Fremont Mayor Jim Ellis stepped in it earlier this month with this response to an inqury from the Sandusky Register:
"No one at the city is going to answer your questions regarding this matter," Ellis wrote. "It is an old case, and so the prudent thing is to promptly provide you with the documentary record and have you refer to it."
That "documentary record" is a 100-page report of the investigation by the Fremont police into the death of Lee Naus 15 years ago. At best, it is incomplete and portions of it have been removed; at worst, it represents an investigation designed and conducted to avoid the truth as to how Naus died.
In other words, Fremont we have a problem.
The Register was contacted repeatedly and asked to review the police investigation of Naus' death. His body was found in the trash compactor of a garbage truck making its rounds at Bud's Tavern and other nearby businesses in October 1999.
The allegations about his death the Register received from numerous people seemed like wild speculation and rumor that had taken on a life of its own. Police covered up what really happened, they know who killed Naus and a law enforcement officer was involved, the Register was told.
Reporters and editors understand how that happens. A good reporter, by nature, is skeptical, not only of the "official story" public officials often tell, but also of the rumors and half-truths that arise whenever a mysterious death occurs.
Before we asked for the "official story" from police, reporters contacted people they thought might have direct knowledge of the circumstances, given the location where Naus' body was found. Those initial conversations were difficult, but they lent credence to some of the speculation.
Surely, we thought, the police report would dispel the concern, and once the information was better pinpointed, the Register made a public records request for the complete case file and all documents related to the investigation by the Fremont police.
The "documentary record" does nothing to dispel the concerns; the report fuels that concern.
One person the Register talked with prior to requesting the report had intimate knowledge about the investigation and told the Register it had no business looking into the death of Lee Naus. He also told reporters he talked extensively with Fremont police after Naus died, and police had clearly determined what happened that caused his tragic death.
But the police report doesn't do that, not by any stretch of the imagination and whatever conversations the man we talked with had with police back then aren't even included in it.
He was interviewed by police, the Register was told. His intimate knowledge of the investigation, and his proximity to the time and location where Naus' body was discovered, would require detectives to interview him if the purpose of the investigation was to learn the truth about how Lee Naus ended up in a dumpster the morning of Oct. 1, 1999.
Most of the 100-page report is made up of files related to Naus's probation record and other pages that appear to have very little to do with the investigation other than to define the victim in a bad light.
The balance of the report includes some of the same speculation the Register received recently, but the detectives simply documented that speculation without showing much, if any, real follow through on determining whether it was true or false.
And the only person police interviewed among several identified as potential suspects is not even listed in the report among the many individuals noted as being "involved." That man simply told investigators he was with Naus in the hours before he died but he knew nothing about he died,.
The detectives documented his response without any followup. The entire report is a documentation of the lack of followup, more so than it is a documentation of a competent investigation.
Follow the pattern
Enter Lucas County deputy coroner Cythia Beisser, who determined Naus died as the result of an accident; his body was crushed by the truck's trash compactor. End of story.
Lee Naus' family has been waiting 15 years for a plausible explanation how he ended up in the dumpster.
The family of Craig Burdine, who died at the Sandusky County jail minutes after he arrived there, has been waiting six years.
The family of Isabel Cordle has been waiting 26 years.
Bryan Jones family has been waiting for four years.
Each one of those cases involved alleged police involvement in the deaths of their family members.
And in each, there was never an independent investigation, or in the case of Craig Burdine, any investigation at all, of what happened. The Naus investigation appears to follow that same pattern.
Here's an excerpt from an email the Register received Friday from someone who hasn't contacted the newspaper previously.
"I am so glad you are having the gull to bust our city out. Finally we may see an end to all this corruption that is occurring."
And here's another, from someone who hadn't contacted the Register previously.
"I hope you are able to break this thing wide open. Because that
detective thinks he can get away with anything and they both have people very afraid of them."
Ellis should address their concerns, and the concerns of these families and others, even if he intends to continue blocking the Register from receiving information.