Nearly twenty-five years before Netflix’s Making a Murderer brought suspicion and ethical questions to the police force of Manitowoc County, the neighboring city of Green Bay experienced it’s own controversial case of police helping convict six men of a crime they may have had nothing to do with.
On November 10th of 1992, James River Paper Mill employee Tom Monfils called the Green Bay police to inform them that his co-worker Keith Kutska was planning on stealing some scrap wire from the mill. The police reported this to the mill supervisors and Kutska was suspended from work for a week after refusing to let a security guard look at his bags as he left the plant. Ten days after Monfils’ call Kutska went to the police station and was erroneously given a copy of the call, despite Monfils alerting the police that releasing the tape could cause him harm. The following day Kutska returned to work and confronted Monfils, playing the tape in front of a number of employees. Soon after this incident, Monfils vanished from his work station. He would not be seen alive again.
The following day a malperforming pulp vat was investigated and Monfils body was discovered sunken into the mess of water and pulp which had a consistency not unlike that of cottage cheese. The police tried to hook the body, doing possible damage as they attempted to lift it from it’s slushy grave. Finally they were forced to use an access portal at the bottom of the vat to retrieve the corpse. A forty-pound weight was found tied around Monfils neck. An autopsy would find thirteen places on his body that showed signs of having been beaten or bruised. Since bruising requires blood flow, police were able to assess that at least some of the marks had come prior to being placed in the vat. Other marks could be explained away as being done post-mortem. Years later, forensic pathologist Dr. Mary Sens looked into the Monfils autopsy and stated that due to the blades that spun the pulp in the vat causing injuries and hurrying decomposition the cause of the bruising should have been listed as “undetermined”.
The police failed to cordon off the area of the vat and officers and employees walked freely around, damaging possible evidence that might exist. A video made by the police that day has one officer clearly growl “Way to go Kutska!”. It was from that point that the police zeroed in on Kutska and tried to prove he and possibly other employees were responsible for Monfils’ death. It would take twenty nine long months for the police to scrap together a case but in April of 1995 James River employees Keith Kutska, Michael Hirn, Rey Moore, Dale Basten, Mike Piaskowski, and Michael Johnson were arrested for the murder. In a controversial decision, it was decided that all six men would be held on trial in one group.
The evidence was thin and some critics even feel the police’s own timeline of events didn’t match the facts. District attorney John Zakowski did little to hide this fact as he opened the trial stating to the jury “If details are extremely important to you, you’re going to be disappointed. There are gaps.” The police formed a loose story that as the men confronted Monfils, one of the men shoved him, another man then cracked his head with a wrench. The men then panicked and tossed Monfils battered body into a vat to hide it and protect their jobs.
Witnesses to the beating supposedly refused to come forward officially out of fear for their own safety or that the police would charge them as an accessory for not stopping the attack. One plant employee was willing to place Mike Johnson and Dale Basten near the scene of the crime “carrying something of significant weight” All six of the arrested men were questioned for hours and detectives admitted Basten broke down and said “I didn’t mean for Tom Monfils to die!” Mike Hern stated he wanted to tell the whole story but feared for his family’s safety. Rey Moore tried to work out a plea deal but dropped that when the D.A. refused to play ball.
Kutska didn’t deny that he confronted Monfils, but insisted his intentions were to merely rattle Monfils and turn the mill employees against him. One mill worker talked about how he and Kutska had been working on a truck when a wrench accidently hit the man in the head. Kutska referred to it as a “Monfils lump”. The spot proved to match a bruise Monfils body showed, but Kutska made this remark before the autopsy had been made public. Another co-worker, Brian Kellner, went to a bar with Kutska and was given a full blow by blow of the attack and murder while Kutska was in a drunken stupor. It was this statement that convinced police to arrest the six men. Kellner recanted his story two years after the trial and claimed the police threatened his family in order to make him give a statement that would break open the case.
Ultimately, it came down to the jury to sort through the facts and speculation and they decided all six men were guilty.
The men began the process of appeals immediately and in 2001 Mike Piatkowski was freed thanks to a federal judge declaring his conviction was based on “conjecture camouflaged as evidence”. The other confined men continue to this day to fight through the legal system, and they have even garnered the support of Monfils’ brother Calvin.
The supporters of the men’s innocence point to two alternative theories: suicide or murder by another employee. One of the other employees fingered by the “Monfils 6” was David Weiner, who worked with Monfils and the six other men. He provided an eyewitness account of two of the convicted men being near the crime scene. Weiner’s work station was close to the vat where Monfils’ body was discovered and several months after Monfils’ death, Weiner killed his brother during an altercation. This opened up the argument that Weiner was proven to be capable of taking a life more so than the family men who were accused of the Monfils attack. No one was able to place Wiener as being seen gathering the rope and weight that was used against Monfils however and Weiner would have had to walk around the plant to retrieve such things.
As far as the suicide theory goes, his own brother Calvin believes that Tom took his own life after becoming distraught over upsetting his co-workers. Monfils had a history of strange behavior when it came to his workplace, as he had a habit of posting his co-workers news clippings on the wall when they were arrested for drunk driving and such. He also made unsavory comments regarding another employee’s premature baby. Some suggest he was suffering from post traumatic stress disorder stemming from recovering drowning victims while he was working with the Coast Guard.
Tom’s wife Susan originally bought into the theory that her husband killed himself, but changed her mind as the investigation unfolded. She ultimately sued the city for releasing the tapes that resulted in her husband being killed and she was rewarded over two million dollars in restitution. The state laws have been changed to protect people who report crimes.
When three women were assaulted, raped and murdered in Kicevo, Yugoslavia, Vlado Taneski used his position as a journalist to provide his readers with many gory details. After several columns, the authorities began to wonder how Taneski was able to obtain information that had not been issued to the public. He wrote things such as how phone cords had been used to bind the bodies, a fact no one but the police knew of. The investigators moved in and were able to obtain a DNA sample from Taneski that proved to match the sperm found in the victims.
All three women were middle aged, worked as cleaning ladies, and resembled Taneski’s mother, who knew all three victims as she shared their profession. It came out after his arrest that Taneski hated his mother and killed others who resembled her in a case of murder by effigy. Taneski would never go to trial for his crimes, as he committed suicide by drowning himself in a bucket of water in his jail cell.
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