Monday, June 23, 2008

The Week turns 30: Ten stories that got people talking

Dan Plutchak/The Week

Of the 30 years that The Week has been a part of Walworth County, I've been around for 17 of them.

The first edition was inserted into the Janesville Gazette on June 21, 1978. By the time I arrived in February of 1991, The Week was distributed by itself free to every home in Walworth County.

Linda Godfrey's illustration from the 1991 story on the Beast of Bray Road, the most talked-about story in The Week's 30-year history.
Over the years we've also added a Thursday edition, specialty publications and two Web sites.

I still remember that after my first week, I wondered how we'd do it all again. But away we went, and little did I know I wouldn't look back.

Since then, Walworth County (and The Week) has been in the middle of many fascinating stories.

Many of them have gone from local to national to international news events.

The following list are my picks for 10 most-talked-about stories that I've been around to help cover (including my favorite from the first issue, June 21, 1978, at right).

Both good stories and bad, here are 10 that got people talking:


It's Jake the talking dog

Published June 21, 1978

Any top 10 list should begin at the beginning, so we'll go all the way back to our first issue, June 21, 1978.

Along with covering the major news stories of the week, readers have always been able to enjoy a lighthearted look at the offbeat.

In our first issue, we told the story of Jake the talking dog, a black lab owned by Vern Ludtke of Whitewater. "What do trees have," the interviewer asked? "Bark," Jake replied.


Famous, and nearly forgotten

Published Sept. 27, 2007

By Chris Schultz

Of all the famous people who have spent time in Walworth County, perhaps the most famous (and certainly the most famous in his day) was Clarence H. "Ginger" Beaumont.

In 1903, Beaumont, a native of Rochester, just over the Racine County line, was the first batter in the first modern World Series.

Leading off for the Pittsburgh Pirates, he faced the legendary Cy Young, pitching for the Boston Americans.

Beaumont flew out to center field.

Once out of baseball, Beaumont moved to Honey Creek where he owned a store, did some farming and auctioneering, conducted the church choir, became a grandfather and wove himself into local legend before dying on April 10, 1956 at the age of 79.

Don Kreft, Walworth County assistant highway superintendent, who now lives on the Beaumont farm, and Frank Steele, a Rochester coffee shop owner, are among those who keep Beaumont's memory alive.


The disappearance of Georgia Jean Weckler

Published March 3, 1996

Story by Dale Reich

In March of 1996, Delavan Township resident Ed Lindloff happened upon a reporter for The Week and mentioned an incident that had haunted him for nearly 50 years.

He believes he knows what happened to Georgia Jean Weckler, an 8-year-old girl from Fort Atkinson, who was last seen May 1, 1947.

She was dropped off at her home after school by a neighbor. She got the mail and was walking up the driveway and was never seen again, according to newspaper accounts and charleyproject.org.

Several witnesses reported seeing a black 1936 Ford in the area that afternoon. Police once considered notorious serial killer Edward Gein as a suspect because he had a 1937 black Ford, according to the Web site.

Lindloff says he says he was working on a farm near what is now a business on the outskirts of Delavan the day Weckler was reported missing. The shop was being built at the time and Lindloff says he saw two men put an object about the size of a child in the ground and cover it with dirt.

After the story ran, authorities interviewed Lindloff and showed them where he believed Weckler was buried. Authorities eventually determined there was not enough evidence to warrant excavating the site.


Ted Junker's Hitler memorial

Published June 9, 2006

By Donna Lenz Wright

Residents were outraged when they learned that a retired farmer was quietly building a memorial to Adolf Hitler on his secluded Millard property.

Ted Junker, a self-described former Nazi Waffen SS soldier, planned to hold a grand opening, which drew headlines around the world.

Eventually, Junker cancelled the event after county officials threatened a lawsuit over proper zoning approval to open his property to the public.


Alpine Valley's Grateful Dead reunion tour

Published Aug. 11, 2002

By Steve Doman

The announcement early in the summer of 2002 that the remaining members of the band The Grateful Dead, now performing as The Other Ones, would be performing at Alpine Valley didn't sit well with local residents.

They remember years earlier when fans of the band overran the East Troy area venue causing property damage and disturbances.

Concerns over security and safety came to a head when Sheriff David Graves took on entertainment giant Clear Channel Communications-Alpine's owners-and threatened to not let the show Aug. 3-4 go on.

After two days of public meetings with county officials, Clear Channel promised to add extra security and reimburse the county for extra costs.


Who kidnapped Heddy Braun?

Published March 2, 2003

By Dale Reich

The first e-mail about the disappearance of Heddy Braun arrived in our office mid-morning on Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2003.

We hear of missing persons cases from time to time and although not a regular occurrence here in Walworth County, it does happen.

At the time, we figured it wouldn't be long before we would receive a press release from the sheriff's department that Mrs. Braun was found safely and we would have a brief news story for Sunday's paper.

So by Saturday, when authorities announced that Mrs. Braun had been found and they were investigating her disappearance as a kidnapping, the news shocked nearly everyone.

Everyone, except those closest to the case, knew the real story of Heddy Braun's disappearance from nearly the beginning.

While most of Walworth County was going about its usual business that week, family members were frantically trying to negotiate with an unknown captor, while at the Law Enforcement Center, investigators were hunkered down in a command center searching for the clue that would lead to Heddy Braun.

In fact, she was kidnapped and held for $3 million ransom by Reinier A. Ravesteijn, a family friend.

Ravesteijn was later sentenced to 45 years in prison and 12 years supervised release.

Braun passed away in 2004.


Stories of courage...

Sept. 11, 2001-present

Since the United States launched its first mission in Afghanistan following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, many Walworth County residents have answered the call to serve their country.

In our series, Stories of Courage, we've chronicled the sacrifices that many service members from Walworth County have made.

In November of 2004, we reported on the first Support the Troops rally held at the Walworth County Government Center in downtown Elkhorn.

Organized by Bob Webster of Sharon and sponsored by the Walworth County Council of the American Legion, members have gathered each Monday to remember those in the military with Walworth County connections. From that first day, they vowed to hold a rally each Monday, "for the duration of the conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan."

This coming Monday's rally, which will begin at 11 a.m., will be the 178th.

They will the read the names of the roughly 175 people with county ties who have served, including about 25 who are currently overseas.

Special mention is made of the two who died during their service. The first was Justin Linden of Clinton, whose mother lives near Elkhorn, and more recently Keith Nurnberg, whose wife lives in Genoa City.


Tragedy in Delavan

Published June 15, 2007

Just over a year ago, Ambrosio Analco, 23, killed himself after he shot and killed his estranged girlfriend Nicole McAffee, 19; their infant twin sons, Argenis and Isaiah Analco; Nicole's sister Ashley Lynn Huerta, 21; and Nicole and Ashley's friend Vanessa Iverson, 19.

Jasmine Analco, now almost 3 years old, was shot but survived the ordeal. She has been adopted by family members, said Nicole's aunt, Karen "Dee Dee" Sittler of Elkhorn.

The rampage in the second-floor apartment in Delavan is among the deadliest in Wisconsin history.


The mysterious death of Billy Bates

Published March 4, 1998

At first, the death of 47-year-old Willard "Billie" Bates looked like a possible homicide. In the end, it was ruled suicide, but what led to Bates' death was never fully known.

What authorities did know was that on the afternoon of Feb. 28, 1998, Bates' car left Highway 14 just outside the village of Walworth and crashed into a 10,000-gallon propane storage tank.

The resulting fire burned for 24 hours and authorities feared that if it exploded, a good portion of the village would go with it.

After the blaze was extinguished, Bates' body was found in the trunk of his car.


The Beast of Bray road

Published Dec. 29, 1991

Linda Godfrey

Linda Godfrey was the first to report on rumors of "A wolfish-looking creature that ran on two legs and had been seen around the Bray Road area, stealing chickens, eating roadkills and scaring the daylights out of locals who (sometimes literally) ran into it."

In fact, the Walworth County humane officer at the time had a file on the sightings.

The story was quickly picked up by news outlets and cable television programs and became a long-standing topic of speculation in Walworth County.

Godfrey has since gone on to write authoritative books on the subject-Bray Road and Hunting the American Werewolf.



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