Saturday, July 29, 2017

Chapter 15 - April - December

There are thirteen pages of Michigan State Police report that were sent to me by their FOIA department which represent the nine months from April through December of 1983. 

The first page is dated April 1, 1983 and is two paragraphs:

As mentioned in the previous supplemental reports, investigation into the Janette Roberson murder is continuing with any leads being followed up on with tip information. As of this writing, approximately three hundred fifty (350) tips have been received with very few not totally completed and closed. Officers from the three investigating agencies continue to carry the investigation [into] the tips on the tip forms. Each individual contact is not being made as part of the supplemental reports.


A property report receipt dated April 11, 1983 shows Trixie Shepherd as having sent Janette’s personal items back, and they were turned back over to Marion Fisher, her mother. 

The next supplemental dated April 30, 1983 states that “information/possible suspects due to MO have been received from the Investigative Resources Unit on several occasions pertaining to this case.” 

It also notes that on April 20, 1983 Trixie Shepherd re-contacted Detective Pratt and “advised that the subject she visions as the murderer has light hair, a hairy chest, bushy eyebrows and a mustache. A hand-drawn composite was enclosed with her letter. She feels he used a small jackknife with a black handle.”

At his request, a copy of the department profile and copies of the composites were forwarded to Det. Lt. Thomas Oakey from the MSP Third District.

The report notes that a benefit held for the Roberson family by the Reed City Jaycees provided $1,579.00, which was turned over to Marion Fisher for her daughter’s family.

“Investigation continues into this case with tips still filtering in.”


The May supplemental—dated May 31, 1983—states that on May 3, 1983 a letter was received from the victim’s father, Ralph Fisher. 

“He is upset that this matter has not been solved,” Detective Pratt writes.

A brief redacted paragraph is included, and then the May supplemental ends with this line: 

Investigation into this matter continues, however information/leads are getting fewer.”

Between May and August of 1983, Ralph Fisher, Janette’s father – who was divorced from her mother Marion in 1971 – wrote numerous letters to people in positions of local and state government, including the county prosecutor James Talaske, Detective Sgt. George Pratt, as well as a senator and governor. 

I cannot even fathom the grief and desperation of a parent trying to get information on the brutal murder their child. One of the tragedies of this case is that both Janette's parents have already passed on, and never learned what happened to their daughter. 

The following is transcribed from an original draft, though it is unclear to whom this particular letter was being written.

On January 19th, 1983 my daughter Janette G. Roberson was murdered. I’m sure you are quite familiar with this case.

Being her father, I am deeply concerned about her murderer being brought to justice. As you probably know, I have been to see detective Pratt concerning this. I was unable to get any information from him except that he has no suspects.

There is no need for me to go into detail as to how Janette’s death has affected me. It is hard to describe the grief knowing that Janette died so young and the manner in which she was killed. She was a good kid, happily married, and friendly with everyone. As you are well aware, this also has affected Marion, her mother, who is not in the best of health. I am not a detective and I do not claim to be one. I have conducted my own private investigation and have notified detective Pratt as to my progress.

From the death certificate, Janette was killed with a blunt instrument, whatever that means. Estimated time of death was 2 to 3 o’clock in the afternoon. (From the death certificate.) How anybody could walk into a dept. store at that time of day and kill a person (and from what I have learned, she did not die instantly) also that [....REDACTED...] in some way. That someone else’s blood was found near her body. Which means that she must have fought for her life, and must have inflicted some type of wound on her attacker. I wonder how much pain and suffering she had to endure. It is very hard for me to print those words when I think about that.

So what does it all add up to?

Her husband Alvin was in the store twice the day she was killed. This information I obtained from the store manager. Why wasn’t Alvin at work? How did the store manager know this if he was not at the store at the time? The manager told me he was notified of Janette’s death and then came to the store. I was also told by the manager that Alvin refused to take a lie detector test. (Why?) Perhaps Alvin knows who killed her. 

And is afraid.

I also found out that Janette had frequently visited a pet shop in Big Rapids. She told this to Marion. Where she met a person who wanted to obtain some gerbils and small animals for experiments as he claimed to be a teacher or professor. From the local college or one of the schools. This person could be the one who murdered her. I went to this pet store and talked to a young man with black hair, who said he was the owner. He said he doesn’t know of anyone who frequented his store who claimed to be a teacher or professor who wanted to obtain small animals for experiments. But he did have a friend who could use all the gerbils I could obtain. As I told him I had some. 

Perhaps this friend is the one Janette met in his store. In conversation Janette probably told him, or her, where she worked etc. All of this information I gave to Detective Pratt.

As far as I know, there have been no recent violent murders in Reed City prior to my daughter’s death. The whole thing smells fishy to me. Someone is either lying or covering up for someone. I believe Janette knew the person who killed her. Possibly a well-known person from Reed City or the surrounding area.

Again I will say that it seems impossible that anyone could walk into that store and kill a person (and as I said before, from the information I have gathered, it didn’t happen in a moment) while there were people in that store and get away with it is beyond me.

I also realize that police have other duties and cannot devote all of their time to one murder. But if this murderer is not caught, he or she may seek another victim. I don’t know whether you are married or have any children of your own, but if you do have a daughter and she was killed, especially in that manner, then you could understand how I feel. I hope and pray that this will not be a forgotten case. I realize it takes time to solve some murders. I am not rich; if I were I would hire a private detective. I also hope you will take the time to answer this letter, as I would like to know if the investigation is continuing.

Janette’s Father

It is unclear where Ralph Fisher was getting his information, particularly about specifics regarding injuries [included in the REDACTED section] and blood found near Janette’s body.  I certainly never heard about someone else's blood near Janette's body. But these aren’t generally the types of specifics law enforcement shares that soon after a murder, or ever, at least until the case is solved. 

I cannot even verify whether or not any of his information is factually correct, but the fact that he was putting such things in writing is fairly revealing. Someone told him this. I can't imagine he made it up. So where were these leaks coming from?

Technical observations are what one would find in a report like the autopsy report. I have read her autopsy report and it is not worded in any way like Mr. Fisher's observations. It is a very specifically documented medical report that notes exact size and location of injuries, and bears closer resemblence to a scientific document than a descriptive one.

Visual observations, like those he offered, suggest the information was imparted by someone who had either been at the scene to witness the body, or got it second-hand from someone who had. If, indeed, they were accurate - which is still a question.

I encountered this numerous times while researching this case—descriptions that only people who had seen the body would know or be able to circulate.  

But remember, this letter was written early in the investigation, not thirty years later.

Someone was spreading this stuff very early on, and you have to wonder if it was done with intent. While you're pondering intent, you might just hopscotch on over to motive and ask yourself who would have motive to leak information that could damage a case.

Unfortunately, one has to consider the fact that things like this also play heavily into why this case has not been solved. 

There’s only so much mess you can make of a crime scene, so many people traipsing around the body that shouldn’t have been, so much damaging information put out there, before a case becomes something no prosecutor would be able to faithfully execute. 

Prosecutors cannot just "decide" to take up a case. They have a legal duty to only take a case if they believe they have enough information upon which to secure a conviction.

According to the supplemental dated June 30, 1983, on the first of the month, information was received from the Investigative Resources Unit about subjects “with a similar MO as to what occurred in this case.” Additionally, another lab report was received from the latent print unit. 

Also at this time, attempts were made to contact someone who’d called in a tip through 9 & 10 News. They agreed to run pleas for this person to contact Detective Pratt or another named individual, however approval for the information to be run had to come from the FBI headquarters in Washington DC, for some reason.

No plea was ever made because on June 6, 1983 the Cadillac MSP post received a call “distinguishable as coming from an outside payphone from a subject obviously holding his nose to talk.”

What the individual said is redacted from the report.

On June 27, 1983 a card arrived at the MSP Post in Reed City addressed in care of The Roberson Family and came from Century 21 Denton Realty in Beulah, Michigan. The sender asked it to be forwarded to the family.

The last line in June of 1983 simply states “Investigation continues.”

The supplemental for July dated the 31st has three short notations. The first is about a call that came in to City Hall asking to speak to Marion Fisher. The call was taken by Carol Reed, the deputy clerk, but when she informed the caller that Marion Fisher was there, the woman on the phone declined and said, “No, I just want to say…[REDACTED].”

It couldn’t have been much. It was only two lines.

On the 30th of July there is a short notation that Alvin Roberson got a new car and it lists the registration and VIN number. On the 31st a lab report came in with information about four sets of prints tested. That month’s report simply ends with COMPLAINT STATUS: Open.

The August supplemental notes an ad run in the local papers regarding the unsolved homicide. 

August 3, 1983: “Slightly over 6 months from the time of the homicide, a full page ad was run in The Pioneer newspaper asking for public assistance in the case. The ad was solicited from and paid for by Nartron Corp. Inc., Norman Rautiola, President.”

Also on this date, Osceola County Prosecutor James Talaske received a letter from Ralph Fisher. On August 9th Detective Pratt received a call from Governor William E. Milliken’s office referencing the case, as the Governor had also received a letter from Ralph Fisher. Two days later, Detective Pratt received a call from Senator Mitch Irwin’s office referencing a letter they received from Ralph Fisher.

There is a note that a call was received from the Tri-County Shopper’s Guide about running an ad similar to the one run in The Pioneer, but when it was learned that “Undersigned [Detective Pratt] did not have any funds available to pay for the ad, they were not interested in running it as a public interest matter.”

The last thing mentioned in the August report is Detective Pratt talking to the Montague County Sheriff’s Department in Texas about Henry Lee Lucas and Otis Elwood Toole, alleged serial murders.

“He advised that at this time he does not have any information that either were in Michigan at the time this homicide occurred. Also the MO is not their style. Lucas used to live in Michigan and was sentenced to prison for murdering his mother near Tecumseh, MI in the 1960s.”


The next report is dated November 30th 1983 and begins with a note from September 1st by Detective Pratt saying it had been confirmed that Alvin Roberson “is leaving the state to return to Georgia and that he is marrying Lisa Miracle, who babysat for him after his wife died.”

October 30, 1983 there is a short note that reads: “Investigation continues, however, very little information coming in now.”

The November report mentions contact with other law enforcement officials about subjects arrested elsewhere to compare notes for possible similarities, though none appear viable. 

The last information in November of 1983 is regarding a report written by Officer Primeau of the Reed City Police Department. The attached supplemental dated November 16, 1983 reads: “Undersigned Officer [Michel Primeau, Reed City PD] while on foot patrol was flagged into the Speeds Auto Store by one of the salesman by the name of Jeff Cole. Undersigned went into the store and received information from Mr. Cole and another sales person by the name of Robert Murphy.”

A gentleman had come into the store and asked if the pet shop was still open. When told yes, the man left, so the employees immediately flagged down a cop because they thought it was odd.

I contacted Jeff Cole to get the specifics. He said a gentleman about 5’8’’ came into Speeds Auto Store, which was then located where Pere Marquette Deli is now—on the corner of Upton and Chestnut—and stated that he was from Florida, then asked if the pet store was still in the basement of the Gambles store where the murder happened. He was told yes and then he left, purchasing nothing. He left his car parked in front of the auto store and appeared to be heading down toward Gambles.

At some point between the auto store and Gambles, the man was intercepted and questioned by Officer Primeau. Jeff Cole told me the guy was gone for about three hours before he came and retrieved his car. Officer Primeau’s report says he requested the subject come to the post and have his photo taken. The man agreed, so he was transported to the State Post where he was photographed and questioned. As with much of what was being checked into regarding this case by the end of 1983, it ended up being nothing.

“Investigation into this case is being continued with the limited information that is coming in, along with the past months follow-up however no break in this case has come about.”


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