More than a year after the shotgun murders of James and Denise Closs and the abduction of their then-13-year-old daughter, Jayme, Barron County authorities have released hundreds of photos, thousands of pages and, literally, billions of pieces of information gathered in the course of an investigation that riveted the nation’s attention in October 2018.
Links on the News-Shield website will enable readers to view, listen to and read information from the case.
The release of information is remarkable for its volume.
Combined, the audio, video and documentation from Barron County, alone, takes up between five and six gigabytes of computer storage space. One gigabyte consists of a billion pieces of information.
A surge of interest
Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald said Monday, Dec. 23, that he was contacted by many reporters after the material was released.
“Everyone wanted the squad cam video,” he said.
Deputies reported that the suspect vehicle, a late model Ford Taurus which was eastbound toward Barron, pulled over at least twice to let the squads go past as they went west to the crime scene.
At first, authorities assumed the car was a Dodge Charger, which was one of the vehicles cited by the Sheriff’s Department in early press conferences following the crime.
“The experts told us that’s what they thought (the Taurus) was. Obviously, they weren’t correct,” he said. “He drove right by us.”
The suspect later told investigators he stole a license plate from a pickup truck in Washburn County, and mounted it on the back of the Taurus so as to avoid detection.
Dash cam video makes it difficult, if not impossible, to read the license plate on the front of the vehicle, Fitzgerald added.
In the weeks that followed, “we worked really hard, and Jayme escaped; that’s the story,” he said.
Looking back on the records release, Fitzgerald added that “if the records show anything new, it is how strong Jayme was – and is.”
Vast amounts of information
The records were released in three portions, including records kept by the two counties involved in the case, and records from the Wisconsin Department of Criminal Investigation.
Documents in the Barron County file alone take up 440 megabytes of memory and cover 660 pages.
Many of the Barron County documents were prepared for release as early as Jan. 11, 2019, but were withheld while the suspect was prosecuted in two northwestern Wisconsin counties (Barron and Douglas) and, ultimately, sent to prison for life last May.
In the aftermath of the records release, broadcast media news organizations in Wisconsin and the Twin Cities played portions of the Sheriff’s Department dash cam videos on the night of Oct. 15, 2018, showing what was believed to be the getaway car driven by suspect Jake Patterson, as well as radio transmissions from deputies at the Closs home.
Among the noteworthy documents in the Barron County files:
• The investigation shows a DNA sample of the suspect was taken from one of the shotgun shells found at the scene and was returned to the Sheriff’s Department before the end of October 2018.
• Douglas County Sheriff’s reports include statements given by Jayme Closs to witnesses in the subdivision from which she escaped.
• Reports show that a Douglas County deputy was on the way to the hospital with Jayme when he caught sight of suspect Jake Patterson in his car. Soon afterward, Patterson was arrested.
• One of the reports describes a visit by the suspect’s father, Patrick Patterson, to the Justice Center on Jan. 15, 2019, a few days after Jayme’s escape. The elder Patterson delivered a letter of apology to the Closs family and asked to meet with them at “an appropriate time.”
• Witness statements were gathered from residents and/or employees of both the Barron and Northwood-Minong school districts. In one statement, a former classmate of Patterson mentioned seeing him in the subdivision where Jayme was held and telling him where he might find a job.
• The Douglas County file includes a 29-page transcript of an interview with the suspect, parts of which were redacted.
What was withheld, and why
In an eight-page letter accompanying the records release, Barron County Corporation Counsel John Muench said his office had provided “what records we believe to be responsive to all the requests and ... most relevant to the investigation.”
In preparing the information for release, Muench cited state law supporting the decision to redact (withhold and/or black out) information that will treat crime victims “with fairness, dignity and respect for their privacy ... and the privacy rights of a deceased person’s surviving loved ones.”
Special attention was paid to the release of information regarding Jayme Closs and her immediate family, including
• Names and identifying information for the surviving relatives of the victims.
• Descriptions of family members’ distress as events unfolded.
• Medical information about the victims, graphic descriptions and/or images of injuries, and autopsy records.
“Given (her) tender age and considering and respecting her privacy and dignity outweighed any legitimate interest in public disclosure,” Muench added.
Also redacted were “investigative reports that disclose what (kinds of) analyses were performed by the (Wisconsin) Crime Lab and the results of those analyses.”
The information does not include the names of agents with the FBI and the Wisconsin Department of Criminal Investigation, Muench added. Indeed, “the FBI would not have provided ... reports to the Barron County Sheriff’s Office without (its) agreement to (withhold the names),” he added.
The names of certain witnesses were redacted as well, along with many of the thousands of “tips and leads that have been determined to not be connected or relevant to the … investigation.”