“We will not release violent criminals,” Tony Evers promised voters in 2018.
That was an insidious lie.
Gov. Tony Evers’ Parole Commission has released hundreds of convicted criminals, freeing them early on parole mostly into Wisconsin communities, including more than 270 murderers and attempted murderers, and more than 44 child rapists.
The list, from 2019 through 2021, includes some of the most brutal killers in Wisconsin history and some of the most high-profile. The cases span the state, from Kenosha to Rib Mountain, Wisconsin Right Now has documented through a public records request.
Many were serving life sentences, which don’t qualify for mandatory release. The Parole Commission confirmed in writing to Wisconsin Right Now that the spreadsheet containing the 883 paroles did not include inmates released because they reached their mandatory release dates. You can check the parole dates out yourself by putting the killers’ names into the state Department of Corrections database and clicking on “movement.”
Wisconsin administrative code says that parole decisions should consider:
(1) Depreciation of the seriousness of the offense resulting from early release.
(2) Risk to the community.
(3) Reasonable certainty of a crime-free reintegration of the inmate into society.
How brutal are these killers? Carl Beletsky, then 39, of Oconomowoc, shot and decapitated his bank manager wife, Kathleen, with a large kitchen knife and then tried to burn her head in a wood-burning stove in 1982. Newspaper articles from the time say that Beletsky, who was worried she was going to leave him, placed Kathleen’s headless body in the trunk of a car, dumped the body in a cornfield, and then went to drink liquor.
Beletsky, now 79, was paroled in August 2019 by the Evers administration and now lives in Hatley, Wisconsin.
There are many cases that rival Beletsky’s in their outright brutality. And don’t think they’re all old. The average age of the released killers and attempted killers is 54, and they range in age from 39 to 79.
Even though they’ve only been out for three years at the most, 16 of them have already re-offended or violated terms of their parole, Corrections records show, including one man accused of strangulation.
Slightly more than half are black. About a third are white. Only four were paroled as “compassionate releases.” In 27 cases, Corrections records list no address for the parolees. Some are double murderers; there is even a triple murderer among them.
Joseph Roeling shot and killed his mother, stepfather, and 8-year-old half-sister while they slept in 1982 inside the family’s mobile home in Fond du Lac County. Roeling told a sister he was planning to get rid of everyone in the family to have free run of the home, according to a newspaper article from the time.
Roeling, 56, was paroled by the Evers administration in June 2021 and lives in Oshkosh today.
In another particularly heinous case, Terrance Shaw randomly murdered a young mother, Susan Erickson, who worked at a La Crosse hospital, raping, stabbing, and strangling her after spotting her through her home’s picture window while driving past. They were strangers. He called it “one really bad day.”
Today Shaw, 73, lives in Onalaska.
Roy Barnes, 62, lives in Milwaukee. In 1999, he murdered the brother of one of Jeffrey Dahmer’s victims and received 45 years in prison for it. Barnes tortured the victim and used his ear as an ashtray, according to a 2000 Green Bay Press-Gazette article. In 1998, the article says, he committed “a hammer attack on another man.”
Evers’ administration paroled Barnes in September 2020.
Over the next two months, in a new series, Wisconsin Right Now will be naming names and profiling some of the most brutal killers and child rapists paroled by the Tony Evers-Mandela Barnes administration (with the total silence of Attorney General Josh Kaul).
We will be running one story each day.
About one-third of the killers and attempted killers live in Milwaukee. Racine, Madison, and Kenosha are next in that order. All of the 274 cases are listed under homicide statutes by the Parole Commission; a review of court records, news stories, and other documents confirms that most of those homicides resulted in deaths. A far smaller number were attempted homicides.
“If we’re not safe, nobody’s safe,” an outraged Raymond Ziebell, whose pregnant sister, Cathy Ziebell, 16, was murdered in 1975 in Kenosha County by Mark Ketterhagen, told Wisconsin Right Now.
Ketterhagen shot Cathy twice in the back and tossed the teen off a bridge into the Fox River just south of Burlington. Ketterhagen was paroled – for a second time – in October 2019 by the Evers’ administration.
The killer, 69, today lives free in West Allis, despite being a failure on parole once before, according to Corrections records.
“If people like Evers keep letting these people out, there will be more murders and more suffering, and then none of us are safe,” said Ziebell.
Raymond Ziebell notes that, if his sister and her unborn child had lived, the baby would be 47 years old today. “Where was justice?” he asked. After the murder, he said that Ketterhagen would ride past Cathy’s mother’s house on a motorcycle and give their mother the finger. “I believe in God’s justice,” he added.
Ziebell, a retired teacher who identified his sister’s body, noted: “I’m 80. We have lived a long life. But young people are not going to have that. Look at the crime on the streets of Milwaukee; they (Evers and Barnes) are doing very little about that.” He believes the paroles were “covered up.”
“I think it’s terrible,” he said. “Society is breaking down.”
Multiple families including Ziebell’s complained to WRN that they were not notified of the paroles. More of that later.
Democrat Tony Evers took office on Jan. 7, 2019. Evers first named John Tate to chair the Parole Commission, starting on June 3, 2019 and reappointed him in 2021.
Last spring, Evers acted shocked, as if the rescinded release of wife killer Douglas Balsewicz, which ignited news stories all over the state, was an aberration.
It was not, and he had to know this. The Parole Commission’s own records firmly prove: The Balsewicz case was the pattern.
The other cases are as horrific as that of Balsewicz, who stabbed his estranged wife Johanna more than 40 times, and that’s saying a lot. Unlike Balsewicz, there’s no evidence Evers did anything to stop the paroles. Worse, he reappointed Tate after many of them.
The released criminals include multiple cop killers; men who stabbed, strangled, and asphyxiated their wives and girlfriends; a man who shot a teenage gas station clerk in the head for $5 on the clerk’s first day alone on the job after shooting two other clerks in the head; and people who murdered and bludgeoned and raped elderly women, including a killer who used a wheelbarrow to dump the body of a murdered 86-year-old woman in the woods.
They include a killer who blew his parents’ heads off with a rifle and then went out to party, telling people his mom and dad were “laying around the house.”
A sniper who hid in the woods and randomly shot an elderly woman who was walking a dog along the Menomonee River Parkway because he wanted to kill someone.
A woman who stabbed an elderly Richland County grocer 63 times for $54; a man who strangled a baby, either with a cord from behind or by suspending the infant.
A man who went to a technical college intending to commit suicide and murdered a technical services coordinator.
A foster dad who beat a 2-year-old to death because he soiled his pants.
A biker who slashed a woman’s throat so severely he almost decapitated her after participating in a violent gang rape and then threw her in a manure pit.
“I never thought I’d have to go through this again. What I’ve gone through and what my family has gone through has just been awful,” Linda Frederick, of Kenosha, told the Kenosha News in 2019 when her husband’s killer, David Lahti, was paroled.
According to the newspaper, Lahti decided one Halloween night that he wanted to kill people at an apartment complex, so he randomly shot Richard V. Frederick, a father of three, through his heart and then fired another shot into his back.
“David Lahti said he didn’t care if Jesus Christ was standing there, he was going to kill him,” Frederick told the newspaper.
Lahti, 74, is back living in Kenosha.
Some of the killers were released even though they already had blemished records on parole or behind bars.
Dennis Noel, 65, was on parole for another murder when he killed a tavern owner in 1981, court records say. He was paroled again in 2019 by the Evers administration and has moved to Indiana.
Keefe Adams, 53, battered multiple corrections officers while serving a 20-year sentence for a 1998 second-degree murder conviction. He was paroled anyway.
Eric Washington, committed felony battery by a prisoner while incarcerated and was still paroled.
This Was Purposeful
In most cases, Tate had the final say. However, Evers knew full well about Tate’s philosophy, which focuses far more on rehabilitation/redemption than punishment or protecting the public.
The paroles are reflective of an admitted belief system by both. The governor even promised to slash the state’s prison population by 50%. This is apparently who he meant.
In 2018, Evers “signaled” in an interview “that he would favor increasing paroles.”
The governor appointed Tate, a proponent of repealing truth-in-sentencing laws and police “reform,” twice to chair the Parole Commission. Evers re-upped Tate’s appointment in 2021 AFTER many of the killers, including Beletsky, were paroled, expressing zero concern about the releases. Thus, Evers is going to have to own them all.
Tate has been open about his beliefs; a Racine city council member, he once hung a Black Lives Matter flag behind him during a virtual meeting on police reform.
When Evers first appointed Tate to the job, Evers’ focus was on “improving our parole system” to eliminate “racial disparities.” He pledged that Tate would be a “strong advocate for the change we need to ensure our criminal justice system treats everyone fairly and focuses on rehabilitation.”
An Associated Press article said Evers’ choice “has been eagerly anticipated by prison reform advocates.”
“I’m trying to find ways to get people back to their communities,” Tate promised. He did not reveal that would include some of the state’s worst killers and rapists.
On Feb. 24, 2021, Evers signaled that he was happy with how Tate, a social worker, had done his job. He wrote the state Senate, “I am pleased to nominate and with the advice and consent of the Senate, do appoint JOHN TATE II, of Racine, as the Chair of the Parole Commission, to serve for the term ending March 1, 2023.” Senate Republicans let the nomination languish, meaning Tate could continue serving.
Tate bragged in 2021 about releasing more prisoners than Gov. Scott Walker’s Parole Commission. He told other officials involved in parole releases: “I just wanted to note that your efforts to really evaluate individuals where they are, giving that real chance… as well as individuals’ own progress, resulted in a great deal of people being able to return to the community… So, I just wanted to give you kudo.” He mentioned the families of criminals but not victims.
Evers has been under fire for letting Kenosha burn during riots there, but the release of some of the state’s most violent and heinous murderers and child rapists – and the impact on public safety and on traumatized victims’ families – has gone almost unnoticed in the news media. A few of the paroles were covered at the time, but most were not.
Unlike sex offenders, the public doesn’t receive a notification when convicted killers move next to them.
Evers accused Walker of lying when Walker warned that Evers planned to release violent criminals to the streets. It turns out that Walker was right, but Walker understated the problem. Even he did not fathom that Evers’ administration would release so many violent murderers and child rapists.
Tate helped found a group called “Our Wisconsin Revolution” that is openly opposed to truth-in-sentencing laws and other legislation to keep criminals behind bars longer.
We tried to reach Tate at the time of the Balsewicz story, but he never returned calls.
With Evers, this is a long pattern. He recently said he wasn’t sure he had met with murder victims’ families other than those involved in the Waukesha parade attack; he’s pardoned more than 400 offenders (including a sibling of Balsewicz who was going to give her paroled brother a place to live – pardons are different than the paroles in this story); he increased the number of early release prisoners by 16% and decreased the prison population by 15%; he softened revocation rules; and, perhaps most egregiously, he wanted to get rid of truth-in-sentencing and expand early release in his last budget.
Tate’s resignation came just three days after Wisconsin Right Now asked the Wisconsin Parole Commission for information on two past paroles Tate granted for men – Kenneth Jordan and Lavelle Chambers – convicted in connection with the murders of Milwaukee police officers.
Freed Child Rapists
The freed child rapists are extremely disturbing cases too; one man paroled in 2021, Gary Frank, 54, is a convicted domestic abuser who sexually assaulted a female relative, who was under age 13 at the time. He now lives in Milwaukee.
A former pastor, Gordon Larson, 69, made the parolee list. He abused a girl when she was aged 4-5 to 9 years old, sometimes in his office at church. Evers’ administration released him early too. In 2014, he received an 18-year prison sentence in Waukesha courts. Today he lives in Kewaunee.
When Richard Garcia was paroled by Evers’ administration in 2020, Fox 6 falsely reported that he had served his sentence. He had not. In 1985, Garcia burglarized a stranger’s home and sexually assaulted an elderly resident. Eight years later, he sexually assaulted two children, ages 4 and 9, the station reported. Parolees do receive state supervision; he will be on GPS monitoring. Garcia, 57, lives today in Waukesha.
Patrick Appel, 53, a registered sex offender, was released on parole in September 2020 from a first-degree sexual assault of a child conviction but is already back behind bars. He is accused of possessing child pornography in Price County.
All of that – yes, all of that – is just the tip of the iceberg.
High Profile Cases
The Ever administration has released some of the most notorious killers in state history. They include a Marathon County Dairy Princess, Lori Esker, who used a belt to strangle a love rival, Lisa Ann Cihaski, in Rib Mountain.
Esker, whose crime was turned into a movie, is today 53 years old and living free in Racine. She was paroled in July 2019.
In addition, in one two-day span in 2019, Evers’ Parole Commission freed two men convicted in the high-profile death of Tom Monfils, who was thrown into a paper mill pulp vat in Brown County in 1992.
The cases also include a Green Bay homicide that the local newspaper called the “most brutal, bloody rape and vicious murder in Green Bay’s history.”
Margaret Anderson was practically “beheaded” after being gang-raped and was left to die in a manure pit. The details of that case will absolutely shock your conscience. There could be no more severe crime. Prosecutors said biker gang member Randolph Whiting slashed Anderson’s throat.
Evers’ administration paroled Whiting, the only biker convicted of murder in the heinous crime, on Jan. 21, 2020.
Today he’s only 62 years old and lives in Waupaca, according to Department of Corrections records. He claims he has found God.
Lack of Notification
Ziebell says the family was not notified that his sister’s killer was paroled again or about the possibility of it, and he, ultimately, blames Tony Evers and Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes for it all, noting that they defended Jacob Blake in Kenosha and have advanced a philosophy of criminal justice “reform” (i.e. releasing inmates) that he considers very dangerous.
“The cost to families from these murders, it goes on for years,” Ziebell, a retired teacher, told Wisconsin Right Now.
Tate’s reappointment came after Ketterhagen’s release.
The released killer list includes several cop killers, among them Wilson Brook, the brutal murderer of Burlington police Sgt. Anthony Eilers. Eilers’ brother expressed shock to learn that Brook was granted parole.
For years, that southeastern Wisconsin community has honored Eilers in memorial ceremonies, but, in 2019, according to Wisconsin Parole Commission records, Wilson Brook was quietly granted parole.
The case was horrific; newspaper articles from the time show that Brook shot Eilers five times in a routine traffic stop before trying to drive his squad car, with the officer’s brutalized body inside, off a cliff. Eilers was a World War II veteran and married father of two.
John Eilers, the officer’s son, told us in an interview that he did not even know Brook was paroled, and he believes that cop killers should never be paroled – including Brook. “No, give them life in prison,” he said. “That’s not right.”
Brook has since died. Brook’s parole is not listed as a compassionate release grant on the Parole Commission’s list. We asked the Parole Commission and Department of Corrections when Brook died and received no response.
James Block is only 60 years old and living back in Kenosha, where he murdered his girlfriend Christine Acevedo, then 34. The murder was savage, according to Christine’s daughter Patricia Logan and newspaper articles from the time.
Logan did not find out that Block had been paroled for a year.
Although she acknowledges the Parole Commission may have had old contact information for her, Wisconsin Right Now was able to find her in an hour.
“I was shocked he got out,” Logan told Wisconsin Right Now. “Life is life. You took a life, you don’t get to breathe fresh air. My mother doesn’t get to breathe fresh air; why should he?”
She believes Gov. Evers should not have appointed a Parole Commission chairman with this early release philosophy. “He (Evers) did not look at the full picture of what families go through,” she said, describing Block’s release as incredibly “traumatic,” reigniting PTSD that she’s struggled with since she was a 12-year-old girl suddenly informed her mother was murdered.
This is a pattern; victims’ family members were not notified of the parole releases in multiple cases, including when there was still a chance to stop them.
A victim has a right to attend a parole interview per s. 304.06(1)(eg) Wis. Stats. However, to be notified, victims’ family members must enroll in a system to receive notice.
Here’s the reality; in many cases, after decades pass, the closest family members – parents, siblings – have died or moved away or aged, leaving few alive to speak for the victim anymore.
Traumatized families fray, and PTSD takes its toll. At this stage, it’s up to the governor’s appointee to stand for public safety or not.
We asked the Parole Commission about the cases of Block, Ketterhagen, Brook, and Whiting. Why were these men paroled? When did Brook die? Were the victims’ families notified? If not, why not? Why was Ketterhagen paroled after failing parole before?
The Commission promised to respond to our questions before our deadline, but never did.
By the Numbers
Evers’ Parole Commission released more convicted killers in its first three years than Walker released in eight, the records show.
The list of paroled criminals is just through Dec. 27, 2021. The Parole Commission has yet to provide this year’s releases, despite an open records request that has pended for months.
Democrats lie to the public that they want to only release “non-violent offenders,” mostly drug offenders. However, we filtered out the people paroled for drug offenses (often drug dealing). They amounted to only about 11% of the total paroled since Evers took office.
Wisconsin Right Now obtained the names of every criminal paroled through an open records request. We found the following killers, attempted killers and rapists:
- 1st Degree Intentional Homicide 171
- 1st-Degree Reckless Homicide 62
- Felony Murder 18
- 2nd-Degree Intentional Homicide 18
- 2nd Degree Reckless Homicide 3
- Homicide by Intoxicated Use of Vehicle 2
- 1st Degree Sexual Assault 24
- 2nd Degree Sexual Assault 15
- 1st Degree Sexual Assault of Child 26
- 2nd Degree Sexual Assault of Child 5
- Repeated Sexual Assault of Same Child 13
Some parolees were released to truth-in-sentencing sentences under new laws or to detainers, such as immigration, from other agencies, but they aren’t anywhere close to the majority. Some have moved to other states.
The Parole Commission says 460 of the paroles were discretionary paroles. Earned release program releases under the new laws require the parole commission chairman’s “sign off,” the commission said, and they are listed in the sheet as parole grants, but statutes say that’s to determine statutory eligibility with trial courts making the decisions. The Parole Commission redacted which paroled inmates were ERP (or Challenge Incarceration Program). However, Earned release is only allowed for inmates with substance abuse needs who committed non-violent and non-assaultive offenses, however.
The Parole Commission is also redacting some information about inmates who were released early. They are deeming some information relating to people released under other programs – like the “Earned Release Program” – as confidential treatment information.
They wrote us in an email with the Excel sheet, “Because information about which individuals are granted release under the Earned Release Program (ERP) or Challenge Incarceration Program (CIP) falls under confidential treatment information, we have removed ERP/CIP references from the sheet. Those programs fall under the institutions (Division of Adult Institutions or DAI) but the Parole Chair does sign off on those grants once the individual has completed the program.”
Who Should be Paroled? A Judge’s Change of Heart
A few cases arguably make sense for parole release; for example, some of the killers were juveniles at the time or were convicted of felony murder, meaning they did not pull the trigger.
We met one of the men paroled, Ramiah Whiteside, who runs an organization in Milwaukee that helps ex-offenders heal and become productive members of society.
We ran into Whiteside, who had a violent childhood and was shot five times growing up, at a barber shop on Milwaukee’s north side where he helped set up a positive event designed to bring Republican candidates face-to-face with black voters.
The 1995 crime was high-profile and extremely devastating to many. Whiteside killed four people during a high-speed police chase of a stolen vehicle when he smashed into a Milwaukee bus stop. Whiteside credits his rehabilitation in part through help from U.S. Senator Ron Johnson and his team.
Court records say, “IT IS THE RECOMMENDATION OF THE COURT THAT DEFENDANT NOT BE GRANTED PAROLE BUT TO SERVE THE MAXIMUM” term of 47 years. He served 24. However, even the Judge, David Hansher, wrote a letter urging Whiteside’s parole. One of the victim’s family members stopped opposing it.
Another case involves a juvenile sentenced to life for a 1997 murder that occurred during a robbery when he was 16. Carlos King was part of a lawsuit involving five inmates sentenced to life in prison as juveniles.
He “is pursuing a bachelor’s degree and has completed the tasks the Parole Commission has recommended but has been denied parole four times,” the lawsuit alleged. Until now.
However, there are many more cases that deeply shock the conscience. Over the next 60 days, we will tell you about some of them in detail.