William Paul of Neenah

Notes on the unsolved 1973 murder of William Paul.

The building at 311 North Commercial Street in Neenah was built in 1888 and was traditionally known as Charles Herziger’s Saloon, and later Pinky’s Midway Bar.

In 1940, the tavern was purchased by William Paul, age 39, who would operate it for over thirty years.

On the morning of August 6, 1973, William Paul, now age 72, made a deposit at the First National Bank around 8:30am and then continued to his place of business. There he was robbed by three men and beaten at his tavern, the Midway Bar in Neenah. Later reports suggest around $300-500 was taken. Around 10:00am a man entered the tavern and found a pool of blood. He called police, who arrived and transported Paul to Theda Clark Hospital, where he was in critical condition and underwent surgery for hours. The caller did not identify himself, but later reports said the first people on the scene were Connie Murphy and Leroy Cole, both of Neenah. It’s unclear if either of them was the caller, but this does not seem to be the case. Sergeant Rupert Lehman said that when Paul was found, he was still conscious but incoherent. (The newspaper repeatedly referred to Paul as “elderly.” While this is true, it’s interesting they made a point of that. I’m curious how we define “elderly” – is it different from “senior”?)

A small office in the back of the tavern was used by Paul to repair clocks, a hobby he had done daily for 30 years. The room had blood spattered on the walls and ceiling. A safe containing money was in the room, but unopened. There was also still money in the cash register. George Paul, the victim’s son, said it was common for William to have money in his pants pocket and wallet, both of which were now empty. Police used metal detectors to search the area for the weapon. Based on the injuries, it was known to be a blunt object, but beyond that was unknown. Even the nearby rooftops were searched.

Paul remained in the hospital for 16 days before giving passing from the injuries at 1:15am on August 22. Coroner Duane Moore said cause of death was “excessive brain damage.” Paul was survived by his widow Josephine, two daughters and three sons, including Mrs. Judith Murphy and James Paul of Neenah. Burial was at Oak Hill Cemetery.

On the day of Paul’s death, Sergeant Lee Parrott said they had a suspect in Antigo and he would be going that day to interview him. He told the press, “I think whoever did this was a madman, and we think Paul faced them.”

In September 1973, an informant said the weapon used was a wooden ice cube breaker. Another source said prior to the beating, one of the robbers “went berserk” and threw a stool at Paul, knocking him to the floor.

December 1973, Sergeant Parrott showed the press his file had grown to two inches thick, and he was working on it constantly. “This has kind of gotten to be an obsession,” he explained. “It’s a major investigation. I just put things aside when anything comes up on this.” Parrott said he grew up on Doty Island and had known Paul since he was a kid. So far, Parrott had interviewed 80 people and traveled to Milwaukee, Waupun and elsewhere. He was confident the case would be solved. The newspaper pointed out that homicide was extremely rare in Neenah – the last one was Ernest Feavel in 1952, and the one before that was in 1908. (I think this is a bit misleading… if I recall correctly, other murders had occurred just outside of city limits and would probably be considered “Neenah” by those who lived there.)

On January 29, 1975, a John Doe probe was launched by Judge William Crane investigating armed robbery in Winnebago County. Since July 1973, there had been 16 robberies in Winnebago, with many similarities between them. A parade of witnesses from Neenah, Menasha and Oshkosh testified in secret. Based on who was coming and going, the newspapers soon realized that the William Paul murder was being investigated, as well, and perhaps was the real focus. On the first day, ten people testified and by day two Crane confirmed that the Midway robbery was part of the probe.

Reporters were able to identify some of the people going in and out, even if they were not allowed to hear the testimony. Some of those there were: Thomas Jury, 23; Darwin Moore, 26; Bruce Johnson, 25; his wife Judy Johnson; Stanley Samuel, 26; and Patricia Allen. Allen was the girlfriend of Leroy Chapin, 24, who was on trial for robbing an Oshkosh pharmacy. Chapin was not at the John Doe (and this might not even be legal, as it would have him pressured to go against his best interest for an active case). The identified men were known criminals, with a couple of them still behind bars at the time. Winnebago had seen numerous unsolved armed robberies in the last two years, and the idea was that solving one would likely solve others.

1981, the tavern was surveyed for possible inclusion as a state historic landmark, or as part of a historic business district. Although the Wisconsin Historical Society maintains a file on the property, it does not appear it was ever declared a landmark. When the City of Neenah did their own survey in 2004, the building had been demolished. Not that there would be any evidence from the murder there decades later, but this effectively removed the only known site connected to the crime.

Around February 1991, over 17 years after the crime, authorities announced they had taken hair and blood samples from a suspect: a 40-year old man in Waupun State Prison. Both blood and hair were found at the crime scene that did not match Paul’s blood and hair. Paul had O blood, but Type B was found. This new lead came to light when an informant told Neenah police captain Lee Parrott that two men told him the day before what they planned to do, while they were together at the Doty Tavern. The suspect’s girlfriend also told police he had make comments suggesting he was involved. (Court filings show that some of this was known as early as 1976 without much action. I don’t know why this is, but suspect the hurdle to seize hair and blood was very high and not reached until 1991.) District Attorney Joseph Paulus declined to identify the suspect, but said “we feel there’s still a realistic prospect of bringing Mr. Paul’s killers to justice.”

In 2022, Neenah police reviewed the case.”Some interviews were conducted, but there’s really no new developments,” Investigative Sgt. Jeremy Bauman said.

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