Sister seeks answers in brother's homicide
Cheri Walden is concerned about how much law enforcement officials have done to identify the person responsible for her brother's disappearance.
She is the sister of Daniel M. Walden, the South Milwaukee man whose remains—found along a Walworth County road in 2002—were identified earlier this month. He was reported missing in December 1998.
Cheri Walden said she grieved for her brother during all the years he was missing. Now that she knows what happened to him, she wants to know who did it and ensure the person responsible pays for it.
Daniel Walden's remains were found March 26, 2002, on Bowers Road north of Alpine Valley Music Theater by a man looking for aluminum cans.
At the time, investigators estimated the bones probably had been there for three to 10 years. Walden was 38 at the time of his disappearance.
The sheriff's office obtained a DNA sample from Walden's mother in 2006 and sent it to the FBI lab in Virginia. In May 2009, the lab notified Walworth County authorities they had a match.
Police said the cause of his death was blunt force trauma to the head, and they are investigating Daniel Walden's death as a homicide.
If it was a homicide, Cheri Walden said she doesn't think it was intentional. Rather, she said, maybe it was an "argument gone wrong."
She told South Milwaukee police about a former coworker of Daniel's that she suspected might have committed the crime.
Daniel Walden told his sister he was afraid of the man because he turned violent after drinking, she said. Daniel and the man had talked about living together, but Daniel always was uneasy about the man.
"I have pictures of this man. It's not typical that guys to go around and say, ‘I'm scared of this person,'" Cheri Walden said. "I just don't know to what extent somebody did something about it at the time."
Cheri Walden describes her brother as a good but troubled man. He worked mediocre jobs and never accomplished much, she said.
But he was well liked and respected by his friends.
The night he disappeared, friends and family were expecting him for a holiday party. The last someone heard of him was Dec. 23, 1998. He told a relative he was coming to the party.
Next day, Christmas Eve, his family tried to reach him but their calls went unreturned.
Daniel Walden had neither a cell phone nor a car. He received calls on a pay phone down the hall from his apartment and was expecting a ride from a family member to go to the holiday party.
"My son and uncle were going to pick him up," Cheri Walden said. "When nobody could reach him, I reported a missing person."
She said she's sure her brother didn't just leave. The only objects missing were his keys. He left behind his brown wallet, which friends say he always had with him, and his winter jacket, despite the bitter cold of December 1998.
"When I went into his room, he had Christmas cards he was going to give to us," Cheri Walden said.
"You don't buy presents if you're leaving."
Years later, his body was found naked along Bowers Road.
Cheri Walden said she thinks Daniel ran outside to pick up the phone or open the door for someone he knew. Maybe he got into a car, she said.
"I think that whatever may have happened, I think it was somebody that he knew," she said. "I just think maybe words were mentioned, it was just a situation that got out of control."
Walworth County sheriff's detective David Fladten, who heads the Daniel Walden case, said he can't speak to what South Milwaukee officers did before he was assigned to the case. He said he's just started working on the case and has not had time to go through Daniel Walden's entire folder.
Cheri Walden is pessimistic.
"I really don't think they're ever going to find what happened."
But she is learning to cope with it.
"For a while, I had enough guilt because I felt I didn't do enough," she said.
"I would've done a lot more. But I did what I could."