An angry blast of Wisconsin snow had just settled on the streets of Shawano when we pulled into town. The drive up from Green Bay had taken twice as long as expected giving us time to get a better handle on what had all the makings of a very interesting day, certainly if our previous experiences on this story were any indication.
By the time Producer Michael Rey and I arrived in Shawano we'd already interviewed Bob Cameron, the man who says that he was hired to be a "hit man," and conducted a contentious interview with Alan Eisenberg, the Milwaukee attorney who represents SIST, the secretive group at the center of our investigation.
I can't say I've ever interviewed a Hit Man before, alleged or otherwise. Cameron turned out to be serious and edgy. He was highly concerned about the welfare of his family, which he said had already spent several days in protective custody in the wake of his decision to turn over the alleged hit list of 60 names to authorities. That's because, Cameron said, there were actually 63 names on the list. Shortly after he provided the list to authorities a "pretty big rock" went through the window of his motor sports business in Canada. Nothing made sense until, he said, he turned it over.
"It said 61, 62, and 63. And it had my wife and my boys on it. Names on the rock."
"So they were threatening to kill…your wife and your boys?" I said.
"Yeah," said Cameron. "That's why I'm here."
When I brought up the rock-throwing incident to SIST attorney Eisenberg he batted it away like so many of my inquiries. Saying to his knowledge "that never happened," that he didn't know that Cameron had ever said those words; had no idea what 61, 62, 63 even mean, didn't know what I was talking about, and it was the first time he'd ever heard any of this in his life. That particular line of inquiry ending with Eisenberg saying, "This is the most disreputable interview I've ever had to endure."
I let it pass because at that point he'd already called me "a loss" and "crazy" on his way to "a hack…a charlatan and a fraud." Getting into a war of words with Mr. Eisenberg, while an invaluable exercise, was not the point or purpose of our trip.
So we moved on.
Eventually, so did Michael and I…leading to the snow-covered streets of downtown Shawano, a pretty river city of about 8,300. It wasn't long before we were "greeted" by a couple of guys with ties to SIST, who showed up to tape us taping an interview. So we turned our cameras around and started taping them taping us…sparking a Monty Python-like exchange viewable both in our CBS News piece and, evidently, on YouTube. As WSAW reporter Mikel Lauber and I were exchanging pleasantries with these guys, Carla Kassube, owner of a bar across the street, was taking it all in. So we stopped by to see what she thought was going on between the city and SIST. A 30-plus year resident of Shawano Carla told us she couldn't quite understand why they [SIST] were "kicking up a big stink" with so many town officials.
"We have all kinds of different religious groups and they all seem to blend and mingle just fine," she said in the toasty warmth of her dark, clean bar. "And we never had a problem with having them [SIST] here either till they started in. So it comes down to…do they want to be a part of the community or not?
"They feel like they're being persecuted? Well, none of us can remodel more than 30 percent of our exteriors. They feel, they're getting persecuted – more inspections than the rest of us, and that's not true either."
The truth is I really didn't feel the fear that pervades certain sections of Shawano until I met the Mayor. To say Lorna Marquardt symbolizes Midwestern humility and warmth is putting it mildly. This is the kind of woman who keeps candy in a stand outside her office and a collection of classic Raggedy Ann dolls inside. I didn't have to spend five minutes with her to understand how truly scared she is at being at the top of the so-called Hit List. She showed me the bullet-proof glass on her office door; plus a second escape door, recently installed.
"I mean –you – you just can't imagine to think that there's someone out there that would go as far as to say they would want to – to have you killed. It's just quite incredible," she said during our interview.
"My husband brings me to work every day, drops me off – through the police department entrance. We have weapons in our home now. Our life has changed."
"How seriously are other people on that list that you know taking it?" I asked.
"They're taking it seriously," she answered. "I know of several people on that list who have purchased weapons."
After bidding goodbye to the Mayor I headed over to town hall where a sweetheart of a woman had gone out of her way to copy a stack of SIST property records on very short notice, a happy ending to my snowy day in Shawano.
I have to say I'm going to miss folks up there. Well, most of them.