February 21, 2011

11/01/09: Russell Plummer, 20, Bloomer, WI

Russell Plummer
On November 1, 2009, 20-year old Russell J. Plummer, a private in the National Guard, disappeared after leaving the Mornings Corner Tavern, east of Bloomer, Wisconsin.

His mother, Penny Hetke, said her son said hello to a friend, took $20 out of the ATM, bought either a beer or a soda, and left the bar. It was the last time he was seen.

His family reported him missing on November 8 after he did not report for weekend training with the Guard.

Plummer's Honda Civic
Photo credit: WQOW.com
A search party located Plummer's yellow Honda Civic parked deep in the Chippewa County Forest, north of Bob Lake. The car was found on a path off a dirt trail where he often drove. The ignition was on, and the battery was dead.

Plummer's body was found by Chippewa County Sheriff's deputies near a pile of brush, 30-40 yards down the hill from his car in the Hay Meadow Flowage area of the forest. He had on a coat, but his pants were unzipped and around his thighs. There were no outward signs of traumatic injury or a struggle.

The body was taken to the Ramsey County Medical Examiner's Office where it was autopsied by Dr. Michael McGee. McGee noted that Plummer had non-life threatening contusions and abrasions to the face, arms, legs and back, but no traumatic injuries. He ruled that Plummer's death was caused by hypothermia due to exposure--his death was an accident.

Jay North, Russell's father, said that the Sheriff's Department told him that his son's injuries were consistent with having fallen down the hill.

But for Plummer's family and friends, the investigation and subsequent ruling left them with more questions than answers.

Plummer was a tough outdoorsman who loved to hunt and fish and who knew those woods "like the back of his hand." He had also been through training with the National Guard and was scheduled to go to Afghanistan.

They questioned how Plummer could have died from exposure, just feet from the car containing his cell phone and a bag full of warm clothes.

Plummer's toxicology results had been negative for drugs and alcohol.

The family also received some conflicting information.

Since Russell was in the National Guard, the U.S. Army does a companion investigation. The Chippewa County Sheriff's department provides the Criminal Investigation Command at Ft. McCoy with information, and asks questions surrounding the case.

In one set of documents it was reported that, "the location and position of the body were inconsistent with a fall down the hill." In other reports, it shows Russell's injuries were "consistent with a tumbling fall or slide."

North says, "(The Chippewa County Sheriff's Department) told us all the injuries were consistent with him taking a tumble down that hill."

An investigator with Chippewa County reported to the Ft. McCoy office that there were too many trees on the hill that would've stopped Russell's body from reaching the bottom of the hill.

- WQOW.com, 11/16/10.

In late November 2010, a two-part investigation by Fox 9 News Twin Cities aired, questioning the way some death investigations had been handled by the Ramsey County Medical Examiners Office. After seeing that report, the Plummer family contacted Fox 9 investigators. They wondered whether Russell's death had been reviewed as carefully as it could have been.

The family also hired Dr. Gordon Giesbrecht, a hypothermia expert from Canada. Giesbrecht told Fox 9 that, "something killed him immediately and he cooled thereafter, or something inhibited him and he cooled until he died."

The Fox 9 investigation noted that tissue samples of Plummer's heart and brain were never tested to look for medical conditions that might have caused him to die suddenly.

And tests for "date rape" drugs like chloroform, GHB, and Rohypnol--which might knock a person out--were never done, even though Plummer had last been seen at a bar and his pants were partially down. Routine specimens were collected as part of a sexual assault examination, but those tests were not tested to determine if another person's DNA was present.

Fox 9 asked two other forensic pathologists to review the records from Plummer's autopsy--both said they would not have come to the conclusion that Plummer's death was hypothermia until all other facts had been ruled out.

You can watch the Fox 9 video here.

About Russell Plummer
BLOOMER - Russell J. Plummer, age 20, passed away Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2009, in the Chippewa County Forest in Wisconsin.

He was born March 24, 1989, in Rice Lake to Penny Plummer and Jay North. He attended St. Paul Lutheran School and Bloomer High School. He was a member of the Wisconsin Army National Guard, and a recent graduate of Army Specialty Training in artillery weapons repair. He was also the honor graduate for his class at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland. He enjoyed being in the Army, hunting, fishing, being outdoors, working on and riding motorcycles, cars and snowmobiles, spending time with his family and friends.

He is survived by mother, Penny (Vinnie) Hetke, of Cornell; father, Jay (Rochelle) North, of New Auburn; maternal grandparents, Russell (Clancy) Plummer of Weyerhaeuser and Ruth Hetke of Bloomer; paternal grandparents, Jeanette (Kenneth) Bell of Cameron and Elmer (Eileen) Dahlberg of Barron; brothers, Vinny Hetke III of Cornell, Chad (Katie) Manor of Monroe, Casey Manor of New Auburn and Nathan Peterson of New Auburn; sisters, Dustine (Eric) Gass of New Auburn, Sachel Hetke of Cornell and Kaysa North of New Auburn; numerous nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles and cousins; and friends.

He was preceded in death by his paternal grandfathers, Vinton Hetke Sr. and Allen "Whiskers" North; and best friend, Chip Rands.

Funeral services will be at 11 a.m. Monday, Nov. 16, 2009, at Seventh Day Baptist Church in New Auburn, with the Rev. Wayne North officiating. Interment will be in the New Auburn Cemetery with full military rites.

Friends may call from 4 to 8 p.m. Sunday at Olson Funeral Home in Bloomer, and one hour prior to services on Monday at the church.

Online condolences may be expressed at olsonfuneralhomebloomer.com.

- Eau Claire Leader-Telegram obituary, 11/13/09.

Facts of Interest
Last Seen:  11/1/09, Mornings Corner Tavern, 18982 State Highway 124 # 64, Bloomer, WI
Recovered: 11/10/09, Chippewa County Forest, Chippewa County, WI
Physical Description: 5'5", 145 pounds, slim build, brown eyes and brown hair in a crew cut
Investigating Agency: Chippewa County sheriff's office, (715) 726-7701.


Shane said...

My question is...why were his pants down if this was over the $20,000? Did someone lure him into the woods under the pretense of having sex only to kill him over the money? (Did he even have the money yet?) For some reason that doesn't sound right to me. I'd understand the money theory if his pants were not down. (And I'm not buying him pulling his own pants down because of the cold because pf the way his body was found it appeared he died where he fill.) I don't think this is related to the other deaths but I do believe he was killed. Perhaps he picked up the wrong person (male or female) and they killed him when his pants were down. Something seems odd about this death but I just don't think it's what everyone is thinking. The idea of the money related to the death appears misleading. I do hope this murder is solved but I just think they are looking in the wrong direction.

BoyintheMachine said...

Lisa & Shane,

In cases of hypothermia it is very common to find the body in a state of undress. The victims undress themselves as close to death a victim of hypothermia will actually feel extreme heat and will remove their clothing and even enter bodies of water in an attempt to cool off. Also, people experiencing hypothermia have difficulties thinking logically, so it's possible this poor young man may have left his car after engine problems and wandered away and got lost. He may have been trying to go back to the car when he succumbed to hypothermia. This is a really sad case.

Also Shane, the police aren't new to the knowledge that hypothermia victims remove their clothing. It's very common for the police to first suspect a sexual assualt until they learn the cause of death was hypothermia.

BoyintheMachine said...

Shane, It was $20.00, not $20.000.00.

And a general comment...

"Something killed him immediately and he cooled thereafter, or something inhibited him and he cooled until he died."
- Dr. Gordon Giesbrecht

I'm not a doctor, but what killed him "immediately" was probably heart failure brought on by hypothermia, which is what actually kills people in hypothermia cases. Heart failure is a very quick and relatively painless death. At least the poor young man didn't suffer.

Heart Failure & Hypothermia

Also, with regard to the scratches and abrasions on his body, such may be the result of a fall or may simply be the result of a person suffering from the confusion and decreased ability for logical thoght stumbling throught the woods. As his core temperature dropped he would become more and more disoriented and confused.

What I would like to know is why he didn't call for help. The description of the scene seems to indicate car problems and him possibly leaving the vehicle.

Shane said...

Lisa I totally understand the hypothermia aspect but I still think it's more then that. I wish we could have better pictures to show his arm/body placement. When a body falls or is rolled down a hill a persons arms/body tend to fall a certain way once the body has stopped rolling. It would be good to know if it appeared that he did actually attempt to take his own pants down or not.

It is my opinion that if the family and friends suspect murder than there is a reason for that. My partner was murdered 4 years ago and I knew in my bones that he was murdered. The police attempted to pass it off accident but I knew as well as our families and friends knew that his death was not accident and we were correct. I totally understand where Russell's family is coming from and if they believe he was murdered...then that is what should be investigated.

It could very well be him falling and taking his own pants down and dying of hypothermia and exposer but until everything else is ruled it out should be investigated. The coroner is sloppy with his work and a lot probably has been missed. Hopefully with some of the remaining tissue samples there will some answers one way or another.

Shane said...

I didn't get why he didn't call either. The phone and keys were still in the car. Any Guardsman would know to be prepared and have a phone there with him. That doesn't make much sense. And according to the Fox9 news report it was indeed $20,000. As for the heart information...I work in cardiology and know a lot about the heart. He could have had some issues but most heart issues would have been apparent in the autopsy. But if the coroner was sloppy...maybe not? It's extremely unusual for a 20 year old to die of heart ailments unless it's tied to drugs (excluding hidden heart issues which should have been proven at autopsy) and we know that the drug tests came back negative. I just find this case to be interesting. Hope it gets solved one way or another.

BoyintheMachine said...

@ Shane,

Okay, I didn't see the Fox 9 link so I just watched it.

I think that he took out $20 before he died but the $20,000.00 was money that he would soon be getting, or perhaps recently recieved?

From the picture they showed of his pants down on his thighs I think such may have occured if he fell. It also may have been done if someone was attempting to go through his pockets, as if searching for something, but I don't know about that. Just from looking at that picture I would not suspect sexual assault, however.

As to the dna tests, I think they should have been done if not to at least ease the minds of the family/friends.

The cell phone thing is troubling.

There's something about this case....like that feeling you get where somethings on the tip of your tongue but you just can't quite remember it. I'll ponder it some more and then whatever it is that I'm thinking of should normally hit me later on, and usueally when I'm day-dreaming or let my mind wander. I'll post it here when/if it hits me.

Lisa said...

Hi Shane and BITM,

I think what I take away from the Fox 9 report is that additional tests could shed more light on why he was found at the bottom of the hill.

According to Fox 9, tests of the heart and brain were not done, and those would show whether he died of a medical condition.

No signs of a traumatic injury were found. I wonder though, would getting knocked out show up in an autopsy??

Assuming he did not succumb to a medical condition or an injury at the bottom of the hill, then I have a hard time explaining why he could not climb back up.

It is possible that he was outside for some time and any drugs/alcohol metabolized. However, impairment doesn't seem likely, as he able to drive deep into the woods along an unpaved path without driving off the road.

Paradoxical undress is quite common in hypothermia cases, as is confusion. The low temp around the time he was missing hovered around the mid- to upper twenties, cold enough for hypothermia to set in. It is possible that he was out in the woods for some time and became hypothermic, but the car stumps me.

A dead battery/the ignition in the "on" position could indicate that he 1) left the ignition "on" after trying to re-start the dead car, then gave up and left the car, or 2) he left a fully functioning vehicle and left the lights or radio on.

Chances are, if his car broke down and he couldn't re-start it (#1), he'd call for help. And if his phone was dead, he would not wander too far from his belongings. If he sat inside the dead car for any length of time, he probably put on extra clothes. And if he planned to go for help, he'd probably lock up his car and put on extra clothes.

If the battery was drained from the lights/radio (#2), this might indicate that he left the car with the intention of coming back to it shortly. But for what purpose?

There seem to be a lot of unanswered questions in this case, and I can see why the family is frustrated.

I think additional tests could help eliminate some of the "what ifs."

director said...

I realize this is only an assumption, but, if indeed he was suffering from hypothermia..... Ok, let's say you were hypothermic, and you felt 'hot'. Even if you were near-delusional, your basic instincts would take over. Now, would your first instinct be to: A. Take off your shirt, or B. Unzip your pants and pull them down to your knees.
That's what's troubling me.

Lisa said...

Seems like a valid point that even a hypothermic person would undress in their usual way/order. Can anyone comment on this?

From the Fox 9 video, it appeared that he was still wearing a jacket, which was fully unzipped, and hiking boots. Seems odd that if he felt hot, he would unzip his jacket but leave it on, and then try to remove his jeans over his boots.

This story leaves so much open to speculation, that it is impossible not to wonder what might have happened. I sincerely hope with all my heart that his family will find some answers.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like maybe he got out of his running car to go pee? Which would explain why his pants were down, and feel to his ankles and he fell/was pushed down the hill??

Lisa said...


I'm kind of thinking that too. But what caused him to fall down the hill? This is where I'm stuck...his toxicology test was negative. I suppose he could have fallen down the hill, got knocked out, and then died of exposure. Only trouble is, there is no mention of a head injury. It seems like something is missing here.

Lisa said...

@ Shane,

Thank you for your additional insight into the arm/body placement, cardiology, etc. I too wish there was more information available.

I am so sorry for the loss of your partner and for what you endured. My heart goes out to you, and I hope you have found some semblance of peace. I firmly believe that people do have a gut instinct about these things...you just know when something doesn't seem right! If the Plummer family feels that Russell was murdered or that this hasn't been investigated properly, then the case should be looked at again.

Justice for Russell said...

I am Russell's Aunt and I can assure you all that every effort we hav made to get our questions answered or our concerns addressed have been met with nothing but resistance. The Chippewa County Sheriffs Department (CCSD) has washed their hands of this case believing that we (as family & friends) are crazy for wanting more information. Russell was an avid outdoorsmen and knew this forest like the back of his hand. We have ran into nothing but roadblocks in trying to figure out what truly happened to Russell and to ultimately obtain Justice for Russell. I appreciate all of your thoughts and prayers ... nothing in this case is concrete, the Police Reports and Autopsy only create more questions and do not answer anything other than to tell us that a poor job was done all the way around.

Lisa said...

I am so very sorry for your loss and the pain you have endured. I first heard Russell's story on the news when the questions about Dr. McGee were raised. Previous reports by Fox 9 have also highlighted similar misgivings about that office. And sadly, the majority of the families of the young men on this site have had uphill battles with law enforcement. It was, and is, very disconcerting. I pray that you find answers!

Footprints at the River's Edge