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Police say they can't talk about O'Connell/Erickson investigations

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Though they can't say what it is, Hudson police detectives are continuing to get new information about Father Ryan Erickson, the former St. Patrick's priest who committed suicide on Dec. 19 in Hurley.

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The inquiry into Erickson is twofold. In late 2004 an investigation began into possible criminal activity involving minors while Erickson was a priest in Hudson. It was during the course of questioning in regard to that investigation that Erickson became a "person of interest" in the double homicide of Dan O'Connell and James Ellison in February 2002 at the O'Connell Family Funeral Home.

Police would not comment on the investigation involving minors, saying that investigation is still active and there may be additional victims, but they did confirm that Erickson knew details about the O'Connell crime scene that were never released to the public. And neither of the priest's two different explanations as to where he got the details panned out when police checked.

Erickson was interviewed twice by Hudson detectives on Nov. 11 and Dec. 7 before they secured a warrant to search St. Mary's Church in Hurley, the rectory and Erickson's office there, and the school the following week. Just three days later, Erickson hanged himself in a church hallway.

According to reports, Erickson denied committing the murders in a note left behind on his desk, but both the Hudson and Hurley police departments have sealed information because of its relevance to the Hudson investigations.

It was reported in a Minneapolis Star Tribune story about Erickson last week that the St. Croix County District Attorney's office had issued several subpoenas to people who knew Erickson to testify at a John Doe hearing held recently. A John Doe hearing is closed and used as an information-gathering resource for investigators. The proceedings are secret and no one who participates in one is allowed to disclose anything that is said. Police did confirm that the hearing was held.

Police Chief Dick Trende said his department couldn't release any information about either of the cases since both are considered ongoing investigations, even if the man at the center of them is dead.

Trende responded to criticism from former Minneapolis Police Chief Tony Bouza that Hudson was being too secretive about Erickson and that the public should be informed.

"He doesn't have to walk in my shoes," Trende said in response to Bouza. "It's easy to say that from where he is sitting. But the truth is, in both cases, we are still bound to gather as much information as we can and follow all the leads we get to determine the truth," said Trende in an interview Monday.

Trende has reviewed tapes made of his detectives' interviews with Erickson and he believes they conducted themselves professionally and skillfully. "They have had a good reason for absolutely everything done in this investigation. And Father Ryan's death does not bring this investigation to a halt. We have to go on to discover new things."

Trende said it would be premature to release all the information on the case because sometimes when something new comes to light it changes how "puzzle pieces fit together."

"I look forward to the time when we can tell the public what we know but we have to be sure that information is fair, correct and complete. If we release something that is inaccurate, we can't take it back," said Trende.

Detectives Jeff Knopps and Shawn Pettee have interviewed an estimated 1,900 people in connection with the O'Connell/Ellison murders, and Trende asks the public to be patient. "There is more work to do on both these investigations," said Knopps. "We owe it to the victims in both of them to be sure we have the right person."

To contact the Hudson Police Department, call (715) 386-4771. Anyone with information can also contact CrimeStoppers at (800) 442-7463.

Meg Heaton can be reached at mheaton@rivertowns.net.

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Meg Heaton
Meg Heaton has been a reporter with the Hudson Star Observer since 1990. She has a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and Native American Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.
(715) 808-8604
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