In a true story stranger than fiction, a man named William Boerum ran the Winnebago Mental Health Institute in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, but was actually Raymond Matzker, a man who would go on to be convicted of 7 counts of sexual offenses against very young boys in Wisconsin and Illinois. The question everyone wants to ask is how was this allowed to happen as the state needed to verify his education, his prior work history, and pass a test . He was one of 30 candidates and after the first candidate turned it down, he accepted the offer. The incident also begs the question, ‘Who can run a mental institution?’ If a delusional man who preyed on young boys could do it and have the support of the community and a few of his superiors before he was outed, who else would be able to fill the role? Some may ask what would lead such a deranged man to falsify records for the position, but I think this story speaks more about who we are in the aftermath of his outing. Many people involved in his hiring at several positions refused to take responsibility for their parts in this story after being duped by Matzker, and it is this act of passing the blame that enables such a system to continue on.
At one point in time, Raymond Matzker and the real William Boerum attended Manhattan College together in the late 1960’s, with the real Boerum going on to obtain a master’s in business administration from Cornell in 1968. After befriending Boerum and standing as an usher in his wedding, perhaps Matzker had been infatuated with this man who would go on to become the vice-president of Crocker National Bank and decided he would take on his identity. Perhaps in taking on his identity, he shed his and was able to lie to himself that he was worthy and not someone who solicited young boys. Whatever his reasons, he assumed the identity of Boerum and moved to Illinois, where he obtained jobs as a mental health and nursing administrator in Rocky County and medical services director for the Lake County Health Department in Waukegan, Ill. He left the director position in 1979 to accept the position of director at the Winnebago Mental Health Institute in 1979, being paid $42,000 a year for supervising 340 mentally-ill patients. He was able to run the institution without incident until January of 1981 and even made it past the obligatory 1-year probationary period.
After his 1-year probationary period, there were a few who questioned if Matzker should be kept on, but support from the local Winnebago area, Sen. Gary Goyke, Rep. Michael Ellis, Rep. Richard Flintrop, and even the Winnebago Mental Health Association helped to secure his position. It wasn’t until January 6th that the truth first came to light when authorities charged him with sex-related offences that his true identity was even found. A man masquerading as someone else was able to fool the community, a senator, state representatives, and a mental health association into believing he was competent enough to take care of patients while using resources to travel to neighboring cities with the intention of harming boys. Rep. Ellis later was quoted to say that he was not going to apologize for what happened in October, deflecting blame, while others played politics to reach their agendas, never really grasping the situation that they were conned and let this man run a mental institution. Even before Wisconsin, others deflected blame, allowing this predator to keep harming boys.
When Matzker was a director in Rock county in 1977, he employed a secretary that he instructed to send out applications with misleading information, including positions and degrees. Mrs. Klipstein, his secretary, eventually told county personnel director Susan Steininger and the executive administrator, Kenyon Kies, but no one believed her that he was acting erratically. She saw him changing locks on his doors, taking trips to Milwaukee and Chicago with county cars, and keeping an answering service in Illinois for no apparent reason. When this story surfaced, Kies said that he thought her story was ‘misleading’ and thought she was complaining because she was a disgruntled employee, but took no responsibility for not assigning any importance to Mrs. Klipstein’s allegations. Once again, the blame was passed and those involved absolved themselves of any guilt relating to this man. None of these people knew the true nature of Matzker, a fraud who was charged with taking indecent liberties with a minor and kidnapping on March 1, 1980 and other charges in Milwaukee, Racine, Waukesha, Wisconsin and Lyons and Libertyville, Illinois.
After the authorities took Matzker into custody, he was the first person convicted under a new sexual predator law in Wisconsin that stated that if someone is viewed as a sexually violent person who may potentially commit more crimes, they can be subjected to be held indeterminately in a secure, mental health facility after serving their sentences. As such, the man who once ran a mental institution became a patient after experts that he once loosely worked with took the stand and testified as experts that he was a paranoid schizophrenic suffering from delusions. In this strange twist of fate, Matzker was remanded to the Wisconsin Resource Center, a mental health institution, as a patient, where Thomas Michlowski, the medical director, deemed him as still psychotic. Although this humiliating and preposterous chapter of Wisconsin’s history has been buried in the archives for ages, it still reads like an episode of American Horror Story and allows us see what happens when there is a breakdown in communication, the interview process, and trusting one’s own gut instincts.