Outside the Classroom - One of WI’s largest manhunts occurred in Juneau County

by Julie Mecikalski

A lot was happening during 1961. John Kennedy, the youngest man to be elected, was inaugurated as the 35th President of the United States. The Cold War continued to worsen between the United States and the Soviet Union. In addition, the German Democratic Republic (a.k.a. East Germany) built the infamous Berlin Wall to prevent professionals from defecting.

In Juneau County, one week in August 1961, there were about 500 law enforcement officers, National Guardsmen, and civilian volunteers searching for two of three gunmen who had shot and killed Policeman James C. Jantz in and injured Lake Delton Police Chief Eugene (Bob) Kohl in front of the Lake Delton Town Hall.

The three gunmen were from the Chicago area. They included William Welter, 23; Lawrence Nutley—who was using the name Larry G. Fletcher—26; and Richard Nickl, 27. The men traveled to the Wisconsin Dells area and on August 20, played golf at the Dell View Hotel. There was a lot of suspicion by the other guests about the three men as they were observed lighting cigarettes with $20 bills when dining at Ishnala Resort. People had contacted law enforcement about the young men’s unusual behaviors.

About 2:00 the next morning, police had noticed the car— a 1961 Oldmobile—the men were driving had a license plate on top of another license plate. When the plates were called in, neither plate belonged to the car. According to sources, Police Officer Jantz and Police Chief Kohl followed the car and eventually pulled them over in Lake Delton to question them about the vast amount of money they were spending. As the officers approached the vehicle—one on each side—the car doors opened and the men started to flee. Kohl grabbed one of the men and several gunshots were fired without warning.

Kohl, 46, was shot in the chest, suffering wounds to a lung, liver, and spleen. He fell to the street after being shot and eventually survived. However, Jantz, 25, was not as lucky. As he tried to hide behind the squad car, a single shot breezed over the roof of the car and hit Jantz in the head killing him instantly. The men grabbed both of Jantz’s and Kohl’s guns and took off on a high-speed chase reaching up to 110 miles per hour heading toward Lyndon Station on Hwys 12 & 16 (the Interstate had not been fully completed at this time). The car had struck a ditch, as they tried to make a U-turn to avoid a roadblock near Mauston, and resulted in Nickl being thrown from the car. Former Sauk County Sheriff Mike Spencer shot at the vehicle. Nickl was captured immediately and was taken to the hospital in Mauston as he received a break in one leg and a gunshot in the other leg.

Welter and Nutley managed to escape. The wrecked Oldsmobile was found west of Lyndon Station, but the men were gone. A manhunt started on August 21 with a command station set up in Lyndon Station. Law enforcement officers from all over the state came to assist in looking for the suspects and brought bloodhounds with them. The FBI even became involved.

On August 22, a rough-looking man stopped at the Stand Rock Resort and asked for a soda. The operator of the resort, Mrs. John Krug, had a 15-year-old boy guest get the soda for the man and called police right away. In less than an hour, this led to the capture of Nutley in a field near Stand Rock Road. Unfortunately for Mrs. Krug, she said to the newspapers that he arrest of Nutley led to many problems for her. First, several guests immediately checked out and demanded their money back because they were afraid the third gunman would come back for revenge. Later that evening, it was reported that Mrs. Krug, who was still upset from the day’s events, got a bone stuck in her throat while eating dinner. She ended up having surgery to have the bone removed.

Originally thinking Nutley was someone else, they were able to identify Nutley by fingerprints ascertained from a previous crime. Nutley was carrying $547 on his person. It took six more days before Welter was found. Jerome Yelk, a construction worker from Fort Atkinson, had a hobby of raising bloodhounds. He had two bloodhounds named Polly and King which he offered to use for assistance in searching for Welter. He and the dogs accompanied law enforcement officers from Jefferson County to help with the pursuit of Welter.

Spencer was very reluctant to permit the bloodhounds to assist with the search. However, Spencer changed her mind and allowed the dogs to assist. Welter had left his shoes behind near the site of the Oldsmobile, and the bloodhounds used the scent of the shoes. The dogs quickly picked up a tracking along a creek which paralleled Hwy HH northeast of Lyndon Station. The dogs followed the scent about 3/4 of mile, taking about two hours, and led the officers directly to Welter.

According to sources, when they came upon Welter, he appeared to be half-starving and half-conscious and was saying repetitiously, “Call the police.” Welter was found in a marsh near the Lyndon Station City Dump. He was found lying on his side, exhausted, dirty, unarmed, and cooperative. Welter was found have $378 on his person.

Welter was found wearing grey pants, a dirty-white T-shirt, and had no shoes. Because of the rain that had fallen, Welter was soaking wet. He was taken for medical treatment as he had a deep, maggot-infested cut on his right knee, bad poison ivy, and he suffered from exposure.

Spencer had made a promise—the only promised he said he made—to Welter’s father that he would capture the youth alive. Upon being informed of the discovery of Welter, Spencer was so excited that it seemed as if he caught the fugitive himself. Soon after, he called Welter’s father, a well-todo Chicago-area building contractor, to tell him his son was captured alive.

After the incarceration of the suspected killers, Sheriff Spencer ate a steak dinner and went home that evening for his “first full night’s sleep in more than a week.” On a bet, Spencer won the steak dinner after Dane County Sheriff Franz Haas stated that Spencer would not have Welter in jail by midnight on August 29. When Welter was captured, Spencer was quoted as saying, “I can finally hang my gun up.”

All three men were prime suspects in a $26,000 hold up at the Chicago Motor Club in July. Nutley’s sister, originally a suspect, said that her brother was involved with the robbery. The men were charged with the murder of Jantz; however, all three denied having any involvement with the killing. Upon the arrest of the suspects, local residents and tourists went back to a normal routine of breathing easier and unlocking their doors.

The three suspects were eventually taken to the Dane County jail. Each was placed in solitary confinement in nonadjacent cells. It was reported that the suspects were placed in the Dane County jail because it was more secure than the Sauk County jail which was built around 1890.

This story which will include events of the seven-week trial will continue in next week’s issue of The Messenger.