Janesville police are investigating the deaths of two women early Monday morning as a double homicide, possibly the first multiple homicide inside the city limits in decades, Police Chief Dave Moore said.
The victims, ages 27 and 30, were together at about 2 a.m. at the TA Express Janesville Travel Plaza, 3222 Humes Road/Highway 14, Moore said at a press conference Monday afternoon.
The women, who were friends, were in the vehicle and inside the building for 10 to 15 minutes, Moore said.
Police found them shot and on the ground on nearby Midvale Drive around 3:20 a.m.
“This was a particularly violent scene,” Moore said.
Moore said he did not know if the person or persons who shot the women posed any threat to the community. He said people always should be aware of their surroundings and report suspicious activity.
Early Monday morning, Lt. Todd Kleisner said the public was not in danger.
“This was a targeted thing,” Kleisner said.
The truck stop/convenience store is just around the corner from the scene of the deaths in the 3200 block of Midvale Drive, where police were seen digging in the snow and knocking on doors shortly after 7 a.m. Monday.
Moore said the women, both mothers and both Janesville residents, would not be identified until all family members are notified. He did not know their marital status.
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the affected families. I am confident we will solve this crime,” Moore said. “Our promise to these families is that we will do all that we can to bring the suspect or suspects to justice so our families can begin their healing process.”
Janesville police responded to a 911 call at 3:17 a.m. to a report of two people on the ground in the area of Midvale and Deerfield drives.
The women were still alive, Moore said. Police believe the shootings took place close to the time a resident called 911.
The women died later at Mercyhealth Hospital and Trauma Center, Janesville.
The vehicle the women were in belonged to one of them. It was found at 4:30 a.m. along Interstate 90 in Hoffman Estates, Illinois, Moore said.
Because of the drive time—about one hour and 12 minutes—police believe the vehicle left the scene and headed to Hoffman Estates almost immediately after the shootings, Moore said.
The vehicle, which was returned to Janesville shortly before the 5 p.m. press conference, was being processed as a crime scene, Moore said.
Moore would not describe the vehicle so as to preserve the anonymity of the victims until family members are notified.
Moore also would not describe the weapon or weapons used in the assaults or whether the women sustained injuries other than gunshot wounds. As of the time of the 5 p.m. news conference, Moore was not aware any weapon had been recovered.
“Some of these facts we need to hold back because as we speak to witnesses and as we speak to suspects, we want to ensure the integrity of the investigation and the accuracy of the information,” Moore said.
“I can tell you that both victims did die from gunshot wounds,” Moore said.
Shell casings were found at the scene of the incident on Midvale Drive early this morning, authorities said earlier in the day.
Moore did not say the shooter or shooters were believed to be in Illinois, but he said he anticipated police would continue to work with their counterparts in Illinois.
Asked if drugs or alcohol played a role in the deaths, Moore said, “We may be able to release more of that later.”
Moore said autopsies were scheduled Monday and today. At least 20 officers were assigned to the investigation, he said.
Moore could not recall a multiple homicide in recent decades but had a memory of one in the late 1960s or early 1970s, which he said might have been a murder/suicide.
A triple murder occurred in a mobile home park just south of the city limits in January 2007, when a mother and her two children were killed.
The Highway 51 site where the Nunn-Bush shoe factory once stood looks nearly ready for redevelopment, but the property’s next chapter hasn’t been written yet, an Edgerton official said.
The city has not yet reached an agreement with any developers, but multiple people have expressed interest in the property, and soil testing is moving along smoothly, City Administrator Ramona Flanigan said.
“It’s just like many redevelopment projects—complicated,” she said. “So we continue to gather names as we go, and we’re hopeful that we will have someone interested when we get to that (bidding) point.”
Demolition of the 55,000-square-foot factory at 407 N. Main St. began in October. Constructed in the early 1930s, the building was last inhabited by landscaping company Green-Tek in 2009.
The city received a state Department of Natural Resources grant to conduct a two-phase soil test for contaminants. Phase one is complete, and phase two is being contracted out.
Flanigan said officials hope the second testing period will begin in the next few weeks so the city can move forward with redevelopment.
“That is probably the last big piece of the puzzle we would love to have resolved or understand before we take title to the property,” Flanigan said.
Wis-Tek, the parent company of Green-Tek, currently owns the property. The city has a $250,000 purchase agreement with Wis-Tek, and the soil tests will help officials know what’s ahead.
“If it were not clean, we would just want to understand how it isn’t and what grants we could try to find to assist in the cleanup because a dirty property is not good for anybody,” Flanigan said.
March is the deadline for the city’s current purchase offer with Wis-Tek.
Interest from multiple developers is encouraging, said Flanigan, who has fielded many calls from real estate agents asking questions about the parcel.
“I’ve been very pleased,” she said.
“I’m not surprised (by the interest) now that the site looks the way it does. It’s a large site, and it’s on Highway 51, the busiest road in the community, so I think it’s appealing now. What it looks like now though, there’s still a long way to go.”
Residents might have questions about the property because of its history and recent developments, she said. Redeveloping it might take a while, but it’s worth the effort.
“The process of redevelopment is really complicated,” Flanigan said.
“It’s interesting to me when you talk to people about development. They might wonder why it takes so long or why it’s such a big deal. … It’s all totally worth it to try to continue to keep the center of the community healthy and vibrant, but it doesn’t go without a lot of effort and time.”
Country music performer and Janesville native Zac Matthews could appear on national television as early as this weekend on the new season of ABC’s “American Idol.”
In an interview with The Gazette, singer-guitarist Matthews said he and his family waited long hours and endured several lengthy, taped background interviews with producers and “Idol” host Ryan Seacrest at a tryout in early October.
It was after 9 p.m.—after an around-the-clock wait—when Matthews took the stage on the show’s performance set at the Milwaukee Art Museum.
Matthews played an original country song on his acoustic guitar in front of the show’s three-judge panel: singer Katy Perry, soul pop legend Lionel Richie and country star Luke Bryan.
When he finished, the panel was noncommittal, quiet. They asked Matthews to try another song, perhaps a cover of a well-known standard—somebody else’s hit.
Matthews said he pulled out a cover of Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues” and sang while he accompanied the song on finger-picked guitar.
“It was the best I ever played that song on the guitar,” Matthews, 24, recalled. He said the room that held the “Idol” sound stage seemed to bounce his music straight back at him.
“I felt like I was in a TV cube. I was sick to my stomach, really. It was the biggest thing I’ve ever done in my life so far,” he said. “Like, that’s how it feels the moment when you learn right in front of you how your future maybe will turn out.”
After Matthews’ Cash cover, Richie voted to bring Matthews aboard and put him among the select few to compete on “American Idol.” But Perry and Bryan said “no.” The judges told him he didn’t seem ready for Hollywood.
It meant Matthews wouldn’t advance beyond the initial tapings of “American Idol” in cities where the show’s producers and judges vet regional performers in the first step of assembling the show’s full cast of contestants.
Matthews said the judges thought his performances felt “a little forced.” Bryan advised Matthews to pack his guitar and head straight for Nashville, Tennessee, the nation’s country music capital. It’s a city where Matthews already has traveled to record music in the studio and it’s where Matthews wants to move permanently.
Over the last seven years of writing, playing and performing country music, Matthews has had other brushes with music stardom.
He was first runner-up in the 2014 Colgate Country Showdown, a nationally known country music talent search. Matthews’ rise in that contest put him and his Fender Telecaster guitar on stage at the hallowed Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, where at age 17, he met country star LeAnn Rimes.
The Opry performance was Matthews’ first flirtation with mainstream American country music acclaim, and it came when Matthews was still a teen. He took the stage at “American Idol” in October knowing he might end up in front of an international network TV audience, this time vying for a shot at worldwide pop music stardom.
“My girlfriend, Juli, signed me up,” Matthews said. “She called me during her lunch break at work to tell me.”
By October, Matthews already had made the first cut for “Idol” a month earlier out of a field of about “10,000” hopefuls in Chicago. Later, in Milwaukee, he was among 50 artists, mostly from the Midwest, being screened for a chance to become full-season contestants.
The long-running “American Idol” has launched the careers of dozens of pop stars, including Kelly Clarkson, Jennifer Hudson and Carrie Underwood. “Idol” remains the hottest act on Sunday night network TV, garnering the top Sunday slot with nearly 10 million viewers a week.
Matthews is unsure when his taped audition will air, but he believes it might be shown in one of the first episodes of the new season—episodes in which “American Idol” features performers who make the cut for the show’s season-long competition, along with others who nearly got there. Season 18 premieres at 7 p.m. Sunday.
For Matthews, the fleeting stint on “Idol” was “one of the biggest learning experiences of my life and one of the few things I’m most grateful and blessed to have experienced.”
Matthews said he learned how to take professional criticism to heart. His biggest feedback was from Richie, who told Matthews to keep working hard on his most “positive” elements. To Matthews, that means he needs to work harder on his singing.
As early as age 17, Matthews’ finger-picked guitar playing drew compliments from seasoned local musicians, one of whom described Matthews’ talent as a guitarist as a “High school baseball player with a 100-mile-per-hour fastball.”
With his “Idol” audition out of the way, Matthews will keep playing with his Rock County-based Zac Matthews Band, a three-piece country outfit that also consists of brothers Zac and Brandon Johns.
Matthews said they plan to continue shows in southern Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Iowa and Indiana.
Matthews said he’ll “probably” move to Nashville at some point to chase country music fame. But he’s unlikely to go there without his band.
“They’re as close to brothers to me as anybody I have in my life,” he said.
And while his “American Idol” experience didn’t end as he had hoped, Matthews said he doesn’t regret the outcome.
“There’s a lot of talent in the world, but I don’t believe in luck. It’s work and who you are a person, whether you love what you do because what you do is real,” Matthews said.
“So I don’t regret auditioning for ‘Idol’ with my own music, an original song I wrote. Even though I know I might only get one real shot ever, I want to do it on my own two feet. Win or lose, I think it’s the most important always to be just me, just who I am.”
Diana J. Deuel
Pamela M. Edwards
Genevieve Arlene Fellows
Christopher John Francis
Collean Kay Frank
Warren A. Hanak
James Thomas “Jim” Hanson
Laine M. Jackson
Janice M. Lewis
Helen J. Milam
Robert “Bob” H. Schumacher
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Richard B. Treptow
Joseph D. Williamson
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