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'We will not give up:' One year after Devil's Lake murder, still no arrest

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Sauk Co. Sheriff Chip Meister

BARABOO, Wis. — It has been one year since 24-year-old John Schmutzer was stabbed to death in an apparent random attack at Devil’s Lake State Park, and authorities are still working to figure out who killed him.

Officials from the Sauk County Sheriff’s Office gathered Thursday afternoon to mark the anniversary and provide an update on the investigation, saying no arrests have been made yet.

“Unfortunately, we have not accomplished that mission. But we will not give up, either,” Sauk Co. Sheriff Chip Meister said.

“I would love nothing more than to be standing here announcing an arrest, unfortunately, I cannot,” lead investigator Lt. Christopher Zunker of the Sauk County Sheriff’s Department said during Thursday’s press conference.

Eight DNA samples have been collected from potential persons of interest, Zunker said Thursday. Some of those people have been ruled out, while others remain under analysis.

As part of the investigation, more than 150 tips and leads have been received and fully investigated, hundreds of interviews have been conducted, more than 30 pieces of evidence have been sent to the state crime lab, with some items still being analyzed. Additionally, about 30 search warrants, subpoenas and court orders have been issued related to the case in the last year. Lt. Zunker says the results of those are still being analyzed.

“I cannot recall a day in the last year that this case was not discussed,” Lt. Zunker said.

Speaking to us in May, Lt. Zunker felt they were closer than ever to finding a suspect.

“The more information we can get from the public, the better this investigation goes,” Lt. Zunker said at the time. “I still am convinced that there is someone or some people that know or strongly suspect who is responsible for this homicide. Those people need to call us.”

Zunker says more than a dozen witnesses have all reported seeing the same man, who they have since dubbed “The Runner,” in the area at the time of the murder.

The man was wearing dark clothes, possibly a hoodie or a hat, with a mask and ripped black pants and was last seen approaching the north shore of Devil’s Lake on the East Bluff Trail — where Schmutzer was later found. Witnesses also reported the man running frantically and falling down multiple times.

Investigators believe Schmutzer, a UW-Madison graduate and Wauwatosa native, was attacked randomly and was blindsided as he hiked alone.

“There’s no way to believe that this is a premeditated or targeted towards John,” Lt. Zunker said in May.

Anyone with information is asked to call the Sauk County Crimestoppers at 1 (888) Tip-Sauk (1-888-847-7285) or text “tipsauk” and your message to 274637 (CRIMES).

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