Swim practice has finished in a small Wisconsin town, and ten-year-old Mia Walker is getting changed. Suddenly, her mom spots something strange hidden behind a locker door. On closer inspection, she realizes it’s a hidden camera – and that’s only the start of the shocking story.
In 2014 Mia and her sister Mykaela were living with their parents Christina and Kelly in Pleasant Prairie, a tight-knit community some 35 miles south of Milwaukee, WI. Even as a young child, Mia developed an interest in swimming and soon became a part of her school’s team.
As part of her training, Mia attended practice sessions at the RecPlex, a vast recreational center that’s the largest of its kind in the entire United States. Covering more than 300,000 square feet, the complex boasts two ice rinks, a variety of sporting courts, a fitness center and nature trails.
To Mia and her team, however, the most important feature of the RecPlex was its impressive swimming pool. In fact, they would regularly visit the Olympic-sized facility to hone their skills and improve their performance. But one day in April 2014, their innocent hobby would be changed forever when a dark secret was revealed.
That day, practice had ended and Christina was waiting for her daughter in the RecPlex locker rooms. However, as she was getting changed, Mia, who was ten at the time, called out to her mother in confusion. Apparently, her coat and shoes had been moved to another locker.
Then Christina noticed something really strange. Through the vents of one of the lockers, she spotted what looked like glare from a camera lens. And when she took a closer look, her suspicions appeared to be confirmed. Shockingly, there were even worse discoveries to come.
Moving on to the next locker, Christina noticed the same thing – another hidden camera, positioned to capture footage of the changing rooms. Having seen enough, Christina notified security, and a female police officer soon arrived on the scene.
When the police officer managed to gain access to the lockers, Christina’s worst fears were proved true. As she removed a video camera from its hiding place, the officer noticed that it was still filming. “She shook her head,” Christina recalled in a 2016 interview with Fox 6 News, “and I just started crying.”
Of course, Christina was horrified to discover that someone had been spying on Mia and the other pool users in secret. But she was even more shocked to discover who was behind the violating scheme. As investigators took a look at the tapes, they identified Melissa Wenckebach, a fellow mom, as the culprit.
“I just thought, how could a mom do this to another mom?” Christina told Inside Edition in November 2017. But the evidence was clear. In the video footage, Wenckebach could be seen arranging the camera inside the locker in order to get the best view of the changing rooms.
Sadly, there was worse to come. When police finally caught up with Melissa, they recovered a staggering 25 cameras, each one filled with footage from secret locker room cameras. For Christina and other mothers like her, it was the worst possible breach of trust.
“We were left with a shattered sense of safety,” Christina told the Kenosha News in 2016. “I had to explain things to a young child that no mother should have to.” Unfortunately, that wasn’t the end of the victims’ suffering. Apparently, they also had to watch footage from the hidden cameras in order to identify themselves to police.
When taken into custody and questioned, Wenckebach broke down. According to her, she had been talked into committing the crime by co-worker Karl Landt, with whom she had been having an affair. “He just says he appreciates, like, looking,” she told police. “He says it doesn’t hurt anybody.”
Although Wenckebach went on to try and blame Landt’s intimidating intelligence for coercing her into taking part, Christina was not convinced. “It was like organized crime,” she said. “Like they had a system.” Meanwhile, the law had closed in on Landt.
Eventually, Landt was caught in possession of over 20,000 hours of illicitly obtained video footage. Filmed at both the RecPlex and at a private fitness facility, the haul represented the worst case of its kind to ever take place in Kenosha County, WI. Terrifyingly, as many as thousands of victims could have been affected.
According to Laura Hoffman, a detective with the Pleasant Prairie police, Landt and Wenckebach had been spying on locker rooms for at least three years. “The camera would be hidden,” she told Fox 6 News. “It was usually in a makeup bag or a mesh bag, but you would still be able to view the locker room and she would just leave the locker room door open.”
But although many of Landt and Wenckebach’s victims were children, moms like Christina were shocked to discover that this made no difference in the eyes of the law. Because there was no proof of a sexual motive behind the videos, the perpetrators could not be charged under child pornography laws.
Instead, the punishment for Landt and Wenckebach’s crime was the same as it would have been if adult victims were involved. And although they both received prison sentences of 12 and six years respectively, Christina still felt that something wasn’t right.
So, with Mia by her side, Christina began a campaign to change the law. And, in January 2016, she stood in front of the Senate Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety and pledged her support for Senate Bill 452. Relating to invasions of privacy, the bill sought harsher punishments for those guilty of filming illicit videos, especially where minors were involved. Meanwhile, Mia filled her mother with pride as she took the stand and asked the government to protect young people such as herself.
Finally, three months later, Christina and Mia’s hard work paid off. As the Walker family looked on, Wisconsin Governor Scott Kevin Walker – who is no relation – signed Act 320, enshrining the bill in law. Now, in the state of Wisconsin, secret filming of minors under 18 is considered a far more serious crime. For Christina and Mia, it’s a sign that anyone with determination can change a law.