Jean Viken's friends and family remember her as a loving mother of four young kids, a devoted daughter and sister.
But nearly four years after her murder, a dark cloud hangs over Jean's memory, as they continue to search for answers.
"We were having a birthday party for her because all of her friends would have wanted to get together like we would have done if she was here," Jane Hempel said.
Almost five months after Jane Hempel reported her sister Jean Viken missing, family and friends gathered to celebrate her birthday, hoping to feel some semblance of normalcy in the wake of a horrific nightmare.
"And we all just got to Happy Joe’s when I received the call to come to the Sheriff's Department,” Hempel remembered. “And we were told they had found her body and they were pretty sure it was hers."
It was the call Jane had needed to hear all this time.
"Oh gosh. We were so scared," she said.
Her younger sister's body had been found by two fishermen, a victim of a brutal murder.
"Evidence we found at the scene indicated that she had been shot at least two, if not four times by a 357 revolver,” Det. Steve Bowers said. “She had then been transported from the scene. Her body was left in a rural location in Sawyer County. And the vehicle was left at a differnet location."
Jean's van had been stolen, and police believed it was used to drive her body to remote location. When it was found, the carpeting and license plates had been removed.
It was a web of clues scattered throughout the North Woods. To Det. Steve Bowers with the Taylor County Sheriff’s Department, it spelled out one clear message.
"It leads to the fact that this was not a random person that did this," Det. Bowers said.
It was a grave realization that began to haunt family and friends. Police believed someone Jean knew had murdered her.
Detectives began to piece together the final hours before Jean disappeared, as they worked to narrow in on her killer.
"We've been to forensics laboratories, in Missouri and Minnesota, as well as all three of the crime labs in Wisconsin, testing DNA, testing firearms, testing fibers."
In the months after Jean's disappearance, detectives with the Taylor County Sheriff's Department, say they exhausted all their resources.
"I've never had a case since I've been working here, where we've used this many sources on a single case."
The unanswered questions and unsolved case have taken their toll Hempel.
"I would have never expected anything like that. And I never would have expected to be sitting here almost four years later, and the killer's walking the street. That just tears my heart out."
An emotional rollercoaster Hempel's had to ride since Jan. 30, 2008.
"Duane had the children and was supposed to return them to her,” Det. Bowers said.
Jean was in the middle of a divorce with her husband Duane Viken. Her four young children had been at their father's house when she disappeared.
“According to Duane, he had been calling her,” Det. Bowers said. “And she hadn't been answering the phone. Instead of notifying law enforcement, Duane called her sister."
“That was the second day school was canceled," Hempel said. ”Always the night before she got the kids back, she cooked the food for the whole rest of the week.”
"Jane went out to the house, found a pot on the stove with food in it still cooking, found the lights on, Jean's purse, cell phone, keys were still at the house,” Det. Bowers said. “And she was no where to be found."
"I knew right away when we were at the house, that something bad had happened,” Hempel said. “It was her son's, she only had the one boy, it was his golden birthday and we had been planning for weeks.”
But just as mysterious as the day Jean disappeared, the reason and person behind her murder has yet to be known. Police with Taylor County say with no witnesses to directly link anyone to the crime, they haven’t been able to charge anyone, and the case remains as cold as the day Jean went missing.
"You always hope,” Hempel said. “That's why I always hope there's going to be arrests in this murder case. I just don't see how there can't be. I don't see how there hasn't been already either though with everything that's happened. Without hope you got nothing. You got to hold onto that as long as you can."
NewsChannel 7 reached out to Jean's estranged husband Duane Viken, who first noticed she wasn't picking up her phone, but he declined to comment on her case.
Taylor County has named four persons of interest in this case, but NewsChannel 7 has decided not to reveal their identities because they haven’t been formally charged.
Authorities say just one tip could help in making an arrest. If you have any information, please call the Taylor County Sheriff's Department at 715-748-2200
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