A 40-year old cold case cracked by Western professor and students

Header image for Interrobang article CREDIT: MICHAEL ARNTFIELD
Western professor's newest crime book Mad City focuses on discovery, murder and justice with the University of Wisconsin.

Michael Arntfield has cracked a case that's been cold for 40 years and he's sharing the story for all to see.

His second book in a trilogy of what he defines as popular sociology books, Mad City, releases Oct 1. You might remember his name from a few years ago, when Murder City was released.

The book highlighted London as the serial killer capital of Canada. Now the ex-cop and criminology professor is turning the spotlight to a series of murders at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM) that took place from the early ‘60s to the late ‘80s.

However, it's not just a retelling of the story. Arntfield's claims to have identified the first UWM murderer, introducing a new serial killer into American crime history. His investigative work has also linked the other seven campus murders into distinct categories.

“There's enough information there that someone in Wisconsin will read that and know precisely who I'm talking about,” Arntfield said.

The narrative is focused around Linda Tomaszewski, a freshman at University Wisconsin-Madison who independently investigated the murder of her friend Christine Rothschild.

Through the years, she clipped newspaper articles, made freedom of information requests, and did everything in her power to solve the case. “She committed 40 years of her life to ensuring that this guy never killed anyone else. She knew his M.O. It was a game of cat and mouse,” Arntfield said.

But how do you break new ground in a case that's been cold for the last 30 to 40 years? Arntfield and past investigators have used crowdsourcing techniques to find new information. Combining that with new primary sources of information through interviews with involved parties makes it likely for new information to come up.

Arntfield found that Wisconsin police printed special playing cards with the face and name of the campus murder victims. Playing cards are one of the only items allowed in prisons, so the cards could jog prisoners' memories about conversations they had in prison, maybe someone bragging about the one that got away.

However, the techniques are a bit more advanced today. Social media is becoming a powerful tool for police forces trying to gain new leads or tips.

“Social media is the new water cooler. It's the new way to mine confidential tips to get new leads on cases. There are some police forces that get it, and those that get it do very well in terms of their public image and garnering public support,” Arntfield said.

It's also how Arntfield's students connected with Tomaszewski in the first place, more than 40 years later. They sent her a Facebook message, which led to her passing on some details of her search for Christine Rothschild's murderer. They identified the killer two weeks later.

“We did our part. We closed the circle that she had begun back in 1968. Two generations, the age of Aquarius and the information age collided in this case,” Arntfield said.

Arntfield stresses that students, civilians, and anyone with a passion for a case can help out in some way, even if the extent of that role is just keeping stories alive and bringing them into the public eye.

“People have more information than they realize, if they're armed with the basic facts of the case. It's no service to anyone that 25,000 students at UWM who have never heard of any of these cases,” Arntfield said.