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Holiday Horror: Frozen and Buried in Wisconsin

On December 25, 1977, a man confessed to burying a naked body in a Madison snowbank.

Barbara Hoffman, a talented young biochemistry major, shocked her friends and family when she dropped out in 1974. The woman had amazed her professors and classmates with her intelligence, her multi-lingual skills, her musical ability, and her poise. But Barbara had a plan–she wanted to join a massage parlor.

If the words "massage parlor" conjure a less-than-savory image in your mind, you have the right connotation for this particular location. Barbara left her college career behind in favor of sex work and was seemingly happy there for many years. Eventually, she met a man named Jerry Davies, who would become her fiancé.

But by 1977, she had left her massage parlor behind in favor of office-based insurance work. There, she became engaged in far more nefarious activities... which would culminate in murder.

Written by Karl Harter, Winter of Frozen Dreams is the riveting true story of Barbara Hoffman and the Madison, Wisconsin massage parlor where a biochemistry major turned into a murderer. 

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Winter of Frozen Dreams

By Karl Harter

Winter of Frozen Dreams

By Karl Harter

Chapter 1

Christmas morning, and it was too cold to snow. Even by Wisconsin standards the weather was severe. Overnight an arctic breeze had descended on Madison. The temperature plummeted to 22 degrees below zero, and wind ripped off Lake Monona, pear-shaped and choked with ice. The eight inches of December’s accumulation lay undisturbed by the gusts, frozen where it had fallen or been shoveled or plowed. Snow gripped telephone poles and parking meters. In the wire weave of a newspaper box snow was wedged like a sugary webbing.

Jerry Davies didn’t notice the cold. He didn’t notice the sky as flat and gray as the state office buildings that bordered the lake like chilly sentinels. His Chevrolet wheeled around the block one more time, and he feverishly composed what he would tell the police, desperately searched for a coherent pattern. For all of his thirty-one years Jerry Davies had had trouble focusing on events, on comprehending the essence of things going on around him. Christmas morning was no exception. Concentration seemed impossible. Thoughts formed and dissolved like a vapor inside his head.

At 10:15 A.M., December 25, 1977, Davies had his choice of parking spots. The downtown streets were deserted. A mountain of snow rose behind the Bank of Madison. Straight ahead towered the Wisconsin State Capitol—a granite fortress, gray tiers of columns and arches vaulting to the heavens, capped with a golden crown. A couple of blocks east the dull chimneys of Madison Gas and Electric shoved black billows of coal smoke into the sky, panting overtime to give the city a semblance of warmth.

Davies parked on Monona Avenue. Forgetting it was a holiday, he dutifully plugged the meter. The quarter bought him an hour, more time, he presumed, than his mission would require.

Madison Police Headquarters was situated in the basement of City-County Building, a seven-story cement rectangle a snowball’s heave from the lake. The aluminum handle of the precinct station door stung Davies’s fingers with cold as he grabbed to open it, and the moisture of his palm instantly froze to the metal. For a moment he feared his flesh would tear as he pried the palm away. Curiously, the pain connected him to the present, to Monona Avenue, to Christmas morning.

winter of frozen dreams
  • Photo Credit: David Schiersner / Flickr (CC)

Davies trembled. He wanted to quit, to curl up on the concrete steps and sleep. He was so very tired.

Hand snapped free of the aluminum, Davies opened the door and felt the hot breath of a heating duct as he walked inside. Each step was counted, for he began to feel woozy and was afraid he might faint before he reached the cop at the duty desk. Fluorescent lights hummed. Dust balls collected on the tile floor.

Jerry Davies was staggering. The desk sergeant eyed the visitor in the green parka with imitation-fur collar. Davies had not shaved in a couple of days. He wore neither cap nor gloves. Wire-rimmed glasses tipped down the bony cartilage of nose, and he pushed the spectacles back with a pudgy index finger. This simple action demanded a tremendous effort, and the cop guessed he had a gentleman who was either seriously inebriated or seriously ill standing, no, wavering in front of him.

The cop’s mustache tilted as he cussed silently. Such a sorry individual could only bring him extra paperwork.

“Last night I helped bury a body in a snowbank,” Davies blurted.

Ordinarily the desk sergeant shrugged at a dramatic statement from an obviously disoriented person and suggested a cup of coffee before inquiring what was really on the man’s mind. But not on Christmas Day. People do not pull pranks on Christmas. People get nostalgic and drunk and depressed, but they do not fabricate outrageous tales. The man in front of him was tremulous and ashen, earnest and disturbed.

The cop paused and jotted down the time.

“I don’t know who it was, but last night I buried a man in a snowbank. I can take you to where the body is,” said Davies. His voice cracked like an icicle knocked to the sidewalk by the wind.

Chuck Lulling stood in the kitchen of his Madison apartment, reciting to his wife how he intended to roast a goose and a turkey for their Christmas repast. Marian, in blue bathrobe and bedroom slippers, was preparing the stuffing. Lulling served his wife a refill from the Mr. Coffee and poured himself another cup. He drank from a porcelain mug that read MY FAVORITE COP IS GRANDPOP.

Lulling’s favorite and only grandchild would arrive at 4:00 P.M. for dinner. Her presents, as well as gifts for Lulling’s two children and their spouses, were neatly wrapped and decorated with a profusion of ribbons and bows and waited beneath the silver boughs of an artificial tree.

At 10:40 A.M. the phone rang.

Lulling picked up the receiver with no thought in his mind except to add sugar to his coffee and say hello. When Marian heard him asking questions, she grimaced. Her husband always supplied answers; he never asked questions—except on a murder case.

For 28 years police work had dominated their lives. Just as Ted Williams can name the exact pitch and the unfortunate hurler who threw it for each of his 521 home runs, Lulling remembered minute details from homicide cases he had investigated decades ago. A private journal contained notes from almost every investigation, as Lulling thought it would aid his technique and add to his understanding of the criminal mind, if such a thing can be said to exist. He attempted hobbies—building model sailing ships, collecting antique firearms—but these were diversions and of incidental interest. Lulling was a cop, and detective work had infiltrated his blood.

Due to the length of the phone briefing Marian Lulling anticipated the worst. It was not Chuck’s absence on Christmas Day that she resented; it was the feeble apology he’d offer for the intrusion of work. And it was knowing he’d rather conduct a homicide inquiry than eat rich food and play cards with his family.

As he replaced the receiver, Marian brushed a veined hand through her silver hair—a color similar to that of the artificial tree—and considered how she would prepare the goose and the turkey. She watched the detective scribble on a notepad. He winced after a taste of coffee; he’d forgotten the sugar.

Chuck Lulling sighed. “Seems that a fellow buried somebody in a snowbank out in Middleton. Lovely Christmas present, huh?”

Marian wiped her hands on a dish towel. “What’s it mean?”

“Means that me and a few other cops are going to miss our dinners, maybe. In this friggin’ cold they got to drive out there and dig out the corpse. I better go along.” He glanced at the goose, freshly plucked and hunched on the cutting board. “Hope you have a great recipe. I love leftovers.” He forced a smile.

In five minutes he’d changed into wool slacks and a flannel shirt over long johns, a wool sweater, and a fur cap with ear flaps. He came back into the kitchen.

“We’ll go out New Year’s Eve, just you and me, Marian. We’ll go to dinner, then dancing.”

Marian shrugged. Her husband kissed her on the lips, snatched his pipe and a pouch of tobacco, and chased his life’s calling.

winter of frozen dreams
  • Photo Credit: Laura / Flickr (CC)
Chapter 2

Tomahawk Ridge crested six miles west of Madison, the apex in a topography of hills and valleys snug with dairy farms, horse stables, and country homes. In August the territory would be verdant and pulsating with life. Fields would be crammed with corn. Cows would graze among thistles and blackberry brambles.

Winter cast a different light on the landscape, however, and on December 25th the tone was somber. If a sun inhabited the sky, it was shielded by clouds of milk-bucket gray. Snow dominated the area, layering hillsides and tree boughs, power lines and barn roofs.

Cold had immobilized the countryside. Corn planters and grain drills were rooted to the ground with ice. Horse trailers and hay wagons sat frozen for the season. Nothing stirred except weather vanes, which twirled madly in the wind, and plumes of chimney smoke. Not even the barbed wire of the field fences shivered. The cold had clasped the metal taut.

Across this frigid winterland two Dodge Coronets, unmarked cars used by the MPD, and a Dodge van cruised in slow procession up Blackhawk Road. At the top of the climb a Buick Regal idled. An iron bar blocked the drive to the Blackhawk Ski Jump, but it didn’t matter. According to Jerry Davies there was no need to go any farther than the plowed lot at the entrance.

Lieutenant Chuck Lulling climbed out of his Buick as the vehicles approached. He strode to his compatriots and bit the stem of his pipe so that his teeth wouldn’t chatter. Three uniformed cops, the county coroner, and an assistant DA had accompanied Jerry Davies to the scene. All seven men quaked in the cold as a diffident Davies pointed toward a snowbank near a grove of maple trees. The patrolmen got hand shovels from the trunk of their car. They stepped within a few yards of the trees, then hesitated. What had appeared to be the snapped branch of a maple lodged in the snow was unmistakably an arm jutting out at an angle.

The elbow was bent. The fingers were tensed, as if clutching an object that had been removed. The skin was not white but closer in color to the bark of the trees. Lulling glanced at Davies, who was mesmerized by the arm, at once relieved it was there as promised yet horrified the entire escapade hadn’t been a perverse dream.

An icy gust kicked the eerie spell. The cops attacked the snowbank with shovels. The snow didn’t dislodge in clumps; rather it blew off in a light powder, like sawdust. The meticulous coroner, Clyde Chamberlain, insisted they halt frequently so that as each section of the body was exposed Officer Jon Sippl could snap a photograph.

winter of frozen dreams
  • Photo Credit: Tomas Tuma / Unsplash

As Sippl clicked the shutter of his Nikon, the other officers fought the bitter cold. The harsh chill ate through fur-lined mittens and down vests. Toes tingled. To keep warm, cops flapped their arms, patted their shoulders, stamped their feet, as if performing a crazy pantomime.

Meanwhile Sippl clicked a photo of the head of a male Caucasian who had incurred a severe beating about the frontal lobe and brow. The skull showed multiple contusions. The face was a mask of black tissue and dried blood, frozen and expressionless.

“It’s 41 below with the wind chill, Clyde. You want to take his fucking pulse and make sure the stiff is a stiff?” bitched one of the cops, irritated by the coroner’s insistence on more pictures. “I want to get out of here before frostbite sets in. Can’t you take photos at the morgue?”

“Quit complaining,” said Lulling. “I could be home drinking eggnog too.”

“Chuck, you’re the only one who likes it out here,” said one of the cops.

The assistant DA, Chris Spencer, did a set of jumping jacks to pound the blood through his system. He had been playing ice hockey when the call came to report downtown immediately. Underneath his parka bulged the heavy pads of a hockey uniform. Canvas sneakers covered his freezing feet. Spencer sneezed and tugged his balaclava over his head.

“Okay,” said the coroner, “let’s get the rest of the body out.”

After a minute of shoveling, everyone ceased his efforts to keep warm and stared in astonishment. The man in the snowbank was colder than any of them. A digital timepiece on the left wrist was all the clothing he sported. The bashing about the skull, which had been uncovered first, looked to be no more than bumps and scratches compared to what was next revealed. The genitals had been battered and were hideously swollen. The penis was huge—tumescent and bloodied—and the distended skin wore an ugly shade of purple. The testicles were bloated, like two shiny black tomatoes brimming to burst.

A camera shutter clicked. Wind kicked through the valley. Though it seemed impossible, the day got colder.

“Un-fucking-real,” gasped a cop.

“A jury is going to love those glossies,” someone muttered.

Lulling ignored the banter. He studied Jerry Davies, who was bent at the waist and vomiting into the pristine snow.

Want to keep reading? Download Winter of Frozen Dreams now.

Winter of Frozen Dreams

By Karl Harter

Created on 25 Dec 2018

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