Reflecting on chilling, cold case--the Weckler murder
I sensed the phone call was coming, and Dad rang me Tuesday at The Gazette office. He wanted to know if we'd done a story on investigators digging on Janesville's northeast side in hopes of finding the remains of a Fort Atkinson girl who disappeared in 1947. Of course, I told him. It was our lead story Tuesday, and a follow-up is on 1A today (Wednesday).
Dad has mentioned the Weckler case from time to time through the years as we discussed various murders, stories that come up too often in my business of news. He was 16 and remembers being a sophomore at Marshall High School when 8-year-old Georgia Jean Weckler disappeared from her rural Fort Atkinson home. Like Georgia Jean, Dad was growing up on a farm, but one county and about 20 miles away. He said her disappearance made headlines in newspapers statewide for weeks.
Dad asked how familiar I am with Highway 12 between Cambridge and Fort Atkinson. Not much, I replied. Dad for years delivered meat for Swift, and his route often included Highway 12. He's now 82 but remembers George Weckler's farm as including the highest hill on that stretch. He says it had a long, sloping driveway to the farmhouse across the valley.
A Gazette story from 1947 says a woman whose daughter attended school with Georgia Jean Weckler dropped her off at her farm lane, then saw her get the mail from the mailbox and start down the driveway. The Weckler girl was never seen again.
Dad thinks it was a mistake to let her walk down that long driveway alone instead of driving her up to the farmhouse. Of course, hindsight is easy today. Our hyper media world today spreads news of abductions quickly. Back 66 years ago, news of such incidents was rare and I imagine people were seldom concerned that something sinister might befall a child in broad daylight.
No one around Marshall was concerned, Dad says, though lots of rural kids hoofed it to school those days. He remembers one theory being that Georgia Jean fell victim to the notorious killer Ed Gein of Plainfield, Wis., though Dad believes that idea farfetched.
As today's Gazette reports, a tipster led authorities to believe Georgia Jean might be buried on the vacant Janesville lot. However, that might not be the best spot to dig. Dan Plutchak reports in Walworth County Today that in 1996, Jefferson County detectives investigated a claim by a Delavan man that Weckler was buried alongside the foundation of a Delavan business. Ed Lindloff, a former town of Delavan chairman and Delavan City Council member, contacted the weekly newspaper to tell a story that gnawed at him for decades.
Lindloff, who died in 2012 at age 92, went to his grave convinced he knew where Weckler's body is buried. Lindloff said he spoke to two men laying a foundation who talked about going out to find “girls,” one saying, “The younger the better.” He later saw them remove from the trunk of their car an object about 4½ feet long and wrapped in a sheet or blanket, place it in a hole along the foundation and hastily cover it with dirt. Even later, he made the connection with the story about the missing girl.
Lindloff said that despite conversations with Walworth County's sheriff in the two years after Weckler's disappearance, he couldn't convince anyone to follow up on his lead.
After Lindloff's 1996 newspaper interview, authorities reviewed the case but decided not to excavate because they didn't believe Lindloff's story amounted to sufficient ties to the Weckler case.
Maybe authorities will yet uncover something in Janesville. Or maybe, just maybe, they're digging in the wrong county.