Investigators working to ID bodies found in suitcases in town of Geneva

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Andrea Anderson
Friday, June 6, 2014

TOWN OF GENEVA—Police hope autopsies will help identify two bodies found in suitcases Thursday afternoon along North Como Road, town of Geneva police Chief Steven Hurley said.

A town highway worker mowing in the area discovered the suitcases early Thursday afternoon. Highway workers move debris from the ditch to the side of the road, and the items are collected on Mondays and Fridays, Hurley said.

The worker moved the suitcases to the side of the road to be picked up Friday morning. A person called police later Thursday to report the suitcases beside the road.

Police responded at about 3 p.m. to North Como Road near County H, about a half mile from the police station. Cornfields line the road. The bodies were found about midway between Elkhorn and Lake Geneva.

A town of Geneva man said he smelled something "rotting" when he and his son went for a bicycle ride Tuesday night along North Como Road.

“If there's a dead deer or something along the road, it stinks, and so that's what I assumed it was,” Dale Tomaski said. “I didn't really think much of it.”

Now, Dale Tomaski knows what he smelled wasn't a dead deer but two bodies, he said. He realized that after seeing police block entrances to North Como Road Thursday and the news reports Friday.

Police blocked the road for about five hours Thursday, Tomaski said. His property borders the field where the bodies were found.

The rural road doesn't see much traffic, Diane McCarten said. McCarten lives on North Como Road near where the suitcases were found.

Officer Eric Anderson, a 10-year veteran of the department, opened the cases, Hurley said.

“It's certainly something that's unsettling, making a discovery like that,” Hurley said. “I talked to him, and he said he had to step back a minute and take a deep breath and collect his thoughts, but he handled it very professionally and continued to do his job.”

Hurley assured residents that they are safe but declined to say why.

“I'm not at liberty to release information at this time, but through our investigation, I can state that,” he said.

The deaths did not occur where the suitcases were found, according to a police department news release.

“Investigators are working very diligently in identifying any leads in the case … this is an isolated event,” Hurley said.

“This is a very quiet town, a close-knit town,” he said. “Everybody knows everybody.”

Helen--who declined to give her last name because she lives alone--has lived on North Como Road for 54 years. She frequently walks her dog along the road and didn't notice suitcases or anything suspicious.

McCarten and Helen, neighbors, both said they feel safe, despite the incident.

“I'm not fearful,” Helen said. “I feel shocked it would happen … But I'm not going to be fearful living here.”

Hurley would not comment on the condition of the bodies or suitcases Friday.

The autopsies will give authorities approximate times of death, he said. Autopsies were not complete Friday and would continue through the weekend or Monday, Hurley said late afternoon Friday.

A detective told McCarten the bodies were decomposing, McCarten told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Thursday was the first time workers mowed grass. Before then, suitcases could be hidden by thick and high grass, McCarten said.

“I don't think it's anyone from here,” McCarten told The Gazette. “I think it's someone who just dumped them because everybody is close here. We all know each other, and we're shocked.”

On Thursday, Tomaski saw what he thought was a plastic bag the size of a moped lying on the road. He couldn't speculate if it was one of the suitcases. 

Jessica Finster, a bartender at Holly's Como Inn, down the road on County H, didn't know about the incident until a reporter told her Friday.

She said she was shocked and scared. Finster opens or closes the bar most days.

"I'm by myself, and I don't feel comfortable knowing there are bodies in suitcases close to where I work," Finster said. "I'm not too happy now."

Police are reviewing a national list of missing persons.

The Walworth County Sheriff's Office is assisting in the investigation.

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