; Phantoms and Monsters: Pulse of the Paranormal

Thursday, September 04, 2014

'The Hidden Truth' Chronicles the La Crosse Drownings Mystery

I wanted to mention the upcoming presentation of 'The Hidden Truth' documentary as well as highlight the dedication Jay Bachochin and the Wisconsin Paranormal Investigators have given to this project. I recently became involved in another aspect of the investigation and have offered any help I can provide.

The WPI team investigates and researchs fringe science, cryptozoology creatures, urban legends, unidentified aerial phenomena, conspiracy theories and the ghost phenomena. Hidden Truth Productions is the producer of the film. If it's paranormal in nature, WPI will Hunt the Truth behind the claims.

‘The Hidden Truth’ suggests the paranormal for La Crosse drowning deaths

When all conventional means have failed, sometimes a person has to look to unconventional means to solve a mystery.

Those are the beliefs of former La Crosse Chief Deputy Medical Examiner Neil Sanders. He’s seen the evidence and knows that law enforcement officials are no closer to solving the drownings of 10 young men in the Mississippi River at Riverside Park since 1997.

In an effort to question the means of their deaths, Sanders brought in a paranormal investigative team and a film crew.

Sanders is co-producer of the newly-released documentary, “The Hidden Truth.” The film will have its premier showing on Saturday, September 6, at the Omni Center in Onalaska. The filming of the documentary took two years and 800 hours of recordings, which was edited down to 64 minutes.

Ho-Chunk members Ritchie Brown and the late Preston Thompson helped with the documentary, appearing in the film to offer their perspective.

Since the completion of the movie, another young man has drowned. On July 11, 2014, the body of 23-year-old man from La Crosse was found in the river.

Nearly all of the cases have been ruled an accident, Sanders said. However, because of the regularity of the drownings and coincidences among them have led to multiple investigations by state and local law officials. Also, two are being investigated by the FBI.

“We’ve explored every possible angle when looking at these deaths except one – the paranormal,” he said.

Before being “sidelined” by cancer, Sanders worked as the training and safety officer for interstate transportation service and as a chief deputy medical examiner for La Crosse County.

The motivation and inspiration for investigating the deaths came from his father and brother.

“I got a visit from my dad who told me I need to investigate these deaths. A few days later, my brother came and told me the same thing,” Sanders said. “The only odd thing about this is that my dad died two years ago and my brother died four years ago.”

Sanders contacted Jay Bachochin of Wisconsin Paranormal Investigators (WPI) to conduct an investigation into possible paranormal causes of the deaths.

To help in the more spiritual aspects of the case, two “mystic sisters,” Tamara and Dawnette Springer, were consulted. Rather than considered psychics, they prefer to be referred to as “spirit connectors.”

He also contacted Scott Markus, a nationally-acclaimed film producer, for the possibility of making a documentary about the deaths.

Scott Markus was the main film production manager and his accomplishments are many, including filming the ABC television series “Lost,” “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” and three seasons of the Discovery Kids series, “Flight 29 Down.” He also worked on the major motion pictures, “The Dark Night,” “Prison Break,” and “Stranger than Fiction.”

Although the budget was tight, basically everyone involved believing in the project that they donated their time and money. The reason each member of the filming and investigative crew agreed to commit the money, time and effort toward the project is that they firmly believed in the cause – that they each had a spiritual connection, Sanders said.

In the movie, Ho-Chunk elder Preston Thompson appears on a bench along the river in Riverside Park. He tells about the Ho-Chunk beliefs and customs concerning spiritual existence and contacts.

Also appearing is Ritchie Brown, compliance officer with the Ho-Chunk Nation, who talked about the waters spirits and the fact that they have always present.
“They are in most all bodies of water, such as in Madison, Green Lake and nearby Lake Arbutus,” he said. “The history of them is so old.”

The spirits were more present before white man arrived. When that happened, they went further down into the earth, but are still present. And as for their role in causing someone’s downing, that is a real possibility.

“If they didn’t respect them, that is what happens,” Brown said.

One thing that could be done to appease the spirits is to conduct a “ghost meal,” according with Ho-Chunk traditions, Brown said. The only problem is that members of the families of the deceased need to be present at the meal, which would be very difficult to arrange.

But the local perception with officials and residents is quite different than what the documentary hopes to explain. There are several different theories about how the young men died. The most popular is the “Smiley Face” serial killer who leaves a smiley face drawing somewhere near the scene.

Another theory is that a rogue cop is forcing the men into the river against their will. Another is that a bartender is drugging the victims before throwing them into the river.

But one of the most popular explanation is that they were drunk, somehow ended up at the river, and impulsively decided to go for a swim.

“People are grasping at straws. No one really knows,” Sanders said. “Nothing adds up to one conclusion.”

While many people dismiss the suggestion when hearing the word “paranormal,” thinking it refers to ghosts and aliens and strange occurrences, it doesn’t have that meaning. Paranormal simply means “other than normal,” Sanders said.

Local media have refused to cover the movie debut and even local officials won’t talk about the issue when the word “paranormal” is used, he said. They believe the concepts are too strange and don’t want to be associated with something so culturally dismissed.

In the case of the Minnesota student drowning, the family hired a private investigator because the circumstances just didn’t add up. The student was afraid of water and wouldn’t have gone anywhere near the water. He was so afraid of water, he transferred to UW-La Crosse from another college because it required a swimming test as part of its requirements. Yet he ended up in the river, Bachochin said.

As part of the investigation, the film team traveled to Winona, Minnesota, to visit the situation at Winona State University.

“The college is close to the river and there are no barriers – no guardrail or anything – you can just walk right into the river,” Bachochin said. “They also have a drinking atmosphere and the local bars have the same drink specials. Yet, they haven’t had any drowning deaths of college students.”

Some theories came to mind when investigating the deaths. One theory is that in 1870, a steam powered paddleboat started on fire and sank near Riverside Park.

WPI followed up on a theory involving the sinking of the steamboat, The War Eagle, which resulted in seven deaths, including that of a college-aged woman, Mary Ulrich. One possible theory is that the ghost of this young woman is still screaming for help in the river.

The young men, their psychic receptors altered by alcohol, are able to hear her cries and go into the river in an attempt to save her and eventually succumb to the dangerous currents of the Mississippi, Bachochin said.

One two occasions, WPI conducted investigations of the river from a boat anchored over the wreckage of The War Eagle.

Another consideration posed in the documentary is a connection with the Battle of Bad Axe in 1832 a distance down the river where Native Americans were killed.

Yet another theory is that a type of Lorelei, or seductress, is luring young men into the water, similar to the mythical sirens, or beautiful young ladies, who lured sailors to run their ships into the rocks in attempts to follow them.

Such theories may seem farfetched to some people, but the paranormal team wanted to explore every possibility.

“We are the voices of the victims,” Sanders said. “We are obligated to continue to look and listen.”

While working for two years to gather information, talking to credible experts and to film each of the scenes, there were two unusual incidents which made the crew stop and wonder if there might be some paranormal activity trying to interfere with their efforts.

The first incident happened when the crew were gathered to film comments from Ho-Chunk Elder Preston Thompson.

As the scene was being set up, with lights and audio tested, Preston was talking casually to the rest of the people present. Everything was working fine. But as soon as they began recording and Preston began talking on a more serious level, all the microphones failed. None of the audio could be recorded.

“It was as if someone, or something, didn’t want us to be talking about such things,” Bachochin said. “The microphones had never failed before that time and they have not failed since. We really don’t know why it happened.”

Another incident happened when the filming crew took a boat out at night into the river just off the shore at Riverside Park. They were testing for EVPs (Electronic Voice Phenomena) over the wreckage of The War Eagle when suddenly all the batteries completely went dead. They were all rechargeable batteries and had recently received a fresh charge. They should have been good for another six to eight hours.

“Again, they had never done that before and they never did that again,” Bachochin said.

They crew took the boat out again the next night and were recording for several hours. They had not picked up anything unusual, however, later they discovered that they had recorded a voice or voices while Bachochin was talking about what they were searching for and their procedures.

In the background, several voices can be heard and then a sudden woman’s scream. It sounds somewhat like children on a playground with a scream of playfulness, but on the other hand it could be a scream of fright.

Because the deaths have remained unsolved, La Crosse residents have voiced a real concern for everyone’s safety. People began to volunteer for riverside patrols in an effort to stop people from entering the river, particularly at night.

During the time since the patrols started, the volunteers stopped 1,600 people from entering the river. Another 50 have entered the river, but survived.
“It would be interesting to talk to some of those people to see why they were drawn, or compelled, to do something so dangerous,” Bachochin said. “Why are they drawn to enter the river?”

When filming the documentary, the crew set out to investigate one angle, but were always drawn to look at another aspect.

“Something changed all the time,” Markus said. “When we would investigate one aspect of the drownings, another would come up and lead us down another path.”

One thing he noticed right away is that residents of La Crosse are really sensitive about the subject, he said. When he began talking to people for the film, they would be really open and friendly. But as soon as he mentioned the drowning incidents, people who suddenly become very tight-lipped and not willing to share any insight.

The film is being shown first in La Crosse because the producers wanted to offer it locally first before being shown elsewhere.

Once it has been shown around the state, and perhaps around the country, perhaps it may someday, in a perfect world, be shown on the History Channel, Markus said.

They would have liked to come to some sort of conclusion by the end of the movie, but that would have required them to solve the drowning mysteries. Instead, the movie educates the public about all aspects and possibilities of why the young men might have drowned, Markus said.

“The Hidden Truth” will be shown only one day, at 11 a.m., 2 p.m., 5 p.m. and 8 p.m., September 6, at the Omni Center in Onalaska. - hocak worak

NOTE: Here is another link on the disappearances - The killer nobody wants to talk about...Lon

101 Wisconsin Unsolved Mysteries

Wisconsin's Ghosts

Haunted Wisconsin: Ghosts and Strange Phenomena of the Badger State (Haunted Series)

The Wisconsin Road Guide to Haunted Locations

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