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The backstory on how the Juedes case came to trial
How the Marathon County Sheriff's Office got a conviction in a 15-year-old cold case.
I still remember sitting in the small courtroom on the second floor of the Marathon County Courthouse in 2019. The wind made the Nov. 27 afternoon chilly, the pandemic hadn’t happened yet, and a woman was being brought in to face charges of first-degree intentional homicide.
Of course, what made this unusual was the actual murder took place in 2006. Richard Dufour, a special prosecutor the state brings in on high profile cases, read some of the facts of the case. I’d had some small sense of it but at the time the death of Kenneth Juedes took place, I was a cub sports reporter at the Wausau Daily Herald. I hadn’t yet done years in the Portage County Courtroom, learning the workings and motions and all the parts of court that make it interesting. And I wasn’t paying much attention to Marathon County Court.
Last month, Cindy Juedes-Schulz was found guilty of the murder of her husband, following jury deliberations. She will be sentenced March 18.
One question that I was surprised wasn’t answered on that November day in court, and hasn’t been answered since: why now? In my time as a crime reporter, I’ve covered a few cold cases, some of them because they finally led to an arrest. There was always an explanation. Not in this case. Nothing in the criminal complaint explains it, and Dufour, now retired, didn’t explain it that day. To this day, no one really answered: What happened?
So I decided to sit down with the detective who worked the case himself. And the answer surprised me a bit.
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The career pinacle
Det. Dennis Blaser of the Marathon County Sheriff’s Office was assigned to the Juedes cold case in 2016. The Juedes murder was one of three unsolved cold cases in Marathon County. There others are (quoting directly from the sheriff’s office crimestoppers page):
Brian Douglas Jehn: On Nov. 22, 1988, Brian Douglas Jehn's remains were located in a wooded area south of Mosinee not far from Highway 51. Jehn was last seen on September 23, 1988 at a bar in Wausau. Jehn was beaten to death. Jehn, of Wausau, WI, was 38 years old at the time of his death.
Joseph Kargol: On June 3, 1973, Joseph W. Kargol was found beaten to death outside of Mosinee near the Wisconsin River. Kargol was last seen at a tavern in Schofield. Kargol, of Rothschild, was 32 years old at the time of his death.
Of the three cold cases, the Juedes case is the newest, thus more likely to be solved.
I sat down with Det. Blaser and Sheriff Scott Parks in the Sheriff’s Office conference room and asked questions for about an hour about the case. I really wanted to know what Blaser found that other investigators didn’t.
The answer, to my surprise, was that he really didn’t. And that’s not my assessment; Blaser told me that directly, in response to my question. It was a tough case then, and a tougher one now. Turns out there was another reason the case finally came to trial.
Blaser is clear with me about one thing: there is no direct, smoking gun evidence to tie Cindy Juedes-Schulz to the crime. Nothing of that kind was discovered in the initial investigation, nor was it upon Det. Blaser’s complete re-investigation of the case. Even with new DNA techniques far more advanced since 2006 when the crime occurred, nothing new turned up. And since a shotgun was used (and never found), there’s no way to match bullets to the gun like you could with a handgun.
On the night of the murder, Juedes-Schulz had been sleeping in her camper on their property, and she believed Kenneth to be at work, according to her story (which, Blaser points out, has changed several times during the various interviews of her).
The basic story she told is that she came in to the house in the morning (she claims to have heard a dog barking but not any of the gunshots that killed Kenneth). In her version, Cindy found clues her husband hadn’t gone to work, and she searched for more clues to determine if in fact he’d gone to work. Only after walking through most of the house, in her version, did she finally check the bedroom and find Kenneth in bed naked, covered in blood.
She then went to a neighbor’s house to have them call 911 (she claimed her phone didn’t work, but had a cell phone she had admitted did work in parts of the house). She relayed comments through the neighbor. She described Kenneth’s condition but in neither that or a later 911 call at another neighbor did she ever seek help. She left to a friend’s house. At no point did she seek help for Kenneth or check on his condition.
“I’m sorry, if something happened to my wife and child, you’re not going to keep me away from there,” Blaser told The Wausonian. He explains that he’s taken courses in how to analyze 911 calls, and there are certain behaviors people exhibit. When someone seems more interested in setting up their alibi and describing the scene rather than seeking help, that’s nearly universally a sign of deception. It’s not admissible in court, he explains, but is one piece of evidence. (The law enforcement interrogation experts on The Behavior Panel explained 911 calls in almost the same way; her behavior matched that of other 911 calls they analyzed of suspects who were found guilty of their crimes.)
Cindy stood to inherit a large amount of insurance money and land; land she’d tried to get Kenneth to sell. Kenneth refused; the hunting land had been in his family for some time.
The defense, led by Earl Gray, put together an alternative explanation for the jury to ponder: That people Kenneth was involved with in a car race track partnership had committed fraud against Kenneth, and they don’t have solid alibis. Blaser explains there was no evidence that either confirms they weren’t, or were, at the crime scene. Some lived within six miles.
And Kenneth was concerned about them. According to Blaser, he’d installed a video security system on the property. And, according to all interviewed, he always locked the doors at night.
On this particular night, the door was unlocked, the surveillance system had been turned off days ago, and Cindy was sleeping in a camper. And, it was a rare instance in which none of the foster children were home.
That’s simply too big of a coincidence for someone without knowledge of the house’s inner workings, Blaser explains, and for Kenneth to have gone against so many of his habits. And anyone without familiarity of the house wouldn’t have known that exact day to come.
And it doesn’t help that Cindy often didn’t directly answer questions. That’s an evasion tactic the Behavior Panel often points out as a pretty strong sign of deception and dishonesty.
Lastly, Cindy owned a shotgun, and a shotgun was used to kill Kenneth. Her shotgun was then missing, and she claimed it was stolen prior to the crime but no police report was ever made. And the household was no stranger to the police, according to information in the criminal complaint.
Who was Kenneth?
According to the obituary for Kenneth Juedes, the man worked as a pharmacist in Medford. He loved Christmas Vacation and hunting in his Ford truck, blasting John Prine. That’s according the obituary submitted by Cindy. He was born in Rothschild and had a connection to Colby, including being a member of its Lions Club.
Kenneth has also been co-owner of a race track in Unity and, according to WPR and police sources, had been in a financial dispute with the owners. Defense attorney Earl Gray brought up the possibility at trial that those business partners at the race track killed Kenneth. As pointed out above, Blaser said that idea was easy to reject because of the nearly perfect storm of circumstances that would have been needed.
A willing prosecutor
Theresa Wetzsteon politely declined my invitation for an interview on the subject, citing ethics rules about making public comments before the sentencing hearing. I also sent an email to Mr. Gray, and did not receive a response after roughly one week.
Neither of these responses surprised me. In my time as a regular crime reporter, I got to know many prosecutors and defense attorneys, and especially in high-profile cases they are often reluctant to speak on the record. Many would supply background information once they trust you (and many did), but knew public comment was more likely to do damage than it could do good.
But Wetzsteon did say she was happy to hear the comments of Sheriff Parks and Det. Blaser. Both of them were quite clear with me: Wetzsteon had the guts to take on the difficult case that past DAs did not.
“This case is nearly 100% circumstantial,” Blaser said to me. Parks echoed those sentiments later on. No new evidence was unearthed. Although Blaser started the case from scratch, investigating it as if it were the first time through, he really didn’t uncover much in the way of new evidence, he told me. But there was little doubt as to who did it. Cindy Juedes-Schulz benefited greatly from the death of her husband; she brought in $1 million in life insurance money along with valuable land.
The defense’s argument was that Kenneth Juedes was killed not by Cindy, but by his business associates around the race track. The theory they put out is that they were concerned he was going to expose illegal drug activity.
Another option occurred to me. Wasn’t it possible that Cindy and the race track folks were in on it together? That she was essentially the “mole” for the race track folks, ensuring the perfect circumstances for the crime to occur, but letting someone else pull the trigger.
I posited this to Blaser over email. Blaser’s response was as follows:
That was thought of and they were given Immunity by the prosecutors in this case. They all testified they were not involved in the homicide.
Cindy Juedes-Schulz, 15 years after her husband was murdered, will face a sentence of life in prison on March 18.
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