This article was last modified on January 22, 2014.

The Short, Broken Life of Frank Brakop

In the fall of 1965, Frank Brakop went on a crime spree. While he was probably not caught for everything, we do know some of what he was involved in: On November 29, Brakop fired a 12-gauge shot at the home of Gordon Keswick, 1002 East Forest Avenue in Neenah. The slug came through a second-story bedroom wall and landed two feet from the bed. Keswick heard nothing, and found the hole the next morning. On December 27, Brakop bombed a relay station on Breezewood Lane in the Town of Neenah.

And the spree continued into the new year. On January 10, 1966, he burglarized Scotty’s Auto Repair on US 45 in Clayton. On January 25, he took part in the armed robbery of the Heigl Market in Appleton, escaping with $175. Brakop was the getaway driver. On February 5, he broke into Tullar School in Neenah and stole $229 in cash, as well as some checks. And finally on February 11, he was involved in three burglaries in Marinette County.

This rampage was finally halted when Brakop was arrested on Saturday, February 12, after police questioned 17-year old Douglas Joseph Inda on a delinquency matter and he told them what he knew about Brakop’s spree. Inda had been involved in the Scotty’s and Tullar break-ins. When questioning Brakop, they were able to pin down a few crimes for sure and had suspicions of several others: multiple break-ins, an armed robbery, an explosion and an attempted forest fire. The incidents ranged from Menasha, to Appleton, to Peshtigo. He told the police he blew up the relay station thinking it was a power station; he wanted to black out the area so he could rob a motel.

Brakop, 18, appeared before Judge James V. Sitter Monday morning, February 14, and asked for a court-appointed attorney. He was charged with two burglaries and bombing a Wisconsin Telephone Company relay station. Brakop was jailed until March 4, when he would have an indigency hearing.

When March 4 rolled around, prosecutors had another charge for Brakop: the Keswick shooting. At the request of his attorney, Allan Caine, Brakop was sent to the Central State Hospital for 60-day observation on Tuesday, March 29.

On July 7, Brakop was sentenced by Judge Sitter to 23 years in the state reformatory at Green Bay for his part in the four-month, three-county crime spree. Sitter noted that Brakop exhibited “mean, vicious, anti-social behavior” and was a menace. “I hope there is a chance for rehabilitation,” he said,” but I feel that society is entitled to protection from your actions.”

In January 1970, Brakop filed papers alerting the courts he would be seeking clemency from Governor Warren P. Knowles before April. Knowles, who considered the request in July, turned him down for a pardon.

By January 1973, Brakop was transferred to Waupun State Prison. Through his attorney, Jeff Snyder, he made several appeals to Judge Sitter. One motion argued that Brakop should have had more freedoms while being questioned by the police, as decided in the case of Miranda v. Arizona in June 1966 (where the “Miranda warning” came from). Sitter denied all motions, saying Brakop’s former attorney had been “unusually competent” and should have raised such an issue the first time around. He further said there could have been no constitutional flaws in the trial, because once Brakop pleaded guilty, there was no trial whatsoever.

Regardless of Sitter’s decision, Brakop was soon paroled and back on the streets. He didn’t stay out of trouble long. On the evening of Saturday, October 27, 1973, Brakop reported to police that he had parked his red 1973 Ford Gran Torino (with yellow racing stripes) in the south alley of College Avenue in Appleton, locked the doors and took the keys with him… and yet the car was stolen. He also said hundreds of dollars of leather goods were inside. As odd as this sounds, though, he may have been telling the truth: between April and December 1973, nine late-model Fords were stolen in Appleton without a trace.

On Sunday morning at 1:30am, March 9, 1975, Brakop and his wife Mary Jean had their home at 1062 Winchester Road raided. Police confiscated 12 ounces of marijuana, 22 diazepam (Valium) tablets, a vial of barbituric acid, and books on drug evaluations and principles of pharmacology. Both of them were charged with possession of a controlled substance, and possession of marijuana with intent to deliver. They were released on $5000 bond each, and a March 18 preliminary hearing was set.

On the early evening of Friday, September 26, 1975, the Brakops were at Davey Jones’ Locker (610 Wet College Avenue), a popular night club, for several hours. At around 7:45pm, Frank left while Mary stayed behind.

At 8:00pm, Brakop was stabbed twice in the chest, his body found in a downtown Appleton alley behind the Bourbon Street tavern (745 West College Avenue) and Valley Business Equipment (110 South Locust Street) by a 17-year old boy, who called police. After Patrolman Leon Edward Stehula attempted CPR, he was rushed to St. Elizabeth Hospital, but declared dead on arrival. Police were not able to locate the murder weapon or any suspects. The boy who witnessed the incident said the assailants were two men with long hair, one in light clothing and the other in dark clothing.

Mary did not learn of Frank’s death until around midnight, when she returned home and found waiting police. When reporters from the Post-Crescent questioned Mrs. Brakop, they were given “unclear and sometimes contradictory responses” to their questions. How forthcoming she was with the police is unknown.

A knife was found in a grassy area near the murder scene on Sunday, but police suspected it was not the murder weapon as it appeared to have been laying there for a long time. Blood samples were taken from the outer wall of Valley Business Equipment in the hopes it might belong to one of the attackers. A friend of Brakop’s told the newspaper “it had to be more than one person” that attacked him, because he knew both karate and judo and would never have lost a one-on-one fight.

By Monday, September 29, police were grasping at straws and two Appleton men were questioned following a shoplifting arrest in Grand Chute simply because one of them had a knife in his pocket. Although neither was a suspect, the knife was sent to the State Lab just to be safe. One of the men was held in jail on a probation violation, but neither was charged with the murder. On October 6, Detective Jerome H. Kavaney admitted to the press that although the murder was still their top priority, they had “nothing that’s any good” for evidence.

Kavaney spoke to the newspaper again in January 1976, calling the case Appleton’s only unsolved homicide and saying two detectives were working on the search. “We’re at a point where nothing seems to be moving,” he said. “We know there are people in town who know who did it but won’t say anything.” District Attorney Kenneth F. Rottier said they were doing the only thing they could. He explained, “We’re questioning and re-questioning people.” Even Mary Brakop thought that the killers would be caught, and felt that Frank might have had connections to organized crime or was an informant for narcotics. (Police denied these allegations.)

To everyone’s surprise, a suspect was rounded up on Friday, May 28, 1976. John Norman Rickey, a 23-year old construction worker from Indian Rock, Florida (but originally from Green Bay) was brought to court in Keene, New Hampshire. He had actually been arrested as early as April 29, but a gag order prevented anyone from releasing the news. Rickey waived his right to an extradition hearing and was sent to Appleton for trial. Papers filed with the court indicated that Rickey was claiming self-defense and said he was the only one in the alley, contrary to what the witness saw.

Although details were murky, it seemed that police were eventually able to trace the killing to Rickey because of a pair of glasses found at the crime scene and an interview the FBI had with one of Rickey’s co-workers at a construction site in Menasha. Police had found one pair of wire-rim glasses with a lens missing and a pair of sunglasses in a brown case stamped with the name of a Tampa, Florida optical firm. The FBI agent had spoken to a man in Kalamazoo, Michigan who had been in Rickey’s mobile home in Grand Chute the day after the killing — his face was puffy and bruised.

Rickey was brought to Appleton on June 1, charged with manslaughter and ordered held on $50,000 bond.

On Monday, June 7, Rickey testified that he was beaten and kicked in a dark alley by Brakop and feared for his life when he stabbed the man. He said he was at the Davey Jones Locker tavern (610 West College Avenue) when he turned a drink upside down on a bar when he complained about how weak it was. He walked out and went behind the Bourbon Street tavern (745 West College Avenue) to have a cigarette. He said Brakop had followed him from the tavern to the alley and was upset. And then the beating occurred for reasons Rickey did not know. Frightened, he called a girlfriend in Menasha who came and picked him up. Also testifying were two detectives who had spent months working on the case. Detective Leo Bosch said Rickey passed a polygraph test, saying he had never met Brakop before and had never been involved in drug deals with him.

After everyone had their say, District Attorney Rottier asked that all charges be dismissed, and Judge R. Thomas Cane accepted the motion. After killing a man, failing to notify the police, and fleeing the state, Rickey was a free man. As for Brakop, perhaps this was a poetic ending for a man whose life was, in the words of Hobbes, “poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”

Also try another article under Historical / Biographical
or another one of the writings of Gavin.

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