A True Story Of Murder In A College Town Reputed To Be Haunted
On Friday the thirteenth nineteen-year-old college student, Kathy Thomas, left the house anticipating a fun-filled evening of shopping, drinks, and playing pool with friends.
She waved goodbye to her stepfather, Sheriff McKenzie, as she drove her little orange Vega down the deserted street…completely unaware of the evil that Friday the 13th had in store for her…
The discovery of her dead body four days later in Hillside Cemetery left the residents of Whitewater shocked and afraid. Windows were closed and doors remained locked.
Prepare to anticipate every move that investigators make as they follow lead after lead until they develop a suspect.
When the perpetrator is finally brought to justice you’ll realize that certain parts of his story… just don’t add up…and you’ll be left to figure out if the murderer is revealing the whole truth…
The southeastern college town of Whitewater, Wisconsin, appears to be as unassuming and ordinary as any other town. Populated with nearly fifteen thousand people, in the convivial atmosphere of the downtown area, sets a diverse array of restaurants, boutiques, bars, and coffee shops.
If you travel west on Main Street from the downtown area, you pass by sorority and fraternity houses, one of which comedian, John Belushi once happened to live. The Empire-style house with Queen Anne-style details has since been converted into Hamilton Bed and Breakfast. It is mingled among other stately homes, many Italianate-style, which were hugely popular in the mid eighteen hundreds. The University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, which spans four hundred acres, fronts to Main Street as well.
By all accounts, the picturesque town looks like a wonderful place to live, with its welcoming waterways and beautiful parks. Wonderful that is, if you haven’t heard the stories of the town being haunted—which is certainly not unheard of. Some people, who have lived in the area for years, when asked if they think the town is haunted, will chuckle and say they have never heard of anything so absurd. On the other hand, some folks believe either through their own experience, or they just plain believe. Of course, there are the naysayers, the ones who have heard but won’t acknowledge any of the lore. Not in any way, shape, or form.
Some even wonder how in the world a local establishment came up with a name like-Second Salem Brewing Company. But in all actuality, the city has been referred to as the second Salem for years.
Many of the frightening tales of Whitewater being haunted seem to have originated around 1889 when The Morris Pratt Institute was developed for the purpose of spiritualistic study. Although the desire to communicate with the dead had existed for centuries, in the mid-nineteenth century spiritualism became somewhat of a phenomenon and was noticeably prevalent in Whitewater.
The institute soon earned the name “Spook Temple.” No doubt the reference stemmed from what was going on in a psychic research class which was held there. The students, spiritualists, mediums, witches…or whatever you want to call them, met in a special pure white room. And neither they nor the teachers were allowed to enter unless they wore white gowns.
Their psychic research in the “white room,” involved studying the relation between the living and the dead. In other words—séances were conducted. There is no documented proof that the students were ever actually able to communicate with the dead. However, there is rumored to be a secret “Witch’s Book,” kept hidden under lock and key in the University Library. And, as the story goes, if an unsuspecting person reads from the pages he or she will go mad—or worse yet—meet an unfortunate death.
The coven of witches was said to have held ceremonies in nearby Starin Park, around the stone water tower. The water tower still stands today, and some refer to it as the “Witch’s Tower.”
There are several underground tunnels throughout the city. Some say the tunnels were strictly used as part of the underground railway; others say the witches often traveled in the tunnels—to avoid prying eyes.
There are three cemeteries in Whitewater…Calvary, Oak Grove, and Hillside, which form an isosceles triangle, known to some as the “Witch’s Triangle.” Legend has it that everything within and around the area of the triangle is haunted.
So either way, whether the townsfolk believe or don’t believe—like it or not—forever imprinted in the towns legacy are accounts of witches, ghosts, hauntings, and unnatural death.
And for some residents, as the sun sets and the darkness of night settles over the town, the glow emanating from the street lights do little to keep whatever evil may be lurking in the shadows, concealed from their thoughts.
But sometimes evil does more than just pervade ones’ thoughts with fear. It becomes a living breathing entity. Cunning and deceitful, evil is relentless. It seeks you out and latches on—your fate is sealed—you are destined to become its next victim…
Alan had just arrived in Whitewater and planned to spend the entire summer there—maybe longer. On the few occasions he had previously been there, he stayed with his sister. She was attending the University and had her own apartment. This time he was hoping to land a job, so he could help his sister out with the rent and groceries, therefore extending his stay.
On June 17, Alan’s day started out as ordinary as any other, but how it ended was something he wasn’t likely to ever forget. After getting out of bed around eleven that morning, he spent the better part of the day looking for employment and filling out applications.
Late that afternoon he decided to go fishing. He wasn’t all that familiar with the area, but he knew there were plenty of fishing spots, and lucky for him they were all within biking distance. Not that he couldn’t drive, he could, but his license just happened to be unattainable to him, thanks to his latest ticket.
He studied the map his sister had given him and decided on Cravath Lake. It was just across town so he knew he could pedal there in ten minutes or so. He got his fishing gear together and took off riding east on Main Street.
Things were pretty quiet when he got to the downtown area. It was after five, so the stores were all closed for the day. Not much going on at the bars. There probably wouldn’t be either—it was only Tuesday.
He rode by the Rathskeller and thought he might stop there for a beer on his way back from fishing. It was a cool bar in the lower level of the building. He liked the name Rathskeller too. It reminded him of a bunch of rats drinking beer while they scurried around in a cellar. He laughed aloud and thought. “I could be one of those rats.”
As he continued down Main Street little did he know he would soon be in an interrogation room trying to explain—where, when, and what bars he had frequented in Whitewater.
He crossed the bridge on Main Street and turned onto South Wisconsin Street. The lake was on his right, set back a few hundred feet. He followed along the street passing several houses and the American Legion. He pedaled slowly as he watched for a clearing or trail. So far everything was mostly private property.
When he neared the bridge that crossed the water, there were two guys, looked like a father and son, dangling their poles off the bridge. He slowed down and hollered out. “Catching any?”
Without turning around, the younger one replied excitedly as he reeled in his line.
“We’ve only been here about a half hour, and I already caught a blue gill, and it looks like I just got another one.”
Alan stopped to watch as the fish dangling on the line cleared the bridge. He caught a flash of vibrant yellow as it spun around. It looked to be about ten inches long.
The younger fisherman was grinning from ear to ear as the older one looked on, seemingly bursting with pride.
“But my Dad didn’t catch any yet!” he laughed.
“Well have fun,” Alan said. He didn’t want to infringe on their fishing spot, so he rode off.
Before he knew it, he was at the cemetery. He stopped at the entrance and read the inscription chiseled into the huge granite stones on either side of the iron gates. Hillside Cemetery. Although the gates were open, he hesitated before going in.
It wasn’t that graveyards bothered him, but he was a little freaked out by the stories his sister told him. She heard most of them at college. As stories go, no telling what was added or how they were fabricated from the beginning.
Most were about the town’s three cemeteries. Something about them forming a triangle and everything around them was supposedly haunted. Spooky stuff about ghosts, and witches, and figures robed in black, lurking around the “Witches Tower.” The thought gave him the creeps.
He remembered when he was a few years younger his sister tried to get him to play some stupid game called Bloody Mary. You were supposed to stare into a mirror and say, Bloody Mary three times, then something bad was supposed to happen. He never played, but come to think of it, she told him the story originated in Whitewater, and Bloody Mary was really Mary Worth who was buried in this very cemetery—he didn’t know if that was another one of her concocted stories or what.
An involuntary shudder ran through his body. Oh well, he planned on leaving before dark anyway. Besides, he didn’t bring a jacket, and the temps were expected to drop down into the fifties.
He set his mind back on fishing and rode up the steep hill and followed the road that wound around the back of the cemetery, adjacent to the lake. The graves were on his left; they didn’t intimidate him at all. He didn’t see anything spooky about the place, in fact, he thought it was kind of neat.
The grave markers started at the top of the hill by the main road. They were asymmetrically scattered around the winding roads, as the hill sloped downwards toward the lake. Although the lake was visible in places the landscape was overgrown with trees and shrubs, some areas more so than others were.
Alan thought it must be a good place for fishing because there were quite a few trails leading down to the water. He rode his bike down each one of the dirt paths in search of the perfect spot. One area looked as if it were a popular partying destination. Leftover remnants—empty beer cans, fast food wrappers, and cigarette butts were strewn around. There was also fishing line tangled up in the overhanging branches. Some poor fisherman must have overcast in his excitement to catch the next big one.
As he checked them all out, he thought anyone of the places would be great to sit and fish all day, but as long as he was there, he thought he might as well check all of them.
Alan came to a trail that was wider than the other ones were—more like a gravel road. He followed it and soon discovered it was a dead-end that dropped off. He turned around to leave and noticed someone half hidden in the shrubs, so he quickly turned his head away. Their back was to him, and it looked as if they were crouched down. He thought the person was going to the bathroom or may even be involved in a sexual act.
As he rode back out to the clearing, he couldn’t help but think something could be wrong. Something about what he just saw didn’t seem quite right to him…kind of like an unnatural stillness.
He turned around and rode back down the road to have another look. The person was in the same position as before, and as he took a longer look, he noticed the head was down. Becoming concerned, he yelled out. “Hey, are you alright?” There was no response or movement. Fearing the person was hurt and may need help, he got off his bike. He looked around to see if anyone else was in the area, as he cautiously approached.
As he came within five feet of the person, he assumed it was a female because he could see a bra, but it was all askew. Her back was scraped up and bruised, and her neck looked like it was all bloody. At this point, Alan determined something was very wrong. She was either hurt badly—or he thought it was quite possible—she may even be dead.
He sprinted back to his bike and rode out of there as fast as he could. He almost wrecked it a few times as he tried to dodge the potholes along the bumpy roadway. When he reached the main road that entered the cemetery, he turned back to look and was relieved to see that no one was following him. He didn’t want to believe it, but he knew that the person was dead, and most likely not from natural causes. He tried, but couldn’t shake the image of that poor girl just lying there, seemingly posed, in that weird position.
One thing was for sure, he needed to report whatever it was that had happened. He remembered there was a Texaco station up ahead where he turned onto Wisconsin Street. When he rode in he saw the payphone outside but didn’t have any change. No one was at the gas pumps, so he went inside.
The woman at the counter looked up as Alan walked in. She didn’t take particular notice of him, other than the fact he seemed in a hurry.
As Alan walked over to the cashier, he thought that what he felt like inside would be obvious by his appearance. Most likely she would question him, but she didn’t. He was glad because he sure didn’t want to try and explain anything to her.
“Could you please tell me where the Police Department is?” he asked, trying hard to keep his voice from shaking. The directions she gave him were easy to remember. He thanked her and left. It was about five or six blocks away. A straight shot down Main, then a couple blocks over. Wasting no time, he went through a red light and was there in about a minute flat.
Alan arrived at the Whitewater Police Department. Upon entering the lobby, he tried to compose himself so as not to give the impression that he was some kind of a nut.
Dispatcher Cupery looked up from her desk as the young man entered. She was somewhat alarmed by his appearance. He looked to be around twenty, and his dark hair was clinging to his forehead with sweat. But he didn’t look overheated—in fact—just the opposite. He was as white as a sheet as if he had just seen a ghost.
“Can I help you young man?” her tone was of concern.
Without taking a breath, Alan blurted out. “I just moved here today, and I found a dead body in the cemetery.”
Lines creased Cupery’s forehead as she looked at him questionably…she wondered if he was being serious.
Alan, sensing her skepticism, quickly added. “It wasn’t by the graves; it was closer to the water.”
The dispatcher got up from her desk and retrieved a city map. Opening it, she extended it towards Alan. “Just so we’re certain, could you point out which cemetery it was?”
Alan studied the map for a moment. “That’s it—that’s it!” Alan exclaimed as he pointed to the Hillside Cemetery.
Mary Kathleen Thomas, along with her mom, older brother, and two sisters moved to the area from Iowa in the early sixties. Her mom married a local Walworth County Sheriff, and the family of six settled down to make Whitewater their permanent home.
Like most kids growing up in small town America in the sixties and seventies, Mary lived a carefree existence. Imagination had no boundaries, and fun was at an all-time high.
On warm summer evenings, neighborhood kids would gather in the streets to play games. Like kick the can, and hide and seek. There was never the risk of staying out past curfew, because when the streetlights came on, and the lightning bugs lit up, every kid knew it was time to go in for the night.
Riding bikes around town was also a favorite pastime. There was always the stop at the corner store to buy penny gum or candy before going home for supper.
Sweltering days were spent at the lake. Upon arriving, the race was on to see who could make it to the water first. Hot afternoons were spent lounging on the beach. The girls took turns slathering each other’s backs with suntan lotion in hopes of achieving the darkest tan.
As Mary grew older, she liked to be called Kathy which was a shorter version of her middle name. She was a pretty teenager with a sweet smile. Like many of the girls, she wore her long brown hair, straight, and parted down the middle.
Kathy attended Sunday school at Saint Patrick’s Catholic Church. She achieved good grades throughout her school years. In high school, she was a member of the concert band and the Spanish club. She was very athletic and joined the girls’ basketball team. During the summer months, she played on the girls’ softball team that was sponsored by the Woodshed bar.
Kathy had a very outgoing personality, which most likely accounted for all the friends she had. When it came to boys, she was never in lack of a date for the dance because she always had a boyfriend more often than not. But being the free spirit Kathy was, she never kept a boyfriend for any length of time. If a boy started to become too possessive, she wasted no time in telling him to bug off.
Kathy didn’t mind work, and she wanted to earn her own money. When she was old enough, she landed her first job working at the local Hardees. She worked at the Sentry grocery store part time. She also waited tables at the Delphi in town and cooked at a couple of the area resorts.
Kathy graduated from Whitewater High School with the class of 1979. That was also the year she turned eighteen, and like most kids during that time, she couldn’t wait to move out of the house. She moved in with one of her friends, near Lake Loraine. After a couple of months, she left there and moved to Janesville.
She lived there at her girlfriend, Debbie’s house. During that time, they both spent time at the bars. They frequented two in particular, Precinct and Campbell’s. According to Debbie, they were considered to be the two worst bars in town, but neither of the girls minded. They went there to have fun. Drink, find drugs—like “Christmas trees” and marijuana, and to play pool. Kathy loved to play pool, and she was very good at it.
Kathy only lived there about three weeks, and then Debbie told her she had to move out. She was sorry, but she had small children in the home, and she became concerned for their welfare.
Debbie wasn’t happy with some of the choices that Kathy made. Apparently, she started coming home drunk and bringing guys home with her, who Debbie didn’t approve of. She knew a few of them, which she described as being leaks and animals. One in particular Debbie didn’t like—she nicknamed him Animal. He scared her. She knew him to have a violent temper, and he had previously made a pass at her.
Kathy realized Debbie’s situation and moved back to Whitewater. She didn’t want to move back in with her parents, so she lived with a few different friends until enrolling in art classes at the college.
Art had always been Kathy’s passion. She enjoyed both painting and drawing, particularly landscapes and people. In September of 1979, she moved into Wells East Tower on campus.
When classes were dismissed for the summer, Kathy moved back home…not that she wanted to, but she had no other choice. She was so undecided about her future—she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do, or which direction she wanted to go. Her older brother and sister had joined the Marines, and her younger sister already had a summer job.
Kathy had applied for several different jobs in Whitewater and the surrounding area. Hardee’s, Lake Lawn Lodge, maintenance at the University, Borgs in Delavan, Larson’s Canning in Fort Atkinson.
The job she was really hoping to get was with the police department in Fort Atkinson. It was a temporary position for the summer months, working as a bicycle and safety officer. In the meantime, she was occasionally working for Paul Underwood at the saddle shop in town.
Although classes had only been out for a few weeks, Kathy was disheartened that things weren’t going better for her. She wasn’t happy about having to live at home. To make things worse, she didn’t get the job with the police department.
With the lack of anything better to do, she started going downtown to the bars at least three or four times a week. Her favorites were the Pumping Station, Mitchell’s, and the Woodshed. If there was an empty pool table, you could always find her with a pool cue in her hand standing barefoot with her shoes kicked off to the side.
On June 12, Kathy went to the Woodshed with her good friend Renee. Kathy was in good spirits that evening and talked about getting her life together. She spoke at length about one of her male friends, and Renee was under the impression that Kathy liked him a lot. Later on that evening he came into the Woodshed, and the three of them shared a pizza together. When he left the bar, Renee told Kathy that she liked him as he seemed like a very nice guy. The two girls stayed out late that evening—discussing boys and their plans for the future.
Friday the 13th was the last day Kathy would spend on this earth. She woke up feeling the warm sunshine on her face. Squinting, she rubbed her eyes. She didn’t think to pull the shade down before she got into bed. She looked at the clock. It was almost noon. As she lay in bed trying to wake up, she thought about her future and felt a renewed sense of self-worth.
Hopefully today she would get a call back on one of the jobs she had applied for. She was even feeling better about her overall appearance. Although she was considered attractive, she was still a little uncomfortable about her weight. She had gained a few pounds since graduating a year ago, and now she was determined to take them off.
She smiled as her thoughts drifted back to yesterday afternoon. She was walking in the downtown area when she passed by Officer Rollman. She stopped to say hi, and he complimented her on her new hairstyle. She had recently had it cut and lightened. It would take some getting used to after having long hair for so long. But she had received so many compliments, she felt good about it.
She knew most of the police officers in town, and they knew her. After all, she was Sheriff Dean McKenzie’s stepdaughter. Some she had met under not so good circumstances. There were quite a few times that different officers found her, as they would say, “sleeping it off.” They told Kathy’s dad, and of course, he told her mother. When her mom asked her about it, Kathy’s response was that she was not passed out from drinking—she was just sleeping.
Later that afternoon Kathy took a long bubble bath and spent some extra time doing her hair. She hadn’t made any plans yet for the weekend, but she knew she would most likely end up at the bars downtown playing pool.
A friend of the McKenzie’s had called and asked if they wanted to go out for Friday night fish fry. Mrs. McKenzie had to work in the Canteen at the Fort Atkinson Hospital, so she asked if Kathy wanted to go in her place. She was happy to go, so arrangements were made to meet the Hafford’s at the Copper Kettle at 5:00 pm.
Sheriff McKenzie was on weekend duty, so he and Kathy took the squad the short distance to the restaurant. The four had an enjoyable meal, dining on the fish, which was served with a choice of potatoes, coleslaw, and a roll. Mr. McKenzie, not being fond of the famous fish fry, opted for the chicken dinner instead.
When they arrived home, Kathy lingered outside on the front porch. Mr. McKenzie went inside to take off his suit coat and rid himself of his police gear—handcuffs, etcetera.
A few minutes later Kathy walked into the living room and noticed two new jackets lying on the couch. “Where did you get those?” she asked her Dad.
“Your mother and I went over to K-Mart in Fort Atkinson earlier today and bought them. I know they had quite a few green ones, a couple of red ones, and a black one left. Do you want to go see if you can find one?”
“I think I will,” Kathy replied. “I would at least like to drive over and look at them.”
Mr. McKenzie retrieved his wallet and pulled out a twenty-dollar bill. “Here,” he said, handing the money to Kathy. “My treat…keep the change.”
“Thanks,” she said putting it in her purse. “I think I’ll call Chad to see if she wants to ride over with me.”
Mr. McKenzie walked out onto the porch while Kathy called Chad. She arranged to pick her up in the next few minutes.
Kathy grabbed her jacket and purse, put on her shoes, and hurried out the door. She got into the orange Vega that was parked on the street. It was the family’s car. She used to have a 1973 green Camaro of her own. Unfortunately, she was forced to give it up because she was unable to make the monthly payments.
Just before getting into the car, she looked back at her Dad. “Thanks again,” she said. “I’ll be home soon.”
“No hurry,” he told her. “Your mom has to work until nine tonight anyway.”
Mr. McKenzie watched his stepdaughter drive down the deserted street until the car was out of sight. That was the last time he would ever see her alive.