A Gitchie Manitou postscript

There was much in my story Sunday about the 40th anniversary of the murders at Gitchie Manitou state preserve on the South Dakota-Iowa border east of Sioux Falls that didn’t make it into print.

There just wasn’t enough space to cover it all.

If there had been, I would have said more about the Fryer brothers, who are doing life in prison in Fort Madison, Iowa, for killing four local teenagers and raping a fifth at Gitchie Manitou.

It seems incredible to note now that on the night of the murders — Nov. 17, 1973 – one of the three brothers, James Fryer, was already in the Minnehaha County Jail serving time on a theft charge or something similar.

He was on work release at the time, apparently driving a wrecking truck for a local business. Retired law enforcement folks say he checked out of jail for his shift that day, accompanied his brothers on their murderous rampage that night, then checked himself back into jail afterward.

Retired Lyon County Sheriff Craig Vinson told me that the Fryers weren’t the brightest bulbs in the pack. While in jail in Rock Rapids, one or more of the brothers liked to chat about their criminal exploits, such as how they would come upon disabled vehicles along the side of the road and rob them.

Vinson got a chuckle out of one story the Fryers told about a van they happened upon in Sioux Falls that was filled with shoes. Having cleaned the van out, they took the shoes to a relative’s house and hid them in the attic – except that there was so much of the footwear, they broke through the attic floor and fell into the room down below.

But they must have had some smarts. While in the jail in Rock Rapids, Allen and David Fryer broke out. Former chief deputy LeRoy Griesse reported that the locks on the jail cells were attached with nuts and bolts. Allen Fryer took a chain hook off a bunk that was attached to the wall and tightened it down enough so that he could reach through the narrow opening on his cell door through which meals were passed and unscrewed the nuts with the hook.

“They never riveted the nuts on,” Griesse said. “Allen was a long, tall, skinny guy and was able to reach through the little opening on his door and get them loose.”

Allen Fryer had noted that keys had been left hanging in an entryway to unlock the necessary doors. With those keys, he and his brother were out the door. They walked along the railroad tracks near the jail for a block or two, then stole a pickup truck and headed west, Griesse said.

He believes they struck a female pedestrian somewhere out in Wyoming before they were eventually caught in Gillette.

Two other tidbits from my notebook:

— Griese said he and Sheriff Vinson were doing a stakeout in the western half of Lyon County the night of the murders. On most occasions, when in that part of the county, they would have driven into Gitchie Manitou to break up any beer parties or other illicit activities. But a heavy fog had rolled in, they couldn’t even see past the hood of their squad car and so decided not to go into the state preserve, Griesse said.

“If not for the fog,” he said, “I don’t have any doubt that one of us would have come upon that situation.”

— Sandra Cheskey, the lone survivor of the murders at Gitchie Manitou, said one of her brother’s, Bill, had intended to come with her that night, but changed his mind at the last second.

“Had my brother gone, probably nobody would have been left alive,” she told me. “He would have known what was going on, and I’m sure he would have tried to protect me.”