The Northwoods is the name given to the Laurentian Mixed Forest Province by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. It is a forested ecoregion that spans northern Minnesota, Wisconsin, northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula of the United States. Tourists visit the parks of the Northwoods to view the fall foliage, and often stay the weekend as part of a family or fishing vacation. Ask anyone to describe the Northwoods, and they are likely to quote Robert Frost when they tell you that the woods are “lovely, dark and deep.”
If you are not living in one of the states that make up the Northwoods, you likely have no idea what a fisher is. Part of the weasel family, fishers most closely resemble a large marten or mink. Contrary to their name, they do not fish. They are, however, incredibly skilled predators who can take on much larger prey, even challenging prey like porcupines. Of the latter, legend says that fishers are capable of scooping out its innards like ice cream, a gruesome but false claim. In reality, fishers will continually attack the porcupine’s face and underbelly, and once these wounds have weakened their prey, the fisher quickly finishes the job by biting the base of the neck. They are solitary hunters and have few predators.
A serial killer is actively targeting women in the northwest region of Minnesota. As his identity is unknown, the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU) has given him the nickname The Northwoods Fisher, or simply “The Fisher.” The Northwoods Fisher is thought to have been active for at least thirteen months. To date, law enforcement authorities have tied the Fisher to the molestation and murder or eight women.
The Northwoods Fisher’s name was coined from the victims' wounds bearing a resemblance to the predatory behavior of the fisher, and the victims who lived in towns incorporated around the Northwoods area. Karen Janus, Allison Weber, Stephanie Mueller and Marianne Gunderson were from Ellis, Edie O’Halloran from Bemidji, Judy Myers and Laurie Sorenson from Cass Lake and Melissa Carney from Blackduck. In addition to residing in Northwoods-adjacent towns, all but Gunderson were 17 years old at the time of their abduction and murder. All of the women had dark blonde hair, worn at least to their shoulders.
All but two of the women were found in the woods. Janus, O’Halloran, Myers, and Sorenson were buried in shallow graves. Weber was found face down in a stream after falling or being pushed down a hill. Carney was simply dumped in the woods, her body exposed to the elements, serving as sustenance for carrion animals. Mueller and Gunderson were found at a residence in Ellis, Minnesota.
The Fisher has also been labeled a “sex killer,” in part because all of the victims have been molested prior to their death, and in part because the Fisher is presumed to get gratification out of murdering the women, as semen has been found at six of eight locations where the bodies were found. Sometimes, the Fisher will strike multiple times in one week. This, along with a pattern of abducting women on weekend nights, tying them up in similar ways, and violating them before lethally mutilating their face, head and neck areas, lead authorities to conclude the crimes are being committed by one person.
The criminal profile established by the BAU further surmises that the Fisher is a man in his early to mid- thirties. He is sufficiently educated to be capable of initiating and sustaining a conversation. He is sufficiently attractive or charming to be capable of getting his victims alone or coercing them into a van. Though he may be using a disguise or a ruse to accomplish this. He operates only on weekends because he has a weekday job. He is either unmarried or in an unhappy marriage due to his inability to sustain normal relationships with women. The personal and violent nature of the attacks indicates that he does not have close relationships with his mother or other influential women in his life, or that his first formative experience with a woman ended in rejection.
It may be that the women disgust or offend him after he rapes and kills them. After disposing of the bodies, he does not want to think of or remember these women, as no clothing, jewelry, or any other “trophies” that most serial killers collect has gone missing from any of the victims. Given the times of disappearance to estimated time of death, he disposes of his victims’ bodies as quickly as possible after killing them. The location of the bodies indicate that the killer either knows the areas well or lives in or around the area.
The towns the killer operates in are very small, so he may know the victims personally. If they knew the killer, there is a chance that they would come willingly with him instead of being abducted. He is thought to be unarmed, but should be considered extremely dangerous.