Evidence Points to Priest

By Margaret Levra
Ironwood Daily Globe [Hudson WI]
March 31, 2005

HUDSON, Wis. -- Authorities who are completing their investigation into the 2002 double-murder case in Hudson told the Daily Globe that substantial evidence points to the guilt of the Rev. Ryan Erickson, the Hurley priest who committed suicide four months ago.

"We do not have a confession, but we do have some statements he (Erickson) made," Trende said. "We're going in the right direction. It appears we are close to wrapping things up. If there are some things different that turn up, it may change the whole scenerio.

"We have to verify information. We can't go to court with this one."

The murder investigation by Hudson Police into the shooting deaths of Dan O'Connell, 39-year-old father of two, and his 22-year-old intern began in February 2002, after the two were found slain at a funeral home operated by O'Connell. There were few developments in the case until detectives traveled to Hurley late last year to question Erickson.

Trende would not comment further on the investigation. He said he had reviewed the work of his detectives and found their work to be "ethical and professional."

He said he and his detectives would be meeting with the city attorney and the St. Croix District Attorney "to determine what to do with this information."

The double-murder case is expected to then be closed, Trende said.

Erickson, 31, was found hanged outside the hallway between the rectory and St. Mary's Catholic Church in Hurley on Dec. 19 by his friends Rick Reams and Tom Burns from Hudson. His death was ruled a suicide.

Final investigation reports will be released after the case is officially closed, Trende added.

When investigators came to Hurley late last year, they also questioned Erickson about an allegation of a crime involving a child or children. Trende said both the murder case and the possible crime against a child or children were being handled at the same time. He would not comment on whether the cases were connected.

Erickson was associate pastor at St. Patrick's Catholic Church in Hudson at the time of the 2002 slayings.

He was interviewed by Hudson investigators just a few days before his death.

Trende said his department reviewed the videotape and transcript from Erickson's first interview.

"It was an initial 'light' interview. Not intense. We never accused him. There certainly were grounds for us to continue our investigation," Trende said.

According to earlier reports, police continued to question Erickson because officers found some inconsistencies in his statements. They said he could not remember exactly where he was during the time of the murders. Also, Erickson knew some important details about the crime scene that were not released to the public, and he lied about how he got the information, they said.

Reports also indicated Erickson drove a four-door, light silver Buick Regal, and someone saw a light-colored, medium-sized four-door vehicle outside the funeral home the day of the killings.

Erickson told St. Mary's Deacon Russ Lundgren he couldn't remember how he learned some crime scene details, which he didn't repeat to the deacon.

"He said, 'Probably, one of the family told me,"' Lundgren said after the priest's death. "And I told him that if it was me, I would start remembering where I heard that."

Reams said he had received a call from Erickson shortly after Hudson police concluded an interview with Erickson in December. He said Erickson sounded nervous, but told Reams it wasn't necessary for his friends to come to Hurley.

Reams said he and Burns decided to drive to Hurley because of that conversation. The three went out to dinner on Saturday night. Erickson was found hanged the next morning.

Erickson left two suicide notes, one to his mother and the other to Reams and Burns. Reams said Erickson "denied involvement in the murders to the end."

Police have some notes Erickson wrote before his death, but they did not contain any admission to the murders, Trende said.

According to a story in the St. Paul (Minn.) Pioneer Press, the Rev. Phillip J. Heslin, chief administrator of the Superior diocese, said he spoke to Erickson by telephone only a couple of days before he died. He said Erickson sounded in good spirits.

In an earlier telephone conversation, Heslin said Erickson flatly denied involvement in the Hudson slayings. Heslin said he called Erickson after the diocese learned Hudson police had traveled to Hurley in November to question Erickson.

"I had nothing to do with that," Heslin recalled Erickson saying. "We called to ask how he was doing. He (Erickson) said, 'I know I didn't do it and God knows I didn't do it.' He was confident. He had a tone of confidence in his voice."

When Erickson was found hanged, he was clothed in the cassock he chose to wear in public, displaying his strong belief in the older, more traditional practice of the Catholic faith. He also recited many portions of the Mass in Latin and urged parishioners to confess their sins often, and to pray for the souls in purgatory.

In what could be possibly a foretelling of problems that might have led to his death, Erickson, when he first arrived in Hurley, talked about the importance of confession.

"It is important to go to confession," he said. "A priest should be the No. 1 person to get to confession himself... We are men and struggle with temptations like everyone else."

The priest left behind $80 in an envelope that had two notes stuck to the outside, Lundgren said.

In one, Erickson apologized to a church secretary for losing his temper with her.

In the other, Lundgren said, the priest asked that the money be used to "have Masses said for my soul to rest."


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