A bronze statue will be erected this summer in front of the Waupaca County Law Enforcement Center to memorialize an officer killed 27 years ago.
In the early morning hours of Sunday, July 14, 1985, Iola Police Officer Gerald Mork was found murdered in a cemetery. He had been shot twice in the back of the head.
The son of then-Sheriff William Mork, the 31-year-old Gerald Mork had served with the Iola police force just eight months prior to his murder.
The only other full-time Iola officer at the time was Police Chief Michael Schertz, 38, who would be charged with Mork’s homicide in August.
In December 1985, a jury would acquit Schertz after a two-week trial. The murder remains officially unsolved.
Tom Hansen, who served as Iola’s police chief from 1986 to 2006, was a part-time officer in 1985. He remembers the impact Mork’s murder had on the people of Iola.
“It was very tragic for the community, for the entire county,” Hansen said.
Hansen also worked with Mork as a volunteer firefighter and in Mork’s construction business.
Prior to Mork becoming a full-time officer, he and Hansen worked as carpenters and general laborers, building homes and additions and installing roofs.
“He hired me right after I got out of the service,” Hansen said.
Mork was also Iola’s fire chief and an EMT. He was a member of the Jaycees, the Waupaca County Divers Association and the Waupaca County Fireman’s Association. Mork was active in his church and was married with two children, ages 6 and 2.
“He was outgoing, fun-loving and very family-oriented. He thought the world of his kids,” Hansen said. “He was hard working, honest and caring. I didn’t know anybody that he would not give the shirt of his back to help.”
Hansen served as Iola’s officer-in-charge from the fall of 1985 until he was named police chief in December 1986.
He recalled that Mork’s murder and the subsequent charges against Schertz were a shock to the community.
“It was devastating,” Hansen said. “The whole thing pretty much wiped out the police department. The community lost all faith in law enforcement. It was a challenge to regain that trust after I took over.”
Mork’s murder took place during the Iola Old Car Show. Iola officers and county deputies were working extra and longer shifts to deal with the 85,000 visitors to the area. There had been several fights reported, and people had been partying in the streets throughout the night.
Mork was on duty from 6 p.m. Saturday to 6:30 a.m. Sunday, July 14. At one point, he was called out to settle a dispute at an Iola restaurant after a group of bikers refused to pay their bill.
At approximately 4 a.m. Sunday, Thomas Doerr of Ogdensburg was sitting with some friends on a bench on Iola’s Main Street. Doerr testified that he saw an Iola squad car turn north onto Main Street, then turn west onto State Highway 161 in the direction of Riverside Cemetery. He then saw a second squad car follow the first car on State 161.
A few minutes later, Doerr heard a loud bang that sounded like a large firecracker.
At about 4:30 a.m., Doerr saw an Iola squad car pass by, and he waved at the driver, whom he identified as Schertz.
At approximately 5 a.m., Waupaca County Sheriff’s Sgt. James Kneisler began looking for Mork after he failed to respond to radio messages. About 20 minutes later, as he drove past the cemetery, Kneisler saw a squad car with its headlights on parked on the north end of the driveway.
Kneisler drove into the cemetery. There he discovered Mork lying face down on the ground next to his squad car. The car’s engine was running. A flashlight found next to Mork’s body was on and the officer’s revolver was in his snapped holster.
A spent casing for a .380-caliber round was found under Mork’s head and another by his knees.
Chief Deputy Robert Andraschko of the Waupaca County Sheriff’s Department learned of the murder at approximately 5:30 a.m. He immediately contacted the Wisconsin Department of Justice for help in the investigation.
Within hours of the discovery of the body, a crime scene investigation was under way by members of the Waupaca County Sheriff’s Department and the State Crime Lab.
The victim’s father, Sheriff Mork, was at Pelican Lake on July 14. A sergeant from the Oneida County Sheriff’s Department notified him of the murder. On the drive back to Waupaca, Sheriff Mork decided he should not participate in the investigation because the victim was his son, according to court documents.
Three days later, officers found a spent .380 round buried in the ground where Mork’s body had been discovered. The State Crime Lab determined that the bullet had been manufactured in the 1960s or earlier and was consistent with having been fired from an Italian Beretta, Model 1934, .380 caliber.
Ten days after the murder, investigators executed search warrants at the Iola Police Department and Schertz’s home.
On July 25, 1985, Schertz was charged with misconduct in office and theft of firearms.
During their investigation, Special Agents Louis Tomaselli and Carl Paetzke, with the Wisconsin Department of Justice, learned that Schertz had confiscated two handguns from Russ Hayden, 65, of Iola. The guns were missing from the evidence locker.
Hayden testified that one of the guns was a vintage .380-caliber Beretta handgun that he had brought back from his service in World War II. The weapon had been loaded with ammo purchased in the 1960s.
When questioned about the guns, Schertz said he sold them to a stranger he met at a bar in Appleton. He also told investigators that he destroyed the guns and threw them away. The gun used in Mork’s murder was never found.
On Aug. 2, Thomas Maroney, who was Waupaca County’s district attorney at the time, launched a John Doe probe. Witnesses were called to testify in closed hearings for more than two weeks.
“A John Doe hearing is used to gather facts in a case,” Maroney told the County Post West. “It is an investigative tool where the witnesses testify under oath.”
On Aug. 23, Schertz was in court for a preliminary hearing on the misconduct charge. Shortly after Schertz’s defense attorney, Thomas Schultz, waived the preliminary hearing, Maroney held a press conference and announced that Schertz would be charged with homicide.
Schertz was taken into custody on a $200,000 cash bail. and he would be held at the Shawano County jail until after his trial.
At the preliminary hearing, on Aug. 27-28, Roger Miller, a part-time police officer in the town of St. Lawrence, testified that Schertz was frustrated after several failed attempts to fire Mork. Schertz had recommended another man for the position, but the Iola Village Board had voted to hire Mork.
Miller also said Schertz told him that if Mork was ever found dead, he would probably not work too hard to find who did it.
“If he couldn’t get the board to reprimand (Mork) or discipline or possibly dismiss him, that he might just have to cut his throat,” Miller said in court, recalling a conversation he had with Schertz.
On Dec. 3, 1985, Schertz was tried before a jury in Eau Claire. The trial was moved due to the extensive coverage of the case and because Sheriff Mork’s deputies would have guarded the jury if the trial had been held in Waupaca.
In addition to the testimony reported during the preliminary hearing, the jury also heard several witnesses testify that Schertz said Mork would some day be shot because he was an ineffective officer.
During the trial, Schultz characterized the case against Schertz as based on circumstantial evidence and “lies, misstatements and things taken out of context.”
There was no evidence or witness that directly placed Schertz at the scene of the murder, no fingerprints, no weapon, no witnesses who placed Schertz directly at the scene of the crime.
In his opening arguments, Maroney told the jury, “The sate will prove this case by circumstantial or indirect evidence,” which he said was not unusual for a murder trial.
Four security guards, who had been working the Iola Old Car Show, testified that they spoke with Schertz at approximately 4 a.m. and he left the show grounds a little after 4 a.m. One of the guards, Tom Hansen, also testified that he saw Schertz return to the show grounds around 4:30 a.m.
Schertz and three members of his family testified that Schertz was at home by 4:10 a.m.
In closing arguments on Dec. 12, Maroney told the jury that Schertz killed Mork because he was frustrated with his failure to have Mork fired, He pointed out that Schertz had the means, the motive and the opportunity to kill Mork.
“Common sense will tell you that there will rarely be an eye witness to a murder.” Maroney said.
Schultz described the case against Schertz as “built on misstatements, lies, innuendo and things taken out of context.” After two weeks, 70 witnesses and 220 pieces of evidence, the jury deliberated four hours and 15 minutes. They returned a verdict of not guilty.
“To this day, I am profoundly disappointed with the verdict,” Maroney said. “I would say that the people I knew were also extremely disappointed with the verdict.”
Maroney said the prosecution was allowed to enter all the evidence and testimony it had in its case against Schertz. Only one witness, Mork’s widow, was not allowed to testify.
An independent investigation would lead to Schertz’s dismissal as Iola police chief, but a second jury trial would acquit him of the misconduct and theft of firearms charges.
Schertz would later sue state and county investigators and lose his suit twice.
Maroney, who served as Waupaca County’s district attorney from 1978 to January 1987, describes the case “as the most important in my career as a prosecutor.”
He said he had worked with Gerald Mork on a jury trial several months prior to his death.
“He was the type of officer who treated the people he arrested with respect,” Maroney recalled. “I was impressed with his dedication as a police officer.
Noting that nationwide, 72 police officers were feloniously killed in 2011 and 72 officers were killed while responding to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Maroney said the community should never forget that one of its own officers was killed in the line of duty.
“We should remember the sacrifices that men and women in law enforcement make every day,” Maroney said,
A dedication ceremony for the statue of Mork is planned for Aug. 17 in front of the Waupaca County Law Enforcement Center. More details of the statue and the ceremony will be in future issues of the County Post West.