THE CONVENIENT MADMAN

Michael D. Winkle

In Missing 411: Eastern United States, David Paulides tell us of the Wisconsin disappearance of Judy Rodencal, a sixteen-year-old high school student of Auroraville, Wisconsin, ten miles west of Oshkosh. On the morning of October 30, 1956, Judy left home for the stop where a schoolbus would pick her up. She never made it to school. It was not until evening, when her boyfriend arrived at the Rodencals' house to take her out on a date, that anyone realized something was wrong.

Police and search teams didn't even know where to begin looking until Halloween day dawned. Judy's socks and handkerchief were found in a creek a mile north of her home. Bloodhounds were brought to the creek, but they could not track her.

At about 7:30 PM on November 1, a farmer named Edgar Timm found Judy Rodencal, barefoot, cold, and suffering from shock, hiding in a shack on his property. She was taken to a hospital and released after about a week.

She could not account for her actions over the course of those missing three days. Doctors suggested that she had suffered a "blackout".

* * * * *

On the Missing 411 map, Judy Rodencal's arrow sits alone in the middle of the Waushara County, WI, wilderness. Perhaps we can give her some company.

On Thursday, May 1, 1947, Mrs. Carl Floerke of Jefferson, Wisconsin, picked up her neighbor's eight-year-old daughter, Georgia Weckler, at the youngster's school. Mrs. Floerke drove the girl down Highway 12 to the Weckler farm entrance and dropped her off. Being a farm acreage, the house proper sat half a mile back from the road, a short distance for an energetic young girl. Georgia grabbed some letters from the mailbox, waved to Mrs. Floerke, and started down the long drive.

The girl did not reach home, however. She was never seen again, despite the hundreds of police officers and volunteers who scoured the area for ten miles around and despite a reward of $8,000.00 offered for any information on Georgina's fate.

# # # # #

At 6:30 PM on October 24, 1953, fifteen-year-old Evelyn Hartley of La Crosse, Wisconsin, arrived at the house of Professor Viggo Rasmussen, a member of the Wisconsin State College faculty. Evelyn was to babysit the Rasmussens' 20-month-old daughter Janis while the parents attended a WSC football game.

Evelyn normally called home on babysitting assignments to say how things were going. This night she did not, and she did not answer when her father, Richard Hartley, called the Rasmussen house. By 9:00 o'clock, Mr. Hartley was worried enough to drive to the Rasmussens'.

Mr. Hartley found signs of a struggle in the living room, as well as Evelyn's glasses and one loafer. In the basement he found the other loafer -- and blood.

Police found daubs of blood stretching across the lawn. "Bloodhounds were brought in to follow the trail that led away from the basement window, but the dogs were stopped cold at a spot about two blocks away." [Schecter, p. 55] It was assumed that the teen was forced into a vehicle.

More than a thousand people searched the area around La Crosse, some looking as far as fifty miles away. "River patrols dredged the waterways, an Air Force helicopter searched the bluffs and woodlands, and every swamp, ravine, culvert, and cave was explored." [Schecter, p. 56] Evelyn Hartley, however, was never found.

* * * * * * *

On November 1, 1952, 43-year-old Victor "Bunk" Travis left his home west of Plainfield, WI, to go deer hunting with Ray Burgess of Milwaukee. The hunt led them first to Mac's Bar in Plainfield, where they remained, no doubt fortifying themselves for the night's endeavor, until 7:00 PM. They then climbed into Burgess' car and drove off to the woods and oblivion. Victor Travis and Ray Burgess, along with Burgess' vehicle, were never seen again.

# # # # # #

True crime author Harold Schecter devotes a chapter of his 1989 book Deviant to these two girls and two men who went missing permanently in central Wisconsin. The cases seem to have nothing to do with one another except for one little detail: near the common central point of this small group of disappearances lived a farmer named Ed Gein.

* * * * * *

"We found a cardboard drum -- a cylindrical drum -- in a small bedroom area. This drum contained nine integuments -- head integuments -- which is the skin covering of the skull. We also found a shoe box which contained nine vulvas . . . Mrs. Worden's heart was found in a saucepan on the stove . . . There were two or three chairs -- straight-back type -- the seat covering resembled human skin. On the second floor we found two or three skull caps."

-- Allan Wilimovsky, crime lab technician, quoted in Gollmar, p. 23-24

Edward Theodore Gein, the "Mad Butcher of Plainfield," was the quintessential American boogieman. The inspiration of Norman Bates of Psycho and Bates Motel, Leatherface of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Buffalo Bill of Silence of the Lambs, Gein's crimes shocked 1950s America and much of the world beyond. It's no wonder that the police and the press tried to pin every murder and disappearance in central Wisconsin on the shabby little farmer.

The story of Gein and his atrocities has been told many times. Two web pages on the subject are: Ghosts of the Prairie: Dead Men Do Tell Tales and Murderpedia.

Raised by Augusta Gein, a strict, fanatically religious mother, Ed fixated on middle-aged to elderly women, strong of will and body, who reminded him of his mother. These were the type of women he dug out of graves, whose skin he wore as garments, and whose bones and organs became household fixtures at his farmhouse. The only two murders definitely attributed to Ed Gein conform to this archetype: Mary Hogan owned her own tavern six miles north of the Gein farm, and she reputedly swore more than the truckers and workmen who frequented her establishment. Fifty-eight-year-old Bernice Worden ran the Worden family hardware store -- as Augusta Gein had run a hardware store decades earlier.

Young girls and grown men were simply not Ed Gein's "type". It is ultimately a moot point; no evidence was ever found to tie the Weckler, Hartley, Travis, or Burgess disappearances to the "Mad Butcher of Plainfield."

* * * * *

Whatever organizations or forces lie behind the Missing 411 phenomena (I will call them "Them" for short) display a definite intelligence -- indeed, a definite sense of the careful studying and stalking of a victim. "They" also seem to know details of their target that no casual observer could ferret out -- that someone is of German ancestry, for instance, or suffers from some non-obvious medical condition.

Gein, being a farmer (however lax), of German descent (Augusta's family having immigrated in 1870 from "the Fatherland"), may have caught the attention of "Them". Indeed, some of old Ed's activities would have been hard to miss. The sheriff of Plainfield and many of that town's inhabitants never could believe Gein robbed graves: "it hardly seemed credible that no one would have once spotted a suspicious glow [from Gein's lamp] coming from the cemetery or noticed Gein's pickup truck parked there in the night and wondered what the strange little recluse was up to." [Schecter, p. 169] Yet an exhumation of two graves Gein claimed to have violated revealed that the bodies had indeed been removed. The authorities didn't bother opening more.

At any rate, Ed Gein's bizarre habits may have been noted by "Them". Perhaps "They" found a use for him.

In December 1945, Augusta Gein died. Her son Edward's whole world ended as well. More correctly, one world ended and a strange new one began. "Gein repeatedly attempted to raise her from the dead with his willpower. Shortly thereafter is apparently when he began graverobbing," writes psychiatrist George W. Arndt. [in Gollmar, p. ix]

So from early 1946 or thereabouts to November 16, 1957, when Bernice Worden was discovered hanging in his summer kitchen, the Mad Butcher of Plainfield was on the prowl, robbing graves, making household utensils out of human skin and bones, and finally surrendering to the urge to kill.

From 1947 to 1956, a handful of people went missing in central WI, all save one permanently.

These two strings of events probably had nothing to do with each other. Unless . . .

David Paulides has placed many cluster areas on the map. But why are these areas located where they are?

Maybe people disappeared within that one decade in central Wisconsin because Ed Gein lived there. Why would the authorities seek some unknown, hypothetical kidnapper/murderer -- let alone imagine that something totally inhuman might be at work -- when the craziest, most bizarre ghoul-killer of all time was right there, staring them in the face with bleary, half-lidded eyes?

For someone or something out in the great dead heart of Wisconsin, it may be that Ed Gein was the Convenient Madman.

Gollmar, Robert H. Edward Gein (New York: Pinnacle Books, 1981).

Schecter, Harold. Deviant (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1989).


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