It’s an annual trip that doesn’t get any easier with each passing year.
Rick and Vicki Jones of rural Weyauwega visit the site where their 12-year-old daughter Cora’s body was found in 1994, five days after she vanished in Waupaca County.
They’ll make the trip again this Labor Day weekend to spend time at a small roadside memorial along Forest Road, about 15 miles northwest of Antigo in Langlade County.
Cora disappeared Sept. 5, 1994, while riding her bicycle near her grandmother’s town of Dayton home. Two hunters discovered Cora’s body in a ditch Sept. 10, 90 miles from her town of Lind home.
Shortly after Chad Mullis and Carl Bostwick found Cora’s body, people begin stopping by the site, according to Mullis’ mother, Gail Behlke, who now owns the property.
“They were going to set up deer stands,” said Behlke, who lives near the site. “It was very upsetting to him.”
David Spanbauer was eventually convicted of Cora’s kidnapping and murder.
Rick and Vicki first visited the site about nine months after their daughter’s murder. A similar – but smaller – memorial is located on Sanders Road in Dayton, where Cora’s bicycle was found shortly after Spanbauer abducted her in the middle of the afternoon.
“The very first time we ever went up there was May of ‘95,” Vicki said. “We waited until spring.”
Former Langlade County Sheriff’s Department detective Ben Baker, who was able to get Spanbauer to confess to the crime as well as two other murders, took the Joneses to the location for the first time.
“I think there was some kind of little marker there because they knew exactly where it was,” Rick said.
At first, the site consisted of a few bouquets of flowers and a small cross. Today, it includes a slightly faded photograph of Cora; a 3-foot-high pink cross with attached butterflies; several flowers; Vicki’s license plate that reads MS U CORA; a small statue of an angel; and signs that read “In Memory of Cora Jones,” “Butterfly Crossing” and “Butterflies Gather Here.”
“We went up there one Labor Day weekend and there was a butterfly that just hung around,” Vicki said. “It was kind of weird, but that’s how it all got started with the butterflies. I remember going up there one year, I don’t know if it was fall or spring, but somebody put a huge pipe with a painted rock on it. It was really nice.”
Eventually, Rick and Vicki installed a small pink bridge that Vicki’s brother, Terry Schwirtz, had built to make it easier to walk through the ditch.
Vicki also brought rocks and plaques with sayings on them.
“I have so many up there that it’s hard to find different ones,” she said.
“Every year, there’s something new,” Rick said.
“I went past there the other day and noticed there was a little wreath that wasn’t there before,” Behlke said. “It was definitely a life-changing experience for my family. It was down the road from my mom and dad’s. It’s never been the same.”
Although the ditch line around the memorial is thick with cover, the memorial itself is mowed.
“Nobody knows who does it, but it gets done,” Behlke said.
Cora’s murder affected the residents around the site, according to Behlke.
“Before this happened, we didn’t lock our doors,” she said. “It’s like any other tragedy. It seems like it just happened yesterday. It’s still pretty fresh.”
The annual trips eventually turned into a family outing for Rick and Vicki.
“Three or four years after Cora was gone, we started camping and a whole bunch of us went up there,” Vicki said. “It’s easier now than it used to be.”
“It isn’t that it goes away, you just learn to live with it,” Rick said.
“It was always a deer crossing,” Behlke said. “Now, we call it Cora’s Crossing.”