TOMAH, WI—An ongoing murder investigation aboard a cross-country Amtrak passenger train has not been the thrilling, suspense-filled journey of intrigue and ingenious subterfuge that was initially anticipated, travelers said Monday.
"It seemed like an open and shut case," said accountant Louis Simms, one of 129 passengers aboard the train. "No arcane clues or cryptic poetry or 'perfect crime' aspirations or anything. A guy got into a fight and got stabbed."
The victim, identified by police as 34-year-old Paul Satterwhite, was found dead of multiple stab wounds in the dining car of the Empire Builder in the early morning hours of Monday, nearly two hours after the train's departure from Chicago. Passenger excitement upon the discovery of the slaying was soon dashed when local police dispatched to the scene decided to hold the Oregon-bound train outside the small rural community of Tomah indefinitely.
"I can't believe they stopped the train at the next crossing," telemarketer Joe Stimpson said. "I thought this sort of thing was supposed to slowly unfold while we were still moving, not drag on forever in some middle-of-nowhere cornfield."
A sort of confused monotony defined the next several hours, as bleary-eyed passengers were first ordered off the train and crowded into Tomah's tiny train station, then put back on again when concerns about flight risk on the part of the still-unknown perpetrator were voiced. The police, reportedly inexperienced with murder investigations, again removed the passengers when it was determined that the crime scene had not been properly secured.
The arrival of FBI agents shortly after sunrise prompted a stir of excitement among the travelers, but this was quickly suppressed when they were ordered back on the train and told to remain in their seats. Because this meant that no one but people carrying badges was allowed to sleuth, several passengers questioned whether proper police procedure was being conducted.
"How are we supposed to gauge one another's reaction to the murder if we're not all allowed to crowd around the body at once?" dental assistant Lynn Gallen said. "Who's going to solve the mystery if plucky amateurs are not allowed to snoop around and spot clues the professionals are too dull and complacent to notice?"
"Anyhow, I heard the guy was stabbed with an ordinary switchblade, not something cool like a rare Mayan obsidian dagger," Gallen continued.
Many also expressed a strong dislike of the lead investigator on the case, Agent Bernard Larson.
"That man has got to be the least memorable person alive," electrician Raymond Mercado said. "He has no interesting quirks or foibles, looks neither eccentrically shabby nor fastidiously dapper. He doesn't even smoke. And he wasn't coincidentally on the train when the murder happened, either. They just brought him in later."
Passengers also criticized the repetitive questioning by police, the lack of verbal updates about the situation, and the fact that the body had been discovered out in the open and hadn't tumbled from a luggage rack or been crammed into a large steamer trunk. While several bald, middle-aged fat men were present on the train, none are reported to have worn black suits or carried bass fiddles.
Riders were further let down when, by midday, Chicago resident Nathan Van Dyck, 28, was taken into custody. A kitchen worker reported seeing Van Dyck heatedly arguing with the victim shortly before the body was discovered.
According to police, Satterwhite was a divorced auto mechanic who allegedly lacked a shadowy past involving deceit, murder, and treachery that would have motivated an act of violent retribution. Nor did Satterwhite and Van Dyck appear to share any apparent dark secrets.
Even the resolution of the case left travelers cold, as Van Dyck's arrest enabled the train to resume the journey without incident. While most dozed, a few returned to their knitting, Sudoku puzzle books, and mystery novels.
"This whole experience hasn't been the least bit fun or fascinating," podiatrist Floyd Rose said. "In fact, I'm starting to think what happened here was kind of awful and scary."
A few expressed disappointment that the only somewhat interesting passenger, an impeccably dressed gentleman with an eye patch and a German accent, hadn't been seen on the train since he was spotted leaving the dining car shortly after the murder was thought to have occurred.