CITY OF BURLINGTON — Nearly 25 years have passed since a City of Burlington mother disappeared and some of her family members still seek an answer to the burning question: What became of Kerry?
Kerry O’Brien-Krueger is one of a number of mothers who have vanished in the Midwest in the past several decades. Some of the cases, like O’Brien-Krueger’s, have gone cold.
“One of the hardest things is thinking about what happened, imagining what happened, and wondering what happened,” her sister, Molly O’Brien-Bleifield, told The Journal Times.
The day she vanished
O’Brien-Krueger, 31, last was reported to be seen alive on Dec. 6, 1989. O’Brien-Bleifield said her sister’s husband, Tracey Krueger, reported that his wife received a call on Dec. 5 from someone at work telling her she had to fly to a trade show in Wyoming the next day. A former newspaper reporter, O’Brien-Krueger had taken a job in public relations for Gander Mountain before her disappearance.
O’Brien-Bleifield said her brother-in-law recalled that he was still in bed at about 4:30 a.m. Dec. 6 when a car pulled up, his wife kissed him goodbye and said “take care of Megan for me” before reportedly leaving for O’Hare International Airport in Chicago. There was no such trade show. Her boss at Gander Mountain called the couple’s home later that day questioning if O’Brien-Krueger was out sick again, O’Brien-Bleifield said.
At the time she disappeared, O’Brien-Krueger was suffering from an unknown medical condition. She had been experiencing stomach pains, vomiting and diarrhea, her sister said. She had been to numerous doctors and underwent gastrointestinal testing.
O’Brien-Bleifield, of Waukesha, said some relatives now think her sister was being poisoned.
O’Brien-Bleifield believes her sister vanished between Dec. 5 and Dec. 6, and that she is dead. She doesn’t think her sister would have taken off to live – using a fake identity – somewhere else.
“Her whole world was Megan. If she was going to take a ‘time out,’ she’d take Megan,” O’Brien-Bleifield said. “She wouldn’t have been able to live without Megan.”
Missing, but why?
Daughter Megan Krueger of La Crosse said she thinks her mother might have left their family. After reading her mother’s junior high and high school diary entries, she said her mother seemed depressed.
“I think it was a chemical thing — something she always had. I think she might have been manic. One day she’d be so happy about school and her boyfriend, and the next so unhappy and (feeling) she had to please her parents,” she said. “I do think it was a possibility that she was sick, and very sad.”
But if her mother was killed, Megan Krueger said, she thinks it came at the hands of an acquaintance of her mother’s. This man would call a friend of her mother’s and ask whether O’Brien-Krueger still was missing, and stand watching when searches were conducted for her.
“The cops have made it sound like this man was not to be trusted,” Megan Krueger said.
O’Brien-Bleifield, a stay-at home mother of two, said she and some family members believe Tracey Krueger killed his wife.
Tracey Krueger couldn’t be reached for comment. Megan Krueger said her father did not wish to comment.
At first, “He had me convinced ‘she’s just taking a break. She’ll be back,’ ” O’Brien-Bleifield said. “He told me he wanted to get a waterbed to welcome her when she comes back. I said, ‘don’t do that, she won’t be happy.’ She was very frugal. He went ahead and got a waterbed, I would say within a week or so.”
Tracey Krueger took a polygraph test, but the results were inconclusive, she said. Investigators wanted to schedule a second test, but Tracey Krueger suffered a breakdown in January 1990 that left him with a type of amnesia, O’Brien-Bleifield said. He couldn’t remember anything after he was 18 years old, she explained.
“It’s an actual diagnosis,” she said. “So the police had to back off.”
Four or five years later, he banned her from visiting her niece, O’Brien-Bleifield said, and later he remarried.
His daughter said her father suffered a stroke, which affected his memory. He thought he was back in his senior year of high school, she said, and didn’t know he had a daughter.
Megan Krueger, 28, defended her father, staunchly denying any involvement in her mother’s disappearance.
“I understand from my aunt and my grandma he was a wreck (after her mother’s disappearance),” Megan Krueger said, adding she doesn’t have contact with her mother’s family. “Honestly, it was because they were horrible to my father. They made his life a living hell the first couple of years … he was so hurt by her leaving and they made it worse.”
‘Please come forward’
O’Brien-Bleifield is pleading for anyone with information about her older sister to come forward.
“We’ve been waiting and waiting for years to be able to put her to rest,” she said. “There’s got to be somebody who can help. Somebody had to see something. Somebody had to know something.”
O’Brien-Krueger is one of 51 Wisconsin women listed as missing with the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, known as NamUs.
“Not a day goes by that I don’t think about this case,” Burlington Investigator Rodney Thurin said.
Detectives have checked on the possibility that O’Brien-Krueger left the country, he said, investigating “the most logical places.” But he said he couldn’t comment on whether investigators believe O’Brien-Krueger voluntarily disappeared or was killed. The investigation is ongoing and he said he cannot comment on whether police might have a suspect or suspects.
However, Thurin urged anyone with information to come forward. They may contact him at (262) 342-1108.
O’Brien-Bleifield, the youngest of seven siblings, said she hopes the case can be resolved, one way or another.
“I still have hope,” she said. “Most of my siblings no longer have hope. They feel I’m setting myself up for heartbreak.”