On Tuesday the Hudson Police Department released a DVD of its last interview with Ryan Erickson, the priest believed responsible for the murders of Dan O'Connell and James Ellison in February 2002. The written transcript of the interview was released last month.
Erickson committed suicide Dec. 19 at St. Mary's Church in Hurley.
At a hearing Oct. 3, St. Croix County Judge Eric Lundell ruled that there was probable cause to believe Erickson shot both men in an office at the O'Connell Family Funeral Home. The hearing revealed that O'Connell had information about possible sexual misconduct with minors by the priest and that he had planned a meeting with Erickson the day of the murders. Lundell said evidence presented at the hearing supported the case that Erickson killed O'Connell to silence him about the allegations and that Ellison was killed because he was "in the wrong place at the wrong time."
It was in this second interview on Dec. 7 in Ladysmith that Hudson detectives Shawn Pettee and Jeff Knopps first told Erickson about the allegations of sexual misconduct against him. Police based their questioning on information they received from a man who claimed Erickson sexually abused him at the St. Patrick's Church rectory when he was a juvenile between 2000-2002. He also stated that Erickson provided him and other minors with alcohol.
The second interview began with a discussion of contradictions the detectives had found in Erickson's account of his activities and those of others the day of the murders. He was told that the people he quoted as sources for his knowledge of the crime scene weren't backing his story, and the priest began to perspire. But it was when the detectives brought up the juvenile that Erickson's whole demeanor changed.
"You could see he was shocked we knew about this kid. He didn't know how we had found him or what he told us. His answers got vague, and everything changed," said Knopps.
By the time the interview concluded, Erickson had admitted that he provided alcohol to several boys while in Hudson, and that he had lain on a bed with one of the boys and discussed sex but he denied having sex with any boys.
The detectives said that Erickson became visibly uneasy as the interview progressed. At one point Erickson said, "Well, I'm nervous, uh, that, uh, I would be considered a suspect. Um, because I really am not and, and it, I mean I've, I mean I know didn't kill him. And it bothers me that there might be evidence that points to the fact that I did. Um, I mean I gave up my guns right away, I let you have that stuff, I tried to cooperate right away, tried to remember the things I needed to remember. So when you said that if you had to get in contact with me again it would be because, uh, there was a problem with the guns. So of course when you called, oh boy, that made me even more nervous. I thought oh there must've been a problem with the gun. And uh...."
Erickson told the detectives that he knew they were investigating him before he was contacted by them and he was worried about what a group of women in Hudson who disliked him might have told police. Erickson stated, "...the only thing that kept running through my head was, oh great, now what am I gonna get in trouble for. What, who's accusing me of what. What's going on down there in Hudson. That place has been an absolute burden. And so I know there are five women down there who absolutely despise me. And I know that they've been talking to the bishop and say 'oh, Bishop, by the way he's still contacting people down here' and I thought now who's making trouble for me. That's what when through my head. Who's trying to get me out of the picture by, by throwing all kind of, you know, oh Father Ryan did this or Father Ryan did that."
A week after the interview, police executed a search warrant of Erickon's residence and his office at the church, seizing computers and other personal property.
Three days later, friends from Hudson found Erickson hanging in a hallway at the Hurley church. Erickson denied that he killed O'Connell and Ellison in suicide notes to family and friends.
Meg Heaton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org