Sunday, July 30, 2017

Chapter 18 - 1984, continued...

Less than a half-page makes up the April 1984 supplemental report on the Janette Roberson murder. 

The first notation is about Ralph Fisher having moved to a different residence. Another is with regard to a detective at another post entering a LEIN message about unsolved murders in the past year.

Another three-quarter page of information makes up the next month’s information for May of 1984. The first notation is about the bodies of Richard and Alida Thompson having been discovered on May 5, 1984 near a vacant residence in Rose Lake Township, Osceola County. It did not appear to Detective Pratt that the murders were related to the Roberson murder, and he noted that in the file. 

This crime was later attributed to Peter Piper, who killed the Thompsons after having escaped from prison, managing to evade recapture for two years. Piper actually escaped twice in a five year period. 

The second time was from the Osceola County Jail in 1988, where he’d been brought to appear at a preliminary examination on first degree murder charges in the Thompson killings. He’d already been serving a life sentence for the 1966 rape and stabbing of a seventeen year old girl. 

From the Associated Press, August 20, 1988:


REED CITY, Mich. (AP) — A convicted rapist who is accused of slaying a young couple after he escaped from jail in 1983 broke out of jail again, terrifying residents of this small community.
Peter J. Piper, 41, stymied searchers who believed they had him surrounded Friday in a wooded area near Big Rapids, about 15 miles south of Reed City. Police captured his accomplice in the escape Friday afternoon on a residential street just north of Big Rapids. Authorities suspended their search for Piper after hunting through the woods with tracking dogs and finding no sign of him, said state police Sgt. Jim Maturen.
The area ‘‘couldn’t be searched any more thorough,’’ he said. ‘‘Once he leaves the immediate area, where’s he at? There’s a million places he could be. He’s still on foot, as far as we know.’’
‘‘We just don’t have any idea where he is,’’ Mecosta County Sheriff Henry Wayer said. ‘‘We’re all going to go home tonight and sleep on it’’ and decide in the morning whether to resume the search.
Piper was believed armed with a handgun, Wayer said.
Piper and inmate Mitchell A. Lund, 24, a convicted burglar, escaped Thursday from the Osceola County Jail after beating and tying up a guard, authorities said.
‘‘Both of them are considered to be extremely dangerous,’’ Lt. Dallas Jenks, the jail administrator, said before Lund was recaptured peacefully. ‘‘I’m nervous about both of them being out of my jail, but Piper would be the one I’d be most nervous about.’’
Piper, sentenced to life in prison in 1966 for the rape and beating of a 17-year-old girl, escaped from jail in 1983. He was captured in November 1985 in a Grand Rapids suburb where he was staying with his sister.
While on the run, police allege, Piper killed a couple from Manton, a small town near here, and sexually assaulted three prostitutes in Grand Rapids. He was convicted of the assaults and was awaiting trial on first-degree murder charges when he and Lund escaped. Police say they never determined a motive for the May 1984 killings. Richard Thompson, 21, had his throat slit and then he and his new wife, Alida, 19, were both shot.
‘‘I guess you could call him cunning,’’ said State Police Detective George Pratt, who investigated the murder. ‘‘On an outward appearance, he doesn’t expose his violence. He’s quite well spoken, soft-spoken, and does not have the appearance of a brutal killer.’’
At the Short Stop Party Store, clerk Tim Hinken said he sent his wife out of town to spend the night with an aunt after news of Piper’s escape got out.
‘‘Everybody is worried, I know that,’’ he said.
Lund, who faces charges of robbing a grocery store, was in a cell next to Piper’s in the maximum-security unit of the jail. They assaulted the guard and escaped after their cell doors were unlocked so they could take showers and use the telephone, authorities said. The guard, Donald Simon, was hospitalized in stable condition Friday. Piper was moved to the county jail Wednesday from the Michigan Reformatory at Ionia so he could appear at a preliminary examination Thursday regarding the Thompson killings. The hearing was postponed after a witness failed to show up.

On May 9, 1984 a tip was received from the Ionia MSP Post regarding a subject who was involved in a similar crime in Ohio and was an escapee at the time of Janette Roberson’s murder. Subject was reportedly violent around women and had a wife in the Morley area.

On May 14, 1984 an inquiry was made from MSP Post #71 as to the date and location of the murder.

On May 17, 1984, there was another contact regarding the Thompson murders in reference to a tip. There was a request for a print comparison for a subject from that case to the Roberson case and a set was sent to the Latent Print Unit.

It seems that all the police had at the moment was the hope that prints at Janette Roberson’s crime scene might match that of another unsolved crime. They sure didn’t appear to have anything new,  locally.

A supplemental dated July 31st is two pages worth of notations that cover June and July. The first on June 11, 1984, Ralph Fisher, Janette’s father, inquired of the Traverse City post, who in turn inquired of the Reed City Post, if an arrest had been made in the Roberson homicide. He was advised they had not.

A lab report on prints came back on June 29, 1984. Then, on July 9th a deputy from the Ostego County Sheriff’s department requested copies of the composite sketches. He had someone who wanted to check them before deciding if they had information. They were forwarded.

On July 7, 1984, Detective Southworth of the Osceola County Sheriff’s Department contacted Detective Pratt and said the Gambles store had something that may be of interest in the case. Apparently an employee, Donna Evans, had contacted Detective Southworth. There is a redacted page and a half of information regarding what they found.

The next entries in the MSP report aren’t until September. On September 5th, the Ostego County Deputy contacted Detective Pratt advising that he’d received a telephone call from an anonymous female who suggested they check out a “…guy who lives near her in a flat-roofed home, empty pool, and brick front.” Detective Pratt determined the lead had already been checked, and referenced supplementals signed in February and March of 1983 by Det. Sgt. Carl Goeman. This was regarding the Kris Mills interview—the gentleman who’d passed through Reed City on his work route that day, the one who’d allegedly been scratched by a cat and a tip was called in about him. (More about him in a future chapter.)

On September 5, 1984, Detective Pratt notes that a subject was arrested by the Mecosta County Sheriff’s Department on a charge of felonious assault when he shook a stick at someone in the Mecosta County Park in Paris, Michigan. Subject was lodged in the Mecosta County Jail. 

Given the next activity in the report is centered around Lee Peterson, and the woman who worked at the foster home mentioned him being apprehended in Paris, Michigan prior to being “locked up” in a mental health facility, I think it is reasonable to assume he was the stick shaker in question. 

Unfortunately, in response to a FOIA request for information, the Mecosta County Sheriff’s Department said, “This report does not exist.”

Many of the records I requested in reference to this case no longer exist because of how old they were. Most entities I dealt with had a time period after which records would be destroyed, and trying to get things all the way back from the 1980s proved difficult, at best. 

Reed City Police Department, for example, had almost nothing from that time period, at least as far as I was told. 

The last thing noted in September 1984 is as follows.


#11 – One 13”X10”X3” Ultra-Violet products Inc. box marked “Reed City” “60082-83” “24-Jan-83”; “Misc. hairs etc.” containing hair, fibers and other evidence reference the homicide of Janette Gale Roberson.
#12 – Known hair from [REDACTED]
#13 – One [REDACTED]

All items are being held in the Post property room, UD 14’s submitted. (*According to the Reed City property sign out sheet, these items were received on September 9, 1984 by Detective Pratt.)


The next item in the report is a November supplemental dated Nov 9, 1984, and is devoted entirely to Lee Peterson. 

“As previously mentioned, an extensive background has been done on [REDACTED]…”

(We know this background check was attributed to Lee Peterson because in the MSP report, one of the pages in this section begins with PETERSON BACKGROUND CONT. It was the only page in this section MSP did not redact that heading from.)

It references a lab analysis that was discussed on October 5, 1984, and then under ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: 

“On October 8, 1984 the Undersigned [Detective Pratt] travelled with Eldon Whitford to Traverse City State Hospital and met with Nina Rosely and Dr. Lamb. Ms. Rosely is the case worker and Dr. Lamb is the psychiatrist in charge of the case. It was learned that [SUBJECT] can differentiate between right and wrong and would be aware of what happened in January 1983. Talking with him would not or should not upset him, and if he had committed the murder and wanted to talk about it, he could.”

The subject was then interviewed and the remarks at the end of the November 9th supplemental read, in part, as follows: “Nothing learned up to this point in this investigation concerning [REDACTED] can eliminate or verify him as the suspect.”


The last supplemental report submitted for the year of 1984 is dated Dec 1, 1984 and it has just a few notations from work done in previous months. On October 4, 1984 hair samples and items found with the evidence at the crime scene were taken to the Bridgeport Lab for comparison.

On October 22, 1984, “Beverly” – an employee of the Reed City Gambles store advises that a subject was in on the 10th or 11th and said “…he hadn’t been downstairs since the girl had been killed.” The store owner, David Engels, told “Beverly” he was okay, “He doesn’t look like the composite.” No record of this subject was found as being in the Gambles store “that fatal day.”

On November 21, 1984 residents of Reed City were interviewed “…regarding statements made by a former housekeeper who has confided with them about the homicide.” The subjects were concerned about what she had told them. Detective Pratt notes, “I have talked to the housekeeper in the past and she professes to be a “witch” with certain powers.”

The last paragraph entered in the Janette Roberson murder investigation that year strikes me as one of the most telling entries in the entire report:

Investigative leads in this case have ceased, with the exception of individual “feelings.” At times, calls regarding information have been received from persons closely associated with the case, relatives, witnesses, fellow employees, or other police officers with their information, usually already checked out, but if not, investigated without any substantial information being gained.”

COMPLAINT STATUS: Open. be continued...

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