Updated: 6:04pm EDTEarlier today, I found an article (excerpt below) on VanceHolmes.com. The website is maintained by Vance Holmes, a University of Minnesota alumnus, and carries the title "Drowning in Coincidence." Holmes posits the theory that there could be a serial killer on the loose or that these cases are all mysterious coincidences. It documents the 40 cases St. Cloud State University Professor, Dr. Lee Gilbertson, has studied. Gilbertson's research found that 94 percent of the 40 cases studied fell within 100 miles of Interstate 94 (near Lake Michigan) and that 56.3 percent were within 25 miles of I-94. Yet, Gilbertson initially stated he did not think a serial killer was afoot.
Although I originally reported that detectives Gannon and Duarte have done the "real" work, I'm starting to wonder if they are the public face of the investigation, while Dr. Gilbertson is the backbone. Anyway, on to the article...
VanceHolmes.com states the fact that several people began questioning the possible link between drowning deaths of young male college students at least seven years ago. While they may not have had a tangible link -- such as a smiley face or nicknames left at the scene -- friends and family of the young men have wondered if the deaths were related somehow.
For years, concerned citizens have commented, complained and cried about a series of mysterious student deaths labeled "drownings" and filed away as unfortunate but coincidental accidents. For years, those painful cries have been laughed off -- or worse yet, simply ignored. It's one thing to investigate and dismiss baseless theories -- it's another to shrug off the deaths of dozens of young men.
As far back as 2001, there was wide-spread speculation that the many cases were related. With each new awful death, suspicion and frustration moved closer to fear and anger. Soon the talk became about a possible serial-killer, or copy cat killer stalking college campuses in the Midwest.
How many boys have strangely gone missing only to turn up dead in the river? Impossible to know. It all depends on what parameters you set, what you consider "strange," and how far back you go. Certainly, there have been 8 unsettling cases in the last 9 years -- and that's in the La Crosse area alone.
Looking at cases spanning the midwest, St. Cloud Minnesota professor, Dr. Lee Gilbertson, estimates a number between 26 and 30.
Needless to say, even one student's mysterious drowning is one too many and should be addressed by authorities. As Arthur Miller wrote in Death of a Salesman, "Attention must be paid." But obviously, an on-going series of eerily similar disappearances warrants a full -- on-going -- investigation.
The road is long indeed that never bends. Finally, a multi-agency review of the cases has begun. I sincerely hope this investigation brings some comfort to the many families, friends, students, and troubled on-lookers who want answers.
Speaking personally -- all I've ever wanted is for someone to pay attention. I've agonized at the thought of these men's deaths, and the thought that nobody in authority was looking into them. The one commonality I was certain of, was that all these identical drownings were being ignored and written off as "coincidence."
When family members have a gut feeling that something's not simply an accident -- police owe it to them to pay some attention. When a whole community of people have an unshakeable feeling that the mystery deaths will continue -- the authorities have to pay attention -- or be blamed for their willful ignorance. At long last, attention is being paid.
Excerpts from October 16, 2006 reports from WXOW News.