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Dating apps used to lure robbery victims, Rock County investigators believe


Rock County sheriff’s detectives are investigating armed robberies in which dating apps were used to lure men to rural driveways in January and February.

The information comes in a search warrant affidavit used to obtain a smartphone police believe was used in the deception.

In two of the robberies, the dating app Grindr was used.

Grindr is used by gay men, and in one of the deceptions, a robber said he was a Janesville 20-year-old and sent a photo of a young man pulling up his shirt to reveal a bare torso, according to the affidavit.

Another robbery was set up using an app called Skout, in which the victim thought he had arranged to meet a 20-year-old woman whom he would pay $200 for sex, according to the affidavit.

Capt. Todd Christiansen of the Rock County Sheriff’s Office would say very little about the case because of the active investigation, but he said investigators suspect other robberies using similar tactics also occurred.

Two teens named in the affidavit already are charged with armed robbery of a business in nearby Janesville. The Gazette is not naming them because they have not been charged, arrested or named as suspects in the dating app robberies.

The affidavit describes nighttime incidents in driveways on South River Road in the town of Rock, just south of Janesville:

  • Jan. 9: A South River Road resident reported seeing a man wearing a black mask and waving a long gun at him. The man disappeared into the woods.
  • Jan. 11: Another resident in the same area reported a suspicious vehicle parked in his driveway. Deputies responding found a vehicle whose driver told them he had corresponded with someone on Grindr who asked him to meet in a driveway.

The victim, from Beloit, was arrested on a charge of possession of marijuana.

  • Jan. 12: The robber again contacted the Beloit man, who agreed to meet him in the same area. While on his way, the robber asked the man to lend him $40 and to leave it in the mailbox at the end of the driveway before walking to the house.

The man thought this odd and decided to leave without getting out of his car.

  • Jan. 14: A man was robbed in a driveway after corresponding with someone on Grindr whose profile indicated he was a 20-year-old from Janesville.

The apparent victim, an Orfordville man, said he and the other man agreed to meet for dinner and a movie.

The man told a deputy he walked up to the residence, but no one was home. As he was walking back to his car, a man came out of the trees wearing a black, hooded sweatshirt, pointed a shotgun at him and told him to give him money and to reset his phone.

The man threw about $60 on the ground, and as the robber was picking it up, he jumped into his vehicle and “floored it” in reverse as he hid below the dashboard.

  • Feb. 24: A man called 911 and said he had been robbed at gunpoint after making arrangements using Skout to meet a woman named “Jessy” for sex. They had sent photos to each other, and she asked the man to bring a bottle of cognac.

The man parked in the driveway as instructed, walked to the house, and no one was there. On his way back, a man with a bandanna covering his mouth approached him pointing a handgun, he told investigators.

The robber demanded money and the cognac. As he was handing over the money, bills blew away, and the robber made him pick them up and put them in the mailbox, where he also left the bottle.

When the robber went to collect the money, the man went to his car, and heard the robber say, “I’m going to kill you,” he told investigators.

The man turned the car around and tried to run down the robber but missed and got stuck in the snow, and the robber left the scene.

“Jessy” at one point had invited the man to text her. Investigators later learned the phone number belonged to one of the male suspects.

Investigators also linked a suspect to a Janesville incident in which a parent reported her juvenile son was texting with a person to buy marijuana.

The marijuana seller had the same phone number as a robbery suspect, and at one point he bragged in a text that he was robbing people by using an app, according to the affidavit.

WikiLeaks' Assange hauled from embassy, faces US charge


British police on Thursday hauled a bearded and shouting Julian Assange from the Ecuadorian Embassy where he was holed up for nearly seven years, and the U.S. charged the WikiLeaks founder with conspiring with former U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to get their hands on government secrets.

Police arrested Assange after the South American nation revoked the political asylum that had protected him in the embassy, and he was brought before a British court—the first step in an extradition battle that he has vowed to fight.

Ecuador’s President Lenin Moreno said he decided to evict Assange, 47, from the embassy after “repeated violations to international conventions and daily-life protocols,” and he later lashed out at him during a speech in Quito, calling the Australian native a “spoiled brat” who treated his hosts with disrespect.

In Washington, the U.S. Justice Department accused Assange of conspiring with Manning to break into a classified government computer at the Pentagon. The charge was announced after Assange was taken into custody.

Assange took refuge in the embassy in 2012 after he was released on bail in Britain while facing extradition to Sweden on sexual assault allegations that have since been dropped. He refused to leave the embassy, fearing arrest and extradition to the U.S. for publishing classified military and diplomatic cables through WikiLeaks.

Manning, who served several years in prison for leaking troves of classified documents before her sentence was commuted by then-President Barack Obama, is again in custody in Alexandria, Virginia, for refusing to testify before a grand jury investigating WikiLeaks. Manning’s legal team said the indictment against Assange showed prosecutors didn’t need her testimony and called for her to be released, saying her continued detention would be “purely punitive.”

Over the years, Assange used Ecuador’s embassy as a platform to keep his name before the public, frequently making appearances on its tiny balcony, posing for pictures and reading statements. Even his cat became famous.

But his presence was an embarrassment to U.K. authorities, who for years kept a police presence around the clock outside the embassy, costing taxpayers millions in police overtime. Such surveillance was removed in 2015, but the embassy remained a focal point for his activities.

Video posted online by Ruptly, a news service of Russia Today, showed several men in suits pulling a handcuffed Assange out of the embassy and loading him into a police van while uniformed British police formed a passageway. Assange, who shouted and gestured as he was removed, sported a full beard and slicked-back gray hair.

He later appeared in Westminster Magistrates’ Court, where District Judge Michael Snow wasted no time in finding him guilty of breaching his bail conditions, flatly rejecting his assertion that he had not had a fair hearing and a reasonable excuse for not appearing.

“Mr. Assange’s behavior is that of a narcissist who cannot get beyond his own selfish interests,” Snow said. “He hasn’t come close to establishing ‘reasonable excuse.’”

Assange waved to the packed public gallery as he was taken to the cells. His next appearance was set for May 2 via prison video-link in relation to the extradition case.

Assange’s attorney, Jennifer Robinson, said he will fight any extradition to the U.S.

“This sets a dangerous precedent for all journalist and media organizations in Europe and around the world,” she said. “This precedent means that any journalist can be extradited for prosecution in the United States for having published truthful information about the United States.”

Asked at the White House about the arrest, President Donald Trump declared, “It’s not my thing,” and “I know nothing about WikiLeaks,” despite praising the anti-secrecy organization dozens of times during his 2016 campaign.

Assange has been under U.S. Justice Department scrutiny for years for WikiLeaks’ role in publishing government secrets. He was an important figure in special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe as investigators examined how WikiLeaks obtained emails that were stolen from Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and Democratic groups.

WikiLeaks quickly drew attention to U.S. interest in Assange and said Ecuador had illegally terminated Assange’s political asylum “in violation of international law.”

“Powerful actors, including CIA, are engaged in a sophisticated effort to de-humanise, de-legitimize and imprison him,” the group said in a tweet over a photo of Assange’s smiling face.

But Ecuadorian officials suggested that Assange’s own behavior was to blame.

Interior Minister Maria Paula Romo said Assange’s mental and physical health worsened while he was holed up, and he began to act aggressively toward his hosts, including smearing feces on the walls of the embassy.

In a fiery speech in Ecuador, President Moreno called him an ungrateful and “miserable hacker” who treated embassy officials poorly.

“When you’re given shelter, cared for and provided food, you don’t denounce the owner of the house,” Moreno said to applause at an event outside Quito.

“From now on we’ll be more careful in giving asylum to people who are really worth it and not miserable hackers whose only goal is to destabilize governments,” he added. “We are tolerant, calm people, but we’re not stupid.”

Former Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa called Moreno’s decision was “cowardly,” accusing him of retaliating against Assange for WikiLeaks spreading allegations about an offshore bank account purportedly linked to Moreno’s family and friends.

On Wednesday, WikiLeaks accused Ecuador’s government of an “extensive spying operation” against him. It alleges that meetings with lawyers and a doctor in the embassy over the past year were secretly filmed.

Speaking in the U.K. Parliament after the arrest, British Prime Minister Theresa May said it showed that “no one is above the law.”

Moreno appeared to suggest a swift U.S. extradition was unlikely.

“In line with our strong commitment to human rights and international law, I requested Great Britain to guarantee that Mr. Assange would not be extradited to a country where he could face torture or the death penalty,” Moreno said. “The British government has confirmed it in writing, in accordance with its own rules.”

Edward Snowden, the former security contractor who leaked classified information about U.S. surveillance programs, called Assange’s arrest a blow to media freedom.

“Images of Ecuador’s ambassador inviting the U.K.’s secret police into the embassy to drag a publisher of—like it or not—award-winning journalism out of the building are going to end up in the history books,” Snowden tweeted from Russia, which has granted him permission to stay there while he is wanted by the U.S. “Assange’s critics may cheer, but this is a dark moment for press freedom.”

Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, said he could not comment on the overall case but added: “We, of course, hope that all of his rights will be observed.”

An independent U.N. human rights expert said he won’t halt efforts to determine whether Assange’s privacy was violated at the embassy. Joe Cannataci, the special rapporteur on privacy, had planned to travel to London on April 25 to meet with Assange and said he still plans to do so—even if in a police station.

Obituaries and death notices for April 12, 2019

Justin Buchholz

Clyde L. Boutelle

Lem Lom

Ernest “Ern” Merwin

Joseph J. Schlicht

Florence B. Wallmuth

Angela Major 

Janesville Jets' Justin Engelkes (18), right, shoves Fairbanks Ice Dogs' Tanner Edwards (11), left, after the second period Saturday, January 5, 2019, at the Janesville Ice Arena.

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Janesville's Van Buren Elementary School celebrates 50-year anniversary


Terry Arneson was part of the teaching staff at Van Buren Elementary School the year it opened in 1969—the same year as the Woodstock music festival, and the year astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stepped out of Apollo 11 and walked man’s first steps on the moon.

Arneson taught 32 years at Van Buren, the first school in Janesville to have an open-concept layout and pod-style classes that intermingled students of different ages in small clusters.

Arneson and a few of her former Van Buren colleagues, now retired from teaching, walked the school’s halls and viewed collections of historical photos and newspaper clippings that staff and students had set up to show off the school’s 50-year anniversary during an open house Thursday afternoon.

Arneson pointed to a 1987 Gazette newspaper photo that showed three elementary school-age boys singing a song to their fathers on Dads Day at Van Buren. Arneson pointed to one of the boys in the photo. She didn’t even need to read the caption to remember his name.

“Oh, look! That’s little Anthony Palumbo! He was always so creative!” Arneson said.

Around Arneson and her colleagues, the hallways at Van Buren buzzed with activity as students and their parents filed through the school on the city’s south side.

The hallways were decorated with new student artwork, annual class photos that gave their eras away by the varying hairstyles and glasses frames the kids and teachers were wearing. The Van Buren Eagle mascot was suited up and doling out high fives.

Jennifer Olmstead, a Van Buren student in the mid-1970s, was excitedly showing Van Buren Principal Stephanie Pajerski a photo she brought of a memory Olmstead has held dear her whole life.

Angela Major 

Principal Stephanie Pajerski addresses students and their families at the 50th anniversary celebration of Van Buren Elementary School on Thursday in Janesville.

The photo is of a dress made from brightly colored patchwork quilt squares students hand painted with flowers, balloons, hearts, kites and flags. Olmstead’s teacher, who she simply called “Miss Gressman,” used the students’ decorated quilt pieces to sew a dress. Olmstead said Miss Gressman wore the dress to school.

“She wore the dress. It was in all the papers. Janesville, Milwaukee, Green Bay,” Olmstead said. “It’s one of the best memories of my whole life, something I’ll remember forever. Miss Gressman also had a bright green VW Bug. I remember that, too.”

As school staff assembled with families in the gymnasium, one family that had three generations pass through Van Buren had the honor of cutting a ceremonial 50-year ribbon with huge scissors borrowed from the city’s chamber of commerce.

One group of students, the Van Buren Robotic Eagles (the school’s robotics club), held court in a room with a display of bots they built. Club member Jadon Upham didn’t have time to give an interview. He handed off a newspaper clipping showing his photo, who he is and what he does at school.

He was too busy showing a group of grandparents a wheeled robot he built that revs up, rolls forward and slams down a large front wheel, which then propels the machine backward.

Upham is among students who have begun to take Van Buren into the future, technically speaking. He would know, though, if he perused the hallways Wednesday, that his school has always been futuristically inclined.

It was one of the first schools in the area, and the first in Janesville, to be designed for pod learning. In 1969, pod-style classes were experimental and implemented the idea to group small batches of students of different ages together for intensive, hands-on learning and even roundtable discussions.

Angela Major 

Harper Wheelock, 5, paints with her sister, Van Buren kindergarten student Stella Wheelock, left, on Thursday at Van Buren Elementary School in Janesville.

Teachers were in charge of setting up the groups, and they were free to rearrange them as needed.

The schools superintendent at the time, Fred Holt, called the learning environment “an open-area type of education that we didn’t think possible.”

Van Buren still has some grade levels that learn in pods, but after renovations in the last few decades, the school has gradually adopted a more typical classroom structure.

Retired Van Buren teacher Mary Farberg helped open Van Buren in 1969 and remembers walking into the school on boards because the school campus was new enough that fresh grass hadn’t yet taken root.

The school in 1969 was 50,000 square feet and cost $914,000 to build. The original enrollment was 613 students between kindergarten and sixth grade, according to Gazette archives.

Farberg said Van Buren was seen as being ahead of its time. The teachers quickly got used to the huge, wide-open rooms and clusters of students of different ages spread from wall to wall.

“Your only separations were cupboards and free-standing bulletin boards,” Farberg said. “You’d think the kids would all have been distracted, but it worked. We just scheduled similar subjects at the same time, and it was amazing how well it worked having a school set up that way.”

Artwork and student photographs on the walls showed one very telling change of the passage of times: that of the kids’ names.

Van Buren Student names from 1987 included Jason, Jill, Heather and Megan.

Now, some 2019 Van Buren student names: Dallas, Nova, Brooklyn and Braelyn.

But perhaps the coolest of all teacher names—and this one is for the ages— has to belong to current Van Buren first grade teacher Ms. McCool.