Book review: ‘Death Haunts Door County’ by Patricia Skala

By LARRY BALLWAHN | Wilton

Dave Cubiak’s life was a mess. His wife and daughter had been killed by a drunken driver, and his grief left him totally unable to function, let alone be an effective police officer. He had been a Chicago policeman and a good one, but that was in the past. Alcohol was all that allowed him to function, barely. His best friend, and former partner, engineered an intervention. He found Dave a park ranger’s job in Door County and elicited a one-year commitment from Dave.

So that’s how he came to be in Peninsula State Park when the body of a young man was found below the former fire tower, now a tourist attraction. And on the road where two bicyclists were killed by a piano wire strung across the right of way. And when the man was found pinned to the wooden door with an arrow through his chest. Not only were the deaths tragic in their own right, but Door County was a tourist destination, and its economy counted on it. The big Spring Festival was about to begin, and if word of the unsolved cases got out, it would not only ruin the festival, but also the season.

J. Dugan Beck was the primary mover behind the festival and much else in Door County. In fact, it seemed nothing much happened without Beck’s stamp of approval. He had money and he knew how to use it. It soon became apparent that he wasn’t a suspect in the murders, as their very existence hurt everything he was working for in Door. After considerable thought, Cubiak began to wonder if hurting Beck wasn’t the purpose?

With the thought that Beck might be the target, the analysis began to look much different. Not easier, just different. As a mover and shaker, Beck had made plenty of enemies, but one willing to murder multiple people? But Beck was even worse than he first appeared. Cubiac became aware that Beck had a plan so grandiose that it would destroy most of Door County for the people who lived there. What if Door County and Washington Island could be a safety zone of the rich and famous? Through his ancestors, he already owned much of Washington Island. He could quietly buy much of the northern half of Door. Being surrounded by water, with a little planning, it was isolated enough to provide a measure of safety and relaxation to those with enough money. What a return on his money; what a way of life.

Beck had explained his plan to Cubiak because he wanted Cubiak to head the security detail that would be required. Since the plan had been laid out in book form, it had obviously become known to others on the peninsula, people fond of life in Door as it was now. And it seemed at least one of them was willing to fight for it. When the story got out that multiple people were being killed there, selling it as a safety zone would be impossible. Unfortunately, that approach not only cost lives, abut also ruined the present economy. There must be a way to limit the suspects, but how?

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