CAMERON, WIS. – Heavy fog rolled into Barron County on Saturday, a fitting backdrop for the latest scene in a grim mystery.
Twelve days after they were found shot to death in their home in Barron, Wis., the parents of missing 13-year-old Jayme Closs were remembered Saturday at services in nearby Cameron.
Hundreds of mourners poured into St. Peter Catholic Church for the 11 a.m. visitation and 1 p.m. funeral for James and Denise Closs.
Both spent their lives in this corner of northwestern Wisconsin, where family roots run deep in all the local towns. James Closs, 56, was a high school basketball star for the Ladysmith Lumberjacks, leading them to a second-place finish in the Wisconsin state basketball tournament in 1981.
Denise Closs, 46, grew up in nearby Cornell. She taught religious education classes at several Catholic churches in the area. Loved ones remembered her as a gentle soul who grew flowers, fed birds and helped everyone, any way she could.
Missy Ruffin of Rice Lake worked with them both at the Jennie-O turkey plant in Barron for more than 20 years. She was especially close to James Closs, with whom she worked “eight hours a day, five days a week for 15 years.”
Ruffin sobbed as she left the service, dabbing her eyes with tissue.
“I just hope they’re at peace,” she said, her voice catching in gasps. “They didn’t hurt nobody. They didn’t bother nobody.
No clues to killing
Nobody has the answer to that question, including police.
Despite launching a national manhunt, checking more than 1,700 tips and conducting an intensive local search for clues with more than 2,000 volunteers, Barron County Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald said he still has no idea why James and Denise Closs were gunned down in their home in the early morning of Oct. 15.
“I don’t know why this took place,” he said. The extended family, he added, “continues to struggle.
“I can’t imagine what the family is going through,” he said, “laying two to rest and still one to bring home.”
Fitzgerald said his office and numerous other police agencies continue to aggressively pursue their investigation.
“Everybody wants to bring Jayme home,” he said.
Family members didn’t respond to requests for interviews Saturday, and many funeral-goers also declined to speak. Journalists at the funeral were kept off the church grounds, watching from a distance as pallbearers brought a single casket from the church and placed it in a silver Cadillac hearse.
“It’s a horrible thing for the town,” said Jim Chuchwar, who lives in the country outside Barron. After nearly two weeks of being consumed by the drama, Chuchwar said he’s been trying to steer conversations away from it.
“Talk about the Badgers, talk about the Gophers if you have to,” he said. But it’s a hard topic to escape, he added. Just last night he heard helicopters overheard — presumably police choppers again.
Sports and inspiration
Ruffin, who worked with the couple, said James Closs remained a huge sports fan when his high school sports career ended. He still played softball on local teams, and his name appears on a board in the weight room at the Barron Area Community Center honoring those who have put in more than 1,000 hours of workouts.
“Jim was all about sports,” she said. “He was a big Packer fan. Just a normal guy — go to work, go home.” James Closs worked in the plant area that deboned turkeys, and he delivered meat orders that Ruffin would weigh for shipping.
“We talked every day,” she said.
The Closses were married in Las Vegas in 2003. Jayme was born two years later; she was their only child.
Denise Closs was very shy, Ruffin said, but was well-liked and had a group of good friends.
“She was all about Jayme,” Ruffin said. “Everything was about Jayme. She loved that girl.”
Denise Closs was devoted to family, filling her personal Facebook page with family photos, especially of her mother, Becky Naiberg, who died of cancer in 2016. Denise Closs took part in several fundraising events for the American Cancer Society in memory of her mother.
On her last day, Denise Closs spent the afternoon at a birthday party for one of her nephews. She brought gifts for everyone, not just for the birthday boy, according to the local newspaper, the Barron News-Shield.
She also filled her Facebook page with inspirational sayings.
“When it rains, look for rainbows. When it’s dark, look for stars,” read one. Another: “Because someone we love is in heaven, a little bit of heaven is at home.”
On Dec. 7, 1976, the Chippewa Herald-Telegram ran a “Wish Book” feature with letters to Santa from area children. One of them came from 4-year-old Denise Naiberg of Cornell, later Denise Closs.
She asked for a Sesame Street set, including Big Bird, a set of toy dishes and a baby doll with “a big bottle and a cradle to sleep in.
“I have been trying real hard to be to be a good girl all year,” she wrote. “I promise to keep on being a good girl.”
Anyone with information on Jayme Closs’ disappearance is urged to contact the tip line at 855-744-3879 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.