25 years later, controversial Hudson death investigation in holding pattern
HUDSON — The passage of time is hardly detectable as Mark Gherty discusses the case of Jane Neumann's death.
Distances, times of day, pieces of evidence — the Hudson attorney rattles them off with a passion and recollection about the case that suggests it's something he's arguing tomorrow in court, not events from 25 years ago.
"I don't believe there's anyone who knows that particular case as well as Mark does," said James "JD" Richard, a former St. Croix County Sheriff's Office investigator who was among those tasked with solving the Neumann case. "I think he carries that whole, entire case file around in his head."
Gherty admitted the Neumann case hasn't left him.
"This one haunts me," said the 65-year-old, who retires next month.
The case remains a spectre that hangs over the St. Croix County law enforcement community, which for years probed the unusual circumstances surrounding Jane Neumann's then-husband, Jim Neumann, in connection with her death.
As the case marks a quarter century, Gherty, Richard and others who knew the case intimately said they believe Jim Neumann could, and should, be charged with homicide.
"I firmly believe the man murdered his wife," Gherty said Nov. 19.
Attempts to contact Jim Neumann were unsuccessful, though he has maintained in past letters to the court and in comments to the media that he didn't kill Jane.
St. Croix County District Attorney Michael Nieskes said that when he served as deputy DA under predecessor Eric Johnson, he was asked to review a summary of the case provided by the sheriff's office. Nieskes said he has reviewed reports and transcripts since becoming DA in 2017, but that the status remains unchanged.
"At this point, I'm not willing to make a charging decision one way or another," he said Nov. 21.
He declined to elaborate on specifics hampering a decision.
The death investigation remains open at the sheriff's office, where an investigator is assigned to it. Chief Deputy Cathy Borgschatz said the office has received "a handful of calls" on the case in the past few years.
"We'll follow up accordingly," she said, noting that none of those calls yielded new information in the case.
Jim Neumann was convicted in 1994 of obstructing justice after admitting to lying to officers about first coming home to find a murder; he later told investigators his discovery was that of Jane Neumann's suicide, which he attempted to disguise in hopes of protecting his wife's reputation and to spare her family.
That controversial revelation opened a Pandora's Box of accusations, denials and investigations.
Decades of questions
Jane Neumann was found dead Nov. 22, 1993, of a gunshot wound to the head in her home on Trout Brook Road in Hudson. That much is undisputed, though what came after has been endlessly argued and speculated about in what now occupies a dark corner in Hudson's recent history.
The death was originally ruled a suicide until its unusual, suspicious circumstances led Jane Neumann's family to sue their former son-in-law through a wrongful death case. Jim Neumann was convicted by a jury, which concluded after the civil trial that he murdered Jane Neumann.
Jim Neumann had already been twice investigated — initially by the sheriff's office and in 1995 by the Wisconsin Department of Justice. Neither investigation led to charges, with then-District Attorney Eric Johnson saying in 1997 there wasn't sufficient evidence to support a homicide charge against Jim Neumann.
The civil verdict, however, prompted "homicide" to replace "suicide" on the death certificate and catapulted the case against Jim Neumann into additional levels of scrutiny; it was given to the Wisconsin Department of Justice for another review and, later, to a Midwest law enforcement organization that examines cold cases.
The examinations generated diverging views of the case.
While the justice department again declined to recommend a homicide charge against Jim Neumann, Mid-States Organized Crime Information Center (MOCIC) concluded it was a prosecutable case and that it should be tried by a special prosecutor, according to Richard.
He said the MOCIC investigation determined it was a circumstantial case, one its analysts considered stronger than others that had garnered convictions.
True, there's no new evidence, but he sees a strong case built on "a lot of circumstantial information and evidence."
Gherty said there's no question in his mind.
"It's a viable case," he said.
Gherty's deep immersion in the case is one of several reasons Richard says he would make a top choice to prosecute Jim Neumann for Jane's homicide. Gherty said that while he's humbled by that notion, "nobody's going to appoint me special prosecutor."
His level of involvement in the proceedings and rules of ethics would likely disqualify him from that role, Gherty said.
He said the St. Croix County DA's office would have to handle any charging. Asked if he would seek to run for DA after his retirement, Gherty said he would not.
Regardless of who might take it on, Richard said it's worth giving Jane Neumann's survivors their chance at justice.
"File the charges and present it to a jury and see what happens," he said.
St. Croix County Sheriff Scott Knudson said he'd back that approach if it helps bring closure to the saga.
"If, as part of the process in getting to the truth, if that's the route that's taken, I would support that," he said.
Some in the sheriff's office note that the case will only degrade over time.
"Time will erase memories, those involved," Knudson said. "Allowing time to pass will not bring any more closure."
The DA's office could farm out the case to a special prosecutor, a possibility current St. Croix County DA Nieskes said could be considered, but "not at this point."
Nieskes said he has talked to others about assistance "should there be charging."