Dozens of investigators searching for 13-year-old Jayme Closs met Friday in Barron, Wis., to review more than 2,300 tips and other leads that they've tracked since Oct. 15, when her parents were shot to death in their home and she disappeared without a trace.
"This is somewhat of a head-scratcher. That's why we're coming back at it," Barron County Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald said Friday during an interview on the online news program at DrydenWire.com.
Despite the large number of investigators from his department, the Wisconsin Division of Criminal Investigation and the FBI, Fitzgerald said, they still have "no working theory" of what happened inside the Closs family home on the outskirts of Barron that night.
He said the public interest in the case has been overwhelming.
"We've had sightings all over the United States," Fitzgerald said, adding that investigators check out each one, most within an hour or so.
He encouraged people to keep forwarding tips despite the fact that checking them out can be time-consuming, but he asked tipsters to try to be specific.
"Saying that Jayme is in a barn in Wisconsin isn't helping us," he said, noting the large number of barns in the state.
The sheriff said that deputies arrived at Jayme's house within 4 minutes of the end of a 911 call from the residence early in the morning of Oct. 15. Inside, they found Denise Closs, 46, and James Closs, 56, dead from gunshot wounds, but found no suspects or gun and no sign of Jayme, who was ruled out as a suspect early on.
Investigators said early in the case that they were looking for a 2008-2014 red or orange Dodge Challenger and a black SUV that were picked up on cameras in the area.
Fitzgerald said authorities are "not concentrating on Challenger tips now." They're still taking those tips and haven't given up on the Challenger, he said, but he added that there are "some discrepancies" that need to be checked out.
A video team, working for the FBI in Milwaukee, is assembling images of vehicles that were traveling along Hwy. 8 from Barron to Turtle Lake the morning of the homicides to see if it can help.
A number of viewers posted questions Friday asking if investigators think the killer knew the Closses or if it was a random attack.
"I believe the public is safe but … I don't have that answer and I struggle with that," Fitzgerald said. "We lean towards targeted," he added, noting that the killings were done at an odd time and place for a random crime to occur.
The sheriff said he doesn't know if there was one suspect or two.
"There isn't a lot of evidence here. We do have some," he said, declining to elaborate.
Viewers asked about the condition of a chair that investigators removed from the Closs home and whether there were ropes attached.
"We did take a chair into evidence," Fitzgerald said. "I don't know anything about the ropes."
Asked if it was true that Jayme had been dating a 19-year-old, Fitzgerald declined to comment.
Fitzgerald said he just learned this week about a 13-year-old girl who was kidnapped off the street in North Carolina and said the FBI is looking to see if the cases are connected.
He said investigators have looked at social media platforms. They've interviewed sex offenders, family members, people who worked with the Closses at the Jennie-O plant, and some who were terminated who might have a revenge motive. They've taken DNA samples. Everyone has cooperated, Fitzgerald said.
Investigators have even looked into "a couple hundred" tips from psychics and visionaries, he said. "Those are looked at and compared to other tips that come in. They all start with. 'This is true.' "
In September, Stearns County Sheriff Don Gudmundson criticized investigators — especially with the FBI — who worked on the 1989 kidnapping and murder of 11-year-old Jacob Wetterling, of St. Joseph, Minn. He said they "squandered" their immense manpower chasing weak leads and indulging psychics when they already had strong evidence implicating Danny Heinrich, who ultimately admitted to the killing in 2016 as part of a plea deal in a federal child pornography case.
The Closs case frequently is compared to the Wetterling case, and that stings, Fitzgerald said. He said the FBI and state investigators working with his department have been first-rate. The sheriff admitted that the Closs investigation has been hurt a bit by the widespread publicity, which has drawn in some tipsters who may dislike law enforcement. Someone even released a fake copy of the 911 call, he said.
"Everyone wants this case solved," he said. "We don't want another Jacob Wetterling. I don't want another 28-year-old case here."
He said that's why investigators gathered at his department Friday in what they call "Jayme's room." They've got all of the relevant information on the walls, are rereading it and asking, "Does 2+2 = 4?"
"I'm the sheriff of Barron County and you've got to hang onto hope in some of these cases," Fitzgerald said. "We will solve this case. I believe that."