As with many others, thoughts of Jayme Closs have consumed my mind since her shocking escape from captivity.
I have been constantly reliving the interview I did with Tom and Joan Smrekar the day after Jayme’s parents were killed and she went missing.
Tom and Joan Smrekar live about 300 feet west of the Closs home on Highway 8.
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I pulled up to the Smrekars’ home that Tuesday afternoon. I actually hopped out of my van, leaving it running in their driveway, expecting them to say “no comment” and send me on my way.
That didn’t happen. In fact, the Smrekars graciously invited me into their home, and they told me everything they heard that night — about hearing the two shots fired, shortly apart, and how close those were clearly nearby.
They also told me what they knew about the Closses.
And they told me something in passing that has haunted me for weeks. It didn’t make it into my story the next day, because it was a comment made in passing and didn’t seem noteworthy at the time.
When I asked what they knew about Jayme, one of them casually said they “would see her go to the end of the driveway every day to get on the bus.”
When I read the criminal complaint, sitting in the Barron County Courthouse waiting for Jake Patterson’s initial court appearance two weeks ago, I was jarred by the line that she was randomly selected because Patterson saw her get on the bus and decided he was going to abduct her.
It’s a short walk from the house to the end of the driveway, where Jayme would get on that bus. Like other reporters who have extensively covered her abduction, I have speculated as to who would have taken her. The obvious assumption was someone she had somehow met on social media. The thought of a truly random stranger taking her never was in real consideration. The Smrekars convinced me that day that this wasn’t the likely scenario — they felt their houses were too close to the highway, and not nearly nice enough, for someone to randomly come there and do this heinous act.
Another part of the criminal complaint also haunts me, and that is the meticulous way Patterson allegedly planned out this crime, from randomly selecting his victim to removing his hair and wiping fingerprints from bullets.
In 2007, Kevin Costner starred in a little-seen movie titled “Mr. Brooks.” I loved it when I saw it in a theater, but now I am sickened by it.
In the movie, Costner randomly selects people to murder. He goes through a careful process of following their movements, picking the right time to attack them, and making sure to not leave a shred of evidence behind.
While reading the criminal complaint that day, I couldn’t help but think about “Mr. Brooks.” I am now horrified that this dark movie essentially could serve as a guide to “how to get away with murder.” The steps are laid out.
As a reporter, there are some details I try to steer clear of. For instance, criminal complaints of meth trafficking places often spell out exactly what chemicals and ingredients are used in making the powerfully addictive drug. I wouldn’t include those details in my story. Also, when reading sexual assault criminal complaints, I give as few details as possible to preserve some dignity for the victim.
“Mr. Brooks” and Jake Patterson now have me wondering what responsibility the media has in giving away too many details of how a criminal nearly got away with a horrific crime. I don’t have any easy answers, and that is precisely why Jayme Closs continues to dominate my thoughts today.