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Where’s Jerry?

Friend offers reward after thieves steal ashes

Shortly after Christmas, Bruce Liebzeit thought he’d drop by his old friend’s house, but when he got there, no one was around. Strange, he thought, last time he was there his old buddy Jerry Longridge was in the kitchen.

“Where’s Jerry?” Bruce wondered.

Turns out, Jerry had been stolen, or at least his earthly remains had been. Jerry Longridge, you see, had died back in September, and Liebzeit had retrieved his ashes from a crematorium and set them on an old cookstove in Longridge’s farmstead house northwest of Greenwood until the remains could be spread properly in spring.

But Jerry was gone.

Liebzeit saw clear signs of another burglary at the old house in which Longridge stayed when he came up from his residence in Madison. The place is on Riplinger Road in the town of Warner, kiddycorner across the gravel road from the Warner Town Hall. It’s remote, and had been the target of vandals before.

There was enough snow on the ground for Liebzeit to see the tracks where the burglars had been in the house, and the barn. Liebzeit saw some tires he had been storing in the barn were missing, and the house was a mess.

“They broke in on Christmas eve,” Liebzeit said. “They just turned the house upside down.”

A few briefcases of Longridge’s had been rummaged through as the burglars likely looked for money. What really caught Liebzeit’s eye, though, was what was not on the old cookstove — a white paper bag from the crematorium that held the remains of what had been Liebzeit’s lifelong friend.

“Where’s Jerry?” he said. “The white paper bag was laying on the floor.”

Inside that bag had been a few pounds of what remained of Jerry Longridge, who died at age 76. He was born and raised in that house and another one nearby, and kept it as a second home for when he came to the area to fish and hunt.

Liebzeit had not even opened the white paper bag after he fetched it from Madison a short while after Longridge’s death on Sept. 12. He preferred not to have it in his own house near Willard, so he just took the bag to Jerry’s place and set it on the stove.

“I was just amazed at how much it weighed,” Liebzeit said. “It was a pretty big batch of ashes.”

The plan had been to wait until warmer weather

“I have no idea of why they have been taken. It doesn’t even make sense.” -- Bruce Liebzeit to gather some friends to spread the ashes and fondly reminisce about a man’s life. Jerry had said he wanted his remains to permanently reside near the house on a dead end road where he had been born. The family calls it “the spookhouse.”

“He always said, ‘Put me up by the spookhouse,’” Liebzeit said. “All the kids called it the spookhouse. Jerry’s folks lived there years ago. He was born there.”

Jerry was an only child, “spoiled” Liebzeit says now with a chuckle. After graduating from Greenwood High School, he went on to earn a degree in microbiology from UW-Eau Claire, then got his master’s degree at UW-Madison. He ended up taking a job at UW-Madison, and worked his entire life there, conducting research on pesticides. His estate will be given to UW-Eau Claire for scholarships for students.

He wasn’t really the scientist type, though, sporting a long beard and more at home in a deer stand or fishing boat. His second home on the home farm was far from neat and tidy.

“He lived like an old hermit,” Liebzeit said.

Liebzeit and Longridge went back a long way together.

“I’ve known him since I was little,” Liebzeit said. “He’d come up and we’d go hunting and fishing.”

So it was that Liebzeit came to be the administrator of the estate of his friend, whose closest remaining relatives are cousins, and of course, the caretaker of that white paper bag with the ashes. After they vanished, Liebzeit said he looked through the house, outside in the snow in case the burglars had dumped them, and even in the ditches up and down the road.

Now, Liebzeit is offering a $500 reward for any information that may identify who took Jerry. Liebzeit reported the burglary to the Clark County Sheriff’s Department, but doesn’t have much hope of finding his friend unless somebody who know something is willing to speak up. He asks anyone with information to call him at 715-267-7669.

Of all the things at the Longridge house, Liebzeit is dumbfounded as to why thieves would swipe Jerry.

“They had a lot of stuff there. So did I,” Liebzeit said. “There was no money. I have no idea of why they have been taken. It doesn’t even make sense.