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Saturday, August 30, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 75.0° F  Partly Cloudy
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Getting away with murder?
Police identified suspect, but no charges were ever filed in Amos Mortier case
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Margie Milutinovich, with Gnosis: After nearly three years, she's still demanding answers.
Margie Milutinovich, with Gnosis: After nearly three years, she's still demanding answers.
Credit:Kim Keyes

In the front room of her small east side home, Margie Milutinovich skims computer records she's compiled over the nearly three years of searching for her son, Amos Mortier. "Missing" posters hang on the walls. Notes, timelines and piles of court records are scattered on a desk.

"Should I put on the coffee?" Milutinovich asks a reporter. "Once you get started, it's hard to keep anything straight."

Indeed, trying to figure out what happened to her son in November 2004 has eluded both Milutinovich and the authorities. But this summer, dozens of new clues emerged after a judge unsealed 18 search warrants executed more than two years ago.

"Reading the search warrants has diminished a lot of the hope I had that Amos is still alive," says Mortier's friend Martin Frank. "They suggest something bad happened to Amos. I have a million more questions than I did before."

The documents (see in the related downloads at right) identify a central suspect, Jacob Stadfeld, a 31-year-old Madison resident who works for a pub on Park Street. Stadfeld purportedly owed Mortier $90,000 for marijuana Mortier fronted him to sell. The search warrants show police sought evidence of "kidnapping, false imprisonment [and] homicide" in searches of Stadfeld's home, office, truck and property rented by his mother.

Among the evidence cited to justify these warrants: a verbal argument between Stadfeld and Mortier days before Mortier vanished; Stadfeld's presence near Mortier's home hours after Mortier was last seen; and two phone calls placed by Stadfeld to a gun shop days earlier. Stadfeld has previous convictions for possessing and selling marijuana. Earlier this month, he lost his Madison home after defaulting on his mortgage.

Mortier, 27 at the time of his disappearance on Nov. 8, 2004, was a quiet but friendly man who worked at State Street shops, hung out at the Inferno, shopped at the Willy Street Co-op, and had an interest in organic farming. He took classes at MATC and supplemented his income, it's now clear, by selling large quantities of marijuana.

The Fitchburg police, Dane County Sheriff's and District Attorney's Offices, FBI and U.S. Attorney's Office have all been involved in investigating Mortier's disappearance. Sources also say the case has come before a federal grand jury and been the subject of a rare state "John Doe" probe. No arrests have been made nor charges filed in what authorities have long considered a homicide investigation.

Mortier's mother has all but given up on the authorities, whom she says won't tell her if they're still actively working the case. (Dane County District Attorney Brian Blanchard says detectives continue to "collect evidence" and seek "information or leads." A Fitchburg police official did not return a phone call.)

Milutinovich's skepticism and criticism of authorities has been exacerbated by the released search warrants, which contain scores of errors, including misspelled names, misidentified witnesses, erroneous dates and misstatements of key points.

The warrants also show police have had significant evidence, for more than two years, implicating Stadfeld. Milutinovich is outraged that more has not been done with this. She says Dane County prosecutors had far less evidence against Eugene Zapata for the murder of his wife 30 years ago, and still filed charges against him. (Zapata's trial ended in a mistrial last week due to a hung jury.)

As Milutinovich talks, her son's dog Gnosis, a giant husky, sprawls out in the middle of the room. Mortier doted on the dog, and Milutinovich says Gnosis isn't the same without her son's affection. "I can see the sadness in his eyes," she says. Still, caring for Gnosis keeps a bond with her son.

"It's that damn dog," Dirk Estorf, one of Mortier's friends, tells Isthmus when asked if Mortier could have faked his own disappearance, perhaps after discovering that someone wanted him dead. "I just can't get past him leaving the dog."

It's one of many facts that make it increasingly clear that someone killed Amos Mortier, and has, for nearly three years, gotten away with murder.

As Isthmus reported in July 2005, suspicion focused on a chief suspect - Stadfeld, whom the article did not name - after he allegedly gave police "inconsistent statements," hired a lawyer and stated: "I have a good idea what happened to [Mortier], but I couldn't tell you where a body is." In a document reviewed by Isthmus, a prosecutor overseeing the investigation deemed Stadfeld a "prime suspect" in Mortier's presumed homicide.

The search warrants provide fresh evidence to support that characterization.

They document, for instance, that Stadfeld admitted to police he sold large quantities of marijuana for Mortier that came from Canada via New York.

Brent Delzer, who also admitted selling marijuana for Mortier, told police Stadfeld owed Mortier $90,000 and recalled overhearing a phone argument between Mortier and Stadfeld that phone records indicate occurred on Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2004 - four days before Mortier went missing. Delzer said this was significant because he had never before heard Mortier, a good friend, raise his voice.

Over lunch the previous weekend, Mortier appeared to be in a "desperate state of mind" because Stadfeld owed him a lot of money, according to Destin Lane, who described herself as a "mentor" to Mortier. Lane said Mortier was afraid of Stadfeld because of Stadfeld's physical size. Later in the week, Lane said Mortier told her he might threaten Stadfeld by saying he would go to the police about the missing money. Lane said she warned Mortier not to confront Stadfeld alone.

(Delzer didn't return a phone message seeking comment. Lane, reached on her cell phone, agreed to an interview but subsequently did not answer her phone or return a message.)

On Thursday, Nov. 4, the day after Stadfeld and Mortier argued on the phone, and again on Saturday, Nov. 6, Stadfeld called the Rusk Gun Shop, the court records say. Mortier's cell phone log, reviewed by Isthmus, shows that Stadfeld and Mortier talked on Nov. 6; it was the only cell-phone call Mortier made that day.

On Nov. 8, the day Mortier disappeared, he attended class at MATC in the morning and afterward gave a friend a ride home. At 1:02 p.m., Mortier placed a seven-minute call to his propane company, apparently about a billing issue. After that, his cell phone was never used again.

Inside Mortier's home, friends later found two turntables running, as if Mortier was unexpectedly interrupted while mixing some music; a half-rolled joint sat nearby.

At 3:31 p.m., Stadfeld's cell phone pinged off the cellular tower closest to Mortier's home, about four-tenths of a mile due south, court records say. The next day, Tuesday, Nov. 9, Stadfeld's cell phone again pinged from the tower closest to Mortier's home.

In an interview with police, Stadfeld explained his presence in the area by stating he may have been returning videos to a Blockbuster or "going there just for a drive." Blockbuster told police that Stadfeld neither rented nor returned videos around those dates.

The court records also say Stadfeld made an eerie comment when he "volunteered information [on] what might have happened to Mortier." Stadfeld told police they would find several "dig holes" in fields near Stadfeld's mother's home in Mauston, where he drove Nov. 9, according to phone records. A subsequent search of the land evidently found nothing of note.

On the day after Mortier disappeared, Stadfeld also called a Canadian phone number that police later traced to a DEA drug conspiracy investigation involving the Iron Horsemen Motorcycle Club and the Hell's Angels, who police say grow a strain of marijuana known as "BC Bud." This is the same marijuana Stadfeld and Delzer purportedly admitted selling in Wisconsin.

Stadfeld, through his attorney, says he's innocent. The attorney, Ernesto Chavez, admits the facts as presented by police don't bode well for his client, but suggests the police got it wrong.

"Jacob Stadfeld and Amos Mortier were some of the closest friends," says Chavez. He describes the police investigation as "bungled from day one" and says Stadfeld "was helpful in many respects" to police, but they chose to ignore crucial leads he provided.

The search warrants are now more than two years old, and it's unclear whether the avenues police were then exploring - namely, the theory of Stadfeld as the killer - remain potent lines of current investigation. Chavez says his client last spoke with police in April 2006.

Besides casting suspicion on Stadfeld, the documents suggest another theory: Mortier's supplier had him killed after he couldn't come up with the money he expected to get from the marijuana he fronted Stadfeld.

Supporting this theory is a document sent to the FBI two years ago, along with Mortier's DNA for a missing-persons database, that referenced three unnamed "suspects" with ties outside Wisconsin. Detectives have made several trips out of state to track down leads, and several sources said Mortier got his marijuana from an unknown East Coast drug supplier.

Chavez says Stadfeld volunteered the supplier-as-killer theory in his first interviews with police. "The cops in this case never asked the question. They never pursued this lead," he says incredulously. "Murder is typically based on vengeance. If they had been asking that question - Who stood to reap vengeance on Amos Mortier? - it's not Jacob Stadfeld. If Amos was owed money, who did he owe it to on the other side of the transaction?"

But Milutinovich wants to know why, if Stadfeld is innocent, he never helped in any search for Mortier and has rebuffed her attempts to talk. One such attempt drew a terse letter from Chavez, instructing her to "cease and desist" from contacting his client. "It's completely logical to avoid a family member of someone you did something horrible to," says Milutinovich, who has identified Stadfeld as the likely culprit on her website, www.findamos.com.

While professing his client's innocence, Chavez declines to answer key questions, citing the ongoing criminal investigation: What did Stadfeld and Mortier argue about? Why did Stadfeld twice call a gun shop? Why did he go to Mortier's home after Mortier was last seen but before he was reported missing? What was the Canadian phone call about?

Jacob Stadfeld won't yet provide those answers, and a mother continues to wait for the truth about what happened to her son.

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