The Wisconsin man charged with abducting Jayme Closs and murdering her parents was arrested while he was apparently hunting for the teen after she escaped from his remote cabin, police said Friday.
The arrest of 21-year-old Jake Thomas Patterson on Thursday afternoon, after Closs flagged down a bystander for help, closed one chapter of a three-month mystery.
But many questions remain unanswered, chief among them: Why were Jayme and her family targeted? Police said they have not found any strong links between the suspect and the girl.
Three years ago, he did work at the Jennie-O Turkey store, where James and Denise Closs had worked for two decades. But he quit after one day, the company said.
High school classmates told The Daily Beast that Patterson was quiet and awkward but betrayed no hint of being capable of such a monstrous crime or the kind of cunning that led him, according to police, to shave his head before the murders so he wouldn’t leave behind DNA evidence.
“He’s never had a mean bone in his body,” Elissa Lisenby told The Daily Beast. “He’s got a heart of gold.”
Authorities cuffed Patterson near his family’s home outside of Gordon, where Jayme was apparently being held since October, when someone entered her family’s residence and shot and killed her parents.
“Thank you for being here on this amazing day,” Barron County Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald told reporters at a press briefing Friday morning. “For 88 days I told you we would work tirelessly to bring Jayme Closs home.”
“For 88 days you called in tips, brought in food, searched arm in arm with us … and never gave up hope,” Fitzgerald said. “Last night our collective promise was fulfilled with Jayme’s safe recovery.”
Police have released few details on Patterson and why he allegedly targeted Jayme. But investigators believe the alleged killer didn’t know her parents, James and Denise Closs, who were found dead inside their rural Barron home—about 77 miles south of Patterson’s cabin on Eau Claire Acres Circle.
On Thursday afternoon, Fitzgerald dismissed rumors that Jayme was found in southeastern Wisconsin. He said that shortly after a false sighting, he received a call from deputies in Douglas County: Someone had dialed 911 and said they found Jayme alive.
“People recognized her. Just what we wanted to happen, happened,” Fitzgerald said, adding, “It’s amazing, the will of that 13-year-old girl to survive and escape.”
Douglas County Sheriff Thomas Dalbec said Jayme approached a woman walking her dog around 4:30 p.m. Thursday. The woman, a social worker named Jeanne Nutter, and Jayme then ran to a nearby house, where they called police and waited for detectives to arrive.
Yesterday, Jeanne’s husband, Forrest, told The Daily Beast that “the girl just came out of the woods.”
“She [Jeanne] kept her composure and took the girl to a safe place and called the sheriff’s department,” he said. “She called and said they found Jayme and she was going to the hospital.”
Responding to the call, “Deputies responded en masse immediately and identified Jayme as the person who approached the neighbor,” Sheriff Dalbec said. “A short time later, one of my patrol sergeants happened to find a vehicle that matched [Jayme’s] description of the suspect.”
During a second press conference Friday, Sheriff Fitzgerald said Patterson wasn’t home when Jayme escaped. He didn’t release information on how Jayme was being held inside the home or how she was able to flee.
Fitzgerald was also unable to say whether other people lived in Patterson’s rural Gordon home over the last three months. He said that at this time, authorities aren’t eyeing any other suspects.
The suspect was immediately taken into custody, he said, while Jayme was transported to a hospital in Duluth and held overnight for observation.
Patterson is charged with two counts of first-degree intentional homicide for the murder of James and Denise Closs, and one count of kidnapping.
Dalbec told reporters that no one else was inside Patterson’s home when cops spotted him down the road and he “surrendered peacefully.”
Fitzgerald said Jayme was reunited with her aunt at the hospital on Friday afternoon. “She is doing as well as circumstances allow,” the sheriff said, but declined to say whether Patterson had abused her.
“Right now we are going to let her settle in and reunite with her loved ones,” Fitzgerald said.
The sheriff said detectives recovered firearms including a shotgun, which was sent to the state crime lab and appears similar to the gun used to kill Jayme’s parents. The alleged kidnapper also used a shotgun to break open the Closs family’s front door.
Jayme’s mysterious disappearance made national news, as authorities scrambled to find the missing middle-schooler but faced a dearth of clues.
Around 1 a.m. on Oct. 15, Barron County cops received a 911 call from Denise Closs’ cellphone, which pinged to the family’s home. Whoever called for help wasn’t able to communicate with the dispatcher, who “could hear a lot of yelling” in the background.
When deputies arrived minutes later, they found Denise and her husband, James, fatally shot inside, but Jayme was nowhere to be found.
Back then, Fitzgerald said Jayme wasn’t considered a runaway and was “missing and endangered.” She was James and Denise’s only child.
On Friday, Barron County District Attorney Brian Wright said his office will likely file a criminal complaint against Patterson by next week.
As Fitzgerald fielded questions from reporters, state and federal authorities executed search warrants in Gordon and checked other areas for vehicles and evidence.
“Jayme was taken against her will and escaped from a residence in which she was being held,” Fitzgerald said, adding that Jayme “was the only target.”
Patterson took steps to conceal his identity from law enforcement and the public, and even kept Jayme’s capture secret from family and friends, Fitzgerald said.
“It’s a remote area,” Fitzgerald said, adding, “He not only concealed his identity from us. It appeared he concealed her from other people also, his friends.”
While the details of Patterson’s alleged plot are unknown, Fitzgerald said the suspect shaved his head so he wouldn’t leave hair behind.
The sheriff was unable to answer questions on what happened to Jayme in the months since she vanished on Oct. 15.
He said Patterson had no criminal record locally or in the state of Wisconsin. “Gordon was not on our radar,” Fitzgerald told reporters.
Patterson’s high school friends told The Daily Beast they were shocked by his arrest.
“Jake was an absolute wonderful person,” said Elissa Lisenby, a classmate at Northwood High School in Minong. “He had a great sense of humor, always there when you needed a shoulder to lean on. None of this is anything like him. He would never hurt a fly.”
“Never in a million years would I ever think Jake would do anything like that,” Lisenby added.
Lisenby said Patterson was known to be quiet until he got to know people.
The Patterson Lisenby knew wasn’t “some big monster.”
Another high school pal, Clinton Rolnik, said Patterson “was pretty shy.”
“It’s crazy that someone you grew up with and thought was fine could do something like that,” Rolnik told The Daily Beast.
“He was a good person but was always shy and never, and I mean never, had social media or ever tried to hang out with anyone,” Rolnik added. “Always kept to himself.”
When Rolnik hung out with Patterson, they’d go swimming at a nearby river, ride dirt bikes or play video games. “Nothing crazy,” Rolnik said.
Rolnik said that after high school, Patterson “was just sitting at home doing nothing as usual.”
At one point, Patterson tried to join the Marines but dropped out of boot camp, Rolnik said.
“He almost never left the house unless he was coming to school,” Rolnik added. “I rode the bus with him every day until I got a car.”
Patterson never had any girlfriends, Rolnik recalled. “He was always a little awkward. I guess just really shy,” he said.
Northwood School superintendent Jean Serum told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that Patterson was a “quiet kid” and “good student” who graduated in May 2015. He was a member of the school’s “quiz bowl team,” which Serum said was a competition between schools that was like a “battle of the brainiacs.”
According to the Journal Sentinel, Patterson’s parents moved to another house once Patterson and his brother got older. The siblings, however, continued to use the Gordon home.
“We had some problems with them when they were teenagers—we caught them siphoning gas,” one neighbor, Daphne Ronning, told the newspaper. “My husband talked with them and there was never anything else.”
Patterson is one of the few neighbors who live year-round in Eau Claire Acres, which is sparsely populated in the winter, Forrest Nutter said.
Meanwhile, Kristin Kasinskas, a teacher who lives on Eau Claire Acres Circle, told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that Jeanne Nutter frantically knocked on her door after finding Jayme.
Kasinskas said Jayme was skinny and dirty with matted hair, and wearing shoes that were too big for her feet. The girl told Kasinskas and her husband, Peter, that she didn’t know where she was or anything about Gordon, Wisconsin.
“I honestly still think I’m dreaming right now. It was like I was seeing a ghost,” Peter Kasinskas told the Star Tribune. “It was scary and awesome at the same time. My jaw just went to the floor.”
Closs’ family never gave up hope of finding Jayme.
Jayme’s aunt, Jennifer Smith, cried tears of joy when the sheriff told her Jayme was found. The happy news followed the false alarm the family received hours earlier. “They say she’s doing good. She’s talking and she’s resting right now. She’s exhausted,” Smith told KSTP of her niece.
“I’m just going to tell her how much I love her and missed her, and give her the biggest hug ever, and that we’re all here for her,” Smith added.
“We said we’d never give up, and we didn’t. And now we got her.”