Sunday, November 20, 2011

Jennifer Wesho Murder Solved


Killer escapes justice
by Robert A. Waters

On August 6, 1989, the body of Jennifer Wesho was found in a heavily wooded area behind her home near Sand Pillow Mission, Wisconsin. Nine-year-old Jennifer had disappeared the day before. An autopsy revealed that the child had been raped, beaten, burned with cigarettes, and strangled to death.

Jennifer was a member of the Snake Clan of the Ho-Chunk Nation. Once known as the Wisconsin Winnebago Tribe, these Native Americans have inhabited the area for centuries.

There was little progress in the case until eight months later when Dion Funmaker was arrested. Investigators assured the public that he was the killer. When questioned about why Funmaker had been charged, Jackson County Sheriff Richard Galster said: “We would just not pick out someone at random just to satisfy the family.” He informed the media that inmates in the Jackson County Jail had fingered Funmaker, even though the suspect had no prior criminal record.

Three weeks later Funmaker was set free. An Associated Press article reported that "in April 1991, police arrested Dion W. Funmaker of St. Paul and charged him with first-degree intentional homicide. But the charge was dismissed and Funmaker was released 22 days later because some information in the investigation had been kept from prosecutors that indicated two other people may have been involved in Wesho's death." Even though he had an airtight alibi, Funmaker remained on the list of suspects.

DNA had been found underneath the fingernails of the victim as well as on her clothing and a beer bottle located near the body. In 2007, analysts matched the DNA to Christopher Thundercloud, a friend who had attended a family party on the day Jennifer disappeared. (No reason was given as to why it took four years to make a public announcement.)

Christopher Thundercloud

Thundercloud had been interviewed about the crime but was never a suspect. Jennifer, wearing a white blouse and pink shorts, was last seen walking with him.

In April, 2011, Jackson County District Attorney Gerald Fox held a press conference to announce the results of the DNA tests. "The locations where we found his DNA would suggest...that he killed her to shut her up from screaming or telling what he did to her," he said. "Because her fingernails had his DNA under it, he was doing something to her that she didn't like."

Unfortunately, Thundercloud will never be punished in this lifetime. He died of natural causes in 2006. Many in the Wesho family attended his funeral, still thinking he was a friend.

Christopher Thundercloud was described by neighbors as an alcoholic who was drunk most of the time. In fact, when he'd been questioned by police he claimed he couldn't remember where he was at the time of the murder because he'd blacked out. He later moved to California.

After being considered a suspect for two decades, Dion Funmaker was finally off the hook. Former District Attorney Al Moeller recently stated that "if things hadn't come out after the fact to blow apart the credibility of some of our witnesses, there's a good chance" Funmaker could have been convicted of a murder he did not commit.

His attorney, Michael Devanie, said: "He's just lucky that he [has] not been in prison all these years."

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