A man known for his work as “Silly the Clown” in southeast Wisconsin has been charged with the murder of his newborn daughter 30 years ago. Ronald Schroeder, 52, was taken into custody this week and charged with first-degree reckless homicide and two counts of physical abuse of a child for the death of baby Catherine Schroeder in August 1991.
The infant, not yet two months old at that time, was rushed to a hospital with what doctors determined to be shaken baby syndrome. According to local media reports, she suffered fractured ribs, contusions to her brain and enough force to cause detached retinas, resulting in “blood behind the eyes.”
Just hours before doctors documented all of these injuries and pronounced the baby girl dead, Schroeder had taken the stage at a local restaurant and performed as “Silly the Clown” for a room full of elementary school children, according to a profile by Milwaukee magazine.
He was said to have been adored by audiences for his balloon sculptures and high-pitched clown voice, and was even praised by the then-director of the International Clown Hall of Fame for being “always funny” and “always courteous.”
Behind the scenes, however, he had repeatedly been accused of abusive behavior by the family of Catherine’s mother, Christine. He has denied those allegations and has denied hurting the baby.
The former clown went three decades without facing any punishment for his baby’s death. Prosecutors cited insufficient evidence at the time, and Schroeder continued to perform as Silly for young children for several years. Meanwhile, investigators were unable to shake their suspicions about Schroeder’s involvement in Catherine’s death, and they reopened the case in 1998 only to once again run into a lack of evidence, Greenfield Police officer Mike Brunner told Milwaukee magazine at the time.
It was not immediately clear what new evidence, if any, led to prosecutors finally charging Schroeder this week.
The new charges come after a review of the original autopsy was conducted in June 2021, with the Milwaukee County medical examiner concluding that “Catherine Schroeder died as a result of blunt force trauma to the head,” according to the criminal complaint against Schroeder. The medical examiner deemed the manner of death to be homicide.
Court records in Milwaukee County show an arrest warrant was issued for Schroeder on Wednesday and an initial court appearance via video link was held on Thursday. A judge shot down an attempt by his defense to have the case dismissed due to the statute of limitations, and bond was set at $350,000.
Schroeder was convicted of sexual assault in 2008 and was released from prison only in 2013. In that case, he sexually assaulted a girlfriend while she was unconscious and took photos of the attack.
After his release from prison, police sent out a bulletin warning residents of Waukesha that the man previously known as “Silly the Clown”—now a convicted sex offender—would be moving into the neighborhood. Residents were assured that he would not be allowed in bars or around children without supervision and that he would be tracked by a GPS monitor.