John Schmutzer is a Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, finance manager who was found stabbed to death on a hiking trail at Devil’s Lake, a scenic destination in central Wisconsin.
The 24-year old worked for a bank in the Milwaukee area. Wauwatosa is a suburb in Milwaukee County. Police have not revealed whether they have a motive pinpointed. They have given a somewhat vague suspect description. The victim’s full name is John Craig Schmutzer, and he was employed in finance in the Milwaukee area.
Before the homicide, Schmutzer visited Hilldale Mall in Madison, Wildcat Mountain State Park in Vernon County and in the LaValle area, said authorities, who indicated they aren’t sure whether the attack was targeted or random.
Devil’s Lake is a popular location for hikers, campers, and other outdoors enthusiasts in Wisconsin. “Situated along the Ice Age National Scenic Trail, Devil’s Lake State Park offers magnificent views from 500-foot quartzite bluffs overlooking a 360-acre lake. Visitors enjoy nearly 30 miles of hiking trails, lakeshore picnic areas, swimming beaches, paddling opportunities, and year-round naturalist programs,” its website says.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. The Cause of Death Was Stabbing & a Witness Saw the Attack
The Sauk County Sheriff’s Department and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources launched a homicide investigation around 11:38 a.m. on October 14, 2020.
According to a statement from the sheriff, the death “occurred on the Grottos trail on the South Side of Devils Lake State Park.” The park is located outside Baraboo, Wisconsin.
The next day, an autopsy was performed at the University of Wisconsin Hospital in Madison, Wisconsin, and the death was confirmed to be a homicide with the cause of death given as “stabbing.”
The Baraboo News Republic reported that “a witness saw a man attacked near the railroad tracks.” The newspaper also reported that “witnesses last saw the suspect walking toward the south shore parking lot,” and an aircraft was used in vain to try to “track” the suspect, with local businesses being shut down.
At that point, authorities identified the victim as John Craig Schmutzer, 24, from Wauwatosa, Wisconsin.
“This is an active, ongoing investigation. Most details of the investigation will be kept confidential until the conclusion of the investigation,” the sheriff wrote in a statement posted to the department’s Facebook page.
There were a number of campers in the area at the time. “I was camping during all of this. Talked to officials. They do have more info on possible descriptions based on interviews. I’m sure they have reasons why they are not sharing. So sad. I hope they find the man,” wrote one person on social media.
2. Schmutzer Worked in Commercial Banking in the Milwaukee Area
Some biographical details of Schmutzer emerged. According to his LinkedIn page, he worked in commercial banking at BMO Harris Bank in Milwaukee, where he was a financial analyst. He had worked for the bank since January 2019.
Before that, he worked for Diversified Industries Group, Jefferies, as an investment banking analyst in the New York City area for six months in 2018. He was also employed there as an investment banking summer analyst.
In 2017, for four months, he worked for Convergence Healthcare Advisors as a mergers and acquisitions summer intern in New York City. He worked for Convergence in 2016 for four months as well, siting “bulge bracket expertise, boutique bank environment.”
Family obituaries indicate that Schmutzer is the son of Craig Schmutzer, a banking executive in the Milwaukee area who has served on local boards of directors. Schmutzer’s family is involved in the community. The Wauwatosa Rotary Club indicated that the parents had just celebrated their 31st wedding anniversary in August.
A person wrote on social media: “I knew John as a kid.. We were classmates for 8 years. He was a good kid. His mother was also a librarian at our school, and was always so nice. I just can’t wrap my mind around this. I am so so sorry. My deepest condolences to his family…”
3. Police Released a Suspect Description & Said the Initial Call Was for a ‘Disturbance’
The call came in around 11:38 a.m. on October 14 as a “report of a disturbance, possible attempted homicide on the Grottos trail on the south side of Devil Lake State Park,” the Sheriff’s Department wrote.
“Upon arrival of first responders, a 24 year old male was found deceased on the trail, obviously from homicidal violence. The scene was secured and the Sauk County Sheriff’s Office and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources began a joint investigation into the incident,” police said in their initial statement.
They indicated that there were “multiple witnesses” interviewed and the Wisconsin State Crime Lab mobile crime scene unit was at the scene.
“The suspect is described as a male, between 5’10” and 6’00”, was wearing a dark colored head covering and a dark colored face covering. He left the scene walking west on the grottos trail toward the south shore parking lot at Devils lake. The suspect is still at large,” wrote the Sheriff’s Department.
They said that Devils Lake State Park has re-opened to visitors.
“Investigators ask that if you were on the south side of Devils Lake State Park near the south shore parking area, grottos trail or railroad tracks between roughly 11:00 am and 12:15 pm on October 14th, and either witnessed this incident or observed something suspicious that you believe is related to this incident, to call Sauk County Crime Stoppers at 1888-TIP-SAUK (847-7285) and provide that information,” said the department.
“Investigators observed and are aware that people were in the area taking photos of the changing landscape colors, and ask citizens to call Crime Stoppers if they have photos taken in that area during that time that may have inadvertently captured a photo of a suspect matching that description.”
The Devil’s Lake website does say: “A vehicle admission sticker is required to visit state park system properties. A state trail pass is required on certain trails. Annual stickers and passes can be purchased online or over the phone. Daily stickers and passes can be purchased at individual properties via self-registration stations, electronic kiosk or drive-up window service.”
4. Schmutzer Studied Finance at the University of Wisconsin
According to his LinkedIn page, Schmutzer had a bachelor of Business Administration degree at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he studied finance and graduated in 2018.
He was in the investment banking club.
People offered prayers on social media. “I’m sorry you visited my hometown and this is what happen. I’m so disappointed in this world and this is so sad. My prayers to his family and I hope they find the person who did this to him. Wth is wrong with people today?” wrote one woman on the Sauk County Sheriff’s Department’s Facebook page.
5. Schmutzer Was Highly Regarded by His Employer
Dave Anderson, Managing Director at BMO Harris Bank, Schmutzer’s employer, spoke highly of him to TMJ4 News.
“John Schmutzer was a highly respected and very popular member of our team at BMO, and we are deeply saddened by the news of his passing. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family during this difficult time,” said Anderson to the television station.