Before she leaves this Earth, Lori Bednarczyk hopes to find out what happened to her oldest daughter.
The body of 22-year-old Angelina Wall was found at about 5:45 a.m. Jan. 6, 2001, along Highway J, west of Fall Creek. Despite what authorities describe as an extensive, yearslong investigation, no one has been arrested in connection with her murder.
“Angie was my girl,” said Bednarczyk from her home in Bovey, Minn. “I still think of her each day, and each day when I go out for my last cigarette, I pray something comes of her case.
“I don’t want to go to my grave not knowing,” said Bednarczyk, who has been experiencing health problems.
Linda Hamann, a rural Fall Creek resident, discovered Angie’s body while driving east on Highway J after an early morning of milking cows.
“I just thought it was a snowmobile suit,” Hamann said in January 2001. “I wasn’t sure when I went by, and I backed up.”
The body was on the snow-covered south shoulder of the highway, south of U.S. 12. Illuminated by her vehicle’s headlights, Hamann thought it was a child.
She quickly drove to her daughter’s house in Fall Creek and called the Eau Claire County sheriff’s office, and she led John Staber, now a sergeant with the office, to the scene.
It was his first homicide as a deputy, and Staber reported his findings to the Eau Claire City-County Communications Center.
“They wanted to send (emergency medical services workers),” he recalled. “I told them not to. It was pretty obvious she was dead.”
When detectives arrived, Staber went home, but he hasn’t forgotten that cold Saturday morning 18 years ago.
“It’s got to be hard on her family members,” said Staber, a parent himself.
Hundreds of hours
Angie was last seen between 2:35 and 2:40 a.m. Jan. 6 at a gas station on Birch Street in Eau Claire. She had left work at about 1:40 a.m. from McDonald’s on South Hastings Way. Police believe she was walking toward her home on North Dewey Street when she was abducted.
Over the years, Eau Claire police and county sheriff’s officers have put in hundreds of hours investigating the case.
Angie’s case is featured in local author Robert M. Dudley’s book “Cold Cases of West-Central Wisconsin.”
Sheriff Ron Cramer, the last of the original investigators from his office on the case, praises Detective Sgt. Mike Mayer for the work he has put into the case.
“He has read every page (pertaining to the investigation) and keeps pushing on it,” Cramer said. “Before I retire, I would really like to see this case solved, especially for Angelina’s mom.
“She has remained positive that something is going to break, and that keeps our motivation up.”
Even though it’s hard at times to believe someone will be brought to justice for killing her daughter, Bednarczyk remains hopeful.
“Some days, I think it was someone she knew, and other days, I think it was a stranger who took her,” Bednarczyk said. “When my girls were younger, I taught them not to go with strangers. I know Angie wouldn’t get into a car with a stranger.”
Cramer said authorities believe more than one person was involved in the case, and he said his office has “a little glimmer that has surfaced.”
A mother’s pain
It’s crushing when leads don’t pan out, said Bednarczyk, who has had her hopes dashed in the past. “The letdowns are horrible.”
But so are the anniversaries of her daughter’s death.
“Every anniversary is hard, but I think the 22nd is going to kill me — because then she’ll be gone as long as she was alive,” said an emotional Bednarczyk.
“I just miss her — her smile, her love of sleeping late, her goofiness — so damn much.”
Since Angie’s death, Bednarczyk has been trying to put together a memory book, but “when I look at pictures, I get so heartbroken that I have to put them away,” she said, noting she has only gotten three pages done.
She also has written letters — many of them — to the person or persons responsible for her daughter’s death.
“It’s my kid lying there in the ground, and I want to take everything away from him he has taken from me,” she said.
Mayer is hopeful someone will come forward to provide Bednarczyk with some answers.
“There has to be someone out there who has heard or seen something,” he said. “If you remember anything — someone living here and then moving away after (Angie’s death) or someone starting to act weird — please bring it forward.
“Think about what her mother is going through. This lady needs some closure.”
Anyone with any information about the Jan. 6, 2001, murder of Angelina Wall is asked to contact:
• Detective Sgt Mike Mayer, Eau Claire County sheriff’s office: 715-839-5012 or Mike.Mayer@co.eau-claire.wi.us.
• Eau Claire County Crime Stoppers: 715-874-TIPS.
SAN DIEGO — In Washington, it’s all about the wall. At the border, it’s only part of the story.
Border authorities are struggling with outdated facilities ill-equipped to handle the growing increase in family migrants, resulting in immigrants being released onto the streets every day. The immigration court system is so clogged that some wait years for their cases to be resolved, and it lacks funding to pay for basic things like in-person translators. An increase in sick children arriving at the border is putting a strain on medical resources.
But the Washington debate has focused almost exclusively on the $5 billion in wall spending that President Donald Trump wants. Other proposals being discussed keep the rest of the Homeland Security Department funding at existing levels.
“The wall is a tool. Unfortunately even if it’s implemented across the border it isn’t a solution to all the problems,” said Victor Manjarrez, a former Border Patrol sector chief with more than 20 years of experience, now a professor at the University of Texas, El Paso.
Trump has suggested migrants won’t bother to come if he gets his way, making other immigration issues less problematic. Walls and fencing currently blanket about one-third of the border — mostly built under President George W. Bush — and the president wants to extend and fortify them. But contracting, designing and building new wall systems complete with updated technology could take years.
Trump met Friday with congressional leaders who said the president threatened the shutdown could go on for “years.” Trump later said he’d considered using executive authority to get a wall built on the border.
“You can call it a barrier, you can call it whatever you want,” Trump said a day earlier, flanked by immigration union heads. “But essentially we need protection in our country. We’re going to make it good. The people of our country want it.”
Meanwhile, the House passed a bill Thursday evening to fund the government without the $5 billion, with new Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi calling the wall an “immorality.”
Seeking to surrender
The debate overlooks major bottlenecks in the immigration system as more families and children traveling alone turn themselves in to authorities to seek asylum, instead of trying to elude capture as almost everyone did just a few years ago. In some cases, migrants are climbing existing border fence and seeking out agents to surrender.
The backlog in immigration courts has more than doubled to 1.1 million cases since shortly before Trump took office, according to Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse. Families and children now account for about six of 10 Border Patrol arrests, but there are only about 3,300 family detention beds and the number of unaccompanied children in government care has soared under Trump.
Border crossers are stuck in short-term holding cells for days, and there has been a spike in sick migrant children, including two who died in custody.
In addition, the wall will do little to address the issue of visa overstays — when immigrants come to the country legally and remain here after their papers expire. Authorities say there were nearly 740,000 overstays during a recent 12-month period.
And border agents continue to struggle with growing numbers children and families. Officials say they are stopping about 2,000 people a day, more than 60 percent children and families, higher than during many periods under President Barack Obama. They referred 451 cases to a medical provider from Dec. 22 to Dec. 30, more than half children.
David Aguilar, the Border Patrol chief from 2004 to 2010 and a former acting Customs and Border Protection commissioner, said agencies that oversee long-term immigration custody need more funding to immediately step in after the Border Patrol makes an arrest. He says the agency is “overwhelmed” in dealing with all the children and families coming across the border now, much different from 1990s and 2000s.
“The demographics and the flows that are crossing the southern border are very different from the demographics and flows when we built the original walls ... back in 2006 and 2008,” he said.
Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan, testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee last month, said stations were not built to manage the crush of families coming over. The wall was important, he said, but so were these other issues. He said they needed budgeting for medical care and mental health care for children in their facilities.
Trump has significantly increased the number of immigration judges but, A. Ashley Tabaddor, president of the National Association of Immigration Judges, said it came without enough support staff. About a week before the shutdown, judges were told the courts ran out of money for many in-person translators and that, as a result, it would have to reach them telephonically. A hearing that might last three minutes would last 20 minutes.
The shutdown is already having an impact on the immigration system. E-Verify, the online government system where employees can confirm eligibility of their employees to work legally in the U.S. is down.
Courts were only functioning for those who were detained. Other cases will be reset for a date once funding resumes, according to the website for the courts, which are overseen by the Department of Justice.
Immigration lawyers said that will only worsen the already overwhelming backlog. Immigration attorney Jeremy McKinney said he expects cases in Charlotte, North Carolina will be moved to 2020 because this year’s docket is already full.
“The situation is a lose-lose,” he said.
In contrast, the funding problems have only minimally affected the U.S. government agency tasked with reviewing immigrants’ applications for green cards and other benefits. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which is a fee-based agency, said its offices are open and immigrants should attend appointments as expected.
In the ledger of evils perpetrated by humans, Operation Reinhard holds a special place. Over the course of 21 months starting in March 1942, Nazis and collaborators rounded up 1.7 million Jews from 393 Polish towns and ghettos and dispatched them in tightly packed rail cars to three camps in German-occupied Poland — Sobibor, Treblinka and Belzec.
At these three killing centers, members of Poland’s Jewish community were murdered with such efficiency and ruthlessness that, of roughly 1.5 million Jews who passed through their gates, a mere 102 would survive to bear witness. By November 1943, when Operation Reinhard ended, essentially no Polish Jews were left for the Germans to kill.
In a bid to capture the scope and intensity of genocidal killing sprees, a Tel Aviv University researcher has dissected Operation Reinhard and found its dark heart.
Biomathematician Lewi Stone drew upon a painstaking accounting of Nazi train schedules to analyze the “kill rate” of Jews between February 1942 and December 1944. Within Operation Reinhard’s 21-month campaign of extermination, he discovered a 92-day period that stands out for its ferocity.
In August, September and October 1942, he calculated, German forces and their allies in Poland killed at least 1.32 million Jews. That averages out to 14,348 per day, every day. Virtually all of the victims were from Poland and its immediate neighbors.
This concentration of murders in a three-month period “likely created substantial confusion among its victims, and its speed would have made the possibility of organized resistance difficult to coordinate in time,” Stone wrote in a study published this week in the journal Science Advances. “The massacre was effectively over before there was time for an organized response.”
Stone uses authoritative estimates of the Holocaust’s toll on Jews — which range from 5.1 million to 6.2 million — to reckon that as many as a quarter of the Nazis’ Jewish victims were murdered during these three months of Operation Reinhard. It appears to have taken place at roughly the same time that German forces, having invaded the Soviet Union and been thrown back from the outskirts of Moscow, were advancing instead on Stalingrad. Historians have noted that around this time, Adolf Hitler ordered his plan for the “final solution of the Jewish question” to be accelerated.
Documents: The Allies knew
Documents recently unearthed from United Nations archives also reveal that as early as December 1942, the governments of the United States, Britain and the Soviet Union were aware that at least 2 million Jews had been murdered and a further 5 million were at risk of being killed. Although they were preparing war crimes charges against Hitler and his generals on the basis of survivors’ reports, the Allied powers did little to protect or provide sanctuary to Europe’s Jews.
Operation Reinhard was launched with the March 1942 opening of the Belzec death camp near Poland’s border with modern-day Ukraine. Starting in late July 1942, Treblinka’s gas chambers would begin to empty the Warsaw Ghetto of Jews. The expanded death camp of Sobibor reopened soon after, fulfilling Gestapo chief Heinrich Himmler’s July 19, 1942, order that, with few exceptions, all Jews within German-occupied Poland should be exterminated by the end of the year.
An estimated 292,000 of the 1.32 million who perished during this spasm of violence were killed with bullets by special mobile shooting squads called the Einsatzgruppen. The remainder were dispatched by poison gas within hours of their arrival at the death camps, Stone discerned.
To clarify the rate at which Jews were murdered in the course of Operation Reinhard, Stone turned to detailed railway schedules compiled by Israeli historian Yitzakh Arad. These schedules included data on 480 train deportations to Sobibor, Belzec and Treblinka carried out by the German National Railway during this period.
In an effort to glean the full extent of the Nazis’ genocidal machine, Stone then incorporated the well-documented death tolls from Auschwitz-Birkenau in western Poland and from the Einsatzgruppen, which were active across the countries that German troops had entered, including the Soviet Union.
By December 1942, long before Operation Reinhard formally ended, the rate of train deportations — and of murders at the three camps — slowed markedly, Stone found. It wasn’t that the Nazis had a change of heart. Rather, Stone wrote, the plunging death rate “simply reflects that there were very few Jews left to murder” in occupied Poland. The final remnants of the Jewish community in Bialystock were rounded up in November and December of 1942 and sent to Treblinka.
By mid-July of 1942, the Nazis began deporting Dutch Jews to concentration camps and killing centers in Germany and Poland. The Jews of Norway followed by late October 1942.
The remaining Jewish populations of Europe were dispatched to Auschwitz-Birkenau, which saw what Stone called “exceptionally high kill rates” in 1944, when Hungarian Jews were sent there in large numbers.
Some historians have suggested that the 1994 Rwanda genocide, in which an estimated 800,000 members of the Tutsi tribe were murdered by Hutus in a span of about 100 days, might have exceeded the Holocaust in the pace of its genocidal mayhem. According to Stone’s calculations, it did not.
During the three most murderous months of Operation Reinhard, the intensity with which the Nazis sought to exterminate Jews was 83 percent higher than that seen in Rwanda’s genocide, Stone found.
Tribune News Service
In both its extent of killing and in the expanse of space over which it unfolded, the Holocaust represents a more extreme manifestation of organized violence against a single group, he wrote.
Historians, social scientists, policymakers and journalists “have consistently relied on inaccurate assessments that greatly underestimated the Holocaust kill rate during Operation Reinhard,” Stone concluded. “These underestimates have been repeated for over two decades without substantial criticism, a pattern that has effectively rewritten the history of the Holocaust in a way that diminishes its historical standing and the scale of human life it encompasses.”
Definitive killing patterns
The new study is part of an effort to push scholarship on the Holocaust — and on the phenomenon of genocide generally — beyond aggregated numbers of the dead, and to reveal their inner dynamics. Understanding the patterns of violence that lie between a genocidal event’s beginning and end points might uncover what factors touch them off, sustain or accelerate them, or bring them to a close, Stone suggested.
Focusing on pivotal phases of the Holocaust may also offer new perspective on death tolls that have either become the subject of dry academic debate or that defy easy comprehension by the public.
A recent scholarly estimate — that between 5.4 million and 5.8 million Jews were murdered over World War II’s four years — has “limited explanatory power because in the end we are left with a single aggregate number that is bewilderingly large and difficult for the human mind to relate to,” Stone wrote. “With all this complexity, here we ask, Are there any simple definitive killing patterns that can be distilled from this period that can shed better light on the large-scale dynamics of the large-scale Nazi operation?”
Tribune News Service
With new legislators taking the oath of office Monday during the biannual changing of the guard in Madison, that means three familiar faces no longer will represent parts of the Chippewa Valley.
Saying goodbye to their constituents will be Rep. Dana Wachs, D-Eau Claire, and Sens. Kathleen Vinehout, D-Alma, and Terry Moulton, R-town of Seymour. The trio have served in the Wisconsin Legislature for a cumulative 30 years.
Despite party differences, all three legislators expressed gratitude for the opportunity to serve in elected office and represent the people of west-central Wisconsin.
The Democrats, who both chose not to seek re-election so they could run for governor, warned of tough times ahead for divided government, especially in light of controversial laws passed in a lame-duck session last month by Republicans controlling the Legislature to limit the power of Gov.-elect Tony Evers and Attorney General-elect Josh Kaul, both Democrats, before they took office.
Vinehout, 60, who has represented the 31st Senate District since 2007, said she takes pride in knowing that seemingly small steps she took involving policy or constituent service had the potential to make a big difference in the lives of Wisconsin residents or the success of state businesses.
She cited examples such as passing a bill to allow adult children to stay on their parents’ health plan until they turn 26 years before the Affordable Care Act made that national policy and helping an Eau Claire woman navigate the red tape to bring an HIV-positive boy she had adopted from Africa to the United States.
While Vinehout said she introduced 364 bills and had 43 become law, she noted that she had to work with Republican colleagues and take second billing to get bills passed as part of the minority for the past eight years. It was a sacrifice she said she made readily to get things done.
Vinehout mentioned that she and area legislators from both sides of the aisle left a legacy by working together to get state funding approved for the Confluence Project in downtown Eau Claire.
“It will enhance Eau Claire and the Chippewa Valley, hopefully, for 100 years,” she said.
By contrast, Vinehout’s biggest frustrations involved examples of partisanship and late-night arm-twisting from leaders in both parties, including times when lawmakers were asked to read lengthy bills and vote on them in a matter of minutes with little or no discussion. Not the right approach for a known policy wonk like Vinehout.
Regarding the measures Republicans pushed through in the recent extraordinary session, Vinehout predicted a serious negative impact next summer, when she said deadlines kick in for new rules requiring state agencies to footnote in great detail thousands of pages of documents that state agencies use to guide their interpretation and application of state laws.
She envisions the onerous requirements potentially leading to numerous lawsuits and a potential state government shutdown.
Her best advice to new legislators is to treat everyone in the Capitol with respect, regardless of party affiliation.
“When it’s necessary to be confrontational, try to stick with the facts and avoid making it personal, name-calling or impugning anybody’s motives,” she said.
Looking ahead, Vinehout said she plans to take some time for herself and spend some time on her farm before making any decisions about her next career move.
“I’m keeping my options open,” she said.
Vinehout will be succeeded in the 31st District by Democrat Jeff Smith of the town of Brunswick.
Wachs, 61, who has represented the 91st Assembly District since 2013, said he enjoyed his time in the Legislature and undoubtedly will miss it but is looking forward to returning full time to being a trial lawyer, a profession he loves.
After six years in the hyperpartisan, often combative atmosphere of the Legislature, Wachs said the relative civility of the court system will be a welcome change.
“The judicial system is different in that it has protocol and procedures that are really honored and long-lived,” he said. “Frankly, our Legislature could use some of that decorum.”
State politics is unlikely to return to the civil and bipartisan climate that prevailed in the 1970s and ’80s until Wisconsin changes the way it draws legislative district boundaries, Wachs said. He is hopeful the U.S. Supreme Court will rule in favor of plaintiffs challenging gerrymandering that gives Republicans a nearly insurmountable advantage in legislative races even though Democrats have earned more votes statewide.
The current system plays to the extremes, Wachs said, although he believes most residents are in the political middle.
“That’s why things are as partisan as they are, and it causes people to lose confidence in our democracy,” he said.
Wachs also expressed confidence that court challenges ultimately will be successful in overruling some of the legislation Republicans passed as part of the extraordinary session after the November elections.
“I find it alarming that they tried to functionally disrupt the consequences of an election after the fact,” he said. “To try to usurp the will of the people the way they did is very disappointing.”
While Wachs acknowledged that it was often frustrating to be in the minority with little chance of passing any bills he authored, he said he remains proud of accomplishments such as mitigating the negative impact of several GOP bills, responding to constituent concerns and helping to get several building projects approved on UW System campuses through his work on the state Building Commission.
“It’s been a mixed bag, but overall I enjoyed it and it has been an honor to represent this community,” he said.
Rep.-elect Jodi Emerson, D-Eau Claire, will take over for Wachs in the 91st District.
Moulton, 72, who served in the Assembly from 2005-2009 and then in the Senate from 2011-2019, chose not to seek re-election last fall.
“I thoroughly enjoyed my time in the Legislature, but I didn’t go into it for a career,” Moulton said. “I did it for my kids and my grandkids. It was a challenging experience.”
Moulton said the state’s unemployment and deficit were high when he returned to the Legislature in 2011. Moulton pointed to the strong business climate, balanced budgets, lower taxes and the lowest unemployment rate in state history as evidence that he and his fellow Republicans have done a good job of leading Wisconsin.
“I’m proud to say I’m part of a team that financially, turned this state around,” Moulton said.
However, the discussion over Act 10, which ended collective bargaining for most state employees, was a difficult time.
“I had death threats, and threats against my family,” he said. “That wasn’t fun, but tough decisions had to be made.”
Moulton said he’s proud of the bills he authored that got passed, ranging from hunting measures to those that supported children in foster care. His largest regret is that a bill to ban the use of fetal body parts in research never gained approval.
Some of his highlights were meeting people in his district, particularly youths.
“I had the opportunity to go into different government classes at schools, and it was something I really enjoyed,” Moulton said.
He called it a privilege to represent the 23rd Senate District and said he was humbled by the trust residents placed in him.
“It was a tough decision to leave,” Moulton said.
Moulton noted that many laws he authored started as ideas that people across the 23rd District shared with him at listening sessions, community events or chance run-ins.
Rep. Kathy Bernier, R-Lake Hallie, will succeed Moulton in the 23rd District.
Staff reporter Chris Vetter contributed to this story.