Ask Larry Vongroven, a retired La Crosse County sheriff’s sergeant, about the night he nabbed murderer Terrance Shaw in Onalaska, and he paints a scene so detailed and chilling that it will give you nightmares for days.
He found out from his daughter that Shaw was paroled by Gov. Tony Evers’ two-time appointee to the Wisconsin Parole Commission after Wisconsin Right Now wrote a story on it. “She woke me up to say, ‘You’re not going to be happy about this, but they paroled Terry Shaw.’ She was right. My first response is that evil bastard will do anything to earn a few votes,” says Vongroven, referring to Evers.
Flash back to 1982, and Vongroven was married to a nurse. A year before, in the same small town of Onalaska, another part-time nurse and med tech named Susan Erickson was randomly murdered in her home. This terrified the community.
In addition, “there were a number of attacks on Lutheran hospital employees” around the same time.
“A number of lab techs and maybe a nurse had been attacked going home or at their home or had entries – those people who got off at odd times would ask for an escort to their car,” recalls Vongroven. “I was attuned to that.”
He was on patrol when he received a call of a prowler from a home about 1.5 miles from the scene where Erickson was murdered (Shaw today lives in the same community, a couple miles away, his neighbor says in a home with an unregistered daycare). Another med tech from the hospital had called 911.
The Erickson murder was brutal and random. A young married mother of two, Shaw raped, stabbed and strangled her after glimpsing her through a picture window. They were strangers to one another. The murder was so brutal Shaw cut off the tip of his own thumb, which police found at the crime scene. Thus, they knew they were looking for a killer with a mangled thumb.
As he drove toward the address of the prowling call, Vongroven saw a little Chevy drive past him. “The headlight swept across the driver’s side of the car, and Terry Shaw looked at me.”
He recalled that a girl had seen a similar car in Erickson’s driveway before the homicide.
She had said the car had a “front plate hung down by one screw,” and now, this car had a dangling plate too.
He believes that Shaw thought he was a trooper who lived in the neighborhood going home after work. So after the squad passed, Shaw turned around and went back toward the other med tech’s house.
The med tech “knew this guy was ripping at the back screen door. She heard sounds at the back of her house. She too was alone on that night.” It was Easter weekend, a Saturday night. Shaw punched it, but Vongroven caught up to him.
“As I walked up, Shaw bent over his front seat and had his head down and both arms beneath the seat on this bench type vehicle. I heard clank, clank.” He worried it was a gun, so he drew on Shaw and told him not to move.
“He turned around and his eyes and my gun barrel were a couple inches a part. I told him to slowly bring it out. I needed to know what was under there. He pulled out a pair of meat hooks, the kind you hang half a slab of meat on. They were almost 2 feet long with a hook on each end.” He also had marijuana in the car.
Vongroven told Shaw to get out of the car and noticed “he was wearing a set of dangly rubbers. Shoe covers. But it was dry out.” He found that odd.
He went to the med tech’s home. “The backyard was all torn up, all mud. There were a whole bunch of footprints” from the same rubber shoe covers.
Shaw begged him, “Don’t do this.” But then he reached underneath his shirt and handed the officer “these rolled up overshoes.”
The homeowners were replacing their septic system, hence the dirt. “There were about two dozen footprints, footprints leading up to the covered porch. The porch looked like an old farm-style wooden door. A couple chunks of wood had been torn out of that screen door, an attempt to get in, his footprints led up to it and also led up to the lady’s bathroom window.”
There were indentations on the wood by the window.
“It turned out the meat hooks were used for him to get out there, to hike himself up so he could look down the Venetian blinds into the bathroom,” believes Vongroven. “To me, he was wearing the rubbers because, if it was going to be another bloodbath, he had his good shoes on.”
Vongroven arrested Shaw. He learned the med tech who was being prowled had heard noises when she was changing in the bathroom. She looked out her bedroom window and “Shaw came around the corner, ripped the gutter spout, and they came face-to-face. He was looking in and probably at a distance of two to three feet tops.”
The woman crouched down in her darkened bedroom and managed to call 911.
Vongroven said Shaw had worked as a truck driver.
When he took him to the station, he realized one of his thumb prints was marred. He recalled Susan’s murderer “left a thumb tip at the scene.”
“From her roof, she (the med tech) could look across I-90 and see where Susan lived. It was less than a mile,” said Vongroven.
Shaw told him he was adopted. “He was a talker and sad his wife had divorced him. He missed having kids bumping under him while he was shaving. I filed that away that he was not too happy with women.” Vongroven said Shaw went around selling coupon books including out-of-state.
Of the parole, Vongroven said, “I’m pissed. I’m sad for the Erickson family and everyone who had to live in some degree of fear and sadness.”
Asked if the fact Shaw is 73 matters, he responded, “How old was Ed Gein when he started making lampshades?”
Vongroven added, “I need to get my yard sign on and start knocking on doors. Mr. Evers needs to go back to whatever he did before. But not education.”