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Superior cold case inspires murder mystery

Michael Fisher was bludgeoned to death in Superior 50 years ago. The 14-year-old left for his paper route June 19, 1966, and delivered a single paper before disappearing. His body was found that night in a ditch along Hill Avenue. The mystery of what happened to the Superior boy has haunted the city, and a local author.

"I was 8 years old when the Michael Fisher case happened," said Judith Liebaert. "I went to school with his brother; his cousins lived next door to me; we attended the same school and parish, and my father had just left the police force … I suppose that’s why I’ve continued to think about it all my life."

The case inspired her to write a fictional mystery set in Superior, "Sins Of The Fathers," which was published June 17. In the novel, a 50-year-old cold case is re-examined after a new, similar murder is committed. A reporter digs in to seek a connection, while keeping her romance with a Superior cop secret.

"It’s more a story about how something like this affects a small town and then how it affects the protagonist, Rita, in particular," said Liebaert, who now lives in Solon Springs. "She is carrying a lot of baggage from a dysfunctional family, she doesn’t have a lot of closure in her own life and I think that’s partly why she’s so obsessed with this closing this case."

Part murder mystery, part character study, it’s wholly fictional.

"The Michael Fisher homicide had a profound and lasting effect on the town of Superior; even today, 50 years later, people still talk about it, and like most of them, I still wonder what happened, who was responsible for Michael’s death," Liebaert said. "I did not write this story with the intent to bring up painful reminders for any of Michael’s family or friends. If anything, it was my way of reconciling the questions that such a tragic and seemingly motiveless crime leaves on a small town like Superior."

Set in modern-day Superior, the landscape will be familiar to local readers. Liebaert grew up on Hammond Avenue, and sprinkles the book with reference points. Perkins and the Trade and Commerce Building make an appearance; the street names and many of the buildings referenced do exist. Not the Catholic church where some of the action takes place, however. The fictional place of worship is a composite of many local churches, set in a location where no building sits.

"That was a challenge, because it’s a fictional story set in an actual place," Liebaert said. "So where does that line blur?"

One thing readers won’t find in the pages of "Sins Of The Fathers" is themselves. The characters are not based on anybody in particular, the author said, except maybe her husband.

"They’re probably aspects of my own character because, you know, they came out of my head," Liebaert said.

The Superior native started her novel 15 years ago, but shelved it due to time constraints. Realizing the 50th anniversary of Michael Fisher’s death was coming up, she dusted the manuscript off in August and completely reworked it to commemorate the case.

"It’s 99.9 percent sure that case is never going to be solved," Liebaert said, and a barrage of questions remain unanswered. A former police officer once told her, "When you’re left with a void of information, people will automatically fill in details."

In the novel, Liebaert is able to find a resolution to the fictional crime.

"It’s not a story about Michael Fisher, but it definitely is a story about a case that goes cold so fast there’s no leads," she said. "And then when this new homicide occurs, and it seems to have similar circumstances, there’s this desire to not let this one go cold."

Retired Douglas County Sheriff’s Office Det. Ed Anderson said he couldn’t put the book down once he started it. The dialog was brilliant, he said, and the unexpected plot twists kept him guessing until the end.

A self-professed "word nerd," Liebaert started reading at a young age. When she told her father that she wanted to be a writer, he told her she would never make it because she couldn’t spell.

"I’m a horrendous speller," Liebaert said. "Spellcheck is the best thing in the world."

She set out to prove him wrong. Within a year, she had published her first column in the newspaper.

"And I’ve been regularly published ever since," Liebaert said. Her work includes columns, essays, short stories and marketing work through her business "By Design." With her first full-length novel she hopes to entertain and inform readers. Yet she’s nervous about the release.

"It was inspired by the affect this had on me as a child — it’s living in a small town, it’s where everybody is safe and you don’t worry about that kind of thing," Liebaert said. "You can walk on the streets, you can walk back and forth to school, you can play on the playgrounds and never think of that and then not only does it happen, it happened to somebody I knew, it happened to somebody whose cousins lived right next door to me. It really hit close to home."

"Sins Of The Fathers," published by Tellectual Press, is available on amazon.com for $12.99. A Kindle version is available for $6.99.

A book launch and author appearance is scheduled for 4-6:30 p.m. July 7 at the Spirit Room in the Trade and Commerce Marketplace, 1323 Broadway St. If the book shipment is delayed, the launch will take place July 17. Visit the judithliebaert.com, www.spirit-room.com/, or the Spirit Room Facebook page for more information.

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