Special Assignment: Janesville Mom Found Murdered

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

Posted Monday, July 20, 2009 --- 5:00 p.m.

Janesville 1988. A landlord discovers one of his renters murdered. Details of the brutality shocked the community -- a community still waiting to see the case solved.

"It was a Sunday morning. And I was getting ready to go to church with my wife and daughter," Tom Gehl says, "And the phone rang."

"Our entire detective bureau responded."

"We identified the victim as Virginia Ann Hendrickson, who was 23-years-old at the time."

"It was a particularly brutal homicide."

"There was a lot of violence associated with it."

"There was a lot of work to do."

Tom Gehl went to work as one of Rock County's newest detectives.

"One of my responsibilities at the scene was collecting physical evidence outside, and I remember it was a particularly hot day."

It was June 5th, 1988 -- the day Gehl walked into one of the department's biggest investigations to date.

"It makes an impression on you ... you wouldn't be human if it didn't."

Outside of the house on Knilans Road, south of Janesville, investigators found a trail of blood.

"We can say there was something significant happened probably out by the burn barrel."

"I went over and got some kittens running around and seen a lot of blood... a lot of blood. I never knew a person could bleed that much," a neighbor said at the time.

Inside, more evidence of a savage attack.

"We have what appears to be the weapon," investigators said at the time.

A knife blade - the handle reportedly broken off by the force of the blows.

"She was stabbed repeatedly," Gehl says, "I would say there was a lot of anger involved in this killing."

Upstairs, they found another victim: a 1-year-old in a crib, physically unharmed.

But still, a little girl who would grow up never knowing her mother.

"Her very favorite song was 'The Rose' by Bette Midler," Shirley Bothum says, "She would just play it over and over and over... hahaha."

Today, Virginia Hendrickson's true love, Amanda Sue, is 22-years-old...

"I see a lot of Virginia in her, a lot of Virginia."

A week before her death, this photo captured Virginia celebrating her daughter's first birthday at her own childhood home in Cambridge.

"It's a good memory, but it's also kind of a hard memory... because it's the last one," her sisters say.

Investigators put Hendrickson at a gas station within walking distance of her place in Janesville the Friday afternoon before the homicide. But how she spent Saturday is a mystery.

"Yeah, I would consider her a regular."

Ronda Weber's mother owned The Zoo, a kind of biker bar in Janesville.

"It was kind of like Cheers... You knew people that were in there, and everybody knew your name... hahaha."

Hendrickson would spend a lot of time at the old hotel turned tavern.

"She didn't seem like the type that'd have a lot of enemies," Weber says.

But she had a wide circle of friends and acquaintances - some of whom raised the suspicions of family....

"I wish she didn't have those rose-colored glasses on, you know."

... and investigators.

"She had a lot of acquaintances that were involved in risky behaviors," Gehl says, "I believe within that group of people, we talked to ... we have probably talked to the person that's responsible for this murder... and just have not yet been able to prove it."

"There's a lot of what ifs... a lot of what ifs... "

What if Virginia's sister, Shirley, had stopped to talk to her baby sister in the driveway... two days before her body was found....

"I just regret not stopping her you know... whew."

What if the young woman who loved horses lived to share her favorite song ... lived to share a future as a sister... as a mom.

Virginia's older sister, Ruth, has raised Amanda since Virginia's death. They live in Michigan.

Investigators have re-submitted evidence to the crime lab through the years. They also continue to get tips - the last one in June - but they still need more information. If you have anything to share, contact the sheriff's office or Crime Stoppers.

Virginia Hendrickson Case:
Rock Co. Sheriff's Office

Crime Stoppers

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