Friday, July 28, 2017

Chapter 9 - January

“On Sunday January 23, 1983 the funeral of Janette Roberson at the McDowell Funeral Home, 138 West Slosson St., Reed City, MI was covered. Due to the weather and time of year, there was no interment.”

In an email exchange, a friend of Janette’s who worked with her at Nartron around 1980 or 1981 mentioned an incident that she allegedly witnessed at the funeral. They had both taken guitar lessons from a man named Mr. Truman and he had told her how beautifully Janette played a song they'd both been working on. After the funeral, the man told Janette's friend that he'd approached Alvin Roberson, her husband, to tell him that she still owed money on the guitar he'd bought for her. 

Although it might have been mentioned at a highly inappropriate time, the story is likely true. In a letter written by Janette to her father, Ralph Fisher, she mentions the guitar lessons.

Excerpt from Janette’s letter—

I haven’t done anything this morning. Got a guitar lesson after Mama leaves after lunch so I’d better go over that.

Okay, that’s over and done with. At least I did practice this week. The piece I’m learning is my 59th lesson and it’s called Say it with Music adapted from Tchaikovsky’s 5th 2nd movement.
Bud (the maintenance man) is clearing the snow out of the courtyard outside the kitchen window. He cleared most of it with his truck. Now he’s going back over it with a miniature snowplow deal. It looks like a lawnmower tractor with a cab on top and a cute little snow plow in front. It looks so funny. I am sleepy. I’m going to bed early tonight. (That’s what I always say.) I know I’m going to yawn all the way through my lesson and Mr. Truman will think that I think he’s boring. Oh well.

Guitar lesson wasn’t bad. Mr. Truman wants me to study Hawaiian guitar when I’m through with flat top. Did I tell you my guitar broke? It just sort of started to fold up. The neck came loose from the body and the bridge came unglued. Mr. Truman couldn’t keep it in tune so I couldn’t play it. I felt pretty bad when he showed me where it was breaking, ‘cause you can’t play a broken guitar. He drove me over to Clare to look at some new ones and he bought one for me and told me I could pay him back $5.00 a week. It’s a concert size like my other one, but has an adjustable neck. I even got a case with it. It’s not a fancy name – not a Gibson or Fender. They had a Fender electric guitar, but they said they had to have $525.00 for it. They said it was a $900.00 guitar. That’s not including the amplifier or case.

Did I tell you I have a little bluegill? A lady came down to the pet store with it and wanted to feed the turtle. The turtle couldn’t catch it, and the boss said I had to get it out of the store because it was illegal for pet stores to have them. So I took him home and set up a 10 gallon tank for him. I haven’t seen him eat yet, and I’ve had him about a week. I’m feeding him dried shrimp pellets, dried mosquito larvae, and dried flies. I started feeding him frozen beef heart, but he didn’t eat it and it smelled up the tank. I know he’d like some worms but I can’t find any. He’s only 3 inches long. In the spring I’m going to turn him loose.

Well, I gave away three male gerbils and got that little black and white one from Tiffany. Everyone here is fine. Alvin is laid off from work for a week but we are doing good. I made a little extra last week because I worked an extra day and that helped. I really like my job. The boss is a little hard to like sometimes. I think she forgets that I haven’t been in this business as long as she has.

Oh well, the customers are nice, too. The ladies that work upstairs sometimes ask me to come up and have coffee with them in the morning.

Well I guess, Daddy, that I’d better close this and stick it in the mailbox so you will get it before next year, so I’ll talk to you later, okay? 

On January 25th The Pioneer described Janette’s funeral.

 “A somber throng of around 200 mourners paid their final respects to Mrs. Roberson at funeral services Sunday at McDowell Funeral Home in Reed City.”

The article said police were still searching for the two women who purchased fish equipment on the day of the murder “…and may have witnessed the bizarre crime.” 

Osceola County Prosecutor James Talaske went on to say the time of death occurred sometime between 2 and 3pm. “We are urging anyone who may have seen someone giving Mrs. Roberson a hard time or bothering her in any way prior to her death to call the state police post in Reed City.” 

He added, “Someone may have even overheard something between Janette and her assailant that would be extremely beneficial to us.”

The reward money had gone up to $2,700 and anyone wishing to donate was urged to contact Talaske at his office. Meanwhile, police were still busy interviewing witnesses. Detective Pratt interviewed Elke Johnson—Janette’s friend who’d been in the store trying to bring back baby gerbils.

Thomas Hawkins—a customer in the store when the body was found, who is currently incarcerated—was interviewed on January 26th by Detective Pratt regarding his observations while in the store on the day of the murder.

Hiram Thompson—the salesman Detective Pratt had spoken to previously—was again questioned, this time by Det. Sgt. Eugene Ambs of the MSP Post #21.

Also on the 26th, Bonnie Engels—store owner David Engels’ wife—contacted the police regarding possible evidence found at the scene. Four items were turned over by her to be used in analysis and for comparison purposes.

The opening paragraph of the Osceola County Herald on January 27th 1983 reads as follows: “A Michigan State Police sketch artist will be in Reed City Wednesday, and will attempt to sketch several people who were seen in the Gambles store last week at the approximate time of Janette Roberson’s death.”

“This is a real baffler to say the least,” from Prosecutor James Talaske. “We’re checking out approximately 200 different tips at the present time, although nothing yet is concrete. The people the artist will sketch are not considered suspects, but may have valuable information concerning the murder.” 

Talaske added, “The police are doing just a great job in this investigation, and have handled it in a very professional manner. State Police Detective George Pratt has investigated several murders in the past, and has considerable knowledge in this kind of work.” 

His final plea, “Again, if anyone may have seen someone with Janette prior to the crime that may have been harassing her, or even just hanging around her a lot, please call the state police. We are seeking absolutely any source of information that could ultimately help us in solving this most unusual case.”

On the 27th The Pioneer spoke with locals about the “grizzly murder.”

Colin Hayward—Chamber of Commerce Secretary—said, “The tragedy of Wednesday afternoon showed the worst in one individual, but the best in the community has surfaced and it’s been heartwarming with pledges of support for the arrest and conviction of the perpetrator of this heinous crime. I would like to compliment the Reed City State Police post, the Osceola County Sheriff’s Department, and the Reed City Police on the professional manner in which they have handled this tragedy.”

Jim Nordstrom—City Manager—was equally complimentary of law enforcement. “The basic honest truth of the matter is that it’s a tragedy. I think that the reward fund is reflected in the strength of our small city. I’m pleased with the cooperation between law enforcement agencies, as they have been working just great together in this investigation.”

The local merchants, however, were more concerned about safety. John Lazzati—owner of Terra Pines Gift Shop in Reed City—had this to say: “I think that all of us are acting more cautiously than we have in the past. Perhaps it’s the kind of caution we should have acted in all along. We’re being more realistic since the murder, and realize this sort of unfortunate incident can happen in Reed City.”

Winnie Snyder, Manager of Mutual Savings: “We have changed our store hours on Friday night, as we’re closing now at 5:30. We had given thought for several months prior to the murder to closing earlier, but now in light of the murder we have changed our closing time. The murder was the final contributing factor to our early closing. It’s just unbelievable and very tragic that something like this could take place in Reed City. I am very sorry for the family of the victim involved.”

Reverend Richard Krugler of Trinity Lutheran Church said, “I think, like everyone else, I’m shocked. It brings us to the reality that evil exists in the world. Our prayers are with the family.”

Also on the 27th Alvin Roberson was re-interviewed at length by Detective Pratt in the presence of his court appointed attorney, David Porteous.

On January 31st Detective Pratt contacted the store owner, David Engels, about obtaining the names of the truck drivers who delivered supplies on the day of the murder. Three names and their contact information were turned over. The final paragraphs in the first supplemental report attached to the Michigan State Police report—dated Feb 1, 1983 but pertaining to the work done in January—read as follows:

REMARKS: Investigators in this matter have worked on a daily basis following up tips that have been turned in to the police regarding possible suspects and/or composite lookalikes. Several consultations have been held with other criminal investigators and others regarding this case. As of this writing, no strong suspects have been identified in this case.


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