Sunday, July 30, 2017

Chapter 23 - Investigation continued...

September, 1985; The next group questioned in the Janette Roberson investigation was affiliated with the Jehovah’s Witness church she attended in Evart. After that, police circled the wagons around people who lived in Meadowview, her apartment complex.

Patricia Knapp, who said she’d been to Janette’s house on a few occasions, Condra Lynn Casavettes, Jeffrey Scott Lucha, and Donald Knapp, Patricia’s husband.

Detective Albright re-interviewed Marion Fisher at her home in LeRoy on September 18, 1985, according to the MSP report, “…about how she was advised of the death of her daughter, and what had happened that night.” 

Marion told them “…she was working as the city clerk in the city building on the day of the murder, and approximately 3:45pm to 4:00pm Larry Finkbeiner of the Reed City Police Department came to the City building and told her that Janette was dead, that an incident had happened at the Gambles store. She stated that somewhere around 5:00pm, the city manager took her over to Alvin’s residence on Mill Street [Meadowview Apartments] where she stayed until the police arrived, which she felt was somewhere around 8:30 to 9:00pm. She stated that during the time she was at Alvin’s, she did remember Alan Foote coming to the residence and also that “Dan” came to the residence with another young boy that she did not know. She stated that the entire evening was somewhat of a blank to her, she was not sure what time “Dan” came to the residence but that he was in fact there.”

The first section of interest is how she was advised of the death of her daughter. The ME report says the body was discovered at approximately 3:50pm, though there is obviously no record for the 14 minutes prior to Officers Finkbeiner and Primeau’s arrival time of 4:04. It isn’t written in the Reed City report what time Officer Finkbeiner notified Marion Fisher. The report flatly states that the undersigned officers [Finkbeiner and Primeau] “From 4:04 to 8:00pm did maintain building security white (sic) crime lab conducted search for evidence.”

Whether Marion Fisher’s notification time—per her recollection—is accurate, is unclear. 

Unfortunately, we only have The Finkbeiner/Primeau report to go on as far as the time they arrived. If accurate, Marion was notified minutes after Officer Finkbeiner first saw her daughter’s body. He would’ve had to leave the Gambles store, head to the city building a few blocks down Upton, after having just turned the scene over to Southworth—who would, at the same time (according to his report) be outside making calls at his patrol car, which would have left Deputy Oyster and Officer Primeau at the scene with EMT Gary McGhee.

Whatever the specifics, it seems Detective Albright was trying to get a clear picture of exactly what happened just after the discovery of the body. 

Once he spoke with Marion Fisher, he interviewed Chris Casavettes. Chris’s father had been a customer in the store that morning, but that is not what they were questioning him about. I spoke with Chris in October of 2014 and asked him to tell me his connection to the case, and what he remembered about the incident.

He said on January 19, 1983, he was going to a friend’s house after school around 5:00pm or so. He remembers it was starting to get dark. The friends—one of whom was Patricia Knapp—had heard a blurb on the 5 o’clock news about a murder down at Gambles, and when he got there, they were all excited to find out what had happened. They wanted Chris to go down and ask Janette about it because they knew he was friends with her. So he put on his coat and headed over to Janette’s. They all lived in the same apartment complex.

Thank God the little Langworthy girl intercepted me,” Chris told me on the phone. “She was running toward me from Jenny’s house and she said, ‘Chris, Jenny’s mom’s dead.’”

Chris said his sister Kelly was over at the Langworthy’s at the time, and she confirmed it. But he wasn’t questioned at the time of the murder. A couple years later he was living in Middleville with relatives and some state police showed up. He said their questions were mostly about “Dan.” 

Apparently “Dan” had made a WANTED poster over at the Career Center in computer class and hung it in his bedroom window, which Chris took as “jestful.” It seems “Dan” thought the police believed he’d killed Janette, and he was feeling the pressure, so he acted out like awkward teenagers tend to do in situations where they have no idea how they’re supposed to be acting, nor do they fully appreciate the possible ramifications of their impulsive actions. 

I mean, how do you act when this older girl you like gets murdered? One of his buddies probably should have—and likely did—tell him that putting a WANTED poster with his name on it in his bedroom window for the whole apartment complex to see probably wasn’t the best way to go.

In any event, that’s what police wanted to speak to Chris Casavettes about when they came to interview him in 1985. Chris told me he never knew “Dan” to be violent, and didn’t see him as the type to kill someone. He said the police also asked if Janette was the type to do drugs, or if Chris knew if she was having an affair with “Dan.” He told them No to both, as far as he knew.

I told him I’d been trying to track down Patricia Knapp, with little luck. Chris said that he didn’t think she really knew Janette much at the time, but she lived in the same part of the building that “Dan” lived, so maybe that’s why they were questioning her. According to Chris, he knew Janette better than Patricia did, which is why she had asked him to go check when they’d heard on the news about someone getting murdered at Gambles.

I asked him to tell me about Janette. Chris said he met her the day the Robersons moved into the Meadowview apartments. He and a friend were playing ball and wrestling in front of an empty apartment next to the one Janette and Alvin were moving into.

I saw that Nova pull up and a man, woman, and kids got out. She was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen in my life. After she and the man went inside, I asked the kids if that was their sister. They laughed and said, ‘No, our mom!’”

Then I got to know her and she was the sweetest person you’d ever want to meet. She had an infectious personality. Just a super nice person.”

I asked about the Roberson family dynamic and Chris said they were good kids and Janette was nice. Alvin was quiet and soft-spoken. He said over the years—after the murder—he watched so many of those crime shows and 99% of the time it’s the husband. He always tried to figure out why, in this case, it couldn’t be the husband. Because he didn’t think it was. He said Alvin didn’t seem the type. He worked a lot, mostly he seemed tired, and the relationship looked like a normal “mundane” marriage. He said he thought Alvin was a bit older than Janette, but it was clear to him that Janette really loved him. I asked if Chris had ever seen anything that made him think Alvin could have killed his wife. He said no.

Then Chris sighed and said, “You know, the only crack I ever saw was one night, I was at their house hanging with the kids and I went upstairs to the bathroom to pee. I accidentally saw Janette and Alvin in the bedroom having a serious conversation. I only heard Alvin say, ‘Damn it, I never get to see the kids, anyway.’”

To his recollection, this happened in October or November of ‘82. That’s the only sentence Chris heard from the conversation, without context, and he always tried to figure out what it might have meant. The only thing that came to mind was that in the months before, he says the kids told him they were moving back to Georgia, but it never materialized. Chris speculated that maybe Alvin wanted to go back to Georgia, and Janette wanted to stay in Reed City near her mom and brother. He said he had no idea if that was the case, it was pure speculation, but that’s really the only thing he ever saw that made him wonder if it was Alvin. When they were together, they acted like a “normal” married couple as far as he could tell.

Having heard that teens from the apartment complex seemed to gravitate to Janette’s apartment, I asked if people generally hung out there. Chris said yes, that she was very friendly, and they were all just sort of in and out.

In the MSP report, Thomas Hawkins (currently serving time for multiple counts of Criminal Sexual Conduct with minors) was the next interview, done by Detective Albright. Then Patricia Knapp, again, as well as “Dan,” and then multiple people who lived in close proximity to Gambles were given short interviews, probably to determine if they had seen anything odd that day.

The man that was supposed to bring his mother-in-law to look at a bird that day was interviewed on September 25th, 1985.  Because his mother-in-law was “Dan’s” mom, some of that interview centered around “Dan.”

This gentleman lived in Hersey, Michigan when he was younger, near the Fishers, who also lived there at the time. He knew Janette’s brother and sister as kids, and he was one of the boys Marion used to drive to youth group on Wednesday nights. He didn’t know Janette much because she’d moved away young and didn’t come back until years later. He only remembers meeting her a few times.

He said Janette was friends with both “Dan” and “Dan’s” mother. He told me when the police came to question him (years later) they asked why he had not made it to Gambles that day. He told them they’d just forgotten. He assumed they’d spoken to the mother-in-law and she told them the story, so they were just confirming it with him. He also remembered “Dan’s” mother saying her son was “devastated and thinks everyone believes he did it.”

He described “Dan” as slow and not good in school. He said he thought he had a crush on Janette, and although he did find the difference in their ages a bit odd since “Dan” was at her apartment so much, he didn’t remember Alvin being around a lot.

I asked if he thought “Dan” seemed like the violent type.

No. He was just… he struggled in school, didn’t like it. He was a loafer.”

Nobody I spoke to thought “Dan” was the violent type or could picture him killing anyone. 

I tried to contact “Dan” to get his version of events and learn a bit more about his relationship with Janette. 

I got this response: “So you are trying to make a buck on a friend of mine (sic) death. Don’t bother me.”

I could have explained to him the error of his assumption, given it is unlikely that will happen based on what I’ve already put into this project, but to what end? Live right, folks. That’s the best defense against an ignorant accusation. One needn’t worry about defending oneself if you’re on the right side of the truth.

On October 4, 1984 Detective Albright mentions a letter he sent to Elke Johnson in West Germany requesting information on her whereabouts and what she did on the day of the homicide. On this date he received a collect call from Elke from her home in West Germany, and at that time she and her husband Karl were interviewed by phone.

There are three pages of notes in a supplemental dated Dec 31, 1985 done by Detective Pratt which make up the last notations of the year. The date of the investigation being handed over to Albright and Vincent for re-investigation is noted, as well as when a box of evidence from the case was transported to the Crime Lab in Bridgeport by him at the request of Detective Albright. He also notes that on September 20, 1985, James Paris of the First National Bank and trust in Big Rapids contacted him in reference to information that had been requested by Detectives Albright and Vincent.

Composite sketches were forwarded to the Plainwell PD at their request, and a Detective out of Lansing send information on a subject they had arrested to compare against similarities to Janette’s case. Neither lead ended up bearing fruit.

On December 2, 1985, a note was left for Detective Pratt from Trooper John Beam at the Reed City Post dated November 30, 1985 in reference to contact he had with Donald Knapp, husband of Patricia Knapp. According to Detective Pratt’s notes, “Mr. Knapp reported that ‘strange things are going on.” 

Pratt forwarded that information on to Detective Vincent.

The final notation made in 1985 is a list of four property items in manila envelopes with the notation, “The above items were obtained on January 4, 1984 from “Dan” and submitted to the Bridgeport Crime Lab on October 9, 1985. UD 14s submitted.”

... to be continued...

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