By Eileen Persike
The name Punky Wells has recently become familiar to folks in Rhinelander, again, some ten years after his death. Detective Sergeant Josh Chiamulera was honored Monday afternoon for his part in the resurfacing of Wells’ name, and bringing those responsible for his death to justice.
“Josh Chiamulera did a great job,” Police Chief Michael Steffen said. “About two years he ago reopened the [Kenneth] Punky Wells case. Because of his tenacity he continued to bring the case forward, worked really hard, followed up on many leads, and was able to close the case and bring justice for Punky’s family.”
Before Mayor Dick Johns presented Chiamulera with his award, he told of a personal connection he had to Wells.
“He died nine days after my son died of cancer. He and my sons grew up together,” the Mayor told the assembled group. “Punky was a young man who never had a chance. He was a small man, he was picked on and he had a hard life.”
Johns commended Chiamulera for taking it upon himself to reopen a case he knew nothing about. Wells’ body was found in the Wisconsin River in 2003; his death was ruled an accidental drowing.
Det. Sgt Chiamulera didn’t know anything about the case when he came to town, yet he took it upon himself to reopen the case. This is one of the better police departments I’ve worked with – and I’ve been around fifty years so I’ve seen a lot of police departments.
Chiamulera, who was surprised by the party in his honor, was quick to point out that the case was a team effort.
“This wasn’t just me – everyone in the department had to put up with it and listen to me… and [Det. Sgt.] Brian Zohimsky helped a lot and I appreciate it,” Chiamulera said. “And also thanks to the Department of Justice, different states that we talked to, different departments that helped us when we couldn’t get there. Thank you for giving this to me, but it goes to the Rhinelander PD and everyone that helped.”
The detective was also presented with a commendation pin for his uniform.