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Crime News Unsung Heroes

Dad Forgives Man Who Raped And Murdered His Teen Daughter, Fights To End Violence Against Women

Jessie Blodgett was a performer and budding activist when Daniel Bartelt raped and murdered her. Her dad Buck has forgiven her killer and turned his pain into activism. 

By Erik Hawkins

Nineteen-year-old Jessie Blodgett was part of a young theater community in Hartford, Wisconsin. She also taught music to younger students. In July 2013, she had just wrapped a premiere production of “Fiddler on the Roof,” joining the cast at a friend’s home to celebrate. 

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The next day, around noontime, her mother found her dead in her bed. 

“Honey, what happened to you?” her mother, Joy Blodgett, can be heard saying on a chilling 911 recording. “Honey, no …” 

Jessie had been raped, and strangled with a ligature. It was only the community’s third murder in more than 100 years, Jessie’s dad, Buck, told Oxygen’s “Murdered by Morning.” 

She was killed by a close friend and former classmate who shared her love of music. Daniel Bartelt, also 19, even recorded a song in collaboration with Jessie, months before he sexually assaulted and murdered her. You can listen to that haunting recording here

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Police were led to Bartelt through a parallel investigation of an assault in a nearby park three days before Jessie’s murder, according to local NBC affiliate WMTV.  

On July 12, Bartelt allegedly went after a woman in the park with a knife, tackling her until she was able to disarm him, WMTV reported. He would later reportedly tell police that he was trying to scare the woman. 

The victim’s description of her attacker and his vehicle pointed to Bartelt. During questioning, he made statements about Blodgett’s death that raised police suspicions, according to “Murdered by Morning.” Investigators searched Bartelt’s belongings and found ropes, bloody tissues and an incriminating search history on his laptop, they told producers. 

Through his sentencing in October 2014, Bartelt insisted on his innocence — even denying to Jessie’s parents’ faces that he did it, according to Fox 6. Still, at that same hearing, Buck told Bartelt that he forgives him “every single day.” 

“I believe there is good and bad in each of us, so I don’t demonize or vilify you,” he said, according to Fox 6. 

You can read Buck’s full victim impact statement here

And in the years of healing that followed Jessie’s murder, Buck did a remarkable thing with his family’s pain: He channeled it into trying to make a difference. Before her death, Jessie was attracted to causes like the ethical treatment to animals and efforts to combat male violence against women, the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel reported

So, the Blodgetts started the Love Is Greater Than Hate, or LOVE>hate Project, in 2016. Buck travels to schools, corporations and nonprofits spreading Jessie’s message and asking men to pledge not to hurt women, the Journal Sentinel reported. The aim is to push the culture toward calling out more strongly human trafficking and domestic violence. 

Jessie Blodgett Legacy Project Meets Hate With Love

Buck even takes his presentation to prisons. In 2018, Buck went to the Prairie du Chien Correctional facility in Wisconsin, where he was confronted by an inmate who didn’t believe Buck had forgiven Bartelt, his daughter’s killer, according to the Washington County Insider

When he returned the following year, the prison had started its own Forgiveness Class, and it was led by the same inmate, the outlet reported.  

Buck has made more than 120 presentations across the country since the project’s inception and has visited 15 of Wisconsin's state prisons, according to his website. 

Daniel Bartelt is serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole. 

For more on Jessie Blodgett’s murder, watch “Murdered by Morning,” airing Sundays at 7/6c on Oxygen