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.

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