LAST UPDATED: May 1st, 2015
More than a decade has passed since one of the most infamous opening days to Wisconsin’s gun season. On that day, November 21st, 2004, an alleged racially motivated altercation between an all-white hunting party and a single Hmong man lead to the deaths of six people, landing the shooter, Chai Soua Vang, in prison for the rest of his life.
The complete recount of those events are now available in a new book entitled, “Tree Stand Murders”. The book was written by first time author David Whitehurst, a long time hunter who was nearby when the incident occurred. “When I heard those sirens go by that day and saw the ambulances speeding, I knew instantly this was a major event that should be recorded for history”, replied the now 77 year old Whitehurst during a recent interview with the Twin Cities Pioneer Press. “Over the months after that, what I did was talk to as many people as I know in the area and asked who was going to write a book, and no one was. I checked with my friends who are writers, and all of them said the same thing: It should be a book, but I’m busy on another project right now. So I gathered information, starting with 1,600 pages of police reports I obtained before the trial.”
Whitehurst attended the trial of Vang in 2005, taking notes and speaking with nearly everyone involved. The hardest part of the story for Whitehurst to reconstruct was the incident itself. “I talked with (survivor) Lauren Hesebeck. He didn’t want to talk for a long time, and finally I said, “I’ve written the incident. Can you just read it and see if I’m on track?” He said I was. I then spoke with Steve Crotteau, whose brother was killed, and his son Carter, who discovered the bodies. The library of Rice Lake was very generous to allow us to use a private room for these discussions. They all said the same thing: You’re on track; you’ve got it. That was encouraging, so I kept going.”
Vang (pictured above) is currently serving several life terms after a tragic Wisconsin deer hunt left six other hunters dead in 2004.
The book is not one-sided either. Whitehurst was careful to examine the history and lives of the Hmong people, including Vang’s parents, to give the reader an accurate background of the problems faced by Hmong-Americans not just in the state of Wisconsin.
Speaking on the Vietnam War, Whitehurst explains, “What the Hmong people did during the war was fantastic. It was horrible what they went through and especially when the U.S. pulled out and the communists moved in. They were merciless, especially to those who were part of the CIA’s “Secret War.” It was quite a victory when Chai Vang’s father and mother got him (Vang) out. The Hmong people did a tremendous effort toward the cause of freedom. It didn’t work in the end — and that’s, of course, why they came here — but in terms of the effort, I give them very high marks.”
Vang is currently serving six charges of first-degree intentional homicide and three counts of attempted homicide in an unknown location outside the state of Wisconsin. He was sentenced to life in prison for each murder conviction.
David Whitehurst’s 174-page book, “Tree Stand Murders”, is available at several Rice Lake area bookstores or online at Amazon or OutlookPress.Com.