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A Survivor’s Story 45 Years Later

If you grew up in KELOLAND you’ve likely heard about the murders at Gitchie Manitou State Preserve. 

Saturday marks 45 years since the violent crimes in Lyon County, Iowa – just across the state line from South Dakota.   

Five teenagers ventured into the park for a night around a campfire. 

Most of them, wouldn’t return home. 

14-year old Dana Baade, 18-year-old Stewart Baade, 15-year-old Mike Hadrath, and 17-year old Roger Essem, all Sioux Falls students, were shot and killed. 

Three brothers, Allen, James, and Dave Fryer were charged in their deaths. 

“I remember one thing that Allen said to me. He said, ‘You take the men out first and the rest is easy to handle,'” Gitchie Manitou Survivor Sandra Cheskey said. 

Sandra Cheskey, who was 13-year-old at the time, was the fifth teen at the park.  

Instead of killing her, the brothers took her to an abandoned farm and raped her.

The investigation quickly became a joint effort between area law enforcement. 

“Due to the severity of the situation it was surprise, some shock. Not everybody had seen that many bodies at one time in this area at least,” Former Iowa DCI Agent Terry Johnson said. 

The mass murder left loved ones in disbelief. 

“In Sioux Falls in 1973 stuff like that didn’t happen. We didn’t lock our doors. And to have something like that–a family member, it was just unbelievable,” Mike’s sister Lynette Dahl said. 

“They were all just teenagers, just out there spending an evening together playing music together. What a way to–you know, unexpected. It was a tragedy for all families involved,” Mike’s brother Bill Hadrath said. 

Today, parts of Gitchie Manitou look different because of vandals. 

Sandra hopes if you visit, you’ll think about the boys. 

“Instead of spray painting and thinking it’s so haunted and stuff, they will just say a prayer for the boys and remember them as the great people they were,” Cheskey said. 

She hails the four teenagers as heroes that night.  

“These boys were the nicest, most respectable kids and we would’ve never done anything to bring this on,” Cheskey said. 

Back in the 70s, the news of the killings made local and national headlines. 

But Sandra held off from telling the story herself, something she was taught to do. 

“I walked with my head down for 40 years and I blocked everything out,” Sandra Cheskey said. 

That is until she agreed to an interview with a local newspaper. 

She then realized she wanted a book for her grandchildren.

That would become a job for husband and wife team Phil and Sandy Hamman. 

“I grew up hearing about it and hearing snippets here and there as I was old enough to understand it. At the time it was more of a lot of legends surrounding it, a lot of mystery. No one really knew what had happened…a lot of rumors,” Gitchie Girl Co-Author Sandy Hamman said. 

“They thought she was involved. They thought she knew the killers. There was just a lot of bad rumors that went around and so we wanted the truth to come out,” Gitchie Girl Co-Author Phil Hamman said. 

The book “Gitchie Girl” took off. 

“I started doing some events. The outpouring of support from the public was amazing. I mean every librarian, every library, every event, the sheriff’s family took me in as their own,” Cheskey said. 

Sandra’s story helped others find their voices, too. 

“I’ve had so many girls come up to me during these events and hug me and whisper, ‘I was raped and you’re my hero,'” Cheskey said. 

Sandra says there’s no way to fully heal from what happened that night, but sharing her story has helped. 

“You have to talk about it. You have to talk about it. Don’t hold it in,” Cheskey said. 

The three Fryer brothers are behind bars for life in Iowa. 

Their motive is still a mystery.  

Some believe it’s because the teenagers had a marijuana joint with them. 

Meanwhile, Sandra believes it was over sexual assault.