VILAS COUNTY - Susan Poupart, a mother with two young children, disappeared 24 years ago Wednesday. She was found murdered six months later. No one has ever been charged for her murder. In a Newswatch 12 exclusive, you'll learn new details about the case, see newly-released photos from the crime scene, and for the first time ever, visit the spot where Poupart's remains were found (click play video). Investigators believe someone knows how she ended up deep in a Northwoods forest.
Story By Lauren Stephenson
"I have a picture of Suzy with her two children...As I've moved from office to office, I just bring it with me. It's just to remind me that, you know, that's an unsolved case," said Vilas County Sheriff Joe Fath.
The cold case weighs heavily on him, just as it has since 1990. He was one of the first people to investigate 29-year-old Susan Poupart's disappearance and murder. Now as Sheriff, he hopes new forensics and new interviews will lead to charges and convictions for the Lac du Flambeau woman's murder.
"She was attending an after-bar party on Makwa [Trail]...And she left the party at approximately 4 a.m...Many people saw her get in the car with Joe Cobb and Robert Elm," Fath explained.
One eye-witness told police two men forced Poupart into a car. That was May 20, 1990, the last time anybody saw Suzy. Both Joe Cobb and Robert Elm are considered suspects, as well as Fritz Schuman. His name came up in interviews after Poupart's disappearance. All three still live in the area. Cobb and Elm told investigators they were driving Poupart home, but they ended up dropping her off at the old Lac du Flambeau Elementary school, where the casino is now.
"The original officers had conducted a number of interviews with people that were involved that over that initial time period, didn't really seem to make sense," said Lieutenant Carl Gauger.
On Thanksgiving Day 1990, two hunters were walking in the Chequamegon National Forest in Price County. They came across an area where they found Suzy Poupart's purse with her tribal ID and a jacket underneath a log. When the hunters pulled the jacket out, they found a human jaw.
"There were indications that the remains had been scattered by animals, and we didn't see that same indication in the clothing," Gauger explained.
Investigators believe Poupart had been sexually assaulted and left naked. They also think her remains were wrapped in plastic since they found plastic and duct tape at the scene.
"The remains had been covered by logs and brush...it appeared there was animal activity that dispersed the remains and the vast majority of the remains were not recovered," said Gauger.
Investigators think one of the suspects used to hunt in the area where the remains were found. But at the time Poupart's remains and belongings were found, DNA technology didn't exist. That's why the Vilas County Sheriff's Office is re-submitting evidence for DNA analysis.
"We're examining evidence typically for body fluids...whether that's blood evidence, whether it's semen, saliva. It may be hairs," said Dan Campbell, Forensic Scientist Supervisor of DNA at the Wisconsin State Crime Lab in Madison.
Campbell says they have been able to get DNA from evidence more than 50 years old. But certain factors make recovering DNA from evidence very difficult.
"Humidity, sunlight, just the UV light associated with sunlight can break it down so the natural elements out in our environment over time, will have a degradation effect on DNA, and at some point, that DNA may not be viable for us to get a DNA profile," Campbell explained.
Even if the lab can't find DNA on the items left at the scene, the Sheriff says that won't stop investigators from moving forward with the case.
"Eventually, we will convince a prosecutor and a judge to move forward with charging this particular case and moving it forward for the courts to address...Suzy's remains were found in the Chequamegon National Forest, which is federal land. There are federal statutes that apply to this type of crime so that's a possibility that we move forward in state court and/or ask the U.S. Attorney to consider moving forward in federal court," said Fath.
Above all else, they want people to come forward with any information.
"Over the years, we've had a number of individuals come forward with information that they actually believe we already had...frequently, we don't have that information...Anybody, with any information pertaining to the Suzy Poupart case needs to come forward and talk to law enforcement...for the sake of Suzy Poupart's family," said Gauger.
"There are people in the Lac du Flambeau community that know what happened to Suzy...This is going to involve not only our department, but the Lac du Flambeau community to solve. And I'm confident we can do that, if the people that have the information come forward," Fath said.
Investigators are conducting new interviews. A new special agent from the Division of Criminal Investigation has been assigned to the case. She is working out of the Vilas County Sheriff's Office. Sheriff Fath believes even if DNA isn't found on the evidence, they could move forward with a circumstantial case. He points to the recent conviction of Mark Bucki for murdering his wife Anita in Lincoln County.
If you have any information related to the disappearance and murder of Susan Poupart, call the Wisconsin Department of Justice and ask for Special Agent Tami Augsburger (608)266-1671. You can also call the Vilas County Sheriff's Office (800) 472-7290 and ask for Lieutenant Carl Gauger or Sheriff Joe Fath.
There is a $20,000 reward.