Oakland County Child Killer
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|Oakland County Child Killer|
|Other names||The Babysitter Killer
|Criminal penalty||Never sentenced|
Span of killings
|February 15, 1976–March 16, 1977|
The Oakland County Child Killer (OCCK) is an unidentified serial killer responsible for the murders of four or more children, two girls and two boys, in Oakland County, Michigan in 1976 and 1977. Several theories and suspects have been named in the case, but despite all these theories, the cases remain unsolved and the killer(s) have never been identified.
- 1 Case background
- 2 Victims
- 3 Investigation
- 4 Suspects and persons of interest
- 5 Resumed investigation and new evidence
- 6 References
- 7 Bibliography
- 8 External links
During a 13-month period, four children were abducted and murdered with their bodies left in various locations within the county. The children were each held from 4 to 19 days before being killed. Their deaths triggered a murder investigation which at the time was the largest in U.S. history. The murders are still unsolved.
Fear and near mass hysteria swept southeastern Michigan as young people were inundated with information on "stranger danger", and parents clogged streets around schools dropping off and picking up their children. The few who did walk walked in groups and under the watchful eyes of parents in "safe houses", where children could go if they felt uncomfortable. Children even avoided using a playground directly behind the Birmingham police station. One incident in Livonia involved a tow-truck driver who assaulted a man he had seen asking two boys on the street for directions. He turned out to be a tire salesman on a business trip from Akron, Ohio, who had gotten lost with no knowledge of the slayings. The Detroit News offered a $100,000 reward for the killer's apprehension.
Detroit's two daily newspapers, as well as the area's numerous radio and television stations, aggressively covered the case. A presentation on WXYT, entitled Winter's Fear: The Children, the Killer, the Search, won a 1977 Peabody Award.
- Mark Stebbins, 12, of Ferndale, was last seen leaving an American Legion Hall on Sunday afternoon, February 15, 1976. He had told his mother he was going home to watch television. His body was found on February 19, neatly laid out in a snowbank in the parking lot of an office building at Ten Mile Road and Greenfield in Southfield (some reports claim Oak Park; Greenfield is the boundary between the two cities). He had been strangled and sexually assaulted with an object, and had suffered two lacerations to the left rear of his head. Rope marks were evident upon both his wrists and ankles, indicating he had been bound throughout his period of captivity. He was fully clothed in the outfit he was wearing when last seen alive.
- Jill Robinson, 12, of Royal Oak, packed a backpack and ran away from her home on Wednesday, December 22, 1976, following an argument with her mother over dinner preparations. The day after her disappearance, her bicycle was found behind a hobby store on Main Street in that city. Her body was found on the morning of December 26, along the side of Interstate 75 near Big Beaver Road in Troy. She was killed by a single 12-gauge shotgun blast to the face while lying supine in the very position in which her body was found. She was fully clothed and still wearing her backpack. The body was placed within sight of the Troy police station, once again laid out neatly in the snow.
- Kristine Mihelich, 10, of Berkley, was last seen Sunday, January 2, 1977 at 3:00 pm at a 7-Eleven store on Twelve Mile Road at Oakshire in Berkley, purchasing a magazine. She was reported missing by her mother three hours later. A mail carrier spotted her fully clothed body 19 days later on the side of a rural road in Franklin Village. She had been smothered. The body was laid within view of nearby homes, eyes closed and arms folded across the chest, once again in the snow. An autopsy revealed she had died less than 24 hours before her body was discovered.
- Timothy King, 11, borrowed 30 cents from his older sister and left his home in Birmingham, skateboard in hand, to buy candy at a drugstore on nearby Maple Road on Wednesday, March 16, 1977, at about 8:30 pm. He left the store by the rear entrance, which opened to a parking lot shared with a supermarket, and vanished. An intensive search was executed that covered the entire Detroit metropolitan area, and there was widespread media coverage, already heavy with coverage on the previous three slayings. In an emotional television appeal, Timothy's father, Barry King, begged the abductor to release his son unharmed. In a letter printed in the Detroit News, Marion King wrote that she hoped Timothy could come home soon so she could serve him his favorite meal, Kentucky Fried Chicken. In the late evening hours of March 22, 1977, two teenagers in a car spotted his body in a shallow ditch alongside Gill Road, about 300 feet south of Eight Mile Road in Livonia, just across the county line in Wayne County. His skateboard was placed next to his body. His clothing had been neatly pressed and washed. He had been suffocated and sexually assaulted with an object. The postmortem showed that Timothy had eaten fried chicken before he was slain, and that he had been suffocated approximately six hours before his body was found.
There were other abductions and murders around the Oakland County area within the same period. These are not specifically tied to the four victims above due to variations in the cases.
- Cynthia Cadieux, 16, was abducted and bludgeoned to death on the evening of January 15, 1976. Missing from Roseville, she was discovered nude and battered in Bloomfield Township in the early morning hours of January 16.
- Sheila Srock, 14, was raped and shot dead while babysitting in a home on Villa Street in Birmingham on January 20, 1976. Her assailant had burglarized several homes in the neighborhood earlier in the evening. A neighbor had watched the entire attack from his roof, where he was shoveling snow. Oliver Rhodes Andrews confessed to, and was convicted of the murder of Srock, and is serving a life sentence in prison.
After the discovery of Kristine Mihelich's body, authorities realized they were dealing with three related cases and evidence that was similar. Reports were released publicly of the possibility of a serial killer operating in the Oakland County area. The Michigan State Police led a group of law-enforcement officials from 13 communities in the formation of a task force, devoted solely to the investigation.
Soon after Timothy King was abducted, a composite drawing of the suspected kidnapper, and his vehicle was released. A woman claimed she had seen a boy with a skateboard talking to a man in a parking lot of the drugstore that Timothy had told his parents he was going to in order to ride his skateboard. The vehicle was reportedly a blue AMC Gremlin with a white side stripe. Authorities would eventually question every Gremlin owner in Oakland County.
Investigators put together a profile of the killer based on witnesses' descriptions of the man seen talking to Timothy King the night he disappeared—a white male with a dark complexion, 25 to 35 years old with shaggy hair and sideburns. Authorities believed that the killer had a job that gave him freedom of movement and may have appeared to be someone that a child might trust, such as a police officer, clergyman or a doctor. He was also believed to be familiar with the area and had the ability to keep children for long periods of time without rousing neighbors' suspicions.
The task force checked out more than 18,000 tips, which resulted in about two dozen arrests on unrelated charges and the busting of a multi-state child pornography ring operating on North Fox Island in Lake Michigan (northwest of the Leelanau Peninsula). However, task force members were unable to make much headway in the investigation. Officer Davis was one of the first on the case and tried his hardest to bring closure to the families of the victims. The task force disbanded in December 1978 and the investigation was turned over to the State Police. The killer never struck again.
Suspects and persons of interest
A few weeks after the death of Timothy King, Detroit psychiatrist Dr. Bruce Danto, who worked with the task force, received a poorly spelled, guilt-ridden letter. The letter's writer identified himself as "Allen" and claimed that he was a sadomasochist slave of his roommate 'Frank' who is the 'OCCK'. Allen wrote a pleading, fearful and remorseful letter indicating that he was losing his sanity, endangered, and suicidal, convincing Danto that he was genuine. Allen wrote that he accompanied Frank on many road trips seeking boys, but he never was present during the abductions for the boys that Frank murdered. Allen confirmed that Frank drove a Gremlin, but he (Frank) 'junked it out in Ohio never to be seen again'.
Allen described that Frank was traumatized by killing children in the Vietnam War, in which he and Allen served, and was taking revenge on more affluent citizens such as the residents of Birmingham. Allen wrote that Frank wanted rich people to suffer for sending forces to Vietnam, and received nothing in return.
Allen instructed Danto to respond by printing the code words "weather bureau says trees to bloom in three weeks" published in that Sunday's Free Press edition. Soon after, Danto got a phone call from Allen, who offered to provide photographic evidence in exchange for a letter from Michigan Governor William Milliken guaranteeing immunity from prosecution. The psychiatrist arranged to meet Allen at a bar called the 'Pony Cart Bar' near Detroit's exclusive Palmer Woods neighborhood. Allen did not show, and was never heard from again.
Archibald Edward Sloan
Sloan was a pedophile who victimized young boys in his neighborhood He became a person of interest when hair samples found in his 1966 Pontiac Bonneville matched hair found on the bodies of Timothy King and Mark Stebbins. However, the hair samples did not match other victims. Sloan often lent his car out to his pedophile friends.
The case sparked new interest when Timmy King's father, Barry, and brother, Chris, tried to get the Michigan State Police to release information about Chris Busch, the son of Harold Lee Busch, a high level General Motors executive. Chris Busch had been in police custody shortly before Timmy's abduction for suspected involvement in child pornography. He committed suicide in November 1978, and bloodstained ligatures were found in his apartment, as was a hand-drawn image of a boy closely resembling Mark Stebbins screaming in agony which was found pinned to the wall in which Busch committed suicide. There has been no confirmed activity of the Oakland County Child Killer since his death. The Michigan State Police have since released 3,400 pages of investigative records to Barry King.
James Vincent Gunnels
As a young teenager, Gunnels was repeatedly sexually assaulted by Chris Busch at their Ess Lake cabin. Busch was convicted of the crime. Gunnels' hair was partially DNA matched with hair found on the blouse of Kristine Mihelich.
John Wayne Gacy
Authorities in Michigan were investigating the possibility that serial killer John Wayne Gacy could have been the Oakland County Child Killer. A witness to the 1977 abduction of Timothy King remembered seeing two men with King. The first suspect was described as a young man in his late 20s, the second suspect bore a strong resemblance to Gacy. John Wayne Gacy was also allegedly in Michigan around the time of the murders. According to DNA tests conducted in 2013, Gacy was not involved in the Oakland County killings.
Police in Parma Heights, Ohio arrested Ted Lamborgine, a retired auto worker believed to have been involved in a child porn ring in the 1970s. On March 27, 2007, investigators told Detroit television station WXYZ that Lamborgine was considered the top suspect in this case. Lamborgine pleaded guilty to 15 sex-related counts involving young boys, rather than accept a plea bargain that would have required him to take a polygraph test on the Oakland County child killings. Lamborgine also rejected an offer of a reduced sentence in exchange for a polygraph on the case.
In October 2007, the family of Mark Stebbins filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Lamborgine seeking $25,000. The lawsuit alleges Lamborgine, who lived in Metro Detroit in the late 1970s, abducted Mark and held him captive in a Royal Oak house for four days in February 1976 before smothering him to death during a sexual assault. Lamborgine has never been formally linked nor charged in the death of Mark Stebbins. Attorney David A. Binkley has sought compensation, including funeral costs, for Stebbins' brother, Michael, but stressed that money is secondary.
Resumed investigation and new evidence
Investigation reports released to family of the victims
Police reports obtained by Ken King included new revelations, including DNA testing of new suspects, a sketch found at the scene of Busch's suicide of a boy resembling Mark Stebbins screaming in abject terror and wearing a hooded sweatshirt, and a bloody rope also found at the scene of Busch's suicide.
Catherine Broad, sister of Timothy King, compiled an archive of investigation material as the case grew.
Upon researching the case records, the King family produced a documentary entitled 'Decades of Deceit'. The documentary condemns the investigators and prosecutors for alleged shoddy investigations and uncooperative communication, and, in particular, of disregarding leads the King family discovered in 2006. Funds generated from the sale of the documentary were donated to the Tim King fund, designated to help abused children and support child activities for Birmingham children.
DNA tests of hair
According to DNA tests conducted in 2012, samples of hair belonging to an unknown person were found on the seat of Archibald “Ed” Sloan's 1966 Pontiac Bonneville and bodies of victims Mark Stebbins and Timothy King. The samples are one of the first pieces of concrete evidence linking two of the murders. The samples, however, exonerated most of the current suspects. DNA tests also confirmed that white hair from the same dog were found on all 4 victims.
A new suspect, James Vincent Gunnels, was discovered when hair found on the blouse of Kristine Mihelich was later tested for DNA. However, due to the condition of the hair, only an inconclusive match could be achieved. Gunnels, who was convicted in the past for property crimes, was living in a halfway house. He was released in 2011 as the police lacked the evidence to charge him.
Current developments/2012 case reopening
In 2013, an anonymous informant reported a blue AMC Gremlin buried in a farm field now being developed in Grand Blanc. Police are investigating the Gremlin for ties to the crime as Timothy King was last seen in a blue Gremlin. However, it is common for farmers to dispose of unwanted automobiles using this method.
In 2005, a unidentified man, who would later emerge to become a common figure in the case and has been referred to by the alias of "Bob" was reminded of a relationship he had in 1977 with an acquaintance. In an interview given to Oakland County investigators in 2010, Bob informed them of atypical observations and actions while driving and conversing with the acquaintance, such as taking him to buildings where satanic rituals were performed according to the acquaintance. The acquaintance navigated through lesser-known routes associated with the case with ease. The acquaintance also spoke of details written in "Allen's" letter (see above). Bob requested information about the "Allen" letter to help confirm his suspicions, but was denied.
In 2010, Bob gave a recorded interview to Oakland County investigators and Prosecutor Jessica Cooper to present evidence pertaining to the investigation. Bob claimed to have tried to approach her with his findings and to convince her to place the case under the jurisdiction of the Department of Justice to expedite the case. The department was already involved as FBI investigators and through resources such as the ViCAP database. Prosecutor Cooper dismissed his suggestions and, as there was no new evidence presented, his request to inspect the "Allen" letter was denied. Cooper describes the interview on the Oakland County Prosecutor's Office blog as "a rambling statement outlining a theory that the Oakland County Child Killer abductions and murders were related to pagan holidays, the lunar calendar, and Wiccan rituals".
Bob commenced to correspond with Deborah Jarvis, mother of victim Kristine Mihelich, and investigative journalists such as Bill Proctor and Heather Catallo in 2010. He claimed that he was among a team of a dozen investigators involved with the case and could identify the perpetrator of the crimes, but refused to indicate which law enforcement division he worked for. He claimed to have invested 10,000 hours into investigations over several years, but was reluctant to release his results as he doubted the competence of Wayne and Oakland county investigators. In a press release email, Bob indicated possible meddling by Jessica Cooper and other reasons as to why he had not made his investigation public. According to Paul Hughes, an attorney representing Jarvis, Bob's investigation discovered the murderer. However, according to Hughes, Bob refused to identify the culprit unless the authorities divulged crucial information which Bob requested during the initial phone questioning in 2010. Bob wanted to positively confirm the identity of his suspect using the police evidence before proceeding further.
In 2012, Bob presented his findings to a select group of Detroit journalists on Hughes' cell phone. To preserve his anonymity he insisted that his phone interview with Hughes not be recorded. He theorized that the killers were conducting Wiccan human sacrifice rituals coinciding with pagan celebrations or the lunar calendar.
According to Bob, there were altogether 11-16 victims, significantly more than the four officially confirmed victims. Bob claimed his team found a number of similarities among the cases that had lottery-like odds to occur compared to other unrelated homicide cases.
Based on this information, Hughes attempted a lawsuit against the Oakland County authorities for $100M citing miscarriage of the investigation and demanding Cooper's resignation. The lawsuit alleged cover-up conspiracies, and obstruction against the victims' families. Hughes' website solicited donations, and offered a copy of Bob's report for a donation of $1,500. The families of the victims and Cooper claimed that Hughes and Bob were attempting to profit on their distress. The case was dismissed in March 2012 for lack of evidence.
- Martindale, Mike (August 24, 2007). "New DNA evidence surfaces in Oakland child killings". The Detroit News. p. 00.
- Barfknecht 1993, pp. 123–126
- The Riverman ISBN 978-0-09923-311-4 p. 127
- The Riverman ISBN 978-0-09923-311-4 p. 128
- McIntyre 1988, p. 11
- McIntyre 1988, p. 12
- "Suspect". Ludington Daily News. March 4, 1976. Retrieved June 11, 2011.
- "Secrets and Lies". True Crime Diary. 2011-06-14. Retrieved 2014-03-12.
- "Oakland County child killer still a mystery despite letters to the police". Ludington Daily News. 28 (264). Associated Press. September 28, 1977. Retrieved December 2, 2013.
- Tommy McIntyre (January 1, 1988). Great Lakes Books, ed. Wolf in Sheep's Clothing: The Search for a Child Killer. Detroit: Wayne State University Press. pp. 173–174. ISBN 0-8143-1989-0. Retrieved December 3, 2013.
- Tommy McIntyre (January 1, 1988). Great Lakes Books, ed. Wolf in Sheep's Clothing: The Search for a Child Killer. Detroit: Wayne State University Press. pp. 177–178. ISBN 0-8143-1989-0. Retrieved December 3, 2013.
- Catallo, Heather (Jul 19, 2012). "Local man says he was assaulted by new Oakland County Child Killer person of interest Arch Sloan". WXZY 7 ABC. Retrieved 12 March 2014.
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- "Detroit ABC affiliate WXYZ, December 28, 2010"
- "EXCLUSIVE: New Person Identified In Oakland County Child Killer Case". Clickondetroit.com. Nov 2, 2011. Retrieved 2014-03-12.
- "Is the Oakland County Child Killer connected to John Wayne Gacy?". Retrieved February 1, 2013.
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- "EXCLUSIVE: New Person Identified In Oakland County Child Killer Case". Clickondetroit.com. Nov 2, 2011. Retrieved 2014-03-12.
- Dave Phillips (2013-04-13). "Woman blogs about losing a brother to the Oakland County Child Killer". Theoaklandpress.com. Retrieved 2014-03-12.
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- Ashenfelter, David. 'Anonymous tipster Bob has become part of the mystery of Oakland Child Killer case'. June 17, 2012. Detroit Free Press. retrieved November 29, 2013
- Ashenfelter, David. 'Informant says he can connect Oakland County child killings to other deaths'. May 14, 2012. Detroit Free Press. retrieved December 01,2013
- 'Bob'.'Press release from 'Bob'.'October 16, 2013. Detroit Free Press. December 1, 2013
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- Detectives Revive Infamous Case (2005 Michigan State Police Press Release)