Gitchie Manitou 40 years later
Usually, Estherville Rotarians are pouncing out the door when the bell is rung at 1 p.m. – sometimes a little before if they have a business appointment. Not a soul left, though, as the clock ticked past 1:10 at their Thursday, April 3 meeting.
Jim Ladegaard, attorney for David Fryer, one of three brothers sentenced for the mass murder of four young boys Saturday, Nov. 17. 1973, told of the hideous crime that sent Sioux Falls, S.D. and the surrounding area reeling.
Killed were Stewart Baade, 18; Roger Essem, 17; Michael Hadrath, 16 and Stewart’s brother, Danna, 15.
Ladegaard laid out the story from start to finish, and how Sandra Cheskey, the lone survivor of the horrific ordeal, and he came to closure on one of the most horrific crimes in living memory.
It all began Saturday, Nov. 17, 1973 when Jim Fryer was working at an auto dealership in Sioux Falls on work release. He met up with his brothers, Allen and David, both recently released from the South Dakota state penitentiary. They went to a farm where Allen was working near Hartford to hunt pheasants – clearly illegal since all three were felons and could not own a weapon. They decided then to go poach some deer and ended up at Gitchie Manitou State Preserve in extreme northwestern Lyon County.
The three brothers heard someone having a party, and David approached the four boys and Cheskey and saw a pot party. So the Fryers decided to steal their marijuana and went for their shotguns.
Ladegaard then offered his interpretation of what he believed happened from that point on.
Roger and Stewart went to get more firewood, and ran into Jim, “The baddest dude of them all,” according to Ladegaard. Jim shot Roger and Stewart, then the three Fryer brothers came to a rock ledge where the other kids were below. The Fryers called out, saying they were the police. One of the kids said, “What the hell are you doing?” and Jim shot Hadrath. Then Danna Baade and Cheskey fell to the ground and played dead.
The brothers went down the ledge and kicked the kids, and marched Cheskey and the Baade brothers and tried to decide what to do with them, knowing Iowa didn’t have the death penalty. The brothers didn’t know what to do with Cheskey, so Allen took her while the others brothers continued the charade that they were police.
As Allen left with Cheskey, David and Jim decided to kill the others. As Stewart was walking out, wounded, Jim jumped out from their van and shot him, David said later.
Jim and David left in a white van and went to an abandoned acreage belonging to one of Allen’s employers. Then Jim took Sandy in his pickup and raped her and afterward selected Allen to kill Sandy.
Allen asked Sandy to go into an abandoned house, but Sandy refused, so Allen made her promise not to tell what had happened.
When Sandry finally made it home to wake up her older brother, she was still fooled by the Fryers’ guise that they had merely used stun guns on the younger boys. They called to see if the boys had returned – and they hadn’t.
A couple later test driving a car found the bodies at Gitchie Manitou.
Sandra met with a sketch artist who produced photos of the Fryers. Police then went to all the area ammunition dealers and asked who had bought double-ought buckshot. Then they went to the Hartford area and looked at abandoned acreages. A blue pickup drove by, which the officer stopped, with Sandra sitting in the police car. She identified Allen Fryer who was immediately arrested.
Allen gave up his brothers, saying they had done everything.
David and Allen waived extradition but since South Dakota officials were embarrassed that they had let out on work release someone who had committed what would have been a capital murder in that state, they wouldn’t release Jim.
A Lyon County judge then appointed Ladegaard as David Fryer’s attorney, while other attorneys were appointed for Jim and Allen.
The sheriff wouldn’t let Ladegaard into David’s cell to interview him, perhaps wisely considering him extremely dangerous. Allen and Jim escaped from jail, stole a car and made it as far as Wyoming. Meanwhile, David said he would never plead guilty because he had told his mother he didn’t do it and that he didn’t want to disappoint her.
The attorneys decided they would try to get the Fryers to plead to second-degree murder, earning them years rather than life. When Ladegaard told the county attorney David would make a plea to second-degree murder, he learned that David had already told sheriff Craig Vincent he had decided to plead guilty – throwing out any possibility of a plea agreement.
Ladegaard said he had been trying then to think of an argument for second-degree murder for David who had said in his written confession that he got in the van and as they were leaving Jim jumped out and started shooting. But the judge insisted that first-degree murder charges move forward.
David was particularly helpful from that point on – to law-enforcement authorities. As he walked officers through Gitchie Manitou he confessed to a number of old burglaries they had been trying to solve, helping them sew up 10-15 cases.
Ladegaard later thought he could argue that David had no intent to commit the murders, and when he learned that the state hadn’t turned over all of Sandra’s documents, he took it to the South Dakota Supreme Court which ordered that all her statements be turned over.
Allen was tried and found guilty in Lyon County while Jim had a change of venue and had his case tried in Dickinson County. David asked for another appeal, saying Stewart Baade’s name had been placed in a hat with those of the others boys, and that Stewart’s name had been picked out for him to be shot. Ladegaard said that never happened.
This last summer, 40 years since the grisly murders, Ladegaard and his wife went to Gitchie Manitou. He later asked a reporter at the Sioux Falls Argus Leader to put him in contact with Sandra, and suggested they meet at the home of former sheriff Vincent, now 91.
When Sandra asked why he thought she wasn’t shot, Ladegaard said it was probably because Allen had a stepdaughter her age.
All three – Allen, 70; David, 65; and Jim, 61 – are serving life sentences.
Sandra’s life wasn’t a lot better, jostled between foster homes after her stepfather abandoned her.
Now, she’s a mother and grandmother, and left with those horrible memories of 40 years ago.