About this project
Investigative journalist Nathan J. Comp got more than he bargained for in 2008, when an anonymous source leaked thousands of pages of confidential police reports, witness testimony, and various other records from secret probes into the disappearance of Amos Mortier.
Amos was a shy 27-year-old known for his extraordinary kindness… who also led a double-life as a cannabis distributer for upstate New York-based traffickers.
Comp soon discovers that critical information was overlooked or improperly vetted during the chaotic investigation. The oversights led detectives to zero in on Mortier's longtime associate, "Big Jake" Stadfeld, after learning he had stolen $90,000 worth of marijuana, putting Mortier in debt to his supplier. Fixation on Stadfeld, and his suspected accessory after the fact, led to even more oversights.
When Comp writes an article raising questions about how detectives handled a lead on a different suspect (who had allegedly confessed to stabbing Mortier and feeding him to pigs), investigators denounce the story, claiming Comp is "trying to sell books." But behind the scenes, witnesses suspected of speaking to Comp are visited by investigators.
Comp doubles down on his research when circumstances in his own life take an unexpected, and tragic, turn. Amid the struggle to bounce back, Comp delves even deeper into the last year of Mortier's life when a lucky hunch breaks the case wide open and the pieces finally fall into place.
The investigation into Amos Mortier's Nov. 8, 2004 disappearance from Fitchburg, Wisconsin, exposed his role as a marijuana distributor for a trafficking operation in upstate New York. Between 1999 and 2004, DEA estimates show Mortier distributed more than $1 million worth of marijuana. A federal grand jury investigation followed the state-level John Doe probe and resulted in conspiracy indictments against several individuals connected to Mortier's distribution operation in south-central Wisconsin and the trafficking network in New York.
Although indicted, hard evidence linking them to illegal activity was never produced and none of the co-conspirators were ever actually caught in possession of marijuana, or observed with video/audio surveillance selling or even talking about marijuana.
An even wider net of people were also caught up in the investigations. Many were questioned by police up to a half-dozen times, with additional statements requested by the DEA special agent and the assistant U.S. attorney. Many were subpoenaed to testify at as many as four different court proceedings.
Nevertheless, state prosecutors have never filed charges in connection to Amos Mortier's murder. Additionally, federal prosecutors declined to ask that convicted co-conspirator Jacob Stadfeld, also the primary suspect in Amos Mortier's murder, receive an additional 25-years in prison based on a preponderance of evidence he killed Mortier, a far lower threshold than beyond a reasonable doubt.
What Happened to Amos? is a whirlwind of secrecy and revelation from beginning to end as investigative journalist Nathan Comp questions "the official story" behind the 12-year-old disappearance of Amos Mortier, a shy 27-year-old known for his extraordinary kindness.
From journalist Nathan J. Comp, What Happened to Amos? co-producer and writer:
My research on Amos Mortier’s murder began in late October 2007, nearly three years after he went missing from a suburb of Madison, Wisconsin. Within a year, I had obtained documents from an anonymous source totaling more than 3,300 pages. This bundle of police reports, grand jury testimony, phone records, call frequency reports, among other things, gave a lot of direction in where to find answers to the mystery around Amos's disappearance.
In the book I am currently writing about the case, as well as in this film, we reconstruct with a remarkable level of evidentiary detail the circumstances and coincidences that conspired to seal Amos's fate in November 2004. But this no longer is just Amos's story. It's the story of everyone who was ensnared in the very wide dragnet investigators cast early on.
This dragnet muddied the investigative waters enough for them to reinforce the tunnel vision they had developed around a single suspect. A key piece of what we've done is adjust for significant errors made early on that were never corrected as new information came to them. Everything they needed to solve this case was in front of them by the third day of the investigation. Rather than move the pieces around to see where in the puzzle they fit, the investigation went on tangents and down dead ends, drumming up the huge amount of irrelevant information that turned the puzzle into a mystery.
From filmmaker Kristina Motwani, director and co-producer of What Happened to Amos?:
Amos isn’t here to tell his story, in part, because he went missing from a small city whose police department had never handled a case approaching anywhere near the scale or scope that the investigation into his disappearance would prove to be. His disappearance, and presumed murder, was also complicated by Americans’ conflicting attitudes and beliefs when it comes to illicit drugs, the people who sell them, as well as those who use them.
The persistent, and in most cases, erroneous assumptions people make about those who use drugs, especially marijuana, was the invisible hand that guided this investigation. It went on for six years, reached into five states and into Canada, cost millions in taxpayer money and was conducted largely in secret with little public oversight.
In the end, about a dozen people served time in prison, none of who were caught selling or using marijuana. There were no wiretaps, no surveillance, no hidden video, no informants, just Amos, who was never found, and his disappearance, which was never solved.
In this story we see in a really tangible and eye-opening way the battle line drug prohibition has drawn between our government and its citizens in creating an atmosphere where there is no room for moral ambiguity or forgiveness. Throughout the investigation into Amos’s disappearance law enforcement at all levels of government played both sides mercilessly, in one instance threatening a father and husband with the death penalty for his role in Amos’s marijuana business. Under federal law, if a murder is connected to a drug-trafficking conspiracy, the indicted co-conspirators, regardless of their actual level of culpability, can be put to death.
In his nine years of research into the circumstances around Amos’s disappearance, Nathan Comp has not only encountered these stigmas, but he’s also experienced them as well, often times in very personal and painful ways. But his ongoing willingness to put himself out there, to stand up for those who’ve been beaten down by the policies and politics around drugs, and to hopefully bring about some kind of closure for Amos’s mother is a real act of courage. It’s through his story that we’re given a 360-degree perspective on how strong are the tentacles of drug enforcement, how far do they reach, and what happens to the sad debris left their wake. I’ve been developing this project for over 18 months and I’m still blown away by the things I’m learning.