HUDSON — Several people with insight into a bizarre shooting death case 25 years ago say it’s time to have a man charged in criminal court.
A jury, in a 1997 St. Croix County civil trial, answered “yes” to the question: “Did James Neumann murder Jane Neumann?”
Neumann has never been criminally charged.
Former St. Croix County Investigator James Richard and Hudson attorney Mark Gherty, who have knowledge of the case, suggest a criminal court jury should hear the case.
Ron Stewart of Roberts, foreman of the civil court jury that determined Neumann murdered his wife, 30, wonders why Neumann has never faced a homicide charge.
“I can’t believe he has never been charged,” Stewart said in a recent interview. “There is no doubt in my mind he was involved. Things just couldn’t have happened how he said.”
Richard was one of the first officers at the death scene on Trout Brook Road. Jane died from a shotgun blast through her mouth on Nov. 22, 1993, in the lower level of the home she shared with Neumann and their nearly 2-year-old son Jonathan.
Richard interviewed Neumann the day of the shooting and examined the case more thoroughly years later as an investigator.
“I never found James Neumann to be credible,” Richard recently said. “I don’t believe Jane Neumann committed suicide. I believe he is totally responsible for Jane’s death.”
Neumann was likely “responsible for putting everything in motion to make this incident happen,” Richard said, calling Neumann “borderline genius” and “diabolical. It’s hard to imagine or believe his account of events that day.”
A report by Missouri-based Midstates Organized Crime Information Center (MOCIC), citing Neumann’s financial gain as a major reason, along with lies to police and death scene evidence, favors homicide, adding Jane “exhibited no traits or other symptoms of someone about to commit suicide.”
“Jim Neumann had control over the victim and it’s possible that he convinced her to hold the shotgun to her mouth while he was on the other side holding the shotgun,” the report said.
Former St. Croix County District Attorney Eric Johnson did not pursue criminal charges against Neumann, repeatedly citing a lack of evidence. Current DA Michael Nieskes declined to comment on the case.
Steven Tinker, director of criminal investigation for the state Department of Justice in 1998, referring to investigation by several agents in 1996 and a subsequent review by an assistant attorney general, concluded that “we could not rule out” Jane Neumann’s death was a homicide.
But the report also said there was not enough evidence to pursue criminal charges against Neumann.
The MOCIC report suggested a special prosecutor be assigned to handle any charges against Neumann.
Gherty, who represented Jane Neumann’s family in the successful civil suit against Neumann, said he would serve as a special prosecutor against Neumann if he was asked and qualified.
“It’s still an open investigation,” said St. Croix County Chief Deputy Cathy Borgschatz, adding that it is an unsolved homicide. “We still get calls on it and we follow up on them.”
Jane Neumann’s death certificate was judicially ordered changed from suicide to homicide after the civil court verdict.
A state appellate court agreed in 2001, saying there was “ample evidence of Neumann’s motive, opportunity and lack of credibility to support the jury’s conclusion that Neumann was the murderer.”
Jim Neumann, 54, and his wife, Heather, married in 1995 and have been living in Wrightstown, near Green Bay, according to public records. He worked for an agriculture-based equipment company until this summer. They could not be reached for comment.
Jane, 5-foot-3 and 100 pounds, disliked and had no experience with guns, and had few mechanical skills, according to family.
The suicide formula claims: Jane propped a 12-gauge shotgun on a water softener, protruded it through a hole in the utility room wall, tied fishing line to the trigger, put that line through a hole in the wall and pulled the line while holding the bubble-wrapped shotgun end in her mouth.
Neumann testified Jane had emotional and mental instabilities that only he knew.
Jane reduced her work hours to spend more time with her son and made plans for Thanksgiving, Christmas and an anniversary trip, according to friends and family.
Neumann has always denied involvement, saying he made “lousy” and “stupid” decisions after his wife’s death, and lied numerous times to police and others, but that didn’t make him a murderer. He initially told police an intruder killed his wife, later saying that he lied to protect her image.
Following the civil trial verdict, Neumann was ordered to pay Jonathan more than $482,000 in damages. The trial was featured in a “48 Hours” report on CBS.
“This is a man who got away with murder,” Gherty said in a recent interview. “The fact that law enforcement accepted his story is what is so disappointing.”
Less than three weeks after the death, police returned Neumann’s computer, disks, checkbook and other items to him, and several weeks later returned more disks, papers, an answering machine, a coat and other items to him. None of the items, including Jane’s purse and Neumann’s briefcase, were analyzed or examined before being returned, according to records.
Several months after Jane’s death, Neumann reached a plea agreement in which he was convicted of obstructing an officer and paid about $4,860 in restitution and court costs.
The Neumanns had about $45,000 in debt in addition to a $125,000 mortgage at the time of Jane’s death, and a short time earlier met with a bankruptcy attorney. Neumann collected on a $116,000 life insurance policy on Jane. The suicide clause of that policy expired four days before her death.
Neumann said he found Jane’s body and sat on a couch near her, read the note and decided in about 20 seconds to alter the scene. He said he used her gloves to pick up the gun, wrap it in garbage bags with some hardware, hang a picture over the hole in the wall and drive through downtown Hudson before leaping a 4-foot-high fence in a trench coat while carrying the weapon. He then ran onto the St. Croix River bridge during rush hour and dropped the weapon into the river before returning home and altering the scene more, including burning the alleged note. No shotgun was located despite several dive searches of the river.
Neumann called police at 6:18 p.m., sobbing and saying he just found his wife dead and his son was missing, even though he got home about a half-hour earlier. Reports indicate he didn’t contact the caregiver where his son was until the next day.
Neumann made 10 calls from his St. Paul office to his residence on the afternoon of Jane’s death. He said Jane called him that afternoon from home, but only his fingerprints were found on the home phone.
Neumann gave his boss, Jim Zeller of Hudson, a ride home shortly after 5 p.m. Zeller told police Neumann initially told him he had to diffuse a bomb before entering a room in the house, and that there was no gun when he found Jane, and said: “Well, somebody could have put a knife to her neck and walked her over there.”
Jurors in the civil case said Neumann’s repeated lies and physical evidence, including no damage to her finger if she had wrapped the fishing line around it to fire the weapon, were factors. Neumann also got rid of the family dog about a month before the death, saying the owner had died and giving a false home address.
No witnesses ever said they saw him on the busy bridge or downtown Hudson or saw his vehicle. A medical examiner estimated Jane’s death between 3 and 6 p.m.
Gherty said Neumann may have fabricated the suicide note and gun disposal run accounts.
Jane Neumann’s family declined to comment for this report, saying only that they hope authorities will someday charge Neumann in criminal court.