from the depths of Lake Michigan. The wings were sheared off on impact. Witnesses on the beach reported seeing flames coming from the engine as the single-engine plane dove into the water. The probe was led by Clifford G. Sheker, the CAB’s air safety investigator. The 205-horsepower Continental engine was recovered and sent off for analysis. Sheker testified before a Cook County coroner’s inquest jury twice — in September and October 1960. His preliminary finding in October was that engine trouble caused the crash.
That’s where the public attention stopped. The probe continued and led to a report of findings in April 1961, but there was no media coverage on the final cause of the crash. The Hanneman Archive began a search for Sheker’s report back in 2015. It was not on the Federal Aviation Administration’s online database of old CAB crash investigations. The CAB was a predecessor to the National Transportation Safety Board.
We enlisted the help of the National Archives and Records Administration in College Park, Maryland. After several months, an archivist named Amy R. found the answer in April 1961 meeting minutes from the Civil Aeronautics Board. She was kind enough to snap digital photos of the report narrative and send them via email. As far as we can tell, these details were not published by news outlets at the time.
The report said Rickman was about a mile offshore headed south at 7:26 p.m. when he broadcast a Mayday call: “I have an engine failure or something – I am coming in!” The flight was immediately cleared for emergency landing at Meigs Field, a single-runway airport on Northerly Island, a peninsula along Chicago’s lakefront. Sheker’s report described what happened:
“About this time ground witnesses and the occupants of another plane saw the aircraft afire in flight. They observed the plane make a left turn and go out of control twice before it crashed into Lake Michigan and exploded.”
The Continental Motors E-185 engine became disabled by an “intense oil fire” that originated in the area of the exhaust heater muff. The No. 3 exhaust valve showed “fatigue failure” that led to the fire. The engine crankcase was broken open and the Nos. 3 and 4 pistons and connecting rods were broken. The “intense, in-flight fire” entered the cabin in the area of the rudder pedals and “subjected the entire cabin to fire.”
Rickman was an experienced pilot with 379 total flight hours, including 228 hours with the Beechcraft C35. His Beechcraft was manufactured in 1951 and licensed to Rickman in 1957. It’s unknown if the CAB or later the FAA took any action as a result of the Rickman crash, such as issuing an airworthiness letter. There was no indication in the CAB report of the maintenance history of the plane, or if the No. 3 exhaust valve had caused other engine fires.
Just 18 months before, superstar singers Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson were killed when the Beechcraft C35 Bonanza in which they were traveling crashed near Clear Lake, Iowa. February 3, 1959 became known as “The Day the Music Died,” memorialized in Don McLean’s 1971 song, “American Pie.” The Civil Aeronautics Board faulted the pilot for taking off in poor weather when he was restricted to visual flight rules.
One of the most heartbreaking scenes from Sept. 5, 1960 was the sight of little Catherine Rickman, 4, being carried from a rescue boat to an ambulance by lifeguard Fred Rizzo. Boaters found her floating in the water shortly after the crash. She had burns on her face, legs and feet. The girl was revived briefly in the ambulance on the way to the hospital, but she died a short time later. Her grandparents, Edwin and Renata Rickman of Saginaw, Mich., identified her body. The search for her parents and siblings went on for days.
The diver who first found the bodies was Jeffrey Daxe, 34, a Chicago pilot and lifeguard. Daxe lived just across Lakeshore Drive near the beach. He was able to quickly gather his diving gear and have a lifeguard row him out to the crash site. The experience haunted Daxe for decades, according to his son, Jeff Daxe of Dayton, Ohio:
“As he told the story of the recovery of the victims, his face would transform to one with a look of concern. He would look away from his outstretched hand almost as if he could see, or didn’t want to see, the faces of the victims as he brought them to the surface.”
The senior Daxe went on to a career in aviation, and moved to Valparaiso, Ind. He told the story of the Rickman crash often. Even in recent years, when visiting Lake Michigan, his son said, he spent a long time gazing out on the water, expressing concern for the safety of boaters and windsurfers. “I believe the experience had a tremendous impact on his life.”
Tom Metcalf remembers the Rickmans well, growing up for a time in the same neighborhood in Redford Township, a western suburb of Detroit. “I remember playing with Richard and Robert,” said Metcalf, who was 6 at the time of the crash. “I also remember flying with them in their aircraft. My father was a military pilot and he and Mr. Rickman were friends with a common interest in flying. I also remember my mother chasing some news reporter out of our back yard after catching him trying to ask me questions after the accident.”
Like Daxe, Metcalf was deeply affected by the Rickman tragedy. He said he hopes to visit the family’s graves at Forest Hill Cemetery in Wisconsin Rapids, Wis. “I have thought of them often and sent prayers their way throughout my life,” Metcalf said.
Richard E. Rickman, the son of longtime shoe-store proprietor Edwin J. Rickman, grew up in Wisconsin Rapids. He was a descendant of pioneer resident Matthias Hanneman, who came to Wisconsin in 1866 from Pomerania. He served in the U.S. Naval Reserve in World War II. His father had served in WWI. A factory representative for the Ogden Manufacturing Co., Rickman married the former Helen Anderson in December 1949 and they later moved to Michigan. Their first child, Richard Edward, was born in Lansing in May 1953. Robert John was born in Lansing in March 1955. Catherine Helen was born in Detroit in June 1956; and Patricia Ann joined the family in Detroit in September 1957.
The epitaph on the Rickman Family monument at Forest Hill says simply: “Not my will, but Thine be done.”
“Man’s days are like those of grass; like a flower of the field he blooms; the wind sweeps over him and he is gone, and his place knows him no more.”
—Psalm 103:15, from the St. Michael church bulletin, Feb. 22, 1998
By Joseph M. Hanneman MADISON, Wis. — Sheriff’s investigators are exploring the possibility that the man who brutally murdered Father Alfred J. Kunz in March 1998 is dead, and they are urging the public to come forward with tips and clues needed to break the case and solve one of the most vexing killings in Wisconsin history.
After a 20-year investigation involving more than 50 detectives and thousands of interviews, the Dane County Sheriff’s Office has “multiple” persons of interest in the murder of the traditionalist Catholic priest. Dane County Sheriff David J. Mahoney said investigators believe it’s possible the killer himself is dead. This has added urgency to law enforcement appeals for the public to come forward with more information.
“We have to look at the possibility that the person responsible, or others who might have been aware, are dead,” Mahoney said in an interview with Catholic World Report. “If that’s the case, we’ll never solve it unless somebody comes forth with evidence.”
Father Kunz, 67, was found with his throat slashed on the morning of March 4, 1998, in a hallway of St. Michael School in the rural enclave of Dane, about 15 miles northwest of Madison. He died from blood loss suffered when his carotid artery was cut during a brief but ferocious struggle with his killer. The massive murder investigation is the most extensive in Dane County history, but has yet to yield an arrest or assignment of blame.
“Where we’re at today, we have multiple people of interest, where 12 years ago we were concentrating our efforts on one individual,” Mahoney said in an extensive interview at the Dane County Public Safety Building. “We have multiple individuals who we would consider to be persons of interest, who either have motive or had a pattern of practices, maybe in the area of burglaries. We’ve looked at this as a crime of passion, we’ve looked at this as being a crime of opportunity — a burglary that was interrupted.”
New leads developed in the case over the past year have expanded the list of persons of interest. This development comes as one of the early persons of interest, a former St. Michael teacher who found Kunz’s body, has now been cleared of involvement in the crime. Mahoney wants members of the public who might have information to take a fresh look at memories from 1998 and in the years after. Investigators are hoping someone comes forward with information that can tip the case to a solution.
“Over the years, some of our witnesses and people with knowledge have died, and with them goes the information,” Mahoney said. “That’s one of the reasons we pushed more information out on the 20th anniversary. If there were family members of people who passed (away), or friends or associates or even somebody who heard something, we want to try to try to bring them out into the open at this point. Before we lose more people.”
Father Kunz was a sign of contradiction; a tradition-minded priest in the shadow of the liberal state capital. He was a 20th century fidei defensor, upholding Catholic teachings amid a sea of post-Vatican-II modernism. He preached the truth, no matter how unpopular. A sharp critic of homosexual corruption in the Church, he worked at the highest levels to expose priestly pederasty in rectories and chanceries. He saw the coming storm of sexual-abuse allegations that would swamp the Church years later and lead to more than $3.3 billion in victim settlements and attorney fees in the United States alone. “You will find no justice in the Church today,” he told a friend not long before his death. He worried the pederasty scandals would destroy the diocesan priesthood.
His celebration of the Usus Antiquior, or the Traditional Latin Mass, drew congregants from three states. Even though he also celebrated the NovusOrdo Mass, some locals left for other churches. Kunz had a soft pastoral touch and a generous heart. He fixed up old cars and provided them to his cash-strapped teachers. He took no salary. His sister sent him boxes of socks when his became worn. He ran successful fish-fry fundraising dinners to support his parish and school. A typical day for Kunz started at 5:30 a.m. and didn’t end until well after midnight. In between, he was a whirlwind of activity at church, in school, at diocesan offices in Madison, at hospitals and among his parishioners. His sudden, violent death left a trail of tears that still flows 20 years later.
Kunz was last seen alive about 10 p.m. on March 3, 1998, when his friend, Father Charles C. Fiore, dropped him off at St. Michael’s. The pair just took part in a recording session in Monroe for the “Our Catholic Family” radio program that aired on Sunday mornings across southern Wisconsin. Kunz fixed himself some dinner at the rectory and spoke by phone with another priest at 10:23 p.m. He then retired to his sparse one-room office that doubled as living quarters in the adjacent school. Police believe Kunz encountered his killer shortly after. His body was found the next morning, face down in a pool of blood at the foot of a statue of St. Michael the Archangel. Kunz was barefoot, dressed in dark slacks and a white T-shirt.
There were no signs of forced entry, so the killer gained access without leaving evidence behind, had a key or was let in by Father Kunz. Police said the attack was sudden and unexpected. Kunz, a Golden Gloves boxer in his youth, put up quite a fight and might have gained the upper hand on the suspect before being knocked to his knees by a blow from a weapon, Mahoney said. His throat was then cut with some kind of sharp-edge instrument, severing the artery that carries blood to the brain. No weapons were recovered.
Police believe the killer was a man, who might have been familiar with Kunz and St. Michael parish. While an FBI profile suggested the killer might have had an argument or altercation with Kunz in the 72 hours before the murder, Mahoney said it is possible the priest simply interrupted a burglary. The killer was likely shocked by the amount of blood that flowed when he cut Kunz’s throat. When he escaped from the school, the murderer was covered in blood and bearing noticeable injuries to his face, Mahoney said. Based on the wounds on Kunz’s hands, police believe the priest landed serious blows to the head of his attacker. An autopsy photo released by the sheriff’s office in 2018 shows Kunz’s right hand with major bruising along the index finger, bruises on three of the four knuckles and several small puncture-type wounds across the back of the hand.
“Father Kunz did engage physically with his murderer,” Mahoney said. “We believe whomever was in fact involved probably had some significant facial injuries and probably was visibly injured.” The assailant would have “looked like he had been beaten up,” Mahoney said. “Father Kunz had hand injuries. He knew how to land a punch.”
Profilers said the killer did not go to St. Michael’s that night intending to kill Kunz. Investigators believe the killer felt regret afterward. He went home with clothing soaked in blood that he would seek to wash or destroy. Family or friends would have noticed facial injuries. The suspect might have missed work the next day. The killer could have used a favorite hunting knife, box cutter or other instrument that he then discarded. Friends or co-workers could have noticed he no longer carried the cutting instrument and that he had a story for what happened to it. In the weeks, months and years afterward, the person could have had mental health issues, or struggled with alcohol abuse, police said.
Could something as simple as a burglary be the answer in this case? Kunz’s office was burglarized in 1994. The priest’s late-night routine was predictable, a fact that could be crucial if a burglar was watching the property. Kunz was security conscious and the school doors were always locked at night, friends said. Some collection money went missing in the weeks before the murder, police said. It was not unusual for bags of Sunday collection money to sit at the church, undeposited, sometimes for weeks. Large amounts of money had been moved between parish accounts in the months before the murder, and some large checks were cut, police said.
Early in the investigation, detectives questioned two men with ties to Kunz who were involved in burglaries. Jeffrey L. Maas of Pewaukee, Wis., pilfered statues, chalices, candles, books and artifacts from churches in five Wisconsin counties, police said. He was convicted in 1999 of four misdemeanor and five felony counts of theft and receiving stolen property. Robert M. Pulvermacher of Dane was arrested shortly after the Kunz murder and later sentenced to nearly four years in prison for burglary. He escaped from a prison work camp in December 1998. While on the lam, he attacked a local constable and wrestled his gun away, police said. During a massive search of central Wisconsin, a deputy confronted and disarmed Pulvermacher. He was sentenced to 11 years in prison on escape-related charges. Investigators concluded the men were not involved in the priest’s murder. The burglary motive, however, remains an active focus.
The Kunz homicide was the first in the village of Dane since March 1971, when William C. Chambers shot and killed his 22-year-old son, Kenneth D. Chambers, during a long-simmering family feud. The father fired three bullets into the heart, brain and lungs of his son. He was later acquitted of first-degree murder. Kenneth Chambers was a member of St. Michael Catholic Church. Father Kunz officiated at his funeral Mass on March 13, 1971.
Dozens of fire trucks and other emergency vehicles escorted the body of fallen Sun Prairie Volunteer Fire Department Capt. Cory Barr from the medical examiner’s office to the funeral home late Wednesday.
The 15-year fire department veteran was killed Tuesday evening July 10 when a gas leak set off a massive explosion in the 100 block of West Main Street. The blast leveled several buildings and triggered a five-alarm fire that required mutual assistance from area fire departments. Sections of downtown Sun Prairie were still off limits four days later.
Fire engines, squad cars and rescue vehicles from around southern Wisconsin formed a long memorial procession from McFarland to Sun Prairie. The hearse carrying Barr’s body processed through fire station No. 1 before arriving at the Tuschen-Newcomer Funeral Home. Ladder trucks from the Waunakee and Columbus fire departments formed an arch under which the procession traveled.
The following departments were represented in the procession: Belleville-Exeter-Montrose, Black Earth, Burke-Bristol-Sun Prairie, Cambridge, Columbus, Cottage Grove, Cross Plains-Berry, Deerfield, DeForest, Fitchburg, Footville, Madison, Maple Bluff, Marshall, McFarland, Milwaukee, Monona, Mount Horeb, Oregon, Stoughton, Sun Prairie, Town of Madison, Verona, Waunakee and Wonewoc.
The huge explosion and fire that leveled numerous buildings in Sun Prairie on July 10 and 11 reminded me of another massive fire in the same area more than 40 years ago. On March 3, 1975, a fast-moving fire destroyed the Schweiger Walgreen Drug Store and Hillenbrand’s shoe store in the 200 block of East Main Street.
The fire alarm was sounded at 1:51 p.m. that day, bringing 33 firemen from the Sun Prairie Volunteer Fire Department to the scene. They were shortly joined by another 25 firefighters and trucks from Stoughton, DeForest and Marshall. The fire was discovered in the basement of the Schweiger Walgreen’s store, 214 E. Main St., and quickly spread to the adjacent Hillenbrand’s and apartments above both buildings. It took more than five hours to fully contain the blaze. The last crews left the scene at around 11 p.m.
Margaret McGonigle, 75, became trapped on the roof of the drug store building when the stairs down from her apartment were blocked by fire. She was rescued by the snorkel truck from the Sun Prairie Fire Department, according to the March 6, 1975 issue of the Sun Prairie Star-Countryman. Mrs. McGonigle was the widow of pharmacist John M. McGonigle, whose family owned and operated McGonigle’s Drug Store for more than 50 years before Robert Schweiger purchased it in 1970. She was also postmaster of Sun Prairie for 38 years before retiring in 1966. John McGonigle died in September 1965.
I distinctly recall going downtown with my father to view the aftermath of the fire. I recall the outriggers on the snorkel truck, and large amounts of road salt around the tires of the fire engines. The pharmacy held special memories for us, since my grandfather, Carl F. Hanneman, was a reserve pharmacist who occasionally worked for McGonigle’s. The Hillenbrand clothing and shoe stores were run by John Hein, a good friend of my parents, and the shoe store was managed by Roger Reichert, also a family friend. Reichert lived above the store and lost all of his belongings in the fire.
The state fire marshal investigated the blaze, but was unable to determine a cause. Damage to the structures and contents was estimated by Fire Chief Milton Tester at $200,000. Within a week, Schweiger’s opened in temporary quarters on Bristol Street. The buildings were a total loss and had to be demolished.
“Many fine things have been said about our volunteer firemen before. But last week’s fire had to be one of their finest efforts,” read the “Shavings from the Editor’s Pencil” column in the Star-Countryman. “I spent nearly three hours in that biting cold watching those magnificent, heroic firemen work. Not once did I see anyone so much as flinch at going into a burning building or otherwise approaching a dangerous situation.”
Both the 2018 fire that claimed the life of Capt. Cory Barr and the 1975 fire had one thing in common: a pharmacy. The Barr House tavern at the corner of Bristol and Main streets, owned by Capt. Barr and his wife, once housed the Crosse and Crosse Drug Store, according to the Sun Prairie Public Museum. The building dates to the 1890s.
The Schweiger fire was one of three major blazes in Sun Prairie in 1975. On Aug. 10 that year, fire swept through the Moldrem Furniture store at 13 N. Bird St. in the Bird Street Centre. The fire did about $185,000 damage to the 34-year-old business. The store was a total loss. A backdraft blew two firefighters out the front doors of the store. Retiring assistant fire chief Arnie Kleven described the fire as his most frightening in an August 2017 interview with The Star. Kleven said the doors probably saved his life that day. Wiring in the air conditioning system was cited as the cause of the fire.
In July 1975, shorted wiring sparked a major fire in the garage and offices of Bill Gawne Ford Inc., 425 W. Main St. That fire caused an estimated $85,000 damage.
(This post has been updated with details on the Moldrem and Gawne fires.)
Firefighters battled fire, smoke and bitter cold weather. (The Capital Times/Dave Sandell)
It took more than five hours to contain the blaze. (Wisconsin State Journal/Edwin Stein)
A snorkel truck was used in the dramatic rescue of Margaret McGonigle, owner of the drug store building, who was trapped on the roof. (Sun Prairie Star-Countryman photo)
Fire crews from Sun Prairie, DeForest, Stoughton and Marshall battled the blaze. (Sun Prairie Star-Countryman photo)
Shelby Beers behind the counter of the Crosse and Cross Drugstore, circa 1920s. (Sun Prairie Public Museum photo)