- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 4, 2007

LA CROSSE, Wis. (AP) — There is no serial killer, investigators insist: no boogeyman lurking in college-area bars, waiting to drown good-looking young men.

Since 1997, eight college-age men have drunk heavily at local taverns, then turned up dead in one of the area’s rivers.

Each death rekindled the killer talk, but FBI profilers and other investigators have all reached the same conclusion: The deaths were accidents.

With no murderous stalker to blame, people will have to take responsibility for what happens when they get drunk, said Paula Knutson, dean of students at the University of Wisconsin at La Crosse.

“The report will help students,” she said. “There was doubt in their mind, which removed a sense of accountability. … This helps say, ‘OK, we’ve got a problem here when it comes to excessive drinking.’ ”

The city of 50,000 lies on the Mississippi River about two hours southeast of Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn. About 15,000 students attend its three colleges — UW-La Crosse, Western Technical College and Viterbo University.

Wisconsin’s love affair with beer and breweries is on full display here: A set of large storage tanks at City Brewery is advertised as the world’s largest six-pack, and thousands attend the annual Oktoberfest.

Every weekend students jam the downtown bars on the border of Riverside Park, where the Black and La Crosse rivers join the Mississippi.

The series of mysterious deaths began in July 1997, when the body of 19-year-old Richard Hlavaty was found in the Mississippi. The rumors became near hysteria in 2004, when the body of UW-La Crosse wrestler Jared Dion, 21, was found in the Mississippi off Riverside Park.

Police were heckled when they held a community meeting to assure the public the drownings were accidents. People accused them of ignoring obvious connections between the deaths — all men, all white, all disappeared downtown.

The rumors erupted again last September, when UW-La Crosse basketball player Luke Homan was found dead in the Mississippi after a night of drinking.

A month and a half later, Minneapolis police classified the drowning there of a University of Minnesota student who had vanished from a downtown bar as a murder.

Tired of the rumors, La Crosse police asked the FBI’s National Center for Analysis of Violent Crime to review their investigations, and on Aug. 21 Police Chief Ed Kondracki announced that the FBI had found no evidence to support the serial-killer theory.

The chief said the report noted that eight other persons who survived falls into water in the area reported no contact with anyone else, and that there had been no reports of suspicious people approaching men in the areas where the victims were last seen.

The FBI also reported that student volunteers who began patrolling the park after Mr. Homan’s death encountered about 40 drunk people along the water, Chief Kondracki said.

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