Outside the Classroom - The tragedy that shook Mauston

by Julie Mecikalski

She was a senior in high school who was noted to be an above average student, and she had an IQ greater than 147. She was considered to be very pretty and well-dressed. She was involved in school activities such as a Latin club, a science club, school yearbook, forensics, school plays, student council, vice president of the Girls’Athletic Association, and various choirs. She grew up in a family that was affluent in the community and wealthy. And she killed her parents.

It was December 1, 1958, and it was a night that shook the entire Mauston community and Juneau County. Seventeen year-old (Elizabeth) Jane Dakin had first shot her mother, Betty, and later she shot her father, Tom. It was news that spread rapidly throughout the country including as far away as Hawaii.

Tom and Betty Dakin were known as hard-working, respected members of the Mauston community. Tom was a successful businessman and was able to provide quite well for his family. He was involved in the Methodist church and in the Kiwanis Club. The Dakins moved to Mauston from Antigo in 1936 to open a Gamble store which included selling TVs and antennae during an era when those items were in the very early stages. The couple worked hard to keep the business profitable with Betty working when she was free of her home duties. Betty also helped with clerking during the Christmas season and special sales events. The Dakins sold the Gamble store in July 1958. Tom took up hunting and Betty was more involved with the Red Cross, the Parent-Teacher Association (PTA), and the Methodist church.

While sources have not exactly provided a motive for the killing, it appeared that Jane and her mother may have had a falling out that evening. Jane had commented in the past that her mother seemed overbearing and they would frequently argue. Some of her friends had later relayed that Jane would say she thought her mother hated her.

That evening, Tom Dakin went to a Kiwanis Club meeting to be received as a new member. Jane and her mother were at home, and Jane’s 11-year-old sister, Mary, went to the movies

with some friends. Jane had shot and killed her mother and went upstairs. Tom returned home earlier than planned and found his wife lying on the floor. Jane, not having enough time to leave the house before Tom returned home, shot him, too.

Immediately after both shootings, Jane left the house and went to the courthouse to find the mother of a close friend of hers (she was attending a 4-H leaders’meeting there) who was supposed to pick up Mary and bring her home. Jane informed the lady that she had just killed her parents and not to bring Mary home. Then, Jane ran out of the courthouse and drove away with the family car. The friend’s mother and the juvenile court officer, who was nearby, contacted one of the city police officers and the three of them drove to the Dakin home. They had found the bodies of Tom and Betty Dakin.

The police had issued an all-points bulletin to be on the look-out for Jane. She had driven to the Cliff House Resort along the Wisconsin River and ten miles east of Mauston. Shortly after, the sheriff’s department received a call from Derwood Staples who was at the Cliff House. He informed that Jane was at his home, and she had told him what she had done. Jane was returned to the county court room where she had given a deposition of the evening’s events and was questioned for over three hours.

Jane spent the rest of the night in the juvenile detention quarters, and the next morning Judge William Curran requested her admission to the Wisconsin Diagnostic Center in Madison to determine her mental health status. Later that day, Jane was admitted to the center.

The legal affairs did not move very quickly. The first preliminary hearing was scheduled for March 4, 1959. Judge Curran disqualified himself and appointed Robert Gollmar, who was the Sauk County judge. Jane’s defense attorney from Milwaukee, retained by her uncles, was tied up with another case through the week of the preliminary and asked for a reschedule of March 11. District Attorney Roland Vieth agreed to the change in date, but he had requested March 16 for the arraignment date. There seemed to be a lot of controversy regarding whether or not Jane should be tried as an adult as that was Judge Curran’s recommendation. Jane’s defense attorney argued that his “new evidence” would support having her tried as a juvenile. The request was denied and Jane’s attorney filed an appeal with the Circuit Court Judge Bruce Beilfuss preventing Judge Gollmar from proceeding further. The preliminary hearing was tentatively pushed back to March 25. That, too, ended up being pushed back.

Finally, Circuit Judge Beilfuss decided on April 7 to deny the defense attorney’s request and that Jane was to stand trial as an adult for the double homicide. The defense continued to push—to have Jane tried as a juvenile—to the Wisconsin Supreme Court. However, the WI Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal of the defense counsel. The preliminary hearing was set—tentatively—for April 20.

In a separate hearing relating to the Dakin case, a court hearing was held with Monroe County Judge Lambert Hansen by Jane’s defense attorney requesting advance to the tune of $5000 (equivalent to just under $42,000 in 2017) from the Dakin estate for Jane’s defense costs (i.e., attorney fees, expenses). That request ended up being denied. In the twenty page document, the judge noted that Jane had over $2900 of value in stocks as well as a savings account. Jane’s appointed guardian had half of nearly $4800 which represented half of the life insurance on her father. It was decided by the court, that Jane had a separate estate totaling in excess of $7500 which was felt would be able to meet her needs.

This article, which will cover the trial and its outcome, will continue in next week’s issue of The Messenger.

For part 2 of this story - https://www.juneaumessenger.com/articles/2570/view

***Editor’s note: Julie Mecikalski is a teacher at New Lisbon High School. She will be writing various articles about her travels around the Juneau County area and throughout Wisconsin.