On November 16, 1991, retired schoolteachers Cecelia Cadigan, 85, and her 90-year-old sister, Ann, were stabbed and beaten to death in their home in Casco, Wisconsin. The women were believed to be wealthy (their estate included $500,000 in bank accounts) and their purses were missing.
The crime went unsolved for nearly four years.
On July 25, 1995, Beth LaBatte, 27, a drug addict and alcoholic, was arrested on a probation violation.
Because of her criminal background, she was viewed as a suspect in the Cadigan murders. About 10 months before the murders, she had robbed an elderly woman in her home and several months after the murders, she had been charged with using a knife in two attempted robberies, including one attempt to rob an elderly man in his home. She had pleaded guilty to one of the crimes, the other was dismissed.
During six hours of interrogation, LaBatte made incriminating statements, including that she was probably drunk on the night of the crime and usually blacked out when drunk and that there was a side to her she called “Bad Beth.” Police said LaBatte stated, “I think Bad Beth would have known what happened to the old ladies in Casco.”
However, LaBatte insisted she was not the killer.
In December 1996, Joseph Brunette, an ex-boyfriend of one of LaBatte’s sister, told police that she had confessed to killing the Cadigans along with her boyfriend, Charles Benoit.
LaBatte was charged by the Kewaunee County District with two counts each of murder and armed robbery on December 23, 1996.
On February 24, 1997, Benoit was charged with two counts of being a party to murder for allegedly driving LaBatte to the Cadigan home.
LaBatte went to trial in Outagamie County Circuit, where the case had been moved due to media attention to the case. During the nine-day trial, three jail inmates testified that LaBatte had confessed to them. Two of the inmates said she admitted killing two old women. The third said she confessed to killing the Cadigans specifically.
LaBatte was convicted on December 11, 1997 and sentenced to two consecutive terms of life in prison.
Benoit was acquitted on January 30, 1998.
LaBatte’s conviction was upheld by the Third District Wisconsin Court of Appeals on September 8, 1999.
In May 2004, a judge granted DNA testing of evidence in the case at the request of the Wisconsin Innocence Project at the University of Wisconsin Law School.
The tests, conducted on several pieces of evidence, including the handle of the knife used in the murders, excluded LaBatte and her conviction was vacated in November 2005.
LaBatte was released from prison on bond on January 15, 2006.
The Kewaunee County District Attorney dismissed the charges on August 1, 2006.
LaBatte was killed in a single vehicle crash in Waushara County, Wisconsin in September 2007.
– Maurice Possley