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Twenty years later, Jane Neumann's death remains a mystery

Tomorrow marks the 20th anniversary of Jane Neumann’s death in her Trout Brook Road home. Her husband, Jim, said it was a suicide. Her family believes she was murdered and suspect him of the crime.

The 30-year-old wife and mother of a 2-year-old son was found dead of a shotgun blast to her head in the lower level of their home by her husband just before 6 p.m. on Nov. 22. Jim Neumann, who now lives in Platteville with his wife, Heather (Hess), and their six children, first told police that he came home and found the door of his home forced open and his wife dead.

But St. Croix County Sheriff’s investigators questioned Jim Neumann’s intruder story from the start. Within days of his wife’s death, Neumann told police he had lied to them and that his wife had committed suicide. He said he told the lie to protect his wife and spare her family. He said he came home and found that Jane had placed the barrel of a shotgun through a hole she made in a wall and rigged the trigger with fishing line to kill herself.

Jim Neumann said he burned her suicide note, then got rid of the shotgun she used by wrapping it in a plastic bag weighed down with boxes of bolts, driving to the I-94 bridge, walking out onto it and throwing the gun into the St. Croix River. He then returned home and called 911.

Authorities accepted Neumann’s revised version of what happened and the Ramsey County medical examiner confirmed that Jane died of suicide.

But her mother, author and publisher Pat Johnston McDonald, never believed her daughter took her own life and suspected Jim Neumann was somehow involved. She said nothing in Jane’s behavior or demeanor on the day she died or in the weeks and months before her death would support that her daughter was depressed, let alone suicidal. On the day of her death, Jane called her mother to discuss dinner plans for Thanksgiving and stopped on her way home from work that day to exchange a purse at T.J. Maxx.

Enter Hudson attorney Mark Gherty. Jane Neumann’s parents hired him to sue their former son-in-law for the wrongful death of his wife. The June 1997 civil trial included testimony into the details of the couple’s marriage, his involvement with other women and bizarre stories Jim Neumann told associates in the days following Jane’s death that included his suspicions that the government was responsible for her death in an effort to silence him.

Investigators and the medical examiner held to their belief that the death was a suicide. But jurors didn’t agree and found that Jim Neumann was responsible for his wife’s death. In statements after the verdict, jurors pointed to the fact that no marks were found on Jane’s hand where she allegedly had wrapped the fishing line to pull the trigger, and her husband’s lack of credibility.

Jim Neumann appealed the verdict but it was upheld and close to a half million dollars was awarded to their son Jonathan to be held in trust until he was 18.

Shortly after the verdict, the cause of Jane’s death was changed from suicide to homicide and her family expected that James would be arrested and criminally charged. But that never happened.

St. Croix County District Attorney Eric Johnson maintained at the time and does to this day that the circumstantial evidence in the case is not sufficient to bring criminal charges against Jim Neumann.

The investigation was referred by Johnson’s office to the Wisconsin Department of Justice for review and they agreed with the district attorney that there is not enough evidence to file criminal charges.

Gherty disagrees and points to reviews that have been conducted by several groups of cold case specialists who say the case should be prosecuted.

In a Star-Observer story on the tenth anniversary of Jane’s death, Gherty said, “I firmly believed that when 12 people reached a unanimous finding that they would take action. And for the next year they kept assuring us they would prosecute, that something would be done, but here we are 10 years after Jane’s death and Jim Neumann has never been charged.”

The same is true 20 years later. The investigation into Jane Neumann’s death remains open.

Meg Heaton

Meg Heaton has been a reporter with the Hudson Star Observer since 1990. She has a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and Native American Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

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