Special Assignment: Tip Sparks Fresh Look at 1981 Case

By: Dana Brueck and Chief Photojournalist Curt Lenz Email
By: Dana Brueck and Chief Photojournalist Curt Lenz Email

Posted Monday, July 13, 2009 --- 10:00 p.m.

The unsolved murder of a 26-year-old man has sat for almost three decades.

Now, a tip has sparked a fresh look at the case.

Investigators believe people in the area have information, but they need them to share it.

This remote woods is perhaps one of the loneliest places to die.

"I wonder, you know, did he die alone? Did he see it coming?"

Karen Hammer has never visited this isolated place. But she knows it holds a deadly, secret decades old -- a secret about her younger brother who survives only in her memory.

"He was a clown. You know, he liked to play tricks on you. Typical little brother."

Karen tells plenty of childhood stories.

"If there was trouble. It was usually Terry and I somehow were gonna get caught for it."

The kinds of stories you hear from a big family.

"... he's like you better do everything I say, or I'm gonna tell on you."

The two only four years apart.

"... I always remember his birthday."

Troublemakers in a family of five.

"Terry was a maverick. He would just kind of go and do his own thing."

But Karen tells far fewer tales about her brother in his later years.

"The horses were a big deal to him. He'd go every chance he got and take out his horses."

Terry Smith died a young man --- only 26-years-old.

"Every once in a while, I just think it's so unfair... wish I knew why."

November 28th, 1981, hunters found Terry's partially decomposed body near a snowmobile trail off of a remote road in Adams County.

"Terry was clothed. He was wearing a fatigue jacket... cowboy boots and I believe jeans at the time."

He had been shot in the chest.

"I think the suspect was local at the time... obviously knew the area... knew the surroundings."

Investigator Mark Bitsky is working the case with Lisa Wilson, an agent with the State's Division of Criminal Investigation. Bitsky got involved after the sheriff's department received a tip earlier this year.

"... think there's a lot of people of possible interest."

Bitsky says Terry was last seen August 28th, exactly three months before his body was found in the woods. That Summer day, he and his wife, Mary, went to a bar, Two G's, in Adams around noon.

Investigators say Terry and his wife were having problems at the time. Then, Mary said at the time, she dropped him off in Wisconsin Dells to catch a ride to Illinois, where he had family.

"That's the last contact that we know of that anybody had contact with Terry," Bitsky says.

Karen says she never knew of Terry coming for a visit. He was never reported missing.

"Even now, every Christmas... we always have to stop and say a prayer for Terry."

But Karen holds out hope one day the secret buried deep in these woods will be revealed... hope the stories she tells about her brother will end with justice.

"It's just so hard to think in this day and age, with all of the modern technology somebody gets away with murder, I find that baffling."

Through investigators, Terry's wife at the time has declined to comment for this story. He also left behind two children from a previous marriage.

To solve this case, Adams County is getting help from the state Department of Justice.

If you have any information, contact investigators or Crime Stoppers.

Adams County Sheriffs Department

Crime Stoppers

WI Dept. of Justice

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