On a chilly November morning 26 years ago, Larry Anstett pulled himself out of bed before the sun rose; bundled up in corduroy pants, long johns, sweatshirt and nylon jacket; hoisted a bulging Milwaukee Sentinel newspaper bag over his shoulder and went to work. A ninth-grader at Wilbur Wright Junior High School on the city’s […]
On a chilly November morning 26 years ago, Larry Anstett pulled himself out of bed before the sun rose; bundled up in corduroy pants, long johns, sweatshirt and nylon jacket; hoisted a bulging Milwaukee Sentinel newspaper bag over his shoulder and went to work. A ninth-grader at Wilbur Wright Junior High School on the city’s Northwest Side, Larry had taken over the paper route from his older brother. Though he dreaded the early-morning hours, he liked having a little spending money in his pocket.
Larry was tromping down the sidewalk of North 83rd Street at 6 a.m., hurling newspapers into the front yards of his customers, when something caught his eye. Resting on the roof of an unoccupied Oldsmobile was a box decorated in colorful gift wrap like a Christmas present.
Larry stepped to the driver’s side of the car to inspect the curious gift box. When he lifted it from the roof, the box exploded.
The force of the blast killed Larry instantly. His face was burned beyond recognition, his right eye ripped from its socket. Both of his hands were blown away and the bones in his arms shattered. Dozens of metal fragments were shot into his neck and chest, tearing into his windpipe and lungs, fracturing his collarbone and ribs and mangling his carotid arteries.
Seconds after the explosion, a pickup truck sped away along 83rd Street. Two men were inside, according to a witness, who supplied police with another telltale detail: Extending from the corners of the truck’s bed were a shovel and a broom.
Michael Vermilyea heard the bomb go off from inside his home and raced outside half-dressed. At the curb, his ’71 Oldsmobile was a smoking wreck, its roof caved in and its windshield in pieces. Lying face down on the pavement was the paperboy, his yellow Sentinel bag still slung over his shoulder, 27 undelivered newspapers inside.
A shakened Vermilyea said he was sure he knew what had happened. He was sure the murderous blast was an act of retaliation by the Outlaws Motorcycle Club, and he was sure he had been the intended target. But somehow, horribly, the bomb had claimed the life of 15-year-old Larry Anstett instead.
Vermilyea was president of Heaven’s Devils, a rival motorcycle club of about 30 members. The Devils were entangled in a violent feud with the Outlaws. Four months before the bombing, Vermilyea had testified against two Outlaws charged with stealing jacket patches from Heaven’s Devils at gunpoint. Known as “patching over,” the thefts were an intimidating tactic to force other bikers to join ranks with the Outlaws.
Vermilyea’s testimony helped send the two Outlaws to prison. Shortly afterward, several Heaven’s Devils’ homes were firebombed or shot up. The picture window of Vermilyea’s own home was blown out one night by a shotgun blast.
“They knew where I lived,” Vermilyea told a Milwaukee Sentinel reporter. “And an innocent kid got killed.”
The Sentinel offered a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the paperboy’s killer. Vermilyea’s father put up another $1,000. And for a solid year, two police detectives worked the case full time, following thousands of leads, traveling thousands of miles, compiling thousands of pages of interviews and reports.
But the case was never closed, the rewards never collected. Leads went cold. Witnesses refused to cooperate, fearing reprisal by the Outlaws.
“It was a very frustrating case,” says retired police detective Bill Wolf, one of the two primary detectives assigned to the homicide. “People just wouldn’t open up.”
Larry Anstett’s murder on November 5, 1974, is remembered as one of the most heinous crimes in the city’s history. Milwau-kee District Attorney E. Michael McCann counts the case as one of the toughest ever investigated by his office. And one federal prosecutor from Milwaukee who now works in Atlanta says he would gladly return home and work the case as a volunteer if any additional evidence should turn up.
“I’ve seen the [crime scene] pictures of that kid,” he says, “and you never forget that.”
But for former Milwaukee police detective Roger Hinterthuer, it’s a crime that is unofficially solved.
Hinterthuer was working as a plain-clothes officer in 1974, chasing down burglars from out of the District Five stationhouse at 4th and Locust streets. Like dozens of cops working that November day, he was dispatched to the Northwest Side to canvass Anstett’s neighborhood for witnesses.
Hinterthuer moved on to other cases. But years later, a surprising link to the bombing would surface, drawing him into the investigation of a series of unsolved Outlaws murders that would become his obsession until the day he retired – and for years afterward.
As pieces of a larger puzzle fell into place, Hinterthuer and other investigators came to believe that they knew who blew up Larry Anstett and why. They came to believe that their years of police work were discarded by Waukesha County District Attorney Paul Bucher, and as a result, the prime suspect in the Anstett murder was never brought to justice.
he Milwaukee Chapter of the Outlaws gained notoriety during the late 1960s, growing out of the Chicago chapter and establishing a criminal presence as drug traffickers and car thieves.
Roger Hinterthuer was enrolled at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee at the time. He had plans to be a professional musician, working toward a degree in music while playing tenor sax, touring for a while with the likes of Woody Herman. But after realizing how hard it would be to make a living as a performer, he switched his major to music education and found a job as a school band teacher when he graduated.
After just six months, he hated the job.
The year was 1967. Like the rest of the nation, Milwaukee was steeped in political and social unrest. The streets literally burned with dissent as protesters marched for fair-housing laws. The Milwaukee Police Department was recruiting new officers. So Hinterthuer took a job as a cop.
Moving through the ranks, he was promoted in 1976 to the detective bureau, where he worked auto thefts. It was there he became familiar with the criminal activities of the Milwaukee Outlaws.
As with many police investigations, Hinterthuer and other detectives based their theories and allegations on the testimony of informants. One of those informants was William “Billy the Kid” Wadsworth, a convicted thief with the mannerisms of Joe Pesci and a knack for hot-wiring cars. Over the years, Wadsworth would rip off hundreds of vehicles, gaining a reputation in the Midwest for the speed with which he could steal a car. He fancies himself as the subject of the recent Hollywood film Gone in Sixty Seconds.
In the early ’70s, a string of burglaries was reported at the Morley Murphy Co., a distribution warehouse on Milwaukee’s West Side. In one burglary, hundreds of firearms were stolen. Billy Wadsworth was involved in fencing the firearms, and among his customers was an Outlaw named John Wayne Buschman.
“Buschman was one of the Outlaws who made money,” Wadsworth said in an interview with Milwaukee Magazine. “He was always somebody you could call for bail.”
Buschman and Wadsworth eventually teamed up with a handful of Outlaws and “hangers-on” to run a car theft ring out of a farm on Town Line Road near Sussex. The Waukesha County farm was owned by Clifford Machan, a young ex-convict who had done prison time for burglary. As his day job, Machan ran a roofing company from his Sussex farmhouse.
Machan had converted a barn on his property into a six-stall garage that was used as a “chop shop.” According to police, the auto thieves would steal cars from Milwaukee and Chicago, often from airport parking lots. Vehicle identification numbers of the cars would be replaced with VIN tags of wrecks purchased from salvage yards or auto auctions. The car theft ring would paint the cars and exchange parts to conceal the appearance of the original vehicles, then sell them to unsuspecting buyers.
Wadsworth supplied the chop shop with stolen cars, mostly luxury models, Volkswagens and pickup trucks. Buschman and Machan rebuilt the cars, and a young Outlaw wannabe named Joe Stoll helped with mechanical work.
“Buschman was really the guy running the chop shop,” says Hinterthuer. “He was the catalyst behind it.”
Buschman was known by his Outlaws nickname of “Flapper” or “Flap,” a tongue-in-cheek reference to his less-than-garrulous nature. Born in September 1945, he has a rap sheet in Wisconsin that dates back to 1970, when he was charged in Racine County with operating an automobile without the owner’s consent. In 1974, he was arrested for the interstate transportation of stolen motorcycle parts, smuggled out of the Harley-Davidson plant in Milwaukee. Buschman did time in federal prison in Minnesota and then was transferred to Leavenworth to serve out the rest of his sentence.
In 1980, Buschman was convicted, with another Outlaw, of raping and beating a young woman at the Outlaws’ clubhouse in Milwaukee. He was sentenced to five years in state prison.
Those who have met Buschman describe him as cold and dangerous.
“He has no conscience,” says one former cop. “He’s a hard case.”
Hinterthuer is convinced that Buschman was at one time an “enforcer” for the Milwaukee Outlaws, that he used violence to exact revenge and silence witnesses who might incriminate him or other members.
“He became so good at intimidating people,” says Hinterthuer. “He’s always been of the opinion that he was not going to get caught.”
Wadsworth says Buschman was a nationally known figure within the organization. “He carried a lot of weight,” he says. “He was real influential.”
In September 1974, six weeks before the Anstett bombing, Buschman and Stoll were indicted by a federal grand jury for dealing stolen firearms, the same firearms that were fenced by Wadsworth. Buschman was arrested and released after posting bail. But police could not find Stoll.
Just days before the indictment was issued, Stoll and his girlfriend, Lou Ann Irby, a blond, blue-eyed go-go dancer from Minne-sota, were reported missing by their families.
Informant Billy Wadsworth says he has a good idea what happened to Joe Stoll and Lou Ann Irby – and young Larry Anstett.
Months before the bombing, Wadsworth and Buschman had met a woman whose grandfather ran a stone quarry in the town of Lannon. The woman mentioned to them that her grandfather stored explosives in an outbuilding near the quarry. Wadsworth says he and Buschman burglarized the outbuilding one night and stole a box of TNT and blasting caps. They took the explosives back to Machan’s chop shop and hid them in the garage.
A week or two later, Wadsworth delivered a stolen car to the Sussex farm. In the garage he found Buschman and Stoll, who had been hiding from the law at the farm with his girlfriend. On the workbench was a cardboard box. Packed inside were fragments of spent welding rods collected from the garage floor – and the stolen TNT.
“This,” Buschman said, gesturing to the homemade bomb, “is a present for the Heaven’s Devils.”
On the morning of November 5, 1974, Wadsworth drove to the farm to deliver another car. “When I got there, they [Buschman and Stoll] were already there,” Wadsworth says. “And I got there at the crack of dawn.”
As he pulled off of Town Line Road, he saw Buschman and Stoll sitting in a pickup truck parked in the dirt driveway. In the back of the truck, stuck in the corners of the bed, were a shovel and a broom.
Wadsworth rolled down his car window.
“Did you hear what happened?” said Buschman, sitting in the truck’s driver’s seat.
“No, what’s going on?” said Wadsworth.
“It went south,” Buschman said. “A newspaper kid got killed. The kid shouldn’t have messed with the package.”
Wadsworth parked the car and followed Buschman and Stoll into the garage. There, a panicked Stoll began spilling out grim details of the bungled bombing.
Buschman interrupted. “Shut up if you know what’s good for you,” he snapped at Stoll.
The Anstett case was page-one news. Homicide detectives were inundated with tips – some good, most not. Police began rounding up dozens of bikers, questioning them about the Outlaws and Heaven’s Devils feud. The heat was on.
The next day, Wadsworth returned to the farm.
“Hey, where’s Joe?” he asked Buschman.
“Joe’s gone and he ain’t comin’ back.” Stoll had been talking about leaving town, so Wadsworth assumed he and his girlfriend had hit the road.
Wadsworth was back at the farm a few days later. Again, he asked about Stoll.
This time, the answer was more succinct.
“Joe and the broad are buried in the chicken coop.”
The Anstett case eventually fell off the front page. The investigation stalled and detectives moved on to other crimes. But in the minds of many investigators, the murder was indelible.
In 1978, Hinterthuer was assigned to a multi-agency auto theft task force. A case had been put together against the Sussex car theft ring, which had grown into one of the largest in the state. Armed with search warrants, the detectives drove to Cliff Machan’s farm on a day in April to take a look around.
Inside the garage, along with a half-dozen stolen luxury cars and pickup trucks, investigators made a startling discovery. Hidden high in the rafters was a box of TNT and blasting caps.
“The minute we saw that TNT, we thought, aha!” says Hinterthuer.
It was the first break in the Anstett case in years. Undisclosed by police and unknown by the public, experts had narrowed the substance used in the Anstett bombing to that of a high-order explosive, either C-4 or TNT.
Detectives pulled Machan into the Milwaukee Police Department for questioning. In their interrogation, they leaned on him to cooperate. They wanted names.
“You don’t know what you’re asking me to do,” he told them, fearing for his life.
A secret John Doe investigation was under way, and the task force was preparing an eight-count charge of auto theft against Machan. They wanted to use his testimony to go after others.
“Eight convictions could send you to prison for a long, long time,” investigators reminded him.
Machan, 34 at the time, thought it over.
“I’m not going to prison,” he told police, finally giving in. “I’ve got something much bigger to trade.”
But he never got the chance to talk.
“All of a sudden, Cliff Machan just disappeared, gone,” says Don Werra, a former detective on the auto theft task force and now chief of Milwaukee’s housing police.
Police suspected that Machan knew too much for his own good – about his chop shop associates, the Anstett murder and the disappearance of Stoll and Irby.
According to a missing-person report and police interviews conducted years later, Machan’s live-in girlfriend took a call on June 28, 1978. She recognized the caller as John Buschman.
The girlfriend told police that Machan had arranged a meeting with Buschman. The next morning, Machan drove off in his brand-new four-wheel-drive Chevy pickup.
She never saw him again.
Years later, she told Hinterthuer that she held Buschman responsible for Machan’s disappearance.
Without Machan’s testimony, the Anstett case went cold – for almost 10 years.
On December 10, 1987, Washington County sheriff’s deputies were sent to a farmhouse on Western Avenue in the unincorporated town of Kirchhayn. Inside was a gruesome sight. In an upstairs bedroom, the body of 34-year-old Sandy Drobac lay facedown in a bed, a bullet in her back. In a second bedroom was her 10-year-old son, Brock, shot in the head. And dead on the kitchen floor with a bullet wound to his head was Michael Drobac, 35.
Known as “Rerun,” Michael Drobac was dressed only in a pair of black jeans. On his left biceps was a blue tattoo of a skull and the name of his longtime affiliation: “Outlaws Milwaukee.”
In the three years he lived in the small town, Drobac had drawn a lot of attention. The wild parties he and his wife hosted at their three-acre property attracted hundreds of bikers from around the state. The Milwaukee Outlaws held their annual “Honda Drop” at his home. As an act of homage to their beloved Harleys, the bikers hoisted foreign-made cycles into the air with a crane, then dropped them, smashing them to pieces.
Drobac had a long police record and did time in Waupun Correctional Institution for car theft. His criminal career started when he was in his teens. He had worked for a while with the car theft ring at the Sussex chop shop but was replaced by the more experienced Billy Wadsworth.
The bodies of Drobac and his family were discovered by his parents. Evidence showed that more than one person had been in on the killings, says Drobac’s mother, and it appeared that whoever fired the fatal shots knew the victims. There were no signs of forced entry, no signs of a struggle. All around the living room and kitchen, says Donna Drobac, were beer bottles and liquor glasses, drug paraphernalia and cocaine.
“The Outlaws did the killing,” she claims.
At the time of his murder, Rerun was awaiting sentencing on a federal drug conviction. Strewn on the kitchen floor near his body were court records on his case.
Police believe that Michael Drobac was considering cutting a deal with the feds.
“The police came to me,” says his mother, “and said, ‘Did you know that your son was going to turn evidence and go into protective custody?’ ”
Donna Drobac doesn’t buy the theory. But she agrees her son was trying to distance himself from the club. In a letter found in his lawyer’s office, Drobac said he feared for his life. Just months before his death, he had a tattoo artist add his birthday, May 23, to his Outlaws tattoo, “signing himself out” from the Outlaws, effectively quitting the club.
“They were worried about Drobac giving it up,” says Wadsworth. “I didn’t think he would, but they killed him anyway. But then they killed the kid and his wife, too. Is that signal enough that they’re serious?
“It was a pretty close-knit group,” he says of the Outlaws. “They didn’t take any chances and they didn’t give anybody a second chance.”
Donna Drobac says she believes she knew the people who were in her son’s home when he was killed. One of them, she says, was John Buschman.
Buschman was also seen as a suspect by police. Following the killings, Washington County investigators traveled to Florida, where he was living at the time. According to a top investigator, they were able to place Buschman in Wisconsin on the day the Drobacs were murdered.
“Flap probably was worried Rerun would trade information on the Machan murder to get his charges reduced,” theorizes Hinterthuer.
Drobac’s mother believes it was another Outlaw who pulled the trigger, one who used crutches when he walked. On the living room carpet leading from her son’s body was a curious set of marks that appeared to be made by someone dragging his feet.
Three weeks after the Drobac murders, police reported a suspicious death in Racine County. Terry Haegele, a 35-year-old Outlaw known by police as a drug addict, died of an apparent intravenous overdose in the town of Raymond. Two separate autopsies were performed and two toxicology reports showed that Haegele’s body contained amphetamines, cocaine, codeine, methadone, opiates and the muscle relaxant benzodiazepine – a lethal witches’ brew of illicit drugs.
Haegele, who lived in Sussex, was better known by his Outlaws nickname, “Four Foot.” When he walked, he used crutches.
On a wintry night in December 1988, a year after the Drobac murders, Milwaukee police detectives arrested William Cresca for auto theft. Cresca was yet another Outlaw who had worked years ago with the Sussex car theft ring.
He also had been a close friend of murder victim Michael Drobac.
The arresting detectives, Peter Simet and Richard Weibel, grilled the car thief about his latest haul.
But Cresca had something else on his mind.
“If I had some information about a murder,” he said, “and I showed you where the body’s buried, would you guys make a deal on the car?”
The detectives were reluctant, but they listened to Cresca as he described a grave in a storage garage somewhere on a Town of Waukesha farm – in a garage that belonged to an uncle of John Buschman.
“Okay,” said Simet. “Take us to the body.”
As snow drifted across the highway, they drove to Waukesha, with Cresca directing the detectives to a dead-end road and a small farm owned by the Letko family. Sitting in the squad car, he took a piece of paper and sketched the floor plan of the sheet-metal storage garage that stood adjacent to a barn.
“If you dig right here,” he said, marking a spot on the drawing, “you’ll find the body.”
Three days later, on the morning of December 8, with consent of the farm’s owner, a team of police returned to the farm. They hauled out a few junk cars, old tires and engine blocks from the garage. They set up a portable heater to cut the icy cold and fired up a leased backhoe. Checking Cresca’s diagram, they began to scrape away at a layer of pea gravel in a corner of the garage.
They dug for hours, pulling out boulders, shoveling out buckets and buckets of dirt until, suddenly, a shovel uncovered the ghoulish form of a human skull.
Willy Cresca was a career criminal, known by law enforcement throughout the area as a disreputable source. But this time, he was telling the truth. A body had been buried in the garage.
All day and into the night, investigators dug, working on their hands and knees, scraping at the ground with trowels and paint brushes, sifting through the dirt for anything that might be evidence.
“Got the teeth,” announced a detective.
Minutes later: “This is the right arm.”
And the form of a human began to appear, an arm flung above its head, the legs unnaturally bent sideways. Sprinkled over the form was a white powder, determined by police to be lime.
More than a dozen investigators from Waukesha and Milwaukee converged on the site – police and prosecutors and medical examiners, all of them well-versed on the history of the unsolved Outlaws cases. The sheet-metal garage once used by John Buschman to store old cars was transformed into an archaeological dig.
Just before midnight, investigators had unearthed a full human skeleton.
Weeks later, in several interviews with detective Hinterthuer, Willy Cresca went further with his story. In one discussion, held at the Waukesha County Jail, Cresca got to talking about the death of his friend Drobac.
Suddenly, he burst into tears.
“That kid that they killed was my kid,” he said, explaining that he and Drobac’s wife had had an affair. (Police records confirm that Michael Drobac admitted he was not the biological father of Brock Drobac.)
“I know who killed them,” Cresca told Hinterthuer. “I can’t prove it, but I can tell you about another murder, that murder at the Letko farm.”
According to Hinterthuer and a report with the Waukesha County Sheriff’s Department, Cresca admitted he was at the farm when a body was buried. He knew the identify of the victim – and the killers.
In the summer of 1978, Cresca and Drobac were operating a chop shop together at 35th and Vliet streets in Milwaukee. One day, Drobac told Cresca to meet him at the Letko farm in Waukesha.
Police speculated that Buschman and Drobac had lured Cliff Machan to the Waukesha farm by telling Machan they’d bought him a Harley and would sponsor him into the Outlaws as a new member.
They also instructed Cresca to meet them at the farm, and when he arrived, gave him a key to Machan’s new Chevy pickup. Cresca’s orders were to take it to his shop in Milwaukee and cut it up.
Cresca drove the pickup to his shop and returned to the farm in another vehicle. Drobac met him outside the storage garage.
“The shit already hit the fan,” he said to Cresca.
Inside, Cliff Machan lay on the ground, shot in the stomach with a 12-gauge shotgun, his faced crushed by the butt of the gun. Beside the body, a grave had been dug.
Cresca threw up. Drobac and Buschman laughed at him as they stripped the body, rolled it into the grave and dusted it with lime to speed its decomposition.
Drobac handed Cresca a paper bag stuffed with Machan’s clothes. The two of them drove to Cresca’s family’s junkyard in the Town of Eagle, where they burned the clothes in a 55-gallon metal drum.
The two then went back to their chop shop at 35th and Vliet and cut up Machan’s pickup. But greed got the better of them. When the job was done, instead of junking all of the parts, they stored the transmission and engine – a 454-cubic-inch Chevy engine in mint condition – at the junkyard.
Just days after the killing, Buschman moved his family to Florida, says Hinter-thuer. With a stack of cash, he set up an auto body shop in the Keys.
An autopsy by the Waukesha County medical examiner found the skeletal remains to be that of an adult male, 5-foot-6 to 5-foot-9 inches tall, roughly the same height as Machan. The autopsy also showed that the jaw and nose had been broken and three ribs had been cracked before death.
A forensic dentist examined the teeth and skull, but dental records and medical X-rays of Machan could not be located for comparison. The State Crime Laboratory did a comparison of photographs taken of the skull and Machan’s head – known as an “in-camera superimposition.” But the photos did not match.
Hinterthuer suggested DNA testing, and a year after the discovery of the skeleton, the medical examiner sent one left rib to an East Coast laboratory for examination. But in 1991, DNA testing was still a young science and researchers were unable to come up with enough DNA material in the decomposed rib bone to complete a valid test.
Shortly after the remains were unearthed, police interviewed John Buschman in a Detroit jail. He had been arrested for bringing in large amounts of cash from Canada through Port Huron, Michigan, apparently as part of a money-laundering scheme. On his finger, he wore a huge diamond ring, suspiciously resembling one worn by Cliff Machan. But the ring was not confiscated as evidence, and by the time Milwaukee detectives heard about it from the feds, it had been released by the jail to an unknown party at Buschman’s request.
Investigators were frustrated. Without a positive identification of the skeleton, Case No. 88-1790 remained one without a name, labeled an “unknown skeleton.” No homicide report was filed and no arrests made.
Some time after the dig at the Letko farm, Hinterthuer transferred to the criminal intelligence division, where he was responsible for tracking down white supremacists and Satanists and digging into the department’s unsolved homicide files. A plum assignment, he was given wide latitude to chart his own investigations and set his own timetable.
His priority became the Outlaws murders. As he and Simet and other detectives pressed forward, the case became a forensic science mystery fraught with obstacles.
In August 1991, Hinterthuer, Simet and an agent with the state Division of Criminal Investigation persuaded Waukesha County DA Paul Bucher to authorize another excavation, this time at Machan’s former farm. Based on the testimony that had been collected, police believed the bodies of Joe Stoll and Lou Ann Irby were buried there.
Police used cadaver dogs to explore an open area where a chicken coop once stood, and several “hits” were made by the dogs. Again, a backhoe was brought in, but no remains were found.
The unidentified skeleton, meanwhile, had been packaged in Ziploc plastic bags and sent to an FBI lab in Washington, D.C., for examination. From there, it was forwarded to the curator of the anthropology department at the Smithsonian Institution.
It was here that investigators landed a break, thanks to the Smithsonian. Douglas Ubelaker, a top expert in his field, reported to the Waukesha County medical examiner that he believed the initial photographic superimposition was inaccurate.
“In my opinion, it is very probable that the bones and [Machan’s] photograph originate from the same individual,” he wrote.
Hinterthuer convinced Dr. Lynda Biedrzycki, Waukesha County medical examiner, to submit the bones to another DNA lab for testing. Biedrzycki had inherited the case when she was hired in 1990 and had taken a special interest in the skeleton. She personally lobbied the county board for additional funding and shipped the teeth and bones to a California lab.
Unknown to investigators, the former medical examiner had hired a forensics lab to make a clay reconstruction of the murder victim’s head, based on the unearthed skull. When Biedrzycki took her new job, she informed Hinterthuer of the clay model.
The resemblance to Cliff Machan was striking.
“She showed me a picture of the reconstruction,” says Hinterthuer, “and I hauled out a picture of Cliff, and she said, ‘Wow, it looks just like him.’ ”
In the course of the examinations, an assistant district attorney from Milwaukee County contacted relatives of Machan’s in Colorado, asking if they would submit blood samples in the event any DNA was identified. But the second DNA test also turned up inconclusive. Again, there was not enough usable DNA material available to do genetic typing.
But investigators would not be deterred.
In December 1993, Detective Werra traveled to Washington with Milwaukee Mayor John Norquist on city business. Werra, who had become Norquist’s personal driver, and the mayor met with the FBI’s deputy director and U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno, asking for any federal assistance in the Outlaws cases.
Months later, Hinterthuer scored a victory when a forensic anthropologist at the University of Wisconsin in Madison concurred with the Smithsonian, concluding that there was “a reasonable degree of scientific certainty” that the remains were Machan’s. Hinterthuer then pressed the State Crime Lab to take a second look at the skull, based on the Smithsonian’s procedures, and in early 1994, it reversed its initial finding, agreeing that the skeletal remains were compatible with Machan.
“Finally, we had everybody on the same page,” says Hinterthuer.
The remains were discovered in the jurisdiction of Waukesha County. But Waukesha County refused to open a homicide case. And in a blow to the investigators, Biedrzycki resigned as medical examiner to take a fellowship at Harvard University. To the new medical examiner and to District Attorney Paul Bucher, the evidence still was not strong enough.
In July 1994, a task force made up of federal, state and local agents was formed to investigate the criminal activities of the Wisconsin Outlaws. Hinterthuer was one of five Milwaukee Police officers appointed to the unit.
Hinterthuer had become obsessed with the unsolved Outlaws murders. He was sure the skeletal remains from Waukesha were Machan’s and sure a case could be built that would finger John Buschman as Machan’s murderer. Silencing witnesses to hide the truth about the Anstett bombing, Hinterthuer reasoned, was the motive for the killing of Machan, the shootings of the Drobacs and the disappearance of Joe Stoll and Lou Ann Irby.
Bucher was unconvinced. More evidence, he told the investigators, bring me more evidence.
And they did.
With the help of state and Waukesha County investigators, they tracked down medical X-rays of Cliff Machan and confirmed through a local chiropractor that Machan had suffered a shoulder injury, which was consistent with the X-rays and skeletal evidence.
They confirmed that Buschman was renting the storage garage at the Letko farm when Machan disappeared and that a load of pea gravel was delivered to the garage around the time Machan’s grave presumably had been dug.
They confirmed that the engine to Machan’s cut-up Chevy pickup had been sold by Willy Cresca to a Waukesha County farmer.
They confirmed that the explosive used in the Anstett bombing was in fact TNT and that the shrapnel was made up of spent welding rods. A cake of defused TNT was later traced to informant Billy Wadsworth in northern Illinois, lending credibility to Wadsworth’s claim that he and Buschman stole the TNT and that Wadsworth had seen the bomb being assembled.
But it still wasn’t enough.
“We would get the evidence Bucher asked for,” says one former detective, “then he’d backstep and say, ‘No, I’m not doing it.’ And without a reason. He just kept moving the yardstick.”
Investigators decided to try the federal system. Federal prosecutors suggested bringing charges against Buschman under the RICO act, the organized-crime statute used last fall to convict members of the Wisconsin/Stateline chapter of the Outlaws. Under RICO, an individual associated with an organized group could be prosecuted for a series of criminal activities. Conceivably, prosecutors could reach back in time to the 1974 bombing.
A federal grand jury was convened. Although grand jury testimony is always made in secret, several sources say testimony was taken of Willy Cresca, Billy Wadsworth and Cliff Machan’s girlfriend, among others, based on the interviews Hinterthuer and other detectives had already done.
The case, however, didn’t meet federal requirements under RICO, and with the approval of U.S. District Judge J.P. Stadtmueller, the sworn grand jury testimony was handed back to Milwaukee and Waukesha counties.
A meeting was called at the Waukesha County Sheriff’s Department with state and local investigators. At the meeting, Milwaukee County Assistant District Attorney Mark Williams offered to act as a special prosecutor in the case against Buschman.
But Bucher turned down the offer.
Bucher was reluctant to talk with Milwaukee Magazine about details of the case and declined to say specifically what evidence he believed was lacking.
“I did not have evidence that was sufficient for us to issue charges,” says Bucher. “It was not there.”
In May 1995, “Billy the Kid” Wadsworth surfaced again in Milwaukee. His girlfriend was facing a jail sentence in Waukesha for passing bad checks and Wadsworth was willing to make a deal with the district attorney to get her freed. He was ready to speak out about the Outlaw slayings, this time publicly. He even agreed to several interviews with local newspaper and TV reporters, claiming he could set the record straight on the murders of Cliff Machan, the Drobac family and Larry Anstett.
It was a risky move, Wadsworth says, looking back. According to Wadsworth, the DA offered to place him in a witness protection program.
But the deal fell through.
“Talk was cheap,” says Bucher. “When I wanted more than talk, the price was too high.” Wadsworth, he says, wouldn’t agree to his ground rules.
Wadsworth, though, says it was Bucher who poisoned the deal, upping the ante by adding more charges against his girlfriend.
“I wanted him to let my girlfriend out of jail, let her out on bond,” says Wadsworth. “I didn’t ask for him to do any political favors. Just let her out.”
The ball remained in Bucher’s court. He had the grand jury testimony, including the transcript of Wadsworth’s testimony. He had all the evidence the investigators could muster.
But Bucher wouldn’t budge.
“We thought, ‘What more can we do?’ ” says Hinterthuer. “Our hands were tied. We had done virtually everything we could. There was nobody else out there we could talk to, there was no additional evidence that existed.”
Hinterthuer had had enough. In May 1997, after 30 years of duty, he retired from the Milwaukee Police Department. When he left, he tried to get detectives in Waukesha and Milwaukee to pick up the ball on the cases. But no one would.
“I was of the opinion that unless someone came forward to testify or one of the Outlaws traded information, the case would die,” says Hinterthuer.
He still harbors resentment toward Bucher for not pushing harder on the Machan case. Possibly Bucher was intimidated by the Outlaws, Hinterthuer speculates. Or possibly his aspirations to one day run for political office – specifically, the job of state attorney general – got in the way of pursuing a case that was risky.
“To have it die because of one demigod out in Waukesha? That’s obscene,” says Hinterthuer.
Bucher discounts the claims that he was intimidated or that his judgment was impaired by political ambition. He commends Hinterthuer and Simet for their “persistence” but says the difficulty in identifying the skeletal remains was not the only stumbling block.
“All the other proof that you build your case on just isn’t there,” he says. “I’m not afraid of sticking my neck out.… [But] ethically, we have standards that you have to go on. It’s just not there. It’s close, but it’s just not there.”
Bucher leaves the door open for more DNA testing or even the issuance of criminal charges in the future. “It’s an unsolved homicide,” he says. “There may be, someday, sufficient corroborating evidence that will come forward so that we may proceed.”
Today, with witnesses long scattered, the homicide cases are cold – but not dead. After scoring a huge win last year with 16 convictions in federal court, the Outlaws task force continues its probe. Next in line is the Milwaukee chapter. According to a key investigator, at least one Outlaw death is being examined – the mysterious drug overdose of Terry “Four Foot” Haegele. Suspected in the murder of the Drobac family, Haegele was found dead in the home of Tom Sienkowski, the current Milwaukee Outlaws boss.
To this day, investigators have not concluded whether the intravenous overdose was accidental or not.
Ralph Anstett Jr. visits his brother Larry’s grave every year with his sisters, brothers and father.
“Sometimes I wonder what it would be like if Larry was still alive,” he says. “We still hope that this case will be solved, every day we hope. It’s been bad for us. We lost part of our family. And we feel somebody should pay for the loss.”
Victims and survivors, cops and culprits. In the long aftermath, the line that separates grows immaterial.
Michael Vermilyea, the target of the 1974 bombing, lives somewhere in Waukesha County, popping up now and then in a biker bar. Willy Cresca, the car thief turned accomplice, floats in and out of jail on one charge of theft after the next, estranged from his family and friends.
Informant Billy Wadsworth, meanwhile, drifts aimlessly through the southern states, looking for a foothold since his release from jail last June. Wadsworth was convicted in Mississippi for using a bogus name and Social Security number on a job application.
From time to time, he makes it up to Milwaukee. “But I tiptoe,” he says through a nervous laugh in a telephone interview. “I just get so apprehensive. I see people that know me and they know other people, too. And all they have to do is just say, hey, guess where what’s-his-name is? And boom. They’d shoot me as quick as they’d shoot anybody else.”
Milwaukee Police detective Peter Simet resigned last summer and now works for Harley-Davidson. Former detective Don Werra serves as police chief of Milwaukee’s housing authority and is a member of the Milwaukee Public School board. Dr. Lynda Biedrzycki returned to Wisconsin and her former job as Waukesha County medical examiner in 1998. Down the hall from her office, on a shelf in the morgue’s refrigerated cooler, an “unknown skeleton” is packed in a cardboard box marked “Case No. 88-1790.”
And somewhere in Florida, John Wayne Buschman remains a free man.
Roger Hinterthuer resides in a suburb south of Tucson. At 56, he enjoys his retirement, golfing nearly every morning and taking time to play the piano that occupies his spacious living room.
For Hinterthuer, though, the challenge is to focus on the present instead of the past.
Seldom is he entirely successful.
In a closet in Hinterthuer’s desert home, 10 storage boxes are stacked against a wall. Each is filled with files – arrest records, interview transcripts, crime scene photos, autopsy reports – the product of years and years of homicide investigations.
Hinterthuer doesn’t need the files to jog his memory. He knows each name, each date, each episode by heart.
He admits that the unsolved murders have left him with a jaundiced view of the world.
“I’m disappointed that they haven’t been charged,” he says. “You sit on your hands and witnesses die and people disappear, and then you have no case. It’s justice denied.”
Senior Editor Kurt Chandler’s last feature was November’s The Sinking of the Linda-E