"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.