Thursday, February 26, 2015


I worked at the sheriff’s dept. at the time of that murder and I dispatched the officers, detectives, and ambulance there. The problem with solving that case is that the officers in charge of the investigation and the store owners let everybody and there brother down the basement before they decided to start an official investigation in other words they dropped the ball…” ~Raymond Haight

I ran across the above comment on a Facebook thread dedicated to the murder of Janette Roberson, so I contacted Mr. Haight to see if I could get his memory of the event. Raymond Haight said he had just come in to work about 3:45 to the Osceola County Sheriff’s Department. His shift was from 4:00 to 12:00pm. Not more than 3 minutes after his butt was in the chair, according to him, the call came in from Gambles.

“It was David Engels and he said there was a murder in the basement at Gambles.”

Haight says he turned to the two deputies standing in the sheriff’s department at the time and told them what they had. To his recollection, the deputies present were Terry Oyster and Tom Kingsbury. Their shift change was the same time as the dispatchers, so that’s why they both happened to be standing there at the time, according to Haight.

“They weren’t even out the door and I was on the line dispatching EMS. Then I contacted the State Police post. They were the ones that called the Reed City officers.” Back then, Haight said, the Reed City MSP post dispatched the city police.

He said dispatches would have gone out to all cars, but not the EMS, as they were on a different frequency. So anyone manning a patrol car in the area would have heard the dispatch. This, however, contradicts the Finkbeiner/Primeau report which states they were notified by Osceola County Dispatch. I asked Mr. Haight again and he was very clear. He said he did not dispatch the city police. He called the State Police Post, and it was they who were to contact RCPD officers.

It was Haight’s understanding that when the first officers arrived on scene, the doors were not secured and the owner was “…letting people to go in and out, and down into the basement.” That seems to corroborate the MSP report, based on how many people had been listed as being in the vicinity of the body. Surely all of those folks weren’t allowed near the body after Officers Primeau and Finkbeiner arrived?

When asked if any related calls came in about the scene that day, Haight said the sheriff’s department got word about ten or fifteen minutes after the initial call that there was a possible suspect on a bus leaving Reed City—someone described as having run out the back door of Gambles in an army coat toward where the bus picked up, down by the Osceola Inn, which was on Upton Avenue, about a block from Gambles. Haight said he believed this information had come from the store owner.

I told Mr. Haight that the Michigan State Police, Reed City, and Osceola reports all said the call came in as a heart attack, and that EMT Gary McGhee remembered it vividly as a heart attack because that was what he thought he was responding to until the moment he saw Janette’s brutalized body. Haight assured me that the call did not come in as a heart attack, and repeated that the call he took was from a person saying they were David Engels calling to say there had been a murder in the Gambles basement.

Could more than one call have come in, I wondered, aloud? I asked Haight if 9-1-1 was in use then, and he said no. So I asked if a citizen needed the police, who would they call? He said they would call the sheriff’s office directly, or the state post, and then he rattled off a number: 832-2211.

Haight was silent for a few seconds, and then said, “You know what could have happened? It didn’t come in as a heart attack, but maybe we dispatched it that way because of the scanners. See, you wouldn’t want to call in a murder, because too many other people would hear it because of the scanners.” He said he thinks that’s what may have happened. The call came in as a murder, but he dispatched it as a heart attack.

“But that would have been done at the order of Sheriff Needham,” Haight said. “He would be the only one to give that order.” It is of note, though, that Haight did not have independent recollection of that occurring. This was just supposition.

“So Needham must have been there at the time the call came in, then?” I asked. Haight said he was always around. His residence was attached to the jail.

Another thing Haight remembered was the birds. He had two parakeets at the time. On his way to work that day, around 3:30 or so, he considered stopping into Gambles to get some birdseed because he was out. But when he got downtown he remembered he was in uniform.

“I didn’t wanna go buying birdseed for a parakeet in uniform.” So he didn’t go. All these years later, he wondered aloud, “What if I had? Maybe I’d have seen something.”

In all likelihood, at that time the only thing he would have seen was that the pet department clerk was missing. Nobody I spoke to could find Janette from noon on.

But Raymond Haight’s is not the only What if? story I heard in relation to this case.

On the day of the murder, Roger Soper picked up his then mother-in-law from Meadowview Apartments, the same apartments where Janette and her family lived. Soper’s mother-in-law and her son were friendly with Janette. Soper and his wife worked at the hospital in Reed City, different shifts. He worked 3:00 to 11:00pm, his wife worked the 8:00 to 4:00 or 9:00 to 5:00 shift, so his mother-in-law would watch the kids for a couple hours until his wife got home.

Earlier in the week they’d discussed stopping by Gambles because his mother-in-law said Janette wanted her to come look at a parrot she wanted to sell her. The mother-in-law even asked Mr. Soper to pick her up a few minutes early that day. But as often happens when routine overrides best laid plans, they both forgot on the day they’d planned to go.

When they arrived at his house where he would deposit her for babysitting duty before heading off to work, Soper remembered. “Oh, we forgot to stop at Gambles about the bird.” Mother-in-law assured him they could go another day. Based on his schedule, he said they would have been in the pet store around 2:30. They never made it.

He heard about the murder around 4:30 that day in the cafeteria at the hospital. He said it was all over the hospital pretty fast. Little did he know that his forgotten trip to look at a bird, along with a familial connection to someone related to the case, would years later bring the Michigan State Police to his door.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

First Responders Reports - Janette Roberson

These are the narrative portions of the Reed City PD and Osceola County Sheriff's department first responder's reports, which include the only descriptions of their activities and what they found at the Janette Roberson crime scene when they arrived.

Based on interviews,  I have learned that there was approximately an hour between the time Janette Roberson was found in the basement pet department of the Gambles store and the time the State Police Detective and the crime scene technician arrived on scene. There is very little documentation as to what occured during that time. The reports below make up all that is available in that regard.

Reed City Police Department:


Osceola County Sheriff's Department

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

[REDACTED] - Excerpt

I have set the date of publication for [Redacted] on Friday, April 3, 2015. It will be available on Amazon in paperback and in digital format for Kindle. 

Here's an excerpt.

Some people get away with murder, literally. Not Kardashian literally—literally, literally. The statistics are staggering. As of this writing, in the state of Michigan there are [insert number here] unsolved homicides.

That’s how I wanted to start this opening, with an actual verifiable number, but then I found out this information isn’t readily available to the public. You can’t call and have someone print out a list of open homicide cases under the jurisdiction of the Michigan State Police. Apparently, how they keep track of open homicide cases is a mystery second only to the construction of Stonehenge.

Once I was told there was no list that Michigan State Police kept of all unsolved homicides, I submitted a records request for the District 6 homicides because that includes the area in which Janette Roberson was murdered. I figured I’d narrow it down a bit to see if that helped.

My request was granted in part and denied in part, the denial portion stating “A master list of statewide unsolved homicides does not exist.” 

Wait, really? How do you keep track of them all in a way that would easily illustrate any similarities or possible serial offenders? Particularly really old cases where the original investigators are no longer attached to the case? You know, some sort of system like the drug store has to alert when you try to fill two prescriptions that would cause drug interactions. Maybe a digitized spreadsheet that notes similarities in crime scenes, possible serial perpetrator MO comparisons, for when Detectives retire and the new guys need to be brought up to speed.

Nothing? Nada?

After I received the District 6 list, it was clear Michigan State Police could get me the information, it would just have to come piecemeal and I’d have to bother them a little more to get it. So I sent another request to Michigan State Police, this time for Districts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7 & 8.

Meanwhile, I studied the District 6 list. From 1970 to 2014—including Janette Roberson—there were 31 unsolved homicide cases in District 6. Seven of those were attributed to the Reed City area. I began researching those cases and submitted document requests to the crack MSP FOIA team. Eventually I got a letter that requested I send them $103.49 to get those other District numbers.

Huh? They had more than that of my money sitting on someone’s desk at that time for a request they had asked me to cancel. So I emailed the gal I was working with, prepared her an annotated list of the FOIA requests and charges I had outstanding, as well as the amount of my money they had floating around Lansing somewhere—which was, by the way, more than the amount requested for that District information. I got this response:


Please let Ms. Decker know that after a review of our emails and files, the agreement was that the 2 requests that she paid half on and then cancelled (CR-93318 $117.37 and CR93687 $53.15), those monies would have been credited to the request that was replacing those two (CR95886, billed estimate of $5,828.73). If they don’t intend to pay the balance on CR98556 and complete that request, a request for the refund of those 2 payments should be made to us in writing. We do not have the ability to keep a “balance” and deduct fees for each request. Also, any unpaid requests would still be due at this time. Please let her know she can contact me with any questions.
Thank you.

 Jessina Beckner

We’ll talk about the $5,828.73 in a bit. That’s a fun story! 

I knew they had the ability to keep a “balance” and deduct fees because they had already done so for other requests of mine, early on. At another point, I had received a refund for a document request they approved, changed their minds, and decided not to send me, months after the initial request. Needless to say, by this time—just shy of New Year’s, 2015—I’d had enough of the Michigan State Police FOIA Department. A root canal sans anesthesia while being forced to listen to Rush Limbaugh blather on about Obama’s shortcomings sounded more pleasant than writing even one more document request.

The problem is that’s what they’re counting on. I learned from my research that it’s common practice to charge exorbitant fees and make it as uncomfortable as possible for the public to get certain information if they didn’t think you should have it. Go ahead, Google it. Look for court cases related to FOIA claims. They reach all the way up to the Supreme Court. It won’t be a productive day, but you will come out the other end enlightened, if not really irritated. I should note that it’s not just Michigan State Police. It’s common practice. Even NASA was on the receiving end of some testy questioning by Congress over dragging their heels on FOIA requests.

So, as much as I would love to tell you how many unsolved murders Michigan State Police has on the books for the entire state, I can’t. I should be able to, but I can’t because as a citizen, I don’t have unlimited funds to throw around in order to get information that should be freely accessible. I only know that in the area of Michigan where Janette Roberson was killed, District 6, I was given a list that has 31 names on it. That’s one district, and we’ll take their word that Michigan State Police gave me all the names, although I have no facts to back that up.

Now let’s multiply 31 (unidentified killers) by eight (for 8 districts) and get a pretend number that will stand in place of the accurate number Michigan State Police is unable to supply us in anywhere close to a timely and reasonable manner, and we’ll call it Unsolved Homicides for Dummies.

248. The number is probably much higher than that, given District Six likely has less unsolved homicides than some of the southern areas. They’re really murdery down south, or so I’ve heard.

Let’s stop for a minute and think about it, though, using our fake number that’s probably way lower than the real number. 248 people who killed someone—give or take a few who may have died in the interim in a manner nowhere close to befitting their crimes—so, 248 killers walking free, eating stuff they like to eat, today a Whopper, maybe tomorrow a sandwich from Panera, and they’re watching their favorite TV shows, Facebooking about their kids’ accomplishments, or online gambling, maybe spending a Friday afternoon contacting their local congressman with a detailed list of gripes. Perhaps they’re at Walmart arguing with the deli manager, or getting an oil change at Jiffy Lube.

248 people going on with their daily lives as if nothing untoward occurred. You know, like them slashing up the body of another human being before dinner. Stuff like that.

One thing’s for certain. The person who killed Janette Roberson has issues. You don’t do what was done to her and then go on to be a productive member of society. Oh, it might look like that on the surface, but the type of rage required to do that sort of thing doesn’t go away. It’s constantly on simmer. You don’t want to be anywhere around when it boils over. Whoever this person is, they are not a nice person. This person is a monster. This person slaughtered a twenty-seven-year-old woman, then gathered his weapons and got the hell out of dodge like the coward that he is.

Here’s the thing about Janette that gets me. You haven’t really come into yourself as a woman in your twenties. That comes later, mid-life, when you’ve learned how to separate the worries that matter from the rest of the crap. It’s when you innately come to realize the small crap mustn’t be sweated. You’re the most you that you’ve ever been in your forties, fifties, and beyond, and for that reason, you’re more confident. You finally understand how all the pieces fit, so life begins to move more smoothly around you, rather than feeling like you’re running directly into oncoming traffic.

This is a generalization of course, but that’s how it feels to me, having travelled from birth through my mid-forties. It’s something I’ve earned. I’ve earned every bit of the woman I am, and my wish for each woman out there is that she can say that, too. That’s why it’s called “coming into yourself.”

Janette Roberson was cheated out of that chance. It was stolen from her. She left this world while still in her twenties, feeling around in front of her, trying and make things fit. I wish I could go back and have a cup of coffee with her now. Just fifteen minutes, I’d take it. I don’t know enough about her to adequately relate all the uniqueness she brought to the world in the twenty-seven years she had here. I don’t believe I’ve spoken to a single person who does. I’m not sure if any of the people I talked to really knew who Janette was in January of 1983. Her kids were too young, still in elementary school. Her mother is gone as I write this, and probably took the largest volume of Janette’s memories with her to the grave. The family members I’ve spoken to weren’t part of her day-to-day life at the time she was murdered, so it’s hard to say if anyone really knew who Janette Roberson was when she died. There’s a whole world that goes on inside you at that age when you’re doing all that puzzling. She wasn’t given the chance to be become the woman she was meant to be.

Then there was the town. Reed City, Michigan.

Lots of drama plaguing Reed City in January 1983, I tell you what. An embezzlement scandal was brewing in the city clerk’s office. (Incidentally, Janette’s mother was the City Clerk and Treasurer.) Threatened litigation over a business owner who’d opened a Tool and Die, but alleged he’d been purposely misled about the property and it was going to cost him a pretty penny to fix. The State Police were still smarting from a failed attempt at getting a proposition passed on the 1982 ballot—one that was summarily voted down after months of mudslinging between the local cops (city/county) and State Police. 

Speaking of cops, one of them got himself tossed in the pokey after assaulting two state troopers and a bar customer, just a few weeks before Janette’s murder. It’s not clear if the assaults had anything to do with the aforementioned ballot proposal, though the officer did have an awful lot to say about it to the press after his firing. It may have just been plain old drunken stupidity and anger. It’s clear he had the latter, based on the amount of f-bombs that were tossed around in ALL CAPS in the police report. 

Let’s see, what else? Oh! The city was about $80 thousand dollars in debt at the time, the council itself got along about as well as a group of caged tigers fighting over the last hunk of meat, and they did it on TV in the form of live broadcasts.

It was an interesting time to be a denizen of Reed City in the 1980s. But little did they know, there was a killer in their midst, one who’d prove capable of indescribable violence.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Thomas Hancock

On Monday November 20, 2000, the postmaster of the Idlewild, MI post office was dropped off for work at approximately 8:35 in the morning. He entered through the rear entrance and began the task of preparing for the day when, at some point, he looked out the front window of the building and saw what looked like a person laying on the ground. He went out and checked the person for signs of life, and upon finding none, called 9-1-1.

The Lake County Sheriff’s department was the first to respond, then contacting Detective Sgt. George Pratt to assist. From the MSP report: “The body of a fully clothed white male with trauma around the facial area was found lying on the ground partially obscured by a cluster of cedar trees on the southwest corner of the building. The snow that had been accumulating and that of the previous days had melted beneath the victim and approximately 4 to 6 inches away from the body.”

At approximately 10:18 am, the Lake County Central Dispatch was contacted by Annette Hancock, reporting her husband missing. “It was learned that the Hancocks lived on Logan St. which was less than half a mile from the crime scene.”

Mrs. Hancock was interviewed and it was learned from her that Thomas Hancock, who was a carpenter by trade, was home all day the previous Sunday, and he’d watched a football game. She said he had about six beers, had gotten ready for bed, having put his pajamas on, and later decided to go out for more beer. She remembered telling him it was almost 10pm and he’d have to hurry because the store would be closing. She described him as 6’1”, 165 to 170 pounds, brown hair and a moustache, glasses, and his left hand was wrapped in an Ace bandage due to a recent accident with a saw.

The following morning, Mr. Hancock’s wife found his truck parked in front of the Idlewild Party Store where she thought he was going to get beer. Everything was covered with snow and she didn’t see any vehicle tracks or footprints in the area. Thomas Hancock was last seen at the Red Rooster Bar the night before.

According to the bar owner, William McClure, Mr. Hancock had been in the Red Rooster twice that day, once between 4:30 and 5:00pm, had one beer and left, then returned that night between 9:00 and 10:00pm, drank two beers, “…came in alone, sat alone, and left alone.”

If anyone has any information regarding the murder of Thomas Hancock, please contact Michigan State Police at the CRIME STOPPERS tip line: 1-800-SPEAK UP (773-2587) or Lake County Sheriff's Department at 231-745-2712.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Esther Gaffney

The body of eighty-year-old Esther Gaffney was discovered in her secluded home after a July 2004 weekend of moving preparations. The home was partially burned in an apparent attempt to cover up the crime. According to Michigan State Police, she was murdered between 7/10 and 7/12/2004. Her name was on the list I received which contained seven others, each corresponding to an unsolved homicide case attributed to the Reed City State Police Post. 

In the weeks before the release of my next book, [Redacted]: A Search for Truth About the Murder of Janette Roberson, I will be spotlighting some of the other homicide cases from the same area that remain unsolved. Each, at its heart, is about a person, and those people have names.

One of those people is Esther Gaffney. When I spoke to her sister, Ruth Wagner-Belisle, she said Esther and her late husband Charles Gaffney (former Detective Sergeant with Michigan State Police) were both good marksmen, and lived on 80 acres of hunting property. At the time of her murder, Esther was in the middle of a move to Cadillac to be closer to her church. She'd had some garage sales in an effort to get rid of things she wouldn't have room for.

Ruth with Esther and her husband Charles in happier times.
Tustin, MI - 1999
Esther and her family at an anniversary party circa July 1998.
(from left to right: Patricia Gaffney, Timothy Gaffney,
 Kathy Stadtfelt, Esther and her husband, Chuck.)

Over the years, Esther's sister has been given very little information about the status of the case, only that it is open and being investigated, but she has never been told if there are any suspects or persons of interest. 

The following tribute to Esther was written by her sister, Ruth:

"Anyone who knew my sister well, knew what a special person she was. She was intelligent, fun to be with and totally open and honest in her dealings with others. With Essie it was strictly, What you see is what you get. There was no pretense about her. If she felt strongly about an issue, even if it was controversial, she'd state her mind in no uncertain terms. Neither did she shy away from taking positions of leadership, whether in her church or in other organizations with which she was involved."

"She enjoyed many interests during her lifetime. First and foremost was her family and her religion. But she also enjoyed music, golfing, antiques, garage sales, hunting, gardening, painting and crafts, and especially her work with her church, for example, playing the organ for worship services, serving on the building and organ committees, offering a hand wherever it was needed, and singing in choir. When she and her family lived in the Flint area, she enjoyed singing with the Sweet Adelines."

"She had experienced some hardships in life, but the one thing that always got her through the tough times was her faith in God and in her Savior, Jesus Christ. In everything she did her faith shined through like a beacon of light for us all to see. She did not flaunt her faith or her religion as the Pharisees did, but it was always there... in the way she talked and in the way she conducted herself and her life."

"I will miss our travels, our cousin get-togethers, our phone conversations and knowing she is always there with wise advice when I have a problem or concern. She was a good sister and friend to me, and it's a great comfort to know that, despite her tragic end, she has now joined our other family members in heaven with her Savior."


If you have any information about the murder of Esther Gaffney, please contact: 

Detective Sgt. Mike Stephens 
Mt. Pleasant Post-Special Investigations Section 
Michigan State Police
Office: 989-773-5951

Thursday, February 5, 2015


"Redacted" is the story of my attempt to seek answers about an unsolved murder that occurred over thirty years ago in the small town where I live. I only learned about the brutal murder of Janette Roberson by accident, while I was researching locations for one of the subplots in my Dex Morneau series. While I was reading about the Osceola Hotel and various community responses to the old historical building being torn down, I came across on a Topix board thread titled Unsolved Murder.

I spent the rest of the day reading all the comments, which dated back to 2008. Over a year into my research on the murder, I now understand that a lot of what is on that thread is gossip, as well as a great deal of misinformation. But it was certainly an intriguing jumping off point. What I hope this book ultimately provides is a bit of clarity, and maybe dispels some misconceptions. When I sat down with Detective George Pratt, formerly of the Michigan State Police, now with the Osceola County Sheriff's office, he said there were so many misconceptions about the Janette Roberson case, there’s no way he could ever list them all. 

I asked him why this case is still unsolved, three decades later, and learned why the DNA in Janette's case will never provide a smoking gun that could point to one particular perpetrator. I was also able to get a good idea of some mistakes made early on in the case, based on the statements of first responders to the scene.

I made a point of looking into the decision making process of how cases are assigned to a cold case team, and spoke with an Inspector with Michigan State Police who talked me through how that worked with regard to the local unsolved cases. I learned some hard truths about decades-old cases and what’s involved in starting from scratch with files that haven’t ever been entered into the state police computer system, and remain, so many years later, relegated to boxes and filing cabinets in hardcopy. I learned how the passage of time and lack of resources play into unsolved cases. 

Finally, I got an up close and personal look at how the FOIA process can prove to be an expensive, time consuming, and often obstructive process to the average citizen, and that maybe we need to take a collective look at how public our public documents really are.

I have the release of Redacted tentatively scheduled for the beginning of April, and while I finish the tedious business of correcting typos and editing, I would like to spotlight some of the other unsolved homicides I learned about while researching this case. In an effort to see what kind of numbers I was looking at as far as unsolved crimes, I spent a great deal of time wrangling with Michigan State Police's FOIA (Freedom of Information) department trying to get a handle on how many unsolved murders Michigan has on the books. Would it shock you to know that it is not easy to get that kind of information, and it can be quite costly?  Well it isn't (easy)... and it is (costly). 

I can tell you that in District 6 - the area of the mitten where Janette Roberson was murdered - I have a list of 31 unsolved homicides provided to me by Michigan State Police, which date from 1970 to present. Seven of these (including Janette's) are attributed to my little town of Reed City; all occured within the jurisdiction of the Reed City MSP Post when it existed. It has since closed and is used as a detachment post, and those cases transferred to the Mount Pleasant MSP Post. 

Leading up to my release of Redacted, I will highlight one unsolved case each week from the Reed City list. I will post the police reports for those that I have (some were denied when I made the requests) as well as any corresponding newspaper articles.

1. Burton Scott

On June 26, 1979, Marilyn McLachlan walked into the Reed City MSP Post and reported her 25 year old son, Burton Scott, missing. She said no one had seen him since Friday evening, four days prior. He'd last been seen dropping someone off at the Evart Lounge Bar.