Editor’s note: Listen Up is a Q&A featuring locals in the arts and culture community.
This week: Rob Ebben, who is an author under the pen name Robert M. Dudley. He will be speaking about his latest books, “Cold Cases of West-Central Wisconsin” and “Searching for Sara Bushland.” He will host a reading at 6:30 p.m. Monday at the Chippewa Falls Public Library, 105 W. Central St.
Your first book, “It Can’t Happen Here,” is about the Jacob Wetterling case, but before that you hadn’t written anything. What compelled you to continue writing true-crime stories?
After the Jacob Wetterling case I realized there are a lot of other cases around that area and locally that weren’t as well known but just as interesting. Anybody can study and work on cases that are well known, but there are a lot of lesser-known cases that deserve attention as well.
Do you have any background as a detective or journalist?
Nope, nothing like that, just a regular person. I work 50-plus hours a week but have always been interested in true crime and just have a logical, analytical mind.
What are some stories you tell in “Cold Cases of West-Central Wisconsin”?
As far as the Eau Claire area, Richard Scott from 1980, he was a realtor. Sara Bushland from Spooner disappeared in 1996 and has never been found. Her case was treated as a runaway case for years and now is an active criminal investigation.
Mary Schlais was found just outside of Eau Claire in 1974. She was hitchhiking from Minneapolis to Chicago the day after Valentine’s Day that winter.
Angelina Wall was January 2001, she was killed and her body was dumped near Fall Creek.
A couple aren’t as well known, like John Klinger. Klinger’s death was never ruled a homicide officially but certain stances indicate it was.
One goes way back to 1921. Elmer Sundby was police chief of Eau Claire. That one I chose to include because of the vast differences in how they solved crimes at that time. The city had one car shared by all departments. If police arrested somebody, they would actually flag down a passing car to get a ride to the station.
What drew you to these cases? How did you hear about them?
I tried to focus on the area and those that are unsolved, but there are so many unsolved.
Most information from finding cases comes from online searching and then I start research with newspaper archives. I use that as basis for my research and then connect with witnesses and family.
As I’ve gotten more experienced, it’s become easier to make those connections. I certainly recognize the importance of that to get beyond the headlines and dig deeper into the cases.
What about “Searching for Sara Bushland” — why did that case get a separate book in addition to its chapter in “Cold Cases”?
That is kind of interesting because it’s probably the least well-known case in the book.
I started working with Sara’s sister, and we found a lot of new information. Since it wasn’t really west-central Wisconsin, I made it its own book.
The chapter on Sara (in “Cold Cases”) is called “A Roar of Silence.”
Even though that case was dormant for so many years, there is a large contingent of people who really want answers. I think we’ve answered a lot of questions.
Have you solved any of these cases?
I don’t know that I could say solved any, but the 1980 Richard Scott murder, when I first met with one of his friends, he supplied a name of the person who bought the gun. A few other people dropped his name, and I finally came across a person who was connected to the case, he confided to me he was the person who bought the gun. I don’t think he was the trigger man, but I think we proved he was involved.
I passed that to the Chippewa County sheriff’s office and their detective confirmed it was a lot of new information.
Why the pen name?
Initially the idea was to avoid attention and remain anonymous. It worked up until the arrest (in 2016) in the Wetterling case. Dudley was the nickname of my grandpa.
What impression do you hope people who read your book have?
I want readers to get to know the victims. Oftentimes you hear about the crime but don’t hear about the victim, or hear a lot more about the criminal and suspects.
I hope they talk about the cases and get the conversation going. If they know something, I hope that they would say something.
In all of these cases, somebody has information to help solve the case. I hope someone’s motivated to come forward, even if it’s just one of the cases — that’s worth the effort.
Will you continue writing these stories?
I’m sure I will. I don’t have any set plans right now. I think there’s a couple cases in this book that I’ll still work on researching more — Sara Bushland and Angelina Wall. Whoever is responsible for those cases is still out there and I want to continue to try to find answers.