Missing Michael: The Milwaukee barber’s creepy collection

Child abductions by strangers are rare. When they do occur, most involve teenage girls and are sexually motivated. Perhaps surprisingly the majority of stranger abductions do not end with the child being killed, they end with the child being released.

Michael Dunahee’s disappearance and presumed stranger abduction is exceptional in many respects. The chapter of Michael’s case involving a Milwaukee barber is certainly remarkable.

For a brief moment early in 2009, it seemed there might be a break in the Michael Dunahee case. American small businessman and barber Vernon Seitz was publicly discussed as a possible suspect. Seitz would soon be discounted by authorities on both sides of the border. But is it possible Seitz did know something about Michael’s abduction?

Seitz’s connection with Michael’s disappearance comes down to the discovery of one of Michael’s missing posters amongst Seitz’s possessions when he died in December 2008. Other disturbing belongings include a book on cannibalism, ‘Eat Thy Neighbor: A History of Cannibalism’, a handgun, child pornography, paintings of nude boys being tortured, hand cuffs, and bondage devices. His collection earned him the headline ‘Dead Barber’s Home Yields Creepy Stash’ in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

A screenshot of an online article from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that shows an image of a light green house with white trim as snow falls from the dark sky, with a headline that reads 'Dead barber's home yields creepy stash'

Dr. Victoria Fetter was Seitz’s long-time psychiatrist. She calls him her most challenging patient.

“He wasn’t a very attractive man. He had just ordinary looks and he was short, but he had the ugliest smile. In French we call it a ‘rictus’. French is my mother tongue. In English it is a totally distorted smile. You would describe that of a murder of someone very evil, a terrible person. Well, Vernon’s smile was hideous, sort of asymmetrical. And absolutely hideous. He didn’t smile very often,” she said of the late Seitz.

In the latest episode of ‘Missing Michael’, Fetter details the strange series of events leading up to Seitz’s death in December 2008. Fetter met with Seitz regularly for 11 years. He was referred to her by his primary care physician and was extremely anxious.

Fetter’s assessment was, “I think he had a severe personality disorder. I think he was probably a psychopath. Psychopaths don’t have a very good prognosis.”

Seitz reveals to Fetter that he is a pedophile but claims he doesn’t act on his fantasies. He also tells Fetter that as a 12-year-old child he was abducted at the zoo in Racine, Wisconsin in 1959. It is during that incident he alleges that he was involved in the murder of two other children.

Seitz also claims he has a gift for finding missing kids. He involves himself in the Jacob Wetterling investigation, turning up with a painting, suggesting he had psychic abilities.

Then in November 2008, Seitz asks his psychiatrist to call the police so he can confess to his involvement in the murders of the two children. But the police find no evidence to substantiate his story and then a few weeks later, when they go to his home for a wellness check, Seitz is found dead at 62, of apparently natural causes.

Because of the bizarre nature of the materials found in his home, police thoroughly search his property and his business, ‘Vern’s Barber Shop’.

A book cover with the title 'Eat Thy Neighbour: a History of Cannibalism' written on the front in dark red, on top of a beige mask that is designed to cover everything under the eyes on a face

FILE – Eat Thy Neighbour book cover. (Courtesy Amazon)

Al Cochrane was the Victoria Police detective in charge of Michael’s case when Seitz first comes to public attention. Now retired, Cochrane recalls following up on the tip.

“Yes, I remember that tip and working with the Milwaukee police at the time I did connect with them. We exchanged as much file information as possible. We looked at the timeframe, in 1991 and looking back through what records, financial records, or anything that would have been going on in Mr. Seitz’s life at the time and that it would have been difficult for him to be on Vancouver Island at the time. Everything possible that could have been done, was done, to try to make sure. Because he had passed away, we weren’t able to totally 100 per cent eliminate him.”

Sgt. Efrain Cornejo is in the public relations office with the Milwaukee Police Department.

“I was able to find some information regarding this investigation. However, the main investigators are no longer members of the Milwaukee Police Department,” Cornejo said when asked for comment on the Seitz case as it relates to the Dunahee investigation.

“…Investigations into a person that is deceased are very difficult as you cannot question or get an explanation as to why he had posters of missing children and the other content,” he added.

A dark SUV parked on some dry grass. The vehicle has the words 'Milwaukee Police' written on the side, with police written in larger letters

FILE – A Milwaukee Police SUV. (Courtesy Milwaukee Police Department)

The Seitz police file includes documents that were handwritten or forms that were more than likely archived in a hard copy instead of electronically, and are not easily accessible.

Victoria Police Det.-Sgt. Michelle Robertson currently has conduct of Michael’s file. Robertson is confident Seitz is not connected to the Dunahee disappearance.

“The Victoria Police investigated that lead. They actually worked with the Milwaukee Police because of the connection between him and Michael. They found one of Michael’s missing person posters and that was the connection. He kept weird things and he made claims but he actually was never found to have actually done anything. So, as they worked through with American investigators and looked deeper into him, they found no further connection with him whatsoever,” she explained.

And Robertson notes that it is unfortunately not unusual for Michael’s poster to turn up in the hands of people like Seitz.

“Seitz was a collector of memorabilia and we have had that before with some of these offenders having Michael’s poster. I don’t know if it’s a keepsake for them or what, but in this particular case, no connection was found with him. So, he’s not considered a person of interest or a suspect in the case at this time.”

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Michael’s missing poster was widely distributed after his disappearance. Canada Post delivered them for free for a time. Volunteers handed them out at the American border and urged travellers to pack them on their journeys.

Fetter says her late patient was an admitted pedophile and a committed racist. She was both fascinated and intimidated by him at the same time. She didn’t like Seitz and felt she wasn’t able to be helpful to him.

At one point, determined to stop treating him, she steels herself to break the news to Seitz. But at that very moment he instructs her to put down her pen and then makes what she believes to be a veiled threat. She doesn’t want to get on his bad side so she carries on seeing him until his death.

To this day, Fetter keeps the voluminous Seitz files filled with notes and Seitz’s elegant hand written letters. She intimates that one of his letters has some mention of an abduction and offers to send it to me. But then her attorney, Art Beck, advises her to stop talking to the media and to withdraw her offer to hand over the letter.

The concern that’s raised is that physician-patient privilege does not die with the death of the patient. The document Fetter referred to appears to have been turned over to her during the course of a treatment session.

Therefore, we don’t know if there are living relatives who could raise an objection to the release of such a document, to the public.

Any living relative of the late Vernon Seitz is encouraged to get in touch with at Laura Palmer by emailing Laura@laurapalmer.ca.

If you have information about the disappearance of Michael Dunahee, please go to Michaeldunahee.ca and click on the report a tip button. You can also report a tip here.

Missing Michael’ is a 10-part podcast series for Rogers Frequency Network. New episodes will be published weekly on Tuesdays until the end of March. 

You can listen to this series and other Island Crime episodes on all podcast platforms.

Rogers is the parent company of this station and the Frequency Podcast Network

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