Portage County investigators say 1984 case thought to be murder now ruled accidental death

Technological advancements helped determine the events that led to the death Janet Raasch whose body was found in 1984 in Plover
Published: Oct. 11, 2022 at 8:26 AM CDT
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STEVENS POINT, Wis. (WSAW) - Authorities have now ruled the 1984 death of Janet Raasch an accident.

Janet Raasch was reported missing 38 years ago today. Investigators said she was hitchhiking at the time of her disappearance. Her remains were found near the intersection of Highway 54 and J outside Plover by hunters a month later after she was reported missing.

During a press conference on Tuesday afternoon, Portage County Detective Dustin Kitzman released unknown details of the case to the media.

Kitzman said Raasch was in a makeshift campsite when her sleeping bag caught fire, subsequently spreading to her body. Detective Kitzman said Raasch had thermal injuries to 50-60% of her body. Those thermal injuries were lethal.

“It has then therefore been concluded with a number of different investigative experts that while sleeping in her sleeping bag, Janet awoke to being fully engulfed. As she attempted to distance herself from the fire, pieces of the bag were deposited near her belongings. And she continued south depositing much of the burning material of her jeans, shirt and sleeping bag until she reached approximately 17 feet to the south, where additional pockets, and coins and keys were deposited. Minimally clothed and severely burned, Janet attempted to go back to Highway 54 where she subsequently collapsed and succumbed to her injuries,” an emotional Kitzman explained.

In 1984, and in the decades following, a cause of death was not released to the public. Authorities explained in 1984, Raasch’s body was badly decomposed, but they believed she had been strangled.

Raasch’s body was exhumed in 2002 in the hopes of obtaining DNA evidence.

On Tuesday, investigators said Raasch’s death was accidental. It is no longer a murder investigation. Hundreds of pieces of evidence were investigated.

Investigators said Raasch was camping in the woods because she was hitchhiking to a larger city for a medical procedure.

Prior to Tuesday, the Raasch case had been the county’s only unsolved death.

Raasch was a Merrill native studying business at the University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point at the time of her disappearance.