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Priest's actions, statements make him suspect

The Hudson Police Department appears to have had good reason to investigate the late Father Ryan Erickson as a suspect in the February 2002 murders of Dan O'Connell and James Ellison as well as other crimes.

The 31-year-old Erickson was associate pastor for two years at St. Patrick's Catholic Church in Hudson. He later moved to a church in Hurley where he was found dead after hanging himself Dec. 19.

From information obtained from the Hudson police, it's been learned that Erickson was interviewed twice last year - Nov. 11 and Dec. 7 - prior to the early December search of his residence in Hurley.

Police Chief Dick Trende confirmed Tuesday that Erickson was the subject of an investigation into possible improper and criminal activity with minors before he was ever considered a "person of interest" in the O'Connell/Ellison murder investigation.

It was through facts gathered in that investigation that police began to look at him in connection with the murders.

Trende said inconsistencies in Erickson's statements to police during their interviews with him raised suspicions that ultimately led them to seek the search warrant. St. Croix County Judge Scott Needham sealed the search warrant shortly after Erickson's death to protect the ongoing investigation.

In interviews, Erickson revealed details of the crime scene that were never released to the public. According to investigators, when asked about how he knew these details, Erickson said he was informed of them by an individual who was at the funeral home following the discovery of the murders.

When police interviewed that individual, he denied having spoken about any details at the crime scene to Erickson. Erickson then gave police another source for his information but that person also denied discussing any crime scene details with Erickson.

Investigators also noted that Erickson could not remember where he was on the day of the murders and that in subsequent interviews his statement had changed about his whereabouts and other details.

Police also noted that Erickson was driving a car that matched the description of one seen parked at the O'Connell Funeral Home on the day of the murders and that he matched the general description of a man seen driving away in the vehicle.

The Journal's sister publication, the Hudson The Star-Observer, has requested that documents found on Erickson's desk the day of his death, including a letter he wrote and his last will and testament, be released.

Trende again appealed to anyone with information about Erickson or the murders to come forward and talk with investigators.

"This is not about pinning something on Father Erickson, but at getting at the truth, which is what everybody wants," said the police chief.

Trende said his investigators had already interviewed Erickson several weeks before criminal profiler Richard Walter came to Hudson to consult with the department. Trende said Walter was not an official participant in any interviews with the priest, and his statement that the murder case was close to being solved was "only his opinion."

Trende said he is aware of public speculation about Erickson's involvement in the case and wants the community to know that his department will release more information as soon as it is able.

To contact the Hudson Police Department, call (715) 386-4771. Anyone with information can also contact CrimeStoppers at (800) 442-7463.

Meg Heaton

Meg Heaton has been a reporter with the Hudson Star Observer since 1990. She has a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and Native American Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

(715) 808-8604