(AP) — The man suspected of kidnapping a Wisconsin teenager and killing her parents with a shotgun nearly three months ago appears to have led an unremarkable existence until that fateful night, blending into the state’s vast northwestern forests.
Jake Thomas Patterson grew up in Gordon, a sprawling township of 645 people tucked into the snowy evergreen forests about 35 miles (55 kilometers) south of Lake Superior. It’s wild country; roadside signs admonish motorists to share the pavement with ATVs.
The few neighbors who know Patterson’s family say he grew up in a cabin in a remote development that’s a mix of seasonal and year-round homes about 10 miles (16 kilometers) outside Gordon proper. Patterson’s high school teachers barely remember the now 21-year-old man who graduated only three years ago, and say they didn’t realize he still lived in the area.
Jayme Closs, 13, has told authorities since her escape on Thursday that she was held captive at that same remote woodland cabin after her abduction in October from her family home in Barron.
Authorities believe Patterson went to the Closs home intending to kidnap Jayme. But they haven’t been able to find any connection between him and the Closs family. The girl’s grandfather, Robert Naiberg, insisted Saturday that none of them know him, raising questions about how Patterson became aware of Jayme. Investigators say they’ve found no evidence of any online conversations between the two.
Patterson’s parents divorced in 2008, according to online court records. Neighbor Daphne Ronning told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that the parents moved away but that Patterson and his older brother, Erik, continued to stay in the cabin. She said she and her husband once caught them siphoning gas. Another neighbor, Patricia Osborne, told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that the brothers often got into trouble. She said they stole things and spent time in foster care.
The development was sealed off by police Saturday, preventing reporters from knocking on neighbors’ doors. No telephone listing could be found for Ronning, and Osborne declined to comment before hanging up.
Patterson graduated in 2015 from Northwood High School in nearby Minong, a single building that houses pre-kindergarten through 12th grade. He was a member of the school’s quiz bowl team, competing against other schools in tests of knowledge. The Journal Sentinel reported Saturday that he wrote in a school yearbook about his plan to join the U.S. Marine Corps following graduation, but The Associated Press has been unable to confirm if he followed through.
Northwood Superintendent Jean Serum called Patterson a “quiet, good student who had wonderful friends and a supportive class,” but said she had no real memories of him. Kristin Kasinskas, one of the neighbors who took Jayme in after her escape last week, told The Associated Press that she was Patterson’s middle school science teacher. She said she didn’t really remember anything about him except that he was quiet.
He worked for a day in 2016 for the Jennie-O turkey plant in Barron before he quit, saying he was moving out of the area, according to Jennie-O President Steve Lykken. It’s unknown what he has done for a living since then. Barron County Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald said he was unemployed when officers arrested him.
The suspect has no apparent online presence. It appears he has been living in the family cabin; property records indicate his father still owned the place in October. But he has kept a low profile. Kasinskas told The Star Tribune that she didn’t even realize he was her neighbor.
Patterson has no criminal history in Wisconsin but his brother has had multiple run-ins with the law, including convictions for marijuana possession, bail jumping and sexual assault, online court records show. Fitzgerald hasn’t said whether Jayme was sexually assaulted but said Saturday that investigators believe Jake Patterson acted alone.
Despite Erik Patterson’s criminal record, few across the township seem to have heard of his family. James Kuffel, the township’s lone constable, said he knows almost everyone in the area but has never encountered the Pattersons.
One of the businesses closest to the development is J&K’s Halfway House Bar and Grille. Owner Karen Beeler said she’s run the place for 22 years and had never heard of the family before Jake Patterson was arrested.
“I have no clue who they are,” she said.