Monday, March 12, 2018

Narrated basement video of the former Gambles Store

I've posted a narrated video of the former Gambles store basement where the pet department was. This includes the area where Janette Roberson was found. 

The video can be viewed in the closed Down & Away Facebook Discussion Page.

If you're interested in getting a better understanding of the layout, request and invite and come on in. This is where we'll have longer discussions about elements of the crime, and I will also post reports, news articles, and images.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Season Two - The Murder of Janette Roberson

Season Two has begun and I will post episodes each week on Fridays.

There are multiple platforms from which you can listen (free!).

It's as simple as subscribing to iTunes on your podcast app--HERE


Subscribing on Google Play Music ---HERE


on Stitcher (for android device users)--HERE  (I will note here that Stitcher seems to be the slowest to post new episodes, so far.)

You can listen directly from your PC HERE on the Down & Away homepage. There's a little audio player up top beneath the picture on each post. This is a normal wordpress page, so the latest episode will be up top, and if you need to find earlier episodes, check the RECENT POSTS list on the right hand side of the page.

I will occasionally post blog posts right here on the blog when there's additional information or updates. I won't post here every week with the newest episode, though. You'll need to subscribe, or check your platform of choice each Friday.

If you have a tip or question, don't hesitate to email me at You can also private message me on the Down & Away Facebook page, as well as my personal Facebook page.

If you have any information about the murder of Janette Roberson that you'd like to pass along to police:

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Where are the dispatch audio and typed logs on Janette's case?

This is a good illustration of the problems surrounding Janette Roberson's case. I wanted the dispatch log and audio of the call that came in from Gambles to Osceola County Sheriff's department on January 19, 1983. Should be a simple request, given that the person who dispatched those transmissions said that all calls were recorded and logged. So, I went to Michigan State Police and they said they didn't have it. 

Then, I went back to the originating body (Osceola County) and they say those records don't exist. The problem with that is they told me the same thing about the first responder's report from Osceola County when I won my appeal for the city documents, and subsequent to them saying that, the city lawyer contacted me saying they DID have it and turned it over to them.

Letter from city atty. stating they received documents from Osceola County
 AFTER I had made my request and told they didn't exist.

When I emailed back and asked when Osceola County began recording dispatch audio, I was directed to call Sheriff Crawford, which I did. He was quite gracious, and we had a nice conversation, but as far as he recalled, they didn’t record dispatch calls back then. He worked as a dispatcher, some years after 1983. 

The reason this issue is important is because these documents would not be excludable under FOIA law, they are public records – as the MSP denial notes. If they were turned over at some point to MSP, under FOIA law, they still would not be required to replicate and turn over documents from another law enforcement agency, thus it is the duty of the originator of those items to retain copies, particularly in an open homicide investigation.

According to Sheriff Crawford, they don’t have any documents related to Janette’s murder.  When the cold case team first started looking into this case again, he delivered everything he had to Reed City Police Chief Davis - which he described as “a few supplementals”. 

I will keep digging, but even if they did not record audio at that time – and I’m still not quite sure they didn’t – where’s the typed log? Nobody seems to have it.

Sheriff Crawford suggested that Michigan State Police should have some record of THEIR dispatches from that day, because they dispatched Reed City PD back then. Which would mean they’d also have the incoming dispatches from Osceola County. He brings up a valid point...

So…where are they?

Michigan State Police denial for dispatch audio and/or logs.

FOIA requests can be tricky - so I went back to make sure I'd asked in a way that if they had state police logs, they understood I wanted them, too. This is how I worded my request to Michigan State Police, exactly:

I would like to request the dispatch AUDIO recording as well as the log generated by the dispatcher of the call from the Gambles Store on January 19, 1983, as well as ALL dispatches out regarding the homicide of Janette Roberson, to include the dispatch audio from Michigan State Police to Reed City Post, as well as the Osceola County dispatches to the the EMS unit, as well as Reed City PD, Osceola County deputies, and the Michigan State Police Reed City post.

I don't believe this request is unreasonable, nor do I think these records shouldn't exist, because as Sheriff Crawford even said to me, they wouldn't destroy documents in an open homicide investigation. Unfortunately, he didn't work for Osceola County Sheriff's department at the time of the murder, so he doesn't know what happened to the records. And I do believe there were more records. Deputies were tasked to follow up tips that came in, per the Michigan State Police report, and Detective Southworth was actively assisting on this case, at that time. They should have generated, and subsequently turned over more than "a few supplementals" at some point. So when did that happen, and where are they, now?

I want to know who made the call from Gambles, what time that call was made, and who showed up when, according to verifiable reports, given there are a great deal of questions about the timing of police showing up to this scene.

The second, and biggest issue for me, is that the dispatcher that day, Ray Haight, told me that the Osceola County Sheriff at the time instructed him to put the call out to the EMS department as a “heart attack in progress” – and you’ll hear all about that in one of the early podcast episodes.

When Gary McGhee and his fellow EMS partner showed up at that scene, they believed they were responding to a heart attack. Then, he was subsequently led through a spot of blood on the floor on his way through the pet department by Officer Finkbeiner. Had he known he was responding to a homicide call, both he and Officer Finkbeiner may have handled that scene differently. I am trying to ascertain why that order was made. Ray says it was to keep people with scanners from hearing the homicide call, but the initial dispatch had already gone out, so people had already heard about the murder if they were listening to their scanners at home.

I believe those audio dispatches could shed light on many things, including the above, and why city officers arrived first, even though county deputies were the first out the door, and only blocks away, according to the dispatcher.

All these years, Officer Finkbeiner has gotten the brunt of the criticism for walking McGhee through that blood, and for shooing customers out of the store when he arrived, rather than holding them for interviews about what they may have seen. If Officer Finkbeiner also believed he was responding to a heart attack, that might explain his actions, and in that case, it would be up to Osceola County to clear up why they did what they did, and take ownership of what could have been a domino effect of mistakes that led to some issues regarding how that case was handled in the early minutes and hours.

I have uncovered one possible reason why Officer Finkbeiner showed up first, even though he wouldn’t have been the first person called, because the state police would have had to be called after the deputies were informed, and they, in turn, would have contacted city patrolmen.

According to this article from November 1982, there was an officer assigned to ‘walk the beat’ downtown Reed City. I checked with Ray and that duty was assigned to Officer Finkbeiner, so he may have been walking around downtown and somehow learned about some commotion at Gambles, before the Osceola county deputies arrived, as well as EMTs.

But HOW did he learn that? How did he know to show up at Gambles if Ray’s recollection is correct, and his deputies were running out the door as he called the Michigan State Police Post and had them dispatch a city response? When the EMTS arrived, Officer Finkbeiner was already there. Every report notes him being there first, so how did he come to enter that store before everyone, if his dispatch didn't go out until after the closest physical responding police department?

Just to be clear, I am not attributing anything nefarious to his early arrival - I just want to know the sequence of events, as I believe there are some discrepancies in the reports we currently have.

So. Many. Questions.

Season Two of Down &Away on the Murder of Janette Roberson drops Friday, and I'll go into some of these issues in future episodes.

Sheriff Crawford also suggested I speak to one of the deputies on duty that day, to see if he might be able to shed some light on the heart attack dispatch question, and arrivals on scene, so I’m going to try to see if he’ll speak to me. Fingers crossed!

Stay tuned!

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Down & Away SEASON TWO - The Murder of Janette Roberson

Listen to the Season Two TEASER here:

View from the Gambles back room where Janette would have been found, out into the pet department.
Starting in March, for the next two months I'll be posting an episode each Friday about the murder of Janette Roberson in the Gambles store in Reed City, Michigan.

The TEASER is already up on iTunes, and if you subscribe, you'll get the latest episode as each one posts. Podcasts are free, and as easy as subscribing on the podcast app. Here are the platforms where you can listen to Down & Away:

I'll discuss topics such as:

- people who were looked at as suspects or persons of interest according to the Michigan State Police report

- how tensions in law enforcement may have affected the case

- what was going on in Reed City around this time that might relate to the murder

- debunk some of the theories surrounding this case that have no merit

- why the case remains unsolved

You can follow along on Facebook on the Down & Away Facebook page and on Twitter

If you have any thoughts, suggestions, tips, or questions, feel free to email me at, or private message me on the Down & Away Facebook page, or my personal Facebook page, here.

Thursday, January 11, 2018


I thought I'd take a second to update the blog as to what I'm working on now, so the interested folks can follow along.

First - I've begun producing my own podcast. I'll be focusing on local open homicide cases, with the aim of helping the communities understand why certain cases are where they are, and how some of these cases go cold. One thing I've learned in the last few years, while researching these cases, is that people often have wildly inaccurate information regarding not only the facts of the case, but why it has gone gold. 

Each case is different, so those reasons vary.

My first season on Down & Away will deal with the shooting death of Norma Waldron in Newaygo, Michigan. Fremont, to be specific. 

Her husband insisted this was suicide. The Michigan State Police thought otherwise. The first episode is up, and I will be posting episodes on this case for the next few months, bi-weekly. There will be six episodes, and it will contain audio of actual police interviews of Robert Elton Waldron, as well as witnesses and family members. The podcast is live on iTunes, Stitcher, and Google Play music, so it's available to Apple and Android users. 

Here's the iTunes link where you can subscribe:

Here's the web page, for folks who don't do the podcast thing, but would like to listen from your computer. There's an audio player embeded in each post. Currently, there's the Season One teaser and Episode One Posted:


I'm looking at cases for future seasons, and right now, I'm actively requesting information from the community on the murder of Arnold Holmes on October 19, 1992 near Ashton, Michigan. The article above is the only one I have been able to locate on the incident, so far, and in all of the discussions about this case  that I've heard, I was never made aware that there were TWO dead men found on the property that day.

The other man in question appears to have been Kenneth Varney Sr

I believe Varney was the renter and Holmes was the owner of the property.

This makes me wonder how much the community even understood about the case at the time it occurred. But, if the case remains open, there has to be a reason. Either the person they believe to be the perp is dead, or they know who they think did it, but were never able to gather enough evidence to prosecute (the main reason most of these cold cases get stalled) or they have no idea what happened. 

In the latter two, that means they need is the help of the community. 

If you have any information, please contact me at, or comment below. You can also contact me at my personal Facebook Page  or the Down & Away Facebook page. Both have private messaging options.

Thanks in advance for the support.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Canvassing Chestnut

Based on a few leads I have developed during my time writing the book about the Janette Roberson murder, I’d like to see if we can crowdsource some much-needed information. The reason I’m doing this is because the information I’m looking at was not available to law enforcement at the time, and I confirmed that with sources in law enforcement, as well as the people who gave me the leads, themselves. So far, in all cases, none were spoken to about this by police – and that’s because no one came forward to share the info with them.

I’d like to essentially canvass the area around Upton and Chestnut, as well as south on Chestnut…let’s say as far down as the State Police post as a good landmark most locals know. So, that whole route from Upton to past Vic’s, to the Pizza Hut area…

What I need is to establish who lived in homes and worked in businesses along that route – and it could be streets just to the east or west of Chestnut.

I have posted an image of the area in question, and would like to be able to talk to people who were working in businesses along that route on the day of the murder, January 19, 1983. The day of the week was a Wednesday, if that helps.

ALSO: anyone on foot in that area that day within that time frame that might remember something. Kids walking home from school, mom’s walking their children in strollers, someone walking their dog… someone pumping gas, coming out of a store and getting into your vehicle. You get the idea.

What I’m looking for in this area is anything anyone might have seen that seemed… odd, strange, or unexplained at the time, but perhaps they didn’t believe it had anything to do with the murder.

The leads I have so far suggest there is a likelihood that at least four people, probably more, saw something odd. The same odd thing. I’d like to see if anyone else along that route saw the same odd thing. That’s about as specific as I can be, but anything you could add would be greatly appreciated.

So, feel free take the image, pull it up in paint or whatever image enhancer you use and write/circle/note homes & businesses you can identify as far as employees of businesses, and residents. Or just drop me an email at Anonymous posters/emails are also fine – I’m looking for the info, regardless of how it comes in.

To narrow the focus, we’re talking about any time between, let’s say 1pm and 4pm. If I were to narrow further, I’d say, perhaps, even a tighter timeframe of 2-3:30 would be the area of time I’m really interested in. Recall if you were in school then, when you would have been arriving home, if you lived in that area. Same with people who worked in the area.

Thanks again for all the help and support. It is greatly appreciated.


Monday, July 31, 2017

Chapter 26 - Timeline

Janette Fisher married Alvin Lee Roberson on Aug 14, 1971. She was just shy of her sixteenth birthday. They had been married eleven years and had two children when she was murdered. 

Most of the time she had coming to her was stolen. None of us are promised tomorrow, I guess we all understand that, at least at some point. I just don’t think she was even there yet. That place where you realize there’s only so much time. 

She was at that age where time means little because it seems like there’s so much of it spread out in front of you like the limitless possibilities of an open highway.

Where did the time go that day, January 19, 1983? There’s an awful lot of it unaccounted for, as far as I’m concerned. 

Gene JohnsonI know this store better than you!said that, at one point, Officer Finkbeiner told him he was the last person to see Janette alive, except for the killer. I didn’t believe that when I spoke to him, but after having talked to Blanche and Jan and Elke and Karl and Flossie, it may well have been the case, based on the times they were all there.

No other customers I spoke to saw Janette later that day, though there very well could be sommeone who did, and I just never found them. Since all of the employee interviews remain redacted, we have no way of knowing the last time any of them saw her.

The autopsy report says Janette was last seen at 1:25, but where did that information come from? I always assumed it was from a receipt, because it’s a pretty specific time. The newest entry into the MSP computer system in recent years lists the time of the crime occurring as between 1:40 and 3:50. 

That's a fairly tight window. So if you're still hanging in there with me, and you remember the All Quiet on the Western Front post, go back with those exact times in your head - those couple hours - and revisit the points I suggested you be looking at. 

Anyone who wasn't working that day. Anyone whose behavior that day, or in the days aftererward, 

Anyone disposing of clothing or other items that, looking back, might not 

Things for Reed City citizens to consider are the fact that during that timeframe, kids would be coming home from school. The same timeframe during which the killer would have been trying to get out of the store, undetected, and home or elsewhere to possibly change clothes. Did you see any family or friends or neighbors doing anything odd? Disposing of anything?

Sweatily shoving anything into one of the many dumpsters behind businesses around Chestnut and Upton? Those sorts of things. Something else to consider is the fact that the items could have been hidden somewhere for disposal, later. Might not have happened that day.

If you knew someone who was not working, or off work at the time, where were they and what were they doing during those couple of key hours?


Let’s take the 3:50 time as the time Janette was found, because it does seem to correlate with what Mr. and Mrs. Kooiker said about having come straight from school letting out. What went on in that basement—around her body—from 3:50 when the report says she was found, until the first dispatch at 4:06, according to Gary McGhee’s EMT report? 

The Reed City Finkbeiner/Primeau report says they arrived at 4:04, which would tend to corrolate if Raymond Haight called the State Post to have them dispached, as he insisted, right before EMTs were dispached.

But ten minutes is a long time to wait before calling police. If that time of 3:50 is accurate, that’s 14 minutes (or so, as it's approximate) before the report says Officers Finkbeiner and Primeau got there. 

What were the employees and customers in the store doing for those 14 minutes? Tom Hawkins, Elke, David Engels, John Engels, Flossie, Angie… what’s going on before—according to Raymond Haight—David Engels calls the Osceola County Sheriff’s Department and says there’s been a murder in the basement, because that’s when everyone starts arriving. 

The Osceola County deputies are running out of the Sheriff’s Department, soon after, the EMTs are hopping into the ambulance, and it’s 4:06 when the EMTs arrive and Officer Finkbeiner is standing at the front door sending potential witnesses on their way. 

What was going on for those 10 to 14 minutes before the wagons had circled?

Go stand in the center of your living room for ten minutes and see how much time that feels like. Run outside, down your driveway, stop, count to sixty, and then run back inside. How long did that take? Get a firm grasp on how long that much time is, and then ask yourself what you think might have been happening for that long, prior to anyone calling police. Also, keep in mind that there are three law enforcement entities, city, county, and state police all within two minutes or less from Gambles. 


What were the employees doing? The list Detective Pratt gave of the individuals he learned “through further investigation” had been around the area of the body “some more than once” isn’t that long. So what were they doing in those ten minutes? This would have been after Angie ran up the stairs panting, pointing back down toward the stairs so that Flossie had to scream for John Engels, who came barreling down from the second floor, taking them two at a time.

Where was David Engels when John ran down those stairs from wherever he was eating lunch? 

Flossie didn’t call David Engels, she called John Engels. 

Where was Thomas Hawkins? Elke? It appears Bonnie Engels had gone home before the body was discovered, or at some point before Detective Pratt got there, because there is no mention of her being there when the body was found. 

As far as I can tell, nobody remembers seeing Janette after around 11:30 when Janette met Gene Johnson at the center of the store and asked if she could help him. Every time a customer went looking for her in the pet department after that, she wasn’t there. Karl brings the gerbils in around 10 or 11. No Janette. Maybe this is when she was gone, having responded to the call from the school like she told Flossie. But she comes back and has her encounter with Gene Johnson at 11:30 or thereabouts. 

Last he sees her, she heads downstairs. 

Around noon, Blanche goes down there looking for her “Ick,” no Janette. 

Next, Jan and Venus go there around 2:00, certainly could have been a bit after, until sometime before four o’clock, no Janette. 

Elke was there right around that time, even though Blanche doesn’t remember crossing paths with her, despite Elke saying she was up and down those stairs three or four times, continually asking the female clerk where Janette was, and being told she’s probably at lunch. Everyone kept telling customers Janette was probably at lunch.

Was being an employee at Gambles so relaxed that break time was an hour, two hours… or more? 

Karl alleges the store manager told him Janette was probably at lunch when he was there the first time with those gerbils. Angie apparently told Elke the same thing when she returned with them the second time. It certainly doesn’t seem like anyone knew where Janette was at any time that afternoon, except for Gene Johnson.

One of the newspaper articles at the time mentioned that they were looking into the possibility of someone hiding in the basement before the attack but said, “There is no evidence to suggest it.” 

Still, there is the possibility that the perp came down there while Janette was gone, and hid back there until she came back. Carrie Bevard, who was at the Buckboard Bar that day, next door, said she recalled one of the police who came to search there saying they believed she'd been killed sometime after she returned. 

Having been down here, I can say there would certainly be areas in the back room where someone could have easily hidden to await her arrival. We know someone was coming in and making her uncomfortable in the days/weeks leading up to the murder. 

She also allegedly received obscene calls. 

Someone could have been stalking her. 

Maybe that someone escalated from merely visiting the store and "making her uncomfortable" by walking into the backroom, where only employees were allowed, to making calls. Sure would be an interesting coincidence if the two aren't related.

Then, we must consider the blood that Gary McGhee walked through on the way through the pet department, which he only noticed when he came out of the back room after having attended to Janette. 

Nobody else saw it. Nobody. Blanche, Jan, Venus, Elke… all of those ladies down there in that final couple of hours during the crucial 1:40-3:50 time period. None of them saw it. Both Jan and Venus, as well as Elke claim to have been there for a considerable amount of time looking at the fish, and that’s the general area Gary McGhee describes it as being. 

There couldn’t have been much time between when Jan and Venus left, and Elke returned with those gerbils, and from then on she was there. The report verifies she was there when Janette was found. 

Yet, all of those people walking around looking at those fish tanks right where that spot of blood is and nobody, not one of them saw it? 

If the time of death, according to the death certificate and news reports from the time period, was between 2 and 3pm, Janette almost had to be back there when some of these women were walking around in the department. Perhaps the killer had incapacitated her, but became stuck back there when customers came in and he hadn't yet made his escape. It's certainly a possibility, and more than one of the women mentioned an eerie feeling while there.

So many questions; not nearly enough answers, and I’ll admit, that blood bothers me. So I got back with Gary McGhee one more time and asked him if it was big enough that someone else should have seen it.

To my recollection it was about 6 ft. outside the doorway. It really wasn't a ‘puddle’ of blood per se; it actually was a spot of WET blood. I would say about the size of a slice of bread but no bigger. As I said, I did not see it when I went in the room, but noticed it when I left. I was not looking at the floor when I went in there. I do not remember seeing any footprints in it, but there was a chance that I had stepped in it and that was why my boots were taken. It was my ‘assumption’ then (and always has been) that the initial assault took place where the blood was located and that she walked or was dragged/moved to where she was found. I can’t explain why no one else saw the blood.”

The only other possibility I can think of is that the blood got there after she was found, and that would constitute some sort of transference from the blood in the back room to where McGhee saw it. He did not describe it as a shoe print, though. He saw wet blood.

I know this store better than you!” 

Is it possible that’s the last thing anyone said to Janette, aside from the killer, if they exchanged words? God I hope not. It sounded like a bit of an abrupt exchange, and by all accounts Janette was rather shy. Gene was joking, but even if she took it as such, I’d like to think something kinder, softer, maybe less off-putting was the last thing someone said to her before a monster viciously took her from this Earth.

According to Gene, after that, Janette said she had something to take care of downstairs,

Down she went, and he never saw her again. 

Did anyone else?

The killer did. That much we know. be continued...