Grim Details Emerging in Portage

PORTAGE -- A 37-year-old mother was physically abused and strangled before her body was buried in the back yard of a home where her two children lived in a hellish setting with three other adults and three young children, authorities said Saturday.

"That is our preliminary information," Columbia County Medical Examiner Marc Playman said after officials completed an autopsy on the woman's body, which was discovered Friday in a 3-foot-deep grave in a garden.

The woman's 11-year-old son, who had repeatedly been burned with water and whipped with electrical cords before police found him in a closet on Thursday, remained in UW Hospital in Madison. Shaken law-enforcement officers labeled the abuse the worst they'd ever seen. Officials were withholding the identity of the woman, her 11-year-old son and a 15-year-old daughter Saturday.

"Detectives learned that scalding water was sprayed on the 11-year-old boy as well as boiling water poured on him," Portage Police Detective Lt. Mark Hahn said Saturday in a news release.

The other three adults who shared the rented brick home at 304 W. Oneida St., in a rough section of Portage, remain in custody at the Columbia County Jail in Portage on a tentative charge of physical abuse of a child.

Authorities still are tracing the adults' relationships, but believe that all four, including the woman who was slain, were friends. Hahn said the three women and a man had met in Florida.

They may have lived together in such locations as Tennessee, Maine, Colorado and Florida. The group apparently stayed in several Wisconsin Dells motels before moving to Portage in February, officials said.

Michael Sisk, 25; his girlfriend, Candice Clark, 23; and another woman, Michaela Clerc, 20; are scheduled to make their initial appearances in Columbia County Circuit Court by video at 2 p.m. Wednesday, and a news conference is scheduled for afterward.

Sisk was arrested at a Greyhound bus station Friday in Milwaukee.

Clark is the mother of three young girls -- ages 2, 1, and 3 months -- also living in the home. Those children, along with the 15-year-old daughter of the slain woman, have been placed in protective custody by the Columbia County Department of Human Services.

Police said none of the youngest girls appeared to have been abused, but one of them was malnourished.

It appears none of the children attended school in Portage, Hahn said. And the boy, he said, apparently had been deprived of education for a long time.

"Not that he doesn't have potential," Hahn said. "It's more a matter of he was never given the adequate education he should have received."

Portage police began uncovering the tragedies Thursday afternoon after the Lake County Sheriff's Office in Florida asked them to follow up on a tip from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children that Sisk might have moved into the area. The center was seeking him because he was the boyfriend of Clark, who was suspected in the kidnapping of her eldest daughter from state custody in September.

The adults lied about their identities when questioned Thursday, police said.

Hahn said the emaciated boy was afraid of police officers who came to rescue him. But after he was airlifted to the Madison hospital, where Hahn initally said he was in guarded condition, he showed a strong spirit, officials said.

"One thing that the people noticed at the hospital when they took a picture...he had a big grin on his face," Hahn said Friday.

Portage Police Chief Kan Manthey on Friday called the boy "a fighter."

A UW Hospital official declined to release any information about the boy Saturday.

The torture, Manthey said, was inflicted if the boy misbehaved or didn't clean his section of the house.

The neighborhood, a mixture of single-family homes and rental properties, has been plagued by a series of violent incidents and drug-related problems in recent years.

When police showed photos of the boy's injuries to journalists at a news conference Friday, several reporters gasped. "Oh, my God," one reporter said upon viewing photos of burns on the child's head, hands, feet and abdomen.

Playman said his office is awaiting DNA and fingerprint test results, expected within a week, before confirming the slain woman's identity and making her name public. Relatives of the woman are coming to Wisconsin from Florida, Louisiana and Tennessee, Playman said.

Authorities haven't yet determined when the woman was killed. They believe she disappeared around Memorial Day. It was unclear how long her body was buried in the back yard.

Police said the 15-year-old girl initially tried to avoid disclosing the location of her mother's body from police during questioning Thursday, but said the following day that the body was buried in the back yard.

A cadaver dog was brought in from the Dane County Sheriff's Office to narrow the area where police dug to find the woman's corpse.

June 15, 2007

Todd Krysiak is a reporter at the Portage Daily Register.
Contact him at or 608-745-3509.

Andy Hall is a reporter at the Wisconsin State Journal.
Contact him at or 608-252-6136.

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