Whether John Klinger was murdered or died because of accident nearly two years ago remains a mystery. The family of the former Chippewa Falls school board member is hoping a $10,000 reward will finally provide some answers.
The reward is for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person responsible for Klinger's death.
Klinger was last seen alive in the downtown area of Eau Claire on Monday, April 28, 2003. The body of the 49-year-old man was recovered a few days later on Thursday, May 1, 2003. The cause of death was drowning.
Klinger's body was in a remote location about seven miles east of Eau Claire, in the town of Seymour, near the intersection of County QQ and County L.
"He did not go to that location by himself," said Det. Rochelle Zurek of the Eau Claire County Sheriff's Department. Klinger did not drive or have access to a vehicle, she said. Plus, Klinger had hip surgery, so he had limited mobility.
"He would not have walked there," said Susan Walloch, one of John Klinger's sisters. She added her brother did not like water activities.
"We believe he was either murdered or left there to die in the river. We definitely know he had to get there with someone else who left him there"
"We believe the person involved may be local. Our concern is if that there was foul play it could happen to someone else."
The longer it takes to find out how Klinger died, the more the family feels it is a suspicious death, Walloch said.
"We're not ruling out anything," Zurek said when asked if the department considered Klinger's death a murder or an accident.
Klinger reportedly was the youngest person elected to public office in the United States when he won a seat on the Chippewa Falls School Board in April 1972, the first year 18-year-olds were allowed to vote. He had turned 18 shortly before the election.
"The youthful candidate has something solid going for him -- an intense desire to be involved. This, plus what appears to us to be an uncommon commonsense not ordinarily found in youth of his age would make him a valuable addition to the board of education," the then-Chippewa Herald-Telegram wrote in an endorsement of Klinger's candidacy on March 31, 1972.
Klinger, who also attended the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, was to serve five terms on the school board before leaving in 1987.
A 2003 obituary said Klinger was active in the AIDS HIV community as a mentor and teacher who helped others. He was the co-chairman of the Wisconsin HIV Prevention Council, and a member of the Western Region of the Ryan White Consortium.
Walloch said since her brother had an alternative lifestyle, it's been difficult to get people to disclose information they might have about Klinger's death.
"We definitely believe somebody knows more than what they're saying. And they need to come forward," she said. She added Klinger had a large family, and they want a resolution about his death.
"This family has suffered a tragic loss," Det. Zurek said. "They deserve justice."
Reach Rod Stetzer at email@example.com.