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Man charged in Duluth stabbing death had history of violence against women

DULUTH, Minn. -- After two months of investigation, Duluth police say they're confident that they've got their man in the May stabbing death of Jean Isham in a Duluth home. Police announced Friday that William James Holisky II, 63, has been charg...



DULUTH, Minn. -- After two months of investigation, Duluth police say they're confident that they've got their man in the May stabbing death of Jean Isham in a Duluth home.

Police announced Friday that William James Holisky II, 63, has been charged with second-degree intentional murder. An arrest warrant was issued a day earlier, but Holisky was already in custody at the Douglas County Jail in Superior on unrelated charges.

Isham, 52, was found dead in her home at 116 Fir Ave. on May 30. The criminal charges indicate that she had been stabbed numerous times with a knife, apparently about two weeks before her body was discovered.


While authorities said they found evidence at the crime scene to tie to the killing to Holisky, the charges were not brought until this week when DNA test results allegedly confirmed Holisky's link to the murder weapon.

Holisky has an extensive history of violence against women , with at least three felony assault convictions on his record.

Assistant St. Louis County Attorney Vicky Wanta said her office was working with officials in Wisconsin to have Holisky extradited to Minnesota to face the murder charge. It remains unclear when he will make an initial court appearance.

According to the charges:

Police were called to Isham's residence on the evening of May 30 and discovered her body inside the two-story home. A knife remained in her upper torso.

A medical examiner determined that Isham's body had been there "more than seven days" prior to the discovery. Police learned that the last time she had been seen alive was May 16.

Investigators found several items at the scene connected to Holisky, and he was interviewed multiple times. In his first statement, the defendant said he knew Isham, but denied that they were romantically involved, and said he had last been at her home in April or early May for a few drinks.

In his second interview, Holisky acknowledged that he had been at Isham's home on or around May 10. He said he bought some steaks to cook, but injured his finger while cutting onions. Isham, he said, was upset that he was getting blood in the kitchen, so he cleaned up and left a short time later.


In a third statement, Holisky admitted that he and Isham had been romantically involved, with their last encounter in 2013. He said they had known each other for about eight years. In this interview, police said he changed his story regarding the cut to his finger, indicating that he had not cleaned up any of his blood in the residence.

In late June, investigators were contacted by a salesman at a Superior car dealership. The employee reported that he was approached by Holisky, who "said he needed to leave town for a while and that the police had found his blood on the floor at Lisa Isham's home."

In his final two statements to police, Holisky was consistent in stating that he had last seen Isham when he went to her home and cooked a steak and onion dinner. He also reported drinking from a flavored vodka bottle, which was recovered at the crime scene.

On Wednesday, police received the results of a DNA test, which found that Holisky could not be excluded from various samples of DNA recovered at the crime scene. The test showed a mix of DNA on the knife, with Isham and Holisky as possible contributors, but 99.98 percent of the general population ruled out.

With the additional evidence, authorities prepared the arrest warrant, which was signed Thursday by 6th Judicial District Judge Sally Tarnowski.

Douglas County court and jail records indicate that Holisky has been held in the Superior jail since July 22 on numerous charges, including stalking, battery, damage to property and disorderly conduct.

Wanta, in a bail memorandum filed with the criminal complaint, asked that Holisky's bail be set at $500,000 once he is extradited to Minnesota.

A representative of the Isham family could not be reached for comment Friday.


The case is the only confirmed homicide in Duluth this year. In January, the death of 33-year-old Matthew Walker outside a Central Hillside boarding house was investigated as a homicide, but a prosecutor ruled that suspect James Joseph Strappe, 53, acted in self-defense.


Tom Olsen has covered crime and courts for the Duluth News Tribune since 2013. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota Duluth and a lifelong resident of the city. Readers can contact Olsen at 218-723-5333 or tolsen@duluthnews.com.
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