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Corridor 94
Written by Editor   
Friday, 26 May 2006 21:17

Magnolia over at Southern Sass on Crime recently posted an article regarding the rumor that a serial killer may be responsible for close to forty drowning or missing college men over the past decade. Although this angle has been discussed in detail on various blogs and web forums, it remains the stuff of urban legends. Even so, two sites provide in-depth material regarding these cases-- poetic justice and child seek network. With the death of Jared Dion in April of 2004, the serial murder rumor was rekindled, this time resulting in a crime library article. Both University officials and local law enforcement attempted to address the rising tide of speculation--one releasing a statement while attempting to provide a confirmatory bias analogy in the form of comparing various speculations to "seeing zebras instead of horses" and the other holding a town hall meeting, respectively.

Urban Legends die hard--especially when they involve speculations about possible serial killers. On May 22, 2006, Fox News aired a report by St. Cloud State University graduate students. They had decided to take a forensic approach to see what, if any, patterns might be revealed. Among these, they found that more than half of the cases occurred around Interstate corridor 94 with a variance of ±50 miles. Their professor claimed there was a "notable west-east-west crisscross pattern" between East Lansing Michigan and Minneapolis Minnesota. One of the students noted that "the majority of the incidents occurred between September and May, inclusive" and another pointed out the "moon cycles during the disappearances" thus setting the scene for less than perfect lighting. They opined that a serial killer--"a 30-to-40-something traveling salesman"--was using Interstate corridor 94 to traipse the Great Lakes region, killing young college men along the way. The proposed motive was the "reliving of a traumatic college experience."

Whatever the case, the majority of the report focused upon a " mysterious man" who was uncovered by private investigator, Chuck Loesch. Mr. Loesch, who had been hired by the Jenkins to investigate the death of their son, alleges that in the course of his investigation, he stumbled upon a man who not only claimed to have serial killer fantasies involving drowning, but "lived in the Minneapolis area around the time of the disappearances." From the 2003 article, the " mysterious man" was alleged to be in Jail in Missouri due to "threats to kill his boss." From the Fox interview, the " mysterious man" now resides in St. Charles Missouri. While he has yet to be investigated for either the missing or the drownings, my guess is that law enforcement ruled him out because they did not feel he had enough executive functioning to carry out his fantasies.

Although I do not necessarily agree with the "corridor 94" or "switch-back Lansing-La Crosse" hypothesis nor do I see anything particularly spectacular with regard to the dates (i.e., September to May are natural months for schools to be in session, thus a larger number of 18-24 year-olds will be gathered thereby increasing the probability for alcohol-related accidents) or the full-moon versus no-moon (i.e., its much easier to stumble into a body of water in the dark, especially if one has been drinking), the numbers and locations, in conjunction with Loeschs allegations, are provocative. That, and I'm all for testing a null hypothesis or two or ten. But first, a brief overview of the forty missing or drowned men is in order.

The first attributed and as of yet-- unsolved incident--involved Franklin Gottschalk, on February 2, 1997, in East Lansing Michigan. Mr. Gottschalk remains missing today, and his disappearance did not involve alcohol. Within the coming months three drowning incidents occurred in La Cross Wisconsin. The very first La Crosse incident, which occurred on July 11, 1997 involved Richard Hlavaty, and can be ruled out, as that allegedly involved several individuals who hurled stones at Mr. Hlavaty and his brother chasing them into the river. Mr. Hlavatys body was later recovered and did show signs of abrasions that support this scenario. The other two drownings occurred in September & October of 1997, and the men had a BAC of 0.31% and 0.23%, respectively.

Two more young men drowned on December 31, 1997. One in East Lansing Michigan and the other in NYC New York. Both were last seen leaving a party and neither BACs were made public. Another drowning occurred in La Crosse Wisconsin in February 1998, followed by a drowning in Athens Ohio in April 1998, another La Cross drowning in April of 1999, two more drownings--one in January and the other in November 2000, in Oakwood Illinois and Gary Indiana, respectively, and then back to La Cross in March of 2001. Of these six, four were University students, four had BAC of 0.22% or greater, and the BACs of the other two were not made public--though all young men were last seen leaving either a tavern or a party and all were reported to have been inebriated to one degree or the other.

18 year-old Justin Hyduk also drowned in March 2001. His BAC was not made public. Two more men drowned in October and November of 2001--one in East Lansing Michigan, the other in Minneapolis Minnesota, respectively. 18 year-old Eric Blair had a BAC of 0.14%. 28 year-old Christopher Nordby simply disappeared and was later found in the Mississippi River. He had not been drinking.

Five men drowned in 2002, one each in April, September, October, November, and December. In addition to these five drownings, 20 year-old Joshua Guimond went missing from Collegeville Minnesota in November and 17 year-old Brian Carrick went missing from Johnsburg Illinois in December. The five drowning incidents occurred in Chicago Illinois, Eau Claire Wisconsin, Minneapolis Minnesota, Eau Claire Wisconsin, and Southbend Indiana, respectively. Of all seven cases, 21 year-old Chris Jenkins was the only individual who had been drinking and his reported BAC was only 0.09%.

Another six men drowned in 2003, two in January, and one each in February, March, June, and November. The drownings occurred in Sheboygan Wisconsin, Hinckley Minnesota, Chicago Illinois, New Orleans Louisiana, Madison Wisconsin, and Lena Illinois, respectively. Of the six, two were University students and three were reportedly last seen leaving a party or tavern, though their BACs were not made public.

There were two drownings in 2004. The first in April, involving University student, 20 year-old Jared Dion from La Crosse, whose death once again raised the specter of a possible Serial Killer. His reported BAC was 0.29%. The second was 21 year-old Adam Falcon of Canton New York. Though he was last seen leaving a party, his BAC was not made public.

Another six drownings occurred in 2005, one in January, two in April, and one each in June, September, and October. These occurred in Washington DC, NYC New York, Vincennes Indiana, Eau Claire Wisconsin, Moorhead Minnesota, and Potsdam New York, respectively. Of these six, four were University students or Alumni, three were last seen leaving a party or tavern, and one had a reported BAC of 0.17%, while the BACs of the others were not made public.

And finally, three drownings have occurred thus far, this year, one each in February, April, and May, in St. Cloud Minnesota, Ste. Genevieve Missouri, and NYC New York, respectively. In addition, 27 year-old medical student, Brian Shaffer, of Columbus Ohio, went missing in April of this year. Of these four 17 year-old Wade Lurk--who Steve Huff of huff crime blog writes about here and here, along with two crime library articles here and here--was the only individual who was said to have been drinking. He had a reported BAC of 0.23%. Which brings us to the present.

In the process of reading about the aforementioned incidents, I noted several things. For example, over half of the missing or drowned had left a party or tavern in the early morning hours--twelve having a reported BAC of greater than 0.20% and of those with no publicly reported BAC, witnesses reported that they were inebriated. Furthermore seven of the forty incidents occurred in La Crosse Wisconsin, three each in Eau Claire Wisconsin and East Lansing Michigan, and two each in Minneapolis Minnesota, St. Cloud Minnesota, and Chicago Illinois. Of the remaining nineteen incidents sixteen occurred in Illinois, Indiana, and Minnesota, and Ohio, leaving seven that occurred outside of the Midwestern states. And finally, less than half of the forty incidents involved University students and the mean age was 21.25 with a median age of 21.

At first glance, simple statistics suggest the results are greater than chance. If we look at this from the victimology angle while following the proposed serial killer hypothesis--based upon the assumption that someone is killing college students under the guise of an alcohol-related accident--eighteen of the forty individuals were last seen at a tavern or party, and of those eleven were students of which five had a reported BAC of 0.20% or greater. This in and of itself rules out a serial killer focusing on inebriated college students in that only 12.5% of the individuals fit this victimology profile.

If we say, modified the profile and assumed said killer is preying upon young men under the guise of an alcohol-related accident, seventeen of the forty individuals were last seen at a tavern or party fall within the age-range of 17 to 23 years-old, with both a mean and median age of 20 years-old. Of those seventeen, eleven had a reported BAC of 0.20%, seven were from La Crosse Wisconsin, two from East Lansing Michigan, and one each from Moorehead Minesota, Minneapolis Minesota, Oakwood Illinois, Chicago Illinois, Gary Indiana, Eau Claire Wisconsin, and Sheboygan Wisconsin, Ste. Genevieve Missouri, and Athens Ohio. Based upon the spread alone, the serial killer hypothesis could arguably be ruled out here as well, since the travel requirement outcome would be as follows:

East Lansing MI1997-02-02La Crosse WI1997-10-10
East Lansing MI1997-12-31La Crosse WI1998-02-22
Athens OH1998-04-25La Crosse WI1999-04-13
Gary IN2000-01-01Oakwood IL2000-11-05
La Crosse WI2001-03-01East Lansing MI2001-10-20
Chicago IL2002-04-12Eau Claire WI2002-09-29
Minneapolis MN2002-10-31Eau Claire WI2002-11-06
Collegeville MN2002-11-09Southbend IN2002-12-12
Johnsburg IL2002-12-20Sheboygan WI2003-01-10
Hinckley MN2003-01-20Chicago IL2003-02-08
Madison WI2003-06-01Lena IL2003-11-01
La Crosse WI2004-04-10Vincennes IN2005-04-16
Eau Claire WI2005-06-12Moorhead MN2005-09-23
St. Cloud MN2006-02-02 

As you can see from the above, no real pattern exists. That is, if the goal is to catch up all drownings and missing students within the Midwest. All things being equal, and assuming there were a serial killer who was acting upon his fantasies, we could consider those incidents involving the Minneapolis area. In such a scenario, thirty-three of the forty reported incidents occurred within the Great Lakes region and fifteen--or almost ½--of those occurred within 100 miles of Minneapolis Minnesota. Of the fiften incidents, seven occurred in La Crosse Wisconsin although all seven incidents involved enough alcohol to support alcohol-related accidents--a BAC of 0.22% or greater--and at least one of the seven did have witnesses. Of the other eight incidents, the two Minneapolis drownings occurred less than two miles apart, and two of the Eau Claire Wisconsin drownings occurred in the same 15-foot-deep pond, with the third drowning, less than a mile away. And finally, only two of these remaining eight incidents involved alcohol in some form, leaving six arguably suspicious incidents in the Minneapolis area (of which five involved drowning and one, a missing person). Nonetheless, the resulting scenario would be as follows:

La Crosse WI1997-10-10
La Crosse WI1998-02-22
La Crosse WI1999-04-13
La Crosse WI2001-03-01
Eau Claire WI2002-09-29
Minneapolis MN2002-10-31
Eau Claire WI2002-11-06
Collegeville MN2002-11-09
Hinckley MN2003-01-20
La Crosse WI2004-04-10
Eau Claire WI2005-06-12
St. Cloud MN2006-02-02

As for the other Midwest incidents. While one might suggest that the two Chicago deaths be included, simply due to their physical proximity (i.e., the bodies were found on the Lake Michigan shoreline and within a block of each other), Glen Leadley, a NIU student was the only local victim. Albert Papandreou was a sightseer. That, and the deaths occurred well over a year apart.

That being said, and while the number of alcohol-related drownings indicate a serious problem, lets consider them within the context of the larger picture. From the March 2002, Journal of Studies on Alcohol, " Magnitude of Alcohol-Related Mortality and Morbidity among U.S. College Students Ages 18-24" (Hingson RW, Heeren T, Zakocs RC, Kopstein A, & Wechsler H, 2003), the authors note "the incidence of nontraffic related deaths among college students is 10,052." In other words, the statistics alone indicate that the 23 alcohol related drownings were nothing more than terribly unfortunate accidents. Furthermore, if we examine the data within this context, of the remaining seventeen non-alcohol related incidents, fourteen occurred within the Midwest, and of those four involved missing persons, leaving a total of ten suspicious drownings, of which only two were students. Again, while the deaths may be suspicious, even this scenario does not particularly support the "serial killer after college students" hypothesis.

In any event, in the end, perhaps La Cross police Lieutenant said it best during the town hall meeting when he noted, "[The La Crosse] community is like an alcoholic. [People] would rather think a killer is loose than admit that [their children have] a drinking problem." Sadly college drinking problems are not just limited to the La Crosse or greater Minneapolis community. Thus, the 23 alcohol-related deaths over the past decade, while indeed tragic, are not particularly surprising.

NB: For a spatial view of the aforementioned, and in addition to the above links, please refer to the Corridor 94 crime map.

Dark Waters
River`s edge

Crime map legend:

Unsolved Murder


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