Presented at The 48th Annual Conference of the Western Social Science Association: Phoenix, AZ, April 20, 2006.
NOTE: At the time of publication, the author Douglas Swanson was not yet affiliated with Cal Poly.
This paper focuses on an ongoing debate in La Crosse, Wisconsin, over recent river drowning incidents involving college-aged men. While some in the community contend the deaths were tragic but unrelated, other citizens argue that the collective set of circumstances points to a series of mysterious murders – perhaps committed by a “River Killer” that local authorities are unable or unwilling to bring to justice. An examination of local newspaper narratives and claims from a televised town meeting shows the narratives resulted in establishment of two contrasting frames. Each offers a different explanation and has a different perspective of responsibility for the tragedies. The contradictory frames complicate the efforts of community leaders who missed a prime opportunity to build a consensus of opinion that could have lead to much-needed resolutions.
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