Janette Fisher married Alvin Lee Roberson on Aug 14, 1971. She was just shy of her sixteenth birthday. They had been married eleven years and had two children when she was murdered.
Most of the time she had coming to her was stolen. None of us are promised tomorrow, I guess we all understand that, at least at some point. I just don’t think she was even there yet. That place where you realize there’s only so much time.
She was at that age where time means little because it seems like there’s so much of it spread out in front of you like the limitless possibilities of an open highway.
Where did the time go that day, January 19, 1983? There’s an awful lot of it unaccounted for, as far as I’m concerned.
Gene Johnson—I know this store better than you!—said that, at one point, Officer Finkbeiner told him he was the last person to see Janette alive, except for the killer. I didn’t believe that when I spoke to him, but after having talked to Blanche and Jan and Elke and Karl and Flossie, it may well have been the case, based on the times they were all there.
No other customers I spoke to saw Janette later that day, though there very well could be sommeone who did, and I just never found them. Since all of the employee interviews remain redacted, we have no way of knowing the last time any of them saw her.
The autopsy report says Janette was last seen at 1:25, but where did that information come from? I always assumed it was from a receipt, because it’s a pretty specific time. The newest entry into the MSP computer system in recent years lists the time of the crime occurring as between 1:40 and 3:50.
That's a fairly tight window. So if you're still hanging in there with me, and you remember the All Quiet on the Western Front post, go back with those exact times in your head - those couple hours - and revisit the points I suggested you be looking at.
Anyone who wasn't working that day. Anyone whose behavior that day, or in the days aftererward, felt...off.
Anyone disposing of clothing or other items that, looking back, might not seem...kosher.
Things for Reed City citizens to consider are the fact that during that timeframe, kids would be coming home from school. The same timeframe during which the killer would have been trying to get out of the store, undetected, and home or elsewhere to possibly change clothes. Did you see any family or friends or neighbors doing anything odd? Disposing of anything?
Sweatily shoving anything into one of the many dumpsters behind businesses around Chestnut and Upton? Those sorts of things. Something else to consider is the fact that the items could have been hidden somewhere for disposal, later. Might not have happened that day.
If you knew someone who was not working, or off work at the time, where were they and what were they doing during those couple of key hours?
Let’s take the 3:50 time as the time Janette was found, because it does seem to correlate with what Mr. and Mrs. Kooiker said about having come straight from school letting out. What went on in that basement—around her body—from 3:50 when the report says she was found, until the first dispatch at 4:06, according to Gary McGhee’s EMT report?
The Reed City Finkbeiner/Primeau report says they arrived at 4:04, which would tend to corrolate if Raymond Haight called the State Post to have them dispached, as he insisted, right before EMTs were dispached.
But ten minutes is a long time to wait before calling police. If that time of 3:50 is accurate, that’s 14 minutes (or so, as it's approximate) before the report says Officers Finkbeiner and Primeau got there.
What were the employees and customers in the store doing for those 14 minutes? Tom Hawkins, Elke, David Engels, John Engels, Flossie, Angie… what’s going on before—according to Raymond Haight—David Engels calls the Osceola County Sheriff’s Department and says there’s been a murder in the basement, because that’s when everyone starts arriving.
The Osceola County deputies are running out of the Sheriff’s Department, soon after, the EMTs are hopping into the ambulance, and it’s 4:06 when the EMTs arrive and Officer Finkbeiner is standing at the front door sending potential witnesses on their way.
What was going on for those 10 to 14 minutes before the wagons had circled?
Go stand in the center of your living room for ten minutes and see how much time that feels like. Run outside, down your driveway, stop, count to sixty, and then run back inside. How long did that take? Get a firm grasp on how long that much time is, and then ask yourself what you think might have been happening for that long, prior to anyone calling police. Also, keep in mind that there are three law enforcement entities, city, county, and state police all within two minutes or less from Gambles.
What were the employees doing? The list Detective Pratt gave of the individuals he learned “through further investigation” had been around the area of the body “some more than once” isn’t that long. So what were they doing in those ten minutes? This would have been after Angie ran up the stairs panting, pointing back down toward the stairs so that Flossie had to scream for John Engels, who came barreling down from the second floor, taking them two at a time.
Where was David Engels when John ran down those stairs from wherever he was eating lunch?
Flossie didn’t call David Engels, she called John Engels.
Where was Thomas Hawkins? Elke? It appears Bonnie Engels had gone home before the body was discovered, or at some point before Detective Pratt got there, because there is no mention of her being there when the body was found.
As far as I can tell, nobody remembers seeing Janette after around 11:30 when Janette met Gene Johnson at the center of the store and asked if she could help him. Every time a customer went looking for her in the pet department after that, she wasn’t there. Karl brings the gerbils in around 10 or 11. No Janette. Maybe this is when she was gone, having responded to the call from the school like she told Flossie. But she comes back and has her encounter with Gene Johnson at 11:30 or thereabouts.
Last he sees her, she heads downstairs.
Around noon, Blanche goes down there looking for her “Ick,” no Janette.
Next, Jan and Venus go there around 2:00, certainly could have been a bit after, until sometime before four o’clock, no Janette.
Elke was there right around that time, even though Blanche doesn’t remember crossing paths with her, despite Elke saying she was up and down those stairs three or four times, continually asking the female clerk where Janette was, and being told she’s probably at lunch. Everyone kept telling customers Janette was probably at lunch.
Was being an employee at Gambles so relaxed that break time was an hour, two hours… or more?
Karl alleges the store manager told him Janette was probably at lunch when he was there the first time with those gerbils. Angie apparently told Elke the same thing when she returned with them the second time. It certainly doesn’t seem like anyone knew where Janette was at any time that afternoon, except for Gene Johnson.
One of the newspaper articles at the time mentioned that they were looking into the possibility of someone hiding in the basement before the attack but said, “There is no evidence to suggest it.”
Still, there is the possibility that the perp came down there while Janette was gone, and hid back there until she came back. Carrie Bevard, who was at the Buckboard Bar that day, next door, said she recalled one of the police who came to search there saying they believed she'd been killed sometime after she returned.
Having been down here, I can say there would certainly be areas in the back room where someone could have easily hidden to await her arrival. We know someone was coming in and making her uncomfortable in the days/weeks leading up to the murder.
She also allegedly received obscene calls.
Someone could have been stalking her.
Maybe that someone escalated from merely visiting the store and "making her uncomfortable" by walking into the backroom, where only employees were allowed, to making calls. Sure would be an interesting coincidence if the two aren't related.
Then, we must consider the blood that Gary McGhee walked through on the way through the pet department, which he only noticed when he came out of the back room after having attended to Janette.
Nobody else saw it. Nobody. Blanche, Jan, Venus, Elke… all of those ladies down there in that final couple of hours during the crucial 1:40-3:50 time period. None of them saw it. Both Jan and Venus, as well as Elke claim to have been there for a considerable amount of time looking at the fish, and that’s the general area Gary McGhee describes it as being.
There couldn’t have been much time between when Jan and Venus left, and Elke returned with those gerbils, and from then on she was there. The report verifies she was there when Janette was found.
Yet, all of those people walking around looking at those fish tanks right where that spot of blood is and nobody, not one of them saw it?
If the time of death, according to the death certificate and news reports from the time period, was between 2 and 3pm, Janette almost had to be back there when some of these women were walking around in the department. Perhaps the killer had incapacitated her, but became stuck back there when customers came in and he hadn't yet made his escape. It's certainly a possibility, and more than one of the women mentioned an eerie feeling while there.
So many questions; not nearly enough answers, and I’ll admit, that blood bothers me. So I got back with Gary McGhee one more time and asked him if it was big enough that someone else should have seen it.
“To my recollection it was about 6 ft. outside the doorway. It really wasn't a ‘puddle’ of blood per se; it actually was a spot of WET blood. I would say about the size of a slice of bread but no bigger. As I said, I did not see it when I went in the room, but noticed it when I left. I was not looking at the floor when I went in there. I do not remember seeing any footprints in it, but there was a chance that I had stepped in it and that was why my boots were taken. It was my ‘assumption’ then (and always has been) that the initial assault took place where the blood was located and that she walked or was dragged/moved to where she was found. I can’t explain why no one else saw the blood.”
The only other possibility I can think of is that the blood got there after she was found, and that would constitute some sort of transference from the blood in the back room to where McGhee saw it. He did not describe it as a shoe print, though. He saw wet blood.
“I know this store better than you!”
Is it possible that’s the last thing anyone said to Janette, aside from the killer, if they exchanged words? God I hope not. It sounded like a bit of an abrupt exchange, and by all accounts Janette was rather shy. Gene was joking, but even if she took it as such, I’d like to think something kinder, softer, maybe less off-putting was the last thing someone said to her before a monster viciously took her from this Earth.
According to Gene, after that, Janette said she had something to take care of downstairs,
Down she went, and he never saw her again.
Did anyone else?
The killer did. That much we know.
...to be continued...