Gina Barton of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
The investigative reporter shares her best "talking to a murderer" anecdotes
In Tell Us A Story, Decider sits at the knee of Milwaukee's most interesting people and asks them to play raconteur. This week, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel investigative reporter Gina Barton regales us with tales of interviewing of murderers, including the one featured in her new book, Fatal Identity.
How she convinced Fatal Identity killer Dennis Gaede to sit down for an interview for the first time
Gina Barton: He was in jail for a theft in an insurance fraud situation. I knew without an interview with him I wouldn’t be able to do the kind of story I wanted. He was, at that point, a suspect but he hadn’t been charged. He had been living in Fargo using the name of Tim Wicks, who was the victim. I didn’t know at that point if he had done it, but I knew he knew something about it. I had two major questions: what really happened, and why hasn’t anyone been charged in this?
So, I wrote him letters for a really long time, for several months, maybe even a year or more, before he agreed to do an interview. I followed the coverage of him in other newspapers, and there was this really bizarre story about how he was trying to get another inmate’s family to adopt him because he was trying to raise money to get his book published. So, I wrote him a letter and said, “One writer to another, can I come and see you? We can talk about your book, we can talk about my story, we can talk about writing.” And that’s when he agreed to see me. His book wasn’t about the case; it was about The Bible. And he never did let me read it. He brought it to the interview, this stack of papers, and I kept asking him to let me read it but he wouldn’t.
The nice-guy ax-murderer
GB: In a previous job in South Bend, Indiana, I spent a lot of time working on a project about a guy who, when he was a teenager, ax-murdered his parents. And then he was paroled. So, the story was about how you move on from something like that, starting your life over 20 or 30 years later, when you’ve basically grown up in prison. The first few times I talked to him I made sure I had a photographer with me and I met him at the halfway house or a coffee shop or other public places, just in case he was still kind of unstable. But in the end, I ended up talking to him without photographers or anybody else around. I didn’t think he was scary anymore after I got to know him. By the time he got out of prison he was actually a pretty nice guy.
Her first big crime story
GB: I worked at the South Bend Tribune, in a small bureau in Michigan across the state line. I had to cover everything in the county, from crime and courts to county board and schools. There was this terrible crime where these two guys robbed a Laundromat. One guy went in with a gun, and he shot one teenaged girl—she survived—and killed a woman in front of a clothes dryer. Another guy who waited in the car didn’t expect him to start shooting people. I never talked to the shooter, but I talked to the guy waiting in the car. He sold drugs, but he never took them. And I said, “Well, why do you sell drugs?” And he said, “It pays a lot better than working at Brown’s chicken.” And I said, “Do you ever take them?” And he said, “Hell, no, that shit will kill you.”