Pieces of the puzzle? The unsolved murder of Barbara Blackstone

by Eva Marie Woywod

It was obvious that the memories weighed heavy on him. Three decades of knowing too much - thirty years of wondering if he should have pushed harder all while carrying guilt for situations out of his control. Sitting across from him as he recalled the past, you could almost feel a heaviness in the room lifting as his memories painted a picture many may not stomach well. "There were missteps, a lot of things that should have never happened," said the once member of the Juneau County Sheriff's Office.

"When I got on the scene, I knew something was not right. There were people everywhere, walking around the property and in the house. The scene was not secured. A makeshift search party had already been formed. I said that the scene should be cleared and a detective be called in. That didn't happen." he explained.

Last week The Messenger interviewed Gervase Thompson who stated that when he arrived at the scene he felt there had been no foul play, as there "was nothing suspicious."

However, our source has a different opinion than Thompson - “Something wasn't right. Why would her car be parked down by the shed? Why was her purse still on the table in the house? I asked the Sheriff, and he said that she just didn't take her license when she left. I responded by saying, 'What woman leaves her purse behind?' I should have pushed harder." he said.

The woman he was talking about is Barbara Blackstone who on July 9, 1987, disappeared from her rural Lyndon Station home on Delmore Rd. Almost a month later her skeletal remains would be found over 70 miles away in LafayetteCounty. Barbara was found by a hunter scouting a section of woods. She was just 30 years old at the time of her death - a tragedy that sent shockwaves throughout Juneau County. A beloved teacher from New Lisbon High School was gone, forever. Due to the state of decomposition the coroner was unable to list the cause of her death, however, did determine that she had died 25 to 30 days prior to being discovered. Authorities deemed she was murdered, and her case has remained unsolved.

"It was about 6 months later I thought we may have had a break in the case," he said. The retired officer of the law went on to speak about a cold winter's night in New Lisbon. It was January of 1988. A van had been parked at Young's Truck Stop in New Lisbon. A situation led to the plates being run on what he referred to as a "creeper type van." According to online records, the driver of that van, 30-year old Joseph D. Schmidt of New Lisbon, would end up being charged and convicted of a misdemeanor - carrying a concealed weapon. Unfortunately, the actual court records for the case are no longer held by the Juneau Clerk of Courts. After 20 years, misdemeanor case files are destroyed, however, the memories of that night have been burned into the memory of law enforcement on the scene.

"Inside the van were handcuffs, rope, magazines on bondage and Sadism and Masochism. There was rope tied in a hangman's noose and the stench - a strong and weird smell." he stated. "I was called away from the scene, but I told them we needed to secure and impound the van, that it might be related to the Blackstone case. I shouldn't have trusted it to someone else. You know where they put it? They parked it in the garage at the New Lisbon Fire Department. The next morning firemen were all around it and when DCI (Department of Criminal Investigations) got on the scene to process the van they said there was nothing they could do, evidence had been contaminated." Disgust was on his face as he explained all that happened. He went on to say it would be a few years later Schmidt would be charged and convicted of multiple felony counts, including holding a woman for days and

repeatedly sexually assaulting her.

The case he was talking about made national news in 1991, Associated Press referred to it as the “sex slave case.” According to news reports at the time, then 34-year- old Schmidt, was facing trial for charges involving a 19- year-old New Lisbon woman who said he held her in chains and sexually assaulted at his Town of Lyndon house over a four-day period in early February of 1991.

According to the 1991 criminal complaint, the victim had been platonic friends with Schmidt. Under the guise of having her watch his young son, she went willingly to the rural home on Hwy 12/16, with her was her own young child. She arrived at his home on the evening of February 2, 1991, and watched his son while Schmidt was at work. Early the next morning is when things turned. According to the victim, she awoke to Schmidt forcing her onto to stomach and handcuffing her left wrist to a bed frame from a pullout sofa. She was able to struggle herself free as the handcuffs broke. It was then, she claimed, that Schmidt used chains and padlocks to secure her hands behind her back. He then used the chain around her neck and secured her to the bed frame with a padlock. Once she was immobilized she said he produced a handgun and pointed it at her child, an infant, and stated: "I got you both and you're going to do what I tell you to do." He then indicated to her he was going to keep her for the next 24 hours and make her a sex slave. The criminal complaint goes on to describe the various sexual assaults that took place over the next four days. On February 6, 1991, he removed the chains and allowed her to leave. He then reportedly told her that she should kill him for what he had done to her.

Schmidt, who was represented by Mauston attorney Dan Berkos, claimed he was innocent and that the 19-year-old victim had consented to the sexual encounters. The jury deliberated for approximately five hours before returning, finding him guilty of kidnapping, false imprisonment, four counts of first-degree sexual assault and six counts of sexual contact. At the time he was facing a maximum penalty of 225 years in prison. A pre-sentencing investigation was ordered for the upcoming sentencing hearing.

Transcripts from the sentencing hearing revealed additional information on Schmidt. Including a comment that the victim had said he said had killed before. There was also much discussion about a 1978 case in Skokie, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. It was a case touched on during our interview with the former Juneau County Sheriff's Office officer. After some research, we located a 1978 article from the Skokie Life newspaper. That article gives an overview when Schmidt had been arrested for unlawful restraint, contributing to the sexual delinquency of a minor, and battery stemming from a reported July 8, 1978, involving two young teens, ages 13 and 14. Schmidt at the time was 21 years old.

The article states Schmidt was arrested after one of the girls picked him out from a line-up. Police reported that the girls had been hitchhiking in Chicago when Schmidt, along with another male, picked them up. The men allegedly took the girls to Schmidt's mother's house where all four spent the night. The men slept in a bedroom and the girls slept on the couch. The next morning the other male left, however, one girl reported that when she and her friend attempted to leave Schmidt tied them up and sexually assaulted her. He released them later that day, she told authorities. As for the other girl, her parents did not give permission to police to interview her.

According to information in the sentencing transcripts, the 1978 charges against Schmidt were dropped. From the research, The Messenger could not ascertain the reasoning as to why. As for the 1991 case, Schmidt ended up being sentenced to 85 years. Online inmate records show he is serving that sentence at the Waupun Correctional Institution and is scheduled for a May 5, 2020, parole hearing. His maximum discharge date is February 5, 2076. He is also listed on the Wisconsin Sex Offender's Registry.

"I remember that he was known to hang out at Young's Truck Stop in New Lisbon. I always wondered if maybe he spotted Blackstone there, or perhaps he befriended her there. I don't know. Sometimes the teachers from the school would go there for coffee or some food. It was a popular place," said the former officer.

As to whether or not Schmidt was ever considered a suspect in the unsolved murder of Barbara Blackstone, that is a question The Messenger is unable, at this time, to answer. The 30-year-old mystery is considered an open investigation. Juneau County Sheriff Brent Oleson was unable to confirm nor deny our inquiry on Schmidt's status as a suspect.

As more information of this mystery comes available The Messenger will continue to update our readers.

Currently, two former students of Blackstone are offering awards for information leading to the conviction of her murderer. One reward is set at $25,000 and the other at $5000. Anyone with information may contact the Juneau County Sheriff's Department directly at 608-847-5649