We’re coming up on the 63rd anniversary of the Evelyn Hartley kidnapping. It was big, big news for the whole state, nation, and even worldwide. La Crosse had no television station at the time. There was no CNN, FOX News, MSNBC, or the 24 hour news cycle that we have today. But reporters from Chicago, New York, and Minneapolis descended upon LaCrosse.
It was also big news for the Scheckel family growing up on the 238 acre farm a few miles northwest of Seneca in the middle of Crawford County.
Evelyn Hartley, a 15 year old Central High School sophomore, was babysitting a 20 month old baby, Janice, at the home of La Crosse State College professor Viggo Rasmusen on the evening of October 24, 1953.
The Rasmussen home was located in the 2400 block of Hoeschler Drive. The Rasmussen family, father Viggo, wife Madeline and older daughter, Rozalyn, were off to see the La Crosse State College Homecoming football game.
Evelyn was expected to call home at 8:30 PM to check in, but she never did. Her father, Richard, also a La Crosse State College professor, tried telephoning the Rasmussen home several times, but there was no answer.
He went to the Rasmussen house to check on his daughter. All the doors were locked, the lights and radio were on, and the baby Janice was asleep in her bed. There was no sign of Evelyn.
The furniture was thrown around, her schoolbooks were scattered, her broken eyeglasses and one of her shoes were on the living room floor. Her other shoe was found in the basement. All the house windows were locked except a basement window on the back side of the house. A stepladder was positioned at that window in the basement. A screen for that window was leaning against the outside of the house. Pry marks were found on several windows but not on the unlocked basement window.
Blood, later found to match Evelyn’s type A, was found inside the house near the basement window. Blood was discovered in several pools outside in the yard. Police indicated that the abductor(s) carried and dragged the young girl through the yard about two blocks to a waiting car on Coulee Drive. That is where police bloodhounds lost the trail.
Thousands of people joined in the search parties. Boy Scout groups fanned out across hills and valleys looking for anything suspicious. Cars were searched and given a “clearance” sticker. All students were given lie detector tests. No parents objected.
Dad brought home a few newspapers that had stories about the Hartley abduction. I read those with interest. We heard Dad and Mom talking about the case. How terrible the parents must feel was the sentiment of my folks. The police had asked the public to check under haystacks, around barns, wooded areas, and any newly dug up areas.
Dad, Phillip, Bob, and I got in the pickup and drove down to the Lynxville area. We searched under the railroad bridges around Cold Springs. We walked up a good part of Kettle Creek, ending only when nightfall was coming on.
My brother Phillip was 13 years old at the time, I was 12, and brother Bob was almost 11. We boys thought it was something we had to do, something we should do. Acting in the public interest, doing important work, even felt like we were doing police work. As we walked along, we discussed what we would do if we encountered this bad man holding a young girl. We had weapons, short pieces of wood to use as a club. We were prepared!
Over the years, dozens of people confessed to the crime. There were many stories, theories, and sightings. She was an ordinary girl in an ordinary home and someone came in and kidnapped her. She was never seen again.