Death investigation involving 'town bully' sets city on edge
GALENA (WGN) -- Three hours northwest of Chicago is a resort town famous for its golf courses in the summer and skiing in winter. It's also the historical home of President Ulysses S. Grant. So what drew WGN investigates to Galena? Turns out there's a scandal that's got many of its 3,000 residents talking. One man is dead, another charged and a mother is left to grieve.
Beverly Friede is the victim's mother. She spent six days at the hospital praying that her son would wake from a coma. He never did. The doctors came in telling her she was going to have to decide whether or not to remove he son from life support. According to Beverly Friede, it was an impossible decision, "You know I still think about that. Did I do the right thing? I still think about it."
Brian Friede was the son who called his mom every night between 6:00 and 7:00 pm. With a mother's instinct Beverly Friede knew something was off. Her son hadn't called.
Galena is a touch of old-fashioned Americana with candy shops, ghost tours and knick knacks of every kind. Main Street is filled more with tourists than regulars. The days are slow. The pace is easy. Even the police take lunch breaks.
Yet, behind the beauty of this historic, picturesque, river-town, trouble is brewing.
Trouble, in this case, comes in the form of James, or Jim Peters. Several people we spoke to labeled Peters the town bully.
Stacey Farrey says she's afraid of Peters, "Yeah I would say so. I think most people in town are." Businessman Ivo Puidak said, "Mr. Peters decided he would threaten me and told me he'd love to catch me around when there was nobody around to deliver some justice to me." Bartender Deb Beusse described what happened to her, "I had one incident where I came in one night and he was giving this guy a hard time. Before I knew it punches are being thrown and tables were tossed. And it's him."
Peters tells a different story saying, "Look at the size of me. What, how could I be a bully? I'm 165 pounds and 52 years old."
But WGN Investigates dug up three decades worth of Police and Sheriff's calls all involving Peters. We found 12 calls for domestic abuse, 11 for assault, 27 for a host of charges like speeding, disturbing the peace, burglary, and drugs. Some calls resulted in arrests. Peters served some jail time.
Farrey says of Peters, "He kicked me in the stomach and I went flying across the room until I hit the wall on the other side." Beusse adds, "He's a bully. I can't think of any other bar he's allowed in. He's literally kind of kicked out of this town by the people because they don't want to deal with him." According to Puidak, "We all say well nothing is going to happen until someone ends up getting killed. Well somebody died this time. What happened?"
All that is certain for now, is that on May 3rd around 10 at night, 57-year-old Brian Friede and the 52-year-old Peters ended up at Murphy's, a local gas station. Punches flew, Friede went down and hit his head. Peters took off.
Lynn Richardson is Friede's younger sister. That night she was listening to her scanner never expecting to hear her brother's name involved in a fight. She drove to the gas station to find out what happened. She says police would not let her see her brother, "Very bad, very bad shape. Then they pointed out the puddle of blood that was there."
No one in the Friede family understood what the fight was about. According to Beverly, "That's the thing that bothers us so bad is we don't know what the reason is. As far as we're concerned he never had anything to do with that guy."
Peters chalks it up to happenstance, wrong place at the wrong time. He said he stopped at the gas station on his way to get his six-year-old daughter an ice cream cone at 9 o'clock that night. According to Peters, "It's a school night. But I promised her. So we head up to McDonalds to get the ice cream cone, but the idiot that I am, instead of going to get the ice cream cone, I needed a pop. So I go up to Murphy's to get a pop, so I get called over to a car."
But why not go to McDonalds? It sells pop too. It doesn't explain why a chance encounter with two men over 50 would end in a fight.
Peters' version of events have him being called over to see a friend in a nearby car. Peters says, "I go over to his car. It was a guy I know, a guy with Brian Friede in the back seat, who I don't know. I see the guy in the back seat, but again, I don't know the guy. I seen him (Friede) 10 years ago. I seen him once. I met him once, 10 years ago. I'm leaning inside the car and all of a sudden I hear, 'Remember me, motherf...' I turn around, BOOM, he hits me."
With Friede dead, we'll never know his side of the story. So his family is speaking out to give him a voice. Keep in mind, Peters walked away. Brian Friede ended up in the hospital. Friede's sister, Lynn says, "I didn't even recognize him. I couldn't even believe that was my brother laying there."
Friede's mom says Brian wasn't the type to get into fights, "I never had to worry about him getting into fights."
There is a video tape and audio tape, but Prosecutors won't release it to WGN Investigates. There are witnesses, 8 of them. They are not talking to us. A Grand Jury indicted Peters for Involuntary Manslaughter. Peters chose a judge, not a jury to decide his fate.
As Peters says, "There's audio, there's video, the guy, uh, attacked me. I didn't attack anyone. I was getting April an ice cream cone. The guy was at the bar drinkin' for hours."
Its true Friede was very drunk, according to the Coroner's report twice the legal limit. Which, is odd because when Friede finally call his mom earlier that night he said he just wanted to get home. His mother said in the call Friede said, "He said that he was waiting for his ride home. He was getting concerned about his dog. He wanted to get home. He was tired."
Friede's ride was late again. He and a co-worker, Chris Fiffe, left work at a foundry in Galena, walked to a nearby bar. Hours later, Friede was still waiting for his ride from the co-worker's girlfriend.
The youngest in the Friede family Lori Einsweiler, doesn't think that was a coincidence. Since her brother didn't have any money with him, she believes Fiffe bought the booze. Then his girlfriend drove a drunk Friede to the gas station knowing Peters would be there. Why, because her brother was complaining too much about Fiffe's girlfriend always being late. According to Lori, "They work as a team. Chris is Jim Peters' puppet."
Chris Fyffe and Jim Peters are good friends. They were once charged in a drug case together. The Prosecutor dismissed the case against Peters and Fyffe took the fall. It's also important to note that Fyffe and his girlfriend are witnesses in the Friede case. They have not been charged with any crime.
Another twist to this mystery, Friede and Peters tangled once before nearly ten years ago, according to police reports. The family says Peters became jealous when his wife introduced herself to Friede. Lori says, "Jim got all upset and my brother went into the bathroom, Jim followed him in and beat him up in the bathroom."
The town's people remember how that went. A similar story. Friede lost the fight and Peters left before the cops arrived.
Yet, folks here wonder, with Peters' troubled history, why is he still on the street? And now remember, Peters picked a judge over a jury to decide his fate this time. There is a lot of talk in town that Peters and the judge are way too close.
Lynn fears that the family may not get justice saying, "I think Jim has something on this judge. What I don't know, but yeah. Yeah. He's letting him off everything he's gotten into. So yeah there is definitely something there. And everybody in town says the same thing"
Tomorrow night, WGN Investigations will look at the ties between Peters and the Judge.
Peters faces the potential of 5 years in prison if convicted of the involuntary manslaughter and is also charged with two counts of aggravated battery.
The police, the prosecutor, the judge and the owner of the gas station all refused to talk to us at WGN Investigates.
One last note, since we talked to Jim Peters in early fall, his wife who was with him at that moment, has since died of a hemorrhage in the brain.