Published August 22, 2009
MADISON, Wis. – True to his word, a hermit who encased his dead mother in a block of ice keeps to himself in solitary confinement by threatening people, swearing at guards or simply refusing to leave his cell.
Philip Schuth told a newspaper when he was sentenced to prison in 2005 that he feared other inmates and wanted to live in solitary confinement. Prison conduct reports show Schuth, 56, has been working to do that, earning more than 1,400 days in solitary.
"He's somebody who just wants to be left alone," said Schuth's attorney, Michael Lieberman. "It appears in his mind keeping himself in solitary confinement is the best way to keep himself safe."
For decades Schuth and his mother, Edith, lived in a crumbling two-story house in the town of Campbell, a hamlet of about 4,000 people on French Island outside La Crosse. Children teased him in school and he never found real work, neighbors said. He often walked the streets in knee-high rubber boots.
Things came to a head in April 2005, when Schuth shot Randy Russell Jr. after Russell came into his yard to ask if Schuth had hit Russell's 10-year-old son. Russell fled and Schuth retreated into his house. An all-night standoff with police ensued. Schuth eventually surrendered without incident and Russell survived his wounds.
Police then discovered Schuth's dead mother in a basement chest freezer, frozen into a 200-to-300 pound block of ice. Schuth told investigators she died in 2000 of natural causes. He kept her hidden because he feared police might charge him with homicide and he needed her Social Security payments.
Schuth was the talk of La Crosse for months. One man even started selling car magnets that read: "What's in Your Freezer? French Island, WI" and "My Mom is Cooler Than Yours! French Island, WI."
A judge sentenced Schuth in November 2005 to seven years in prison and 10 years extended supervision for hiding a corpse, attempted homicide and recklessly endangering safety. The next summer a federal judge gave him four months, to be served simultaneously with his state sentence, for Social Security fraud. Schuth gave a bizarre speech in court laced with Latin, demanding more roles for actress Jennifer Garner and fewer for her husband, Ben Affleck.
Schuth told the La Crosse Tribune newspaper he didn't know how he'd survive attacks in prison and would try to spend the "rest of my life" in solitary confinement. Schuth entered the state prison system at Dodge Correctional Institution and was transferred to Green Bay Correctional Institution in January 2006.
He was transferred out of Green Bay in August 2007 and spent more than a year at another facility. Corrections spokesman John Dipko would not name the facility, citing patient confidentiality rules. He returned to Green Bay in November 2008.
He started demanding to live in solitary the day he got to prison, conduct reports show.
After watching an orientation video on his first day at Dodge Correctional in December 2005, he immediately told a guard he was a solitary person and asked to be placed in "the hole." He refused to go to his cell and got his wish: 90 days in solitary for disobeying orders.
Schuth has received 11 more conduct reports since for violations ranging from disobeying orders to leave solitary to making threats and being disruptive.
He got 180 days for calling a Green Bay guard a "Nazi flattop (expletive)" in May 2007. In August 2008 he got another 30 days for swearing at a guard at the unnamed facility.
"Having a hard time keeping in my emotions, true feelings about you people," he wrote in a statement in that conduct report.
On the day he returned to Green Bay he was written up twice for threatening to hurt a guard or someone else, and threatening to stab someone if he wasn't placed in solitary. He got 180 days for the assault threats and 240 days for the stabbing threats.
The most recent conduct report was dated April 2009. He got 90 days for refusing to leave his cell in solitary.
Lieberman, who defended Schuth in federal court, said Schuth is scared.
"This demonstrates a good example of why prison isn't really the place for people with mental illness," Lieberman said. "Even if you go back to the facts of his state case, without trying to minimize his conduct, he was living in isolation, wanting to be left alone. If he had been left alone, none of this would have happened."