Walworth County mourns loss of Coroner John Griebel, Wisconsin's longest-serving elected official

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Andrea Anderson
Tuesday, December 31, 2013

ELKHORN — No matter the time or the temperature, the late Walworth County coroner dressed to impress.

“There would be times I would go to homicide scenes and it would be 3 in the morning, and I'm all blurry-eyed and there is John, every single time, in a coat, tie and dress pants,” said Phil Koss, former district attorney and now judge. “I don't care if it was 10 below, raining, 85 degrees out, John was always dressed to the nines.”

John Griebel, 79, died Dec. 20 at Lakeland Medical Center in Elkhorn.

Griebel, the longest-serving elected official in the state, was in his 26th term as coroner. He was elected in 1960 after starting his career as a Walworth County deputy sheriff in 1956.

As coroner, he investigated more than 18,000 deaths, according to Gazette archives.

When Griebel started, the caseload was 85 deaths per year. It increased to about 1,100 per year in 2009.

Koss described Griebel as a devoted and professional man who worked and collaborated with the district attorney's office. Koss' friendship with Griebel began when he started as an assistant district attorney in 1985.

“Maybe it's corny, but I knew he believed in serving the public,” Koss said.

Griebel never appeared rattled or panicked by the cases he handled.

“He did his job and didn't allow circumstances to change that,” Koss said. 

Griebel served on the board of directors of the Wisconsin Coroners and Medical Examiners Association before he became the association's president.

In 1979, Griebel was appointed to the Wisconsin Sudden Infant Death Syndrome Project Community Council. The organization is responsible for coordinating SIDS investigations and providing services to the parents of SIDS victims.

While Griebel worked to give back to the state as a whole, he remained rooted in the Elkhorn community.

He graduated from Elkhorn High School in 1952, served as secretary for the Elkhorn Area Fire Department for 24 years and owned a local shoe company, John's Bootery of Elkhorn.

Griebel's cause of death has not been made public.

He had been recovering from an October car crash, Koss said.

His death “certainly must have stemmed from this,” Koss said.

Griebel had no children and is survived by his wife, Barbara Brand-Griebel.

The governor's office called Griebel's death an “unfortunate passing” in a news release issued Monday.

Gov. Scott Walker is accepting applications at walker.wi.gov for the Walworth County coroner position.

Chief Deputy Coroner Thomas Miller will take over coroner duties until Walker picks a replacement.

The new coroner will complete Griebel's term ending January 5, 2015, according to the release.

Applicants must live in Walworth County when beginning the job.

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