They told him he would grow up to be a murderer - just like his father.
Stan Stroisch was at that awkward age in junior high when the taunting began.
“I would be walking down the street and I’d hear, ‘There’s that murderer’s son,”’ says Stroisch, now 22.
On the bus, at school - it was more of the same. He was a monster’s child. So were his siblings.
“We were tormented all of our lives because of the rumors,” says LeeAnne Stroisch, 17. “I grew up thinking I was trash because people put that in my mind.”
Pain and persecution have been a kind of birthright in the Stroisch family. It is a legacy born of a 20-year-old demon riveted to their father’s past.
In 1975, George “Ed” Stroisch was accused of murdering Rita Marcussen, a 20-year-old Rathdrum woman. A jury found him innocent.
A community did not.
Guilty or innocent, Stroisch’s role in one of Kootenai County’s most notorious murders devoured the lives of his wife and children.
The family was threatened, the children beaten. They were poor; no one would give Stroisch a job.
Now, the past again grips the Stroisch family.
Three weeks ago, sheriff’s officials closed the old murder investigation. A human skull found in October with two bullet holes convinced detectives Stroisch killed both Rita Marcussen and her husband, Ron.
Stroisch died of a heart attack two months before detectives reached that conclusion.
His children struggle to reconcile the father they loved with the killer a community condemns.
“It completely turned our worlds upside down,” says Catherine Stroisch, his widow. “He’s dead. They can’t hurt him any more, but they can make our lives a living hell.”
Stan Stroisch, like the rest of his family, has defended his father - sometimes with words, sometimes with fists. “My dad was not a cold-blooded murderer,” he insists.
Jerry James, the first sheriff’s investigator in the murder case, is not surprised at the family’s loyalty.
“I looked at those people in court every day and my heart went out to them,” James says. “His family is a victim. They’re trying to save what good memories there were of him.”
Rita Marcussen’s sister, Liz Graisy, also feels for the Stroisch family. “There aren’t just two victims, there have been many victims.”
Catherine Stroisch is a thin woman of 50 years. Her long brown hair is streaked with gray. Her smile is warm but her manner reserved. Her voice is sturdy. Her missing teeth are a testament to a life without luxuries.
Why didn’t she leave her husband? “He struck a spark in me and I saw the good in him and that is what I loved.”
Catherine Stroisch, her two sons and her daughter’s child now live in a Post Falls mobile home stuffed with worn couches, chairs and the remnants of George Stroisch’s life.
To them, he was a hunter, an artist and a loving father. Catherine Stroisch watched her husband crumble into tears at the sight of his newborn granddaughter. He cried for an hour after destroying their sick dog.
“How can a man that would mourn a simple animal go out and kill someone in cold blood?” she asks.
George Stroisch was raised in Montana. His rap sheet lays the outline for his life: petty larceny, forgery, AWOL from the military.
He was on his third marriage in 1961 when he was convicted of robbing and molesting a 17-year-old girl in Nebraska.
He met Catherine there after serving a prison term for the crime. She was drawn to his outgoing style. They got engaged, but after a year, Stroisch was behind bars in Montana.
He’d hidden in a woman’s closet, taped her mouth shut, and beat her with a tire iron.
Stroisch broke off their engagement, although Catherine didn’t believe the accusations then. “I still don’t now,” she insists.
In 1966, he went to prison for the beating. He spent his time painting.
His rendering of two wartime sailing ships, cannons blasting, still hangs in the old prison.
Stroisch wrote to Catherine when he was paroled in 1969. “He had fallen in love with me, head over heels,” she says. They were married in 1970.
Stan Stroisch was born in 1973, just before the couple moved to Post Falls.
George Stroisch got a job at Boise-Cascade, where he met Ron Marcussen and his wife, Rita.
Authorities believe Stroisch was the last person to see the couple alive, on Nov. 19, 1973. Rita Marcussen’s remains were found later east of Athol, Idaho.
Stroisch first was charged with auto theft after being spotted towing the missing couple’s car. He denied the accusation and instead was convicted for being a felon found with guns.
After two years in prison, prosecutors charged him with Rita’s Marcussen’s murder.
James, the case investigator, believes Stroisch was a stalker obsessed with Rita Marcussen. Stroisch, willing to take on Ron, lured them to the woods where he killed them, the detective believes.
Stroisch told detectives he was hunting alone in Priest River to feed his hungry family. His wife believes he was a patsy, an easy mark because of his record.
A jury found him innocent in 1976. Gary Haman, the prosecutor at the time, believes the lack of Ron Marcussen’s body gave the jury reasonable doubt. It was possible Ron killed his wife and fled.
Catherine Stroisch unfolds the family photo album. She points to a portrait of herself, her husband and young Stan.
They all smile. The blond boy’s hair is neatly combed. His father is dressed in a jailhouse shirt. Prison bars line the background.
Catherine Stroisch remembers a day she went to pick up the government food that fed her family. A group of women were gossiping about George Stroisch, the killer.
Not knowing who she was, one woman asked her if she thought Stroisch was guilty.
“I said, ‘No I don’t.’ She said ‘Why not?’ and I said ‘Because he’s my husband and he wouldn’t do something like that.”’
The post-trial years were lean. Stroisch struggled to find work. The women at one job threatened to quit if he worked there. He was fired.
The children had few toys, their clothes were hand-me-downs or garage sale finds.
People told Catherine Stroisch her home was demon-possessed. Others threatened to blow it up.
“I’ve been called slut, tramp, whore, trash,” LeeAnne Stroisch says. “These are the things I’ve heard all my life.”
Stan Stroisch had few friends. His dad taught him how to fight for protection. He in turn taught his brother and sister.
“All of our lives we grew up fighting and trying to defend ourselves,” LeeAnne Stroisch says. “It is how we survived.”
On Aug. 20, George Stroisch was working on a truck when he collapsed from a heart attack. His 15-year-old son, David, tried to resuscitate him. He was dead before the ambulance arrived.
They buried him with pictures of his children, a silver-tipped hunting bullet, a cross and a white rose.
Deputies came looking for a confession letter. Stroisch left none.
Two months later, Ron Marcussen’s skull was found about a mile from where his wife’s was found.
Detectives believe the bullets inside the skull matched the type of gun Stroisch had 20 years ago.
“I need to know why, Mom,” David Stroisch asked his mother one recent day.
Until then, his father’s past had been vague. Catherine Stroisch gave the boy an envelope of old newspaper clippings.
“He just put them back in and told me he never wanted to see them again,” Catherine Stroisch says.
Despite everything, the family stayed in Kootenai County. Catherine Stroisch had hoped to prove their innocence.
Now, her son hungers for anonymity.
“Look at the way everybody is talking and pointing,” Stan Stroisch tells his mother. “I don’t want to go through this hell again.”
“I will not be driven away,” his mother replies, simply.
She’s also trying to make sure the Stroisch demon doesn’t consume her 2-year-old granddaughter’s life.
“I’m teaching her that her Papa loved her,” Catherine Stroisch says. “Maybe if she can grow up with that outlook she won’t grow up hating him.”
With baby hands, Crystal Stroisch grasps a photograph of her grandfather.
“Papa, Papa,” she shrieks with glee.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo
MEMO: See related story under the headline: Victim’s family suffered grief, distrust, bitterness