On Sunday, October 14, 2018, Jayme Closs attended a cousin’s birthday party with her mother, Denise Closs. The blonde, 13-year-old teenager’s father, James Closs, was not in attendance at the party; he was working a shift at the Jennie-O Turkey Store in Barron, WI where both he and his wife Denise worked. The details of the Closs family’s movements after the party, and after James left work, are either unknown or have not yet been released by investigators. All we know is that at some point in the afternoon or evening of that Sunday, all 3 members of the family returned to their home at 1271 US-8 Barron, Wisconsin.
The Closs family lived in a rural area and their house (street view) was set back from the road, partially hidden from view by some trees and vegetation. They had neighbors, the Smrekars, who lived just a few minutes walk from the Closs home. Joan Smrekar and her husband were lying in bed, both still awake, at 12:31 AM on Monday, October 15, 2018 when they heard a gunshot. A moment later they heard a second, louder gunshot. The couple figured someone in the area must be hunting, I can’t stress enough how rural this area was, and went to sleep.
At 12:53 AM, that same morning, the Barron County Sheriff’s Department received a 911 call from Denise Closs’ cell phone. Investigators have stated that the call came from inside the Closs residence, however the dispatcher did not make direct contact with anyone on the other end of the call. All the dispatcher could hear on the other end was yelling, background noise, and someone possibly saying “help”. The call was disconnected in under a minute. Officers were dispatched to the scene and arrived at the home at 1:00 AM.
Not many details of what officers found when they arrived at the Closs residence have been released to the public. The scene was described to the media as “violent”. Jayme was gone. James Closs was found deceased by the front door of the home, which appeared to have been kicked in. Denise was found deceased in the home. Jayme’s dog Molly was found at the scene, alive. No firearms were recovered from the scene. Investigators are certain Jayme was home at the time of the murders of her parents, but have not said what evidence led them to that conclusion.
Both the FBI and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children became involved with the case very early on. Within 24-hours, drones, infrared cameras and search dogs had all been brought on the scene to aid in the search for Jayme. Nothing was found. An Amber Alert for Jayme was issued that same afternoon. On Thursday, October 18, 2018, a civilian search was conducted along Highway 8 between Barron, WI and Turtle Lake, WI, about 3 miles from the Closs home. Nothing was found. On Monday, October 22, 2018, Barron County Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald stated during a press conference that investigators were searching for a Dodge Challenger and a black Ford Edge or black Acura MDX that may have been seen near the Closs’ home on the night of the murders and abduction. As of this writing, no vehicles matching these descriptions have been brought forward. On November 1, 2018, the Barron County Sheriff’s office announced that they were scaling back the search for Jayme as tips have dwindled from a high of 300 tips per day to 20-30 a day. No suspects or persons of interest have been named in connection with the murders or abduction at the time of this writing.
Investigators have been sparing in releasing details to the public in this case. Considering the early involvement of the FBI, this is not surprising. Investigators no doubt want to build a strong case and holding back as much information as possible, information not directly related to finding Jayme, will aid in that.
Two more notes of “fact” before I turn to speculation:
- Less than 24-hours after the discovery of the crime scene at the Closs residence, the Miami Police Department tweeted information about a “tip” of a possible sighting of Jayme at a Miami, FL gas station. Police in Miami tweeted this information before reaching out to the Barron County Sheriff’s Department, who deemed the information “not credible” shortly after its release.
- Two weeks after the murders were committed, 32-year-old Kyle Jaenke-Annis was caught breaking into the Closs home. He had managed to shove several articles of Jayme’s clothing, including a pair of her underwear, into his pockets before police grabbed him. He’d been seen on motion-activated cameras that were installed on the property following the crime. Though Kyle worked at the same Jennie-O Turkey Store as James and Denise, he claims not to have known the couple and he was quickly cleared of involvement in the murder-abduction.
With such a limited amount of evidence being released to the public, its difficult to create a solid working theory of what happened in the Closs house the night of the crimes. Despite this, I’m going to offer a theory of what I think could have happened that night.
I think it is very likely this crime was committed by a single offender, male and a stranger to the family, whose intention was to abduct Jayme. The abduction was probably sexually motivated, as most cases of child abduction by a stranger are. I don’t think the perpetrator was a member of the community, but he may have been familiar with the area. Perhaps he had passed through Barron before or had family nearby at some point. Maybe he camped or hiked at the Loon Lake Wildlife Area, which is less than a 30-minute drive from the Closs residence. A search was held after Jayme’s abduction, running from the Closs home on US Highway 8 to Turtle Lake, which appears at the bottom of the Loon Lake Wildlife Area on a map. Its possible there was evidence that the perp took Jayme in that direction after the abduction, maybe he was camping in the area prior to committing the crime and fled in that direction afterwards to pick up his belongings.
Why do I think the perp was a stranger? Well, because I think its very possible he has committed a crime like this before. This crime was ultimately a success for the perpetrator, he got Jayme. The attack on the Closs family was a brutal, bold event. This suggests “sophistication” or “experience” in committing a crime of this type. I don’t think the night went according to his plan, I’ll get to that, but he managed to murder two people and abduct a 13-year-old without leaving behind much evidence at all. I mentioned above the the search for Jayme has been recently scaled back. Since the murders and abduction, the Barron County Sheriff’s Department has held 3 press conferences during which almost no fresh information outside of the already public evidence was provided; they were just informing the public of where the case stood and what they were doing and asking for help from anyone with information. Investigators are desperate for information and evidence because the perp barely left any behind.
And a crime very similar to this has been committed before, not even a terribly long time ago. In August 2002, the Short family out of Basset, VA were murdered. 50-year-old Michael and 36-year-old Mary, parents of 9-year-old Jennifer, were both found murdered in their home, shot in the head with a 22. caliber weapon which was never recovered. The attacks occurred sometime in the night, and the phone line to the home had been cut. Jennifer was taken. After roughly a month of searching, Jennifer’s body was found in North Carolina. She had also been killed by a gunshot to the head. I’m not saying the same person killed the Closs’ and took Jayme, but it is possible. I’d like to know if the Closs family had a landline, and if it had been cut.
Back to the crime at hand. At some point, the perp spotted Jayme, proceeded to stalk her and made a plan to take her. I think this guy planned a blitz-style attack: kick in the door, murder the parents before they’re fully awake and take Jayme. I don’t think he ever considered quietly breaking in. Jayme was a child, but a 13-year-old, athletic child. It would have been difficult to quietly remove her from the home and he likely thought it would be easier to just kill both parents and take her. But after the door was kicked in, I think something went wrong for the perp. Maybe Jayme’s dog woke up the parents before he could get to them, maybe the parents were still awake. Regardless, something occurred that resulted in the perp’s loss of control over the victims for a period of time. I say this because of the more bizarre elements of the crime scene. The Closs’ neighbors heard 2 gunshots around 12:30 AM. The first shot was loud, but they described the second shot as being even louder. Jayme’s father’s body was found dead by the open front door of the home, perhaps that second shot was louder because the gun went off outside or near the open front door. Was James trying to escape or possibly fighting the perp and trying to give Jayme a chance to escape when this happened? And if we look back at the timeline again, the police dispatcher received the phone call from Denise’s cell phone inside the house at 12:53 AM, which means the perp spent a little over 20-minutes in the house after firing a gun twice and presumably murdering Jayme’s parents. Maybe Jayme was hidden and he was trying to find her, interrupted her while she was trying to make that 911 call. And then he took her.
There’s a lot of questions here that could drastically alter my theory once answered, most importantly:
- When did the perp arrive and how long was he in the house?
- Which parent was killed first?
- Where in the house was Denise’s body found?
- What was the position in which James’ body was found in relation to the front door?
- Is there evidence that the perp left on foot vs. driving away?
Without an arrest, I doubt any answers to these questions will be coming soon. I’m hopeful that the FBI can clean up the audio on that 911 call, they’re currently analyzing it, and release some audio that might help identify the perp. The horror of that night, and the fear Jayme must have experienced is unimaginable to me. If you or someone you know has any information regarding this case, please contact the tip line at 1-855-744-3879 or send tip information via email to firstname.lastname@example.org.