A Quest For Justice

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MTT News's picture
By: 
Matt Geiger
View the trailer at kickstarter.com, or visit the “What Happened to Amos?” Facebook page. To listen to a three-part podcast about the case, visit thevanishedpodcast.com.

In late 2004, a shy young man involved in a vast marijuana ring vanished. He left behind a beloved dog, a heartbroken mother and countless questions about the bizarre circumstances surrounding his disappearance.

Today, 12 years later, a group of journalists, filmmakers, friends and family are still doggedly pursuing answers in the mysterious case of Amos Mortier.

Their latest effort is “What Happened to Amos?” It is a hard-hitting foray into the life of Mortier, his puzzling disappearance, and the multiple investigations that followed. They believe they have solved the case, locking together clues the authorities in Fitchburg and Dane County chose to ignore. And now they want to be heard.

At the center of it all is Nathan Comp, an award-winning investigative journalist for whom the case has become an obsession. The film, which is being directed and co-produced by Kristina Motwani, is currently fundraising, with hopes of being completed next year. A newly-released trailer, which shows the various grim, cruel and vexing twists and turns of the case, shows just how passionate and personal Mortier’s disappearance has become for those pursuing answers.

It all boils down to a few simple, chilling words spoken by Comp, a Middleton High School graduate, in an interview for the film: “I believe I know what happened to Amos Mortier on November 8 of 2004.”

Comp is a journalist, editor, photographer and travel blogger. Readers of the Middleton Times-Tribune are familiar with his writing, most recently his gut-wrenching “Heroin Blues” series in which he laid bare his own struggles with addiction. Nationally, he has written for The Progressive, In These Times and The Huffington Post. He also served at the editor of Coreweekly, a groundbreaking weekly magazine based out of Madison.

Newspaper associations in Wisconsin and New Mexico have recognized Comp’s work, as have the National Scholastic Press Association, the Milwaukee Press Club, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies. In 2010, he launched the acclaimed travelogue, TheFeralScribe.com.

He is currently writing and co-producing “What Happened to Amos?” He is simultaneously writing a book about the disappearance. 

Comp’s ties to the case are vast and complex. He covered Mortier’s disappearance, but it was later, in 2008 that an anonymous source leaked to Comp thousands of pages of confidential police reports, witness testimony and various other records from secret state and federal probes into the disappearance of Mortier, a shy 27-year-old known for his extraordinary kindness. Mortier also led a double-life distributing cannabis for an upstate New York-based trafficking outfit.

The Fitchburg Police Department has primary jurisdiction in the case, but a Dane County detective assisted as co-lead from Nov. 20, 2004 until sometime in 2006. From then it was Fitchburg and a DEA agent, according to Comp.

Comp soon discovered critical information was overlooked or improperly vetted in the chaotic onset of the investigation, he says. When he wrote an article raising questions about how detectives handled a lead on a suspect who allegedly confessed to stabbing Mortier and feeding him to pigs, investigators denounced the story. But behind the scenes, witnesses suspected of speaking to Comp were visited by investigators, he alleged.

Comp doubled down on his research when circumstances in his own life took an unexpected and tragic turn. Amid an existential crisis following several brushes with death, Comp sank his teeth even deeper into the last year of Mortier’s life. He believes he broke the case, and now it’s time to get people to listen. Mortier was a drug dealer, yes. But he was also a human being; kind, complex and enigmatic, say his friends. His humanity, and the deep wounds caused by his disappearance, warrant answers.

“Amos’ story is personal to me on an impossible number of levels,” Comp said. “I met his mother two years into the investigation and then, as is the case now, it is just her alone at the computer looking for Amos. In the Spring of 2008, I helped her load Amos’ dog, Gnosis, [possibly the only witness to the crime] into her car to take to the vet, where later that evening he died.”

“A peculiar bond develops between journalist and source over the span of these longitudinal interviews, which today are nine years old and counting,” he explained.

“I knew this story would be challenging as soon as I committed to writing about it,” Comp continued. “But man, this has redefined the word ‘challenging’ in my world.”

Comp said his initial interest in the case stemmed from a desire to break through the government’s “wall of secrecy” and help a distraught mother.

“I know Fitchburg Police have trivialized my work as ‘trying to sell books,’” he said. “And there are others who also feel I am profiteering from this tragedy. If money was any kind of motivation for me, I would have chosen a far easier, and more certain, means of making [it].”

Far from profiting, Comp has instead spent much of the past decade traveling to attend hearings, interviewing, reading, searching, obtaining and ruminating on the case.

“Why do people come to care about the things they come to care about? Who knows?” he said. “What I do know is that when I was leaked those documents my obligations changed. This was no longer about a disappearance only, but something far bigger and more abstract: the integrity of our criminal justice system.”

Comp clashed with investigators, he said he pledged to continue digging until he answered one simple question: What Happened to Amos?

“Well, I found it,” he said. “And I believe we will find Amos, too.”

Motwani said lingering stereotypes about those involved in the drug trade helped lead the official investigation astray. 

 “Amos isn’t here to tell his story, in part, because he went missing from a small city [the case was investigated by both Fitchburg and Dane County authorities] whose police department had never handled a case approaching anywhere near the scale or scope that the investigation into his disappearance would prove to be,” said Motwani. “His disappearance, and presumed murder, was also complicated by Americans’ conflicting attitudes and beliefs when it comes to illicit drugs, the people who sell them, as well as those who use them.”

“The persistent, and in most cases, erroneous assumptions people make about those who use drugs, especially marijuana, was the invisible hand that guided this investigation,” Motwani continued. “It went on for six years, reached into five states and into Canada, cost millions in taxpayer money and was conducted largely in secret with little public oversight.” 

In the end, she says, about a dozen people served time in prison, none of who were caught selling or using marijuana. There were no wiretaps, no surveillance, no hidden video, no informants, just Amos, who was never found, and his disappearance, which was never solved. Until now.

The professional team behind “What Happened to Amos?” is currently hoping to raise $30,000 by Thursday, Nov. 17. With that funding, they plan to complete and release the full documentary next year.

 

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