Search for Fort Atkinson girl called off after fifth day
JANESVILLE—After 66 years of searches turned up no trace of Georgia Jean Weckler, the latest effort to find the Fort Atkinson girl's remains in a Janesville lot was probably going to be a long shot, Capt. Todd Christiansen of the Rock County Sheriff's Office said.
Still, when a tipster told them Weckler's body could be buried on the vacant property and trained dogs indicated human remains were there, “it seemed like a long shot we had to take," he said.
The odds didn't pan out, however, and after five days of painstaking work, authorities called off the search for Weckler on Friday afternoon.
By 3:30 p.m. the last Rock County deputies had left the site near Wright and Rotamer roads, and yellow caution tape that had closed the property had come down.
The holes searchers dug in the hard ground this week had been filled in. Soft, dusty earth covers it now, dotted by recently cut tree stumps and pressed with the treads of earth-moving equipment called in during the search.
It was a disappointing ending, Sheriff Robert Spoden said, particularly because authorities could not bring closure for Weckler's family.
“I know they've been through this so many times,” Spoden said. “I feel bad that we weren't able to provide some comfort or relief for them.”
Weckler was last seen walking up the long driveway to her family's farm outside Fort Atkinson after school on May 1, 1947.
Her disappearance captivated the area, and media reports from the time show hundreds of people took part in a massive search for her.
Despite the attention, Weckler never was found, and no one was arrested in the case, which remains one of the most notorious unsolved crimes in Wisconsin history.
Authorities received occasional tips through the decades about what might have happened to Weckler, the latest of which came to Janesville police and the Rock County Sheriff's Office last week.
An elderly Rock County man told authorities he saw something suspicious at the site and led them to an area where dogs later indicated human remains were present, authorities said.
That prompted an intensive search effort, which started Monday and raised hopes Weckler might finally be discovered.
“You can't go into these things without having at least some hope that this might be the one time we find her,” Spoden said.
About 30 deputies and officers from Rock County and Janesville took part in the first two days of searches, Christiansen said, digging up the hard dirt and sifting it through mesh sieves looking for any trace of Weckler.
City of Janesville workers cut trees and brought in backhoes to help.
But after crews started digging, the cadaver-smelling dogs—a couple of whom had “hit” on the area last week—stopped telling authorities remains were there, Christiansen said.
“After we dug the area up where they initially hit … none of them gave any sort of indications,” he said.
The search ended and clean-up work began just after 2 p.m. Friday with a smaller crew of about 15 people, Christiansen said.
Developers who had been planning to start construction on the land last week are free to do so now, he said.
Investigators plan to have a follow-up interview with the man who tipped them off to the location, Christiansen said. Beyond that, Spoden said the 66-year-old search for Weckler goes back to Jefferson County authorities.
“It's still their case,” Spoden said. “Our role has ended.”