The Wisconsin River Jane Doe

July 30th, 1999. A couple decided to have a picnic along the scenic Wisconsin River on a warm Summer day. An image immediately comes to mind. A couple happily enjoying a meal prepared at home; sandwiches, drinks, snacks. Two people enjoying each others company. Nothing could ruin this day, or so one would think. That is until in between bites of cheese and sips of wine, an object is spotted near the water’s edge. A black duffel bag. Upon further inspection, the couple found butchered human remains. The once picturesque day ended abruptly. The bag dropped, site abandoned and police called immediately.

 Image displayed on flyer of the forensic bust made based on the remains found.

Image displayed on flyer of the forensic bust made based on the remains found.

Over the next 2 days a female body would start to form. A torso was discovered on the first day of searching and all remaining pieces of the body found the following day, minus the feet. The torso had been placed in the duffel bag and other remains were found in Woodman’s grocery bags. The remains were transported so that an autopsy could be performed as soon as possible. Multiple questions lingered. Who was the victim? How long had the victim sat in the river bank? What was the cause of death? Not much in the way of evidence was left at the dumping site so authorities were going to have their work cut out for them.

An autopsy was performed and a cause of death could not be determined due to the state of the remains. It was also difficult to identify the victim. The reason being the skin had been removed from most of the body. The only conclusions made was that the victim was female and the body had sat in the water for approximately 3 days. The police did not have many options. The first thing they wanted to do was identify the victim. That would at least give them the opportunity to generate a few potential suspects or interview friends of the deceased to figure out the last know moments of the victim.

In an effort to identify the victim, police allowed a forensic anthropologist to inspect the remains. Based on the dimensions of the skull some assumptions could be made. Facial features, nationality, and gender. With this information a composite head bust was made of the victim. Different hair styles were applied and multiple pictures were taken of the bust from different angles. Posters were created and the hope was that the victim had been local. Someone would know who this woman was. If the posters were placed in the right window and if the anthropologist was accurate in the assessment of the victim, police could get a response soon. It took over 6 months but they had created a real shot at solving the case.

Shortly after the posters were put up, police did receive the big break they were hoping for. A local woman claimed the posters resembled her ex-husband’s cousin, Mwivano Mwambashi Kupaza, a 25-year-old student from Tanzania. Once they had the name, authorities were able to track down fingerprints from a local abortion clinic belonging to Mwivano and compared them to the body. A match was found and an identity to this Wisconsin Jane Doe was made. The ex-wife went on to explain that Peter had raped his cousin and forced her into the abortion.

 Undated image of Mwivano.

Undated image of Mwivano.

The cops decided to pay a visit to Peter and get his side of things on January 31st, 2000. Peter was insistent that his cousin had left town and went back home on April 25th, 1999. He mentioned he received a phone call from family confirming her arrival. When authorities called Mwivano’s family in Tanzania to confirm they were adamant that they had heard nothing from her since June of 1998. The family had not reported her missing due to the reassurances from Peter, believing she was in good hands.

Peter would double down on his claims, giving authorities names and dates. Peter stated that his cousin left on a bus bound for Iowa on April 25th, and would then fly to Tanzania. Kupaza claimed he had given her $100 for the trip. A claim that was called into question after inspecting Peter’s financial records. He had very little money and was behind on nearly all of his bills. It would have been very difficult to save up that kind of money as he claimed. After questioning the 40-year-old Peter Kupaza, he would eventually be taken into custody and search would be performed throughout his home.

Police would find numerous sharp knives, a blood stain beneath the base boards in the bathroom, and a number of the Woodman’s grocery bags. A number of personal items belonging to the Mwivano were also present; some jewelry, purses,and bible. Items one would expect to take with them if they planned on returning home. The bloodstain would also be tested and was found to be a match with Mwivano.

The biggest piece of evidence was a letter postmarked for June 24th, 1999. On the envelope was Mwivano’s fingerprint. This completely unhinged Peter’s story claiming his cousin had left in April and had no contact with her since then. There was also a daily planner that Peter kept regularly. Around the suspected time of Mwivano’s murder, cryptic entries were entered in Tanzanian languages. The loose translations were in regards to falling into something and getting a job done. These could mean any number of things but given their proximity to the murder, it’s easy to assume they were in regards to his cousin. With that Peter was charged with the murder and mutilation of his cousin.

Throughout the trial it was stated that Peter showed little emotion. Additional evidence came forth during the trial. The ex-wife testified to the relationship Peter kept with the cousin which would lead to their divorce. She also testified that the black duffel bag was his, a gift she had given him a few years prior. Kupaza himself would also testify in a last ditch effort to save himself. He again asserted that Mwivano had went to Iowa via Greyhound with another man from Tanzania. The defense refuted these claims as lies and had a very strong case.

 Peter while testifying on the stand.

Peter while testifying on the stand.

Kupaza had lied throughout the case. He had a familiarity with the river where the remains were discovered. They could also assert that she was so severely disfigured and mangled to Peter’s ties with her. If no one could identify her, then authorities would be unable to identify him as the killer. There were also claims that Kupaza had been familiar with butchering animals being able to easily apply this knowledge in a murder. There was also strong evidence written in Peter’s very own hand. His planner as previously discussed showed he was in a stressful state the week Mwivano was discovered. It is thought that he being financially responsible for the two of them was too much to handle. Finally one of biggest pieces of evidence was the testimony of Mwivano’s father. He again stated that he had no contact with Kupaza since he had arrived in the United States and had no knowledge of his daughter returning to Tanzania. Later that year he would be sentenced to life imprisonment for the brutal murder of Mwivano.

An odd twist that almost had Peter out of prison was in regards to one of the witnesses. Sandra Anderson trains and handles cadaver sniffing dogs and was charged with tampering evidence in a number of cases. Could Peter prove the same in his case? He filed for an appeal to his case but was unsuccessful. Despite the poor witness testimony of the dog handler, there was still overwhelming evidence that Peter was the murderer and attempted to cover his tracks through lies and deceit. Peter Kupazo is still being held at the Dodge Correctional Institution in Waupun, Wisconsin.