“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.