Newswatch 12 Exclusive: Inside the Susan Poupart cold case investigationSubmitted: 05/21/2014
Story By Lauren Stephenson

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.

"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.

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MADISON - Wisconsin may be the dairy state, but we've seen a decline in the number of dairy farms.

A report from the federal Agriculture Department shows that Wisconsin lost almost 400 dairy farms in the last year.

About 94-thousand dairy herds were active in the state as of October 1st.

Wisconsin Dairy Business Association President Gordon Speirs says the number of lost farms this year is low compared to previous years.

Annual losses reached as high as 1-thousand in some years.

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ST. GERMAIN - Helping patients feel better comes first for one pharmacist in St. Germain, but every Wednesday in October these patients are returning the favor by buying her cupcakes for a cause.

People know to head to pharmacist Jennifer Hansen when they're sick; however, many of them also know they can walk out of St. Germain Pharmacy with one of her cupcakes for Down Syndrome Awareness month.

This is the fourth year Jennifer is baking the cupcakes for her sons' Lakeland Area Special Olympics team.

One of her sons has Down Syndrome and the other has Autism.

"It's not about disabilities or what they can't do. It is shining and highlighting what they can do and all the many things they can do," said Hansen.

Donations from the cupcakes allowed her kids and fellow teammates to get new uniforms and head to different tournaments around the state.

Just as much as she knows patients by name, they know about her sons and always ask about them.

Jennifer says the generosity of the Northwoods community is overwhelming.

Many of her customers ask about the cupcakes months in advance to make sure they can donate.

"I'll still do them as long as my oven keeps working and nothing else bad happens," said Hansen.

Jennifer's boys and their teammates will be heading to Merrill for a bowling tournament this weekend.

Cupcake sales go through the end of October.

Jennifer also has cupcakes in exchange for donations in April for Autism Awareness Month.

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THREE LAKES - With the presidential election right around the corner, voters will be changing history for the United States.

For voters in the town of Three Lakes, they'll also be voting for a library, town office and possibly even a police department reconstruction plan. Wednesday evening, supporters of the Demmer Library came together to inform others in the community about that vote.

Members of the Three Lakes community that are in favor of expanding the Demmer Library joined forces to call every single registered voter in the area. 

"Just informing people about the referendum and for others I've found a lot of support. There are a lot of 'yes' votes out there and we're definitely grateful for that," said supporter Colette Mahlerwein.

For Laura Wipperman, her vote has already been decided.

"I love the idea of a campus kind of concept where people could get from one building to the other easily and share some spaces because I believe that's going to save us money in the long run," said Wipperman.

When voters see their ballots in now less than three weeks, they will also be asked how they feel about the proposed expansion project with the library, town offices and police department.

"I feel very passionate about not only keeping the library in Three Lakes but allowing it to thrive," said Wipperman.

The first question voters will see will be, "Do you support up to nine hundred thousand ($900,000) additional taxpayer dollars being placed on the levy for the Library expansion?"

"A 'yes' vote on question one would have an estimated annual impact of $7/year per $100,000 worth of value on your home for 20 years," said Mahlerwein.

The second question voters will see will be, "Do you support up to 1.8 million additional taxpayer dollars being placed on the levy to replace the existing structure for the Town Office, Police Department and Community Building with a new smaller structure?"

"A 'yes' vote on question two would have an $11 a year increase on your home valued at $100,000 for the next 20 years," said Mahlerwein.

After they crunched the numbers, Mahlerwein's family didn't have to go far to find the money.

"I can find that in spare change at my house. My girls and I actually did a little challenge to see if we could find that in spare change and we did," said Mahlerwein.

For those making phone calls on Wednesday night, their main goal was to educate the voters so that they are prepared to make a decision.

"I hope that it doesn't come as a surprise to anyone. I hope that the timing works out well because a presidential election brings out voters and that it will inspire people to vote and that they'll vote 'yes'," said Mahlerwein.

If you still have questions on the proposed plans, please call the Demmer Library at 715-546-3391.

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STELLA - The Northwoods saw more than four inches of rain from the big storm Monday night. All that rain left at least three Oneida County roads washed out, some completely impassable.

You can't get through Tenderfoot Road east of Rhinelander right now. There's about a roughly 15 foot deep crater and 10 foot gap in the road.

Stella Town Supervisor Bob Goodin says the culvert that was once there was washed away from all the rain.

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RHINELANDER - A Rhinelander mother always thought of her hometown as safe. That perspective changed in some ways last Tuesday when the woman's 12-year-old son raced into her office saying he was held hostage by a teen with a butcher knife.

Newswatch 12 is not identifying the woman, her son, or anyone involved, but instead we wanted to know what happened and what can be done to make sure it doesn't happen again.

The mother says her son and a friend decided to go to Hodag Park to play football in the afternoon of October 11.

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RHINELANDER - Leaves cover the ground instead of snow, but that doesn't stop Ben Popp from dreaming.

"Hopefully it snows soon," said Popp.

The American Birkebeiner Executive Director visited the Northwoods Nordic Ski Club Wednesday. 

"Rhinelander has just an amazing situation here. We have this great venue out here at CAVOC, the Nordic Ski Club is really strong," Popp said.

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MADISON - Two Wisconsin Indian tribes express their concerns about another tribe's expansion of a gambling hall into a larger casino and hotel east of Wausau.

The Stockbridge-Munsee and Menominee tribes claim that allowing the expansion of Ho-Chunk Wittenberg goes against the past criteria for growth in gambling.

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