Raasch death ruled accident
PORTAGE COUNTY – The 1984 death of UW-Stevens Point student, Janet M. Raasch of Merrill, has been ruled an accident.
During an Oct. 11, 2022, press conference, Portage County Detective Dustin Kitzman, who had been working on the case for two years, released evidence that was used to determine the ruling in the nearly four-decade-old case.
Raasch, who was 20 at the time, was found lying on her side on Nov. 17, 1984, in a wooded area, southeast of the intersection of Highways 54 and J-South, on the first day of the hunting season about 300 feet from the nearest road.
Raasch was a business major in her third year at UWSP and worked at DeBot Center on campus. She went missing on Oct. 15, but was last seen on a Thursday morning, Oct. 11, 1984, on campus, where she lived at 312 Watson Hall.
After she was reported missing, an acquaintance detailed picking her up while she was hitchhiking on Oct. 11 and dropping her off at the intersection of Highways 54 and JJ in the town of Buena Vista, about two miles west of where her body was found.
University officials at the time said she had made arrangements for someone else to work for her at DeBot so she could go home to Merrill for the weekend. Her family notified the university after she didn’t come home, officials said, and then police were notified.
An autopsy report at that time said Raasch probably died of strangulation, listing that as the most likely cause because “no categorical probable cause of death is shown but strangulation is the most likely cause.” However, decomposition made it impossible to say for sure.
A pathologist was also unable to pinpoint the time of death, saying she could have died any time between the date of her disappearance and a week to 10 days before the body was found. Authorities also believed she was sexually assaulted, but again decomposition made it impossible to verify.
In June 2002, Raasch’s body was exhumed to retrieve information that may help solve her murder. At that time, it was the only open “murder case” for the Portage County Sheriff’s Department.
“Since 1984, new scientific techniques have been discovered that have assisted law enforcement agencies across the nation in solving difficult cases,” a 2002 Sheriff’s release said. “For example, DNA testing did not exist in 1984 when Raasch’s death was initially investigated.”
On Oct. 11, 2022, Kitzman showed evidence that helped him determine the cause of death.
“It has then therefore been concluded with a number of different investigative experts that while sleeping in her sleeping bag, Janet awoke to being fully engulfed. As she attempted to distance herself from the fire, pieces of the bag were deposited near her belongings. And she continued south depositing much of the burning material of her jeans, shirt, and sleeping bag until she reached approximately 17 feet to the south, where additional pockets and coins and keys were deposited. Minimally clothed and severely burned, Janet attempted to go back to Highway 54 where she subsequently collapsed and succumbed to her injuries,” he explained.
Kitzman described that Raasch had made a campsite in which her sleeping bag caught fire, burning about 60 percent of her body.