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Unsolved murder: Hawthorne murder mystery haunts family 27 years later

A mystery hangs over the Hawthorne ball park. Twenty-seven years ago, the site bore silent witness to the murder of a vibrant young woman. No one was ever convicted of the crime.

A mystery hangs over the Hawthorne ball park. Twenty-seven years ago, the site bore silent witness to the murder of a vibrant young woman. No one was ever convicted of the crime.

The key to closing the cold case is a memory away. Sgt. Gerald Moe of the Douglas County Sheriff's Department confirmed there is an ongoing investigation into the crime. For a year and a half, he has searched for the truth about the events that took place in the early morning hours of April 19, 1980.

"The whole town knows what happened out there," Moe said. "Nobody wants to step forward."

The body of Rosemary (Krawza) Wermter was found near the ballpark at 5 p.m. that day. The Hawthorne woman had been butchered, with multiple knife wounds to the throat and upper chest. Her body was dragged from the field to the woods and buried under pine needles and debris. She left behind a family, including a 10-year-old son.

Wermter, 27, had attended a party at the field the night before. Moe estimated there were more than 60 other people there that night. Participants included underage drinkers between the ages of 14 and 18, Moe said. Today, these same people would be 41 to 45 years old. Any one of them could have in their mind the missing piece to the mystery.

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A 27-year-old Maple man, Randall "Randy" Luostari, was originally charged with the murder. A jury acquitted him on Aug. 8, 1980. He is currently serving a 70-year prison sentence for an unrelated crime.

The case was reopened in 1982, Moe said, but no arrests made.

He noticed the case while going through department files. Although it occurred eight years before he joined the force, Moe had heard the rumblings about the murder in the county.

Sheriff Tom Dalbec said he was in favor of Moe's request to put in some new legwork.

"I liked the idea of reopening the case with people who weren't involved in the case in the first place," he said, because they would "look at the case with fresh eyes."

Since then, Moe has logged hundreds of hours on new interviews, Dalbec said.

"It's been a slow process," the sheriff said.

Evidence collected at the scene and new evidence obtained has also been submitted to the FBI crime lab for DNA testing.

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"The science wasn't available in 1980," Moe said. "The science can solve this case."

The picture emerging indicates as many as six people were directly involved in Wermter's death. Clues in the community led Moe to believe that many residents believe the killer(s) still roam Douglas County.

"After this murder, everyone started carrying guns," he said. "They were still afraid of someone out there. And it wasn't Randall Luostari. He was in jail."

People's inability to come forward with the truth has left the victim's family in limbo.

"Rose was a warm, caring, beautiful young woman," wrote Robin Krawza on behalf of Wermter's family and friends. "Those that loved and cared about her not only live with the painful memory of the tragic loss, but also the uncertainty resulting from lack of closure.

"Whoever is responsible for her death must be held accountable."

The Douglas County Sheriff's Department is trying to do just that.

"If something develops, wonderful for us and Rosemary's family," Dalbec said. But if new information is not found, he said, "unfortunately we'll have to keep it as an unsolved crime."

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Moe is aggressively pursuing leads in the case.

"It's unconscionable that people know what happened out there and nobody will say anything," he said.

New information Moe has gathered from witnesses must be corroborated by other witness accounts. He is also searching for more physical evidence that could point to the killer(s).

"Anybody could be the key," he said.

Until the case is solved, the murder will continue to haunt the Hawthorne ball field.

"We may never know who was responsible for her death," Krawza wrote, "but that does not mean that we should forget her or forget that there is someone out there, somewhere, who is capable of committing such a heinous act."

Anyone with information on the case can call Moe at (715) 395-1695 or the law enforcement tip line at (715) 395-7468.

Maria Lockwood covers news in Douglas County, Wisconsin, for the Superior Telegram.
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