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20050304: Oakland County serial killer cold case is hot again MI Serial Killer News

Last month, after Michigan State Police detectives announced a new hotline to take tips on the Oakland County child killer, a police officer leaned over to the lead investigator, Sgt. Garry Gray, and said: "I hope you haven't opened Pandora's box."


Two weeks and more than 200 calls later, Gray now says that new tips may help catch the man who, nearly 30 years ago, took the lives of four children who lived in Oakland County and whipped several suburban Detroit communities into a panic.


"We're inundated," Gray said Wednesday evening.


Some of the calls to police, Gray said, have been from psychics and profilers; others are from ex-wives and relatives who said their cousin was "acting strange," and some have been from people in prison -- or who probably are mentally ill.


One person, Gray said, called to confess to the killings; but his information was inconsistent with the evidence.


Still, Gray said, some of the new tips and the arrest of an alleged serial killer in Kansas have given him new hope that the case can be solved.


On Tuesday, Dennis Rader, 59, of Park City, Kan., was arraigned and charged with 10 counts of first-degree murder. Kansas police say they believe Rader -- whose daughter lives in a Farmington apartment and, through police, has declined to comment on the case -- is the BTK killer.


BTK, police said, stands for "bind, torture, kill," the method the killer used to slay 10 victims beginning in 1974. Police say they solved the case by piecing together evidence that Rader sent -- a computer disk, letters, poems -- and a DNA sample from his daughter, according to several newspaper reports.


But, Gray said, unlike the BTK killer, the Oakland County child killer never sent investigators any clues.


"I wish our killer would send a trophy," Gray said, referring to the keepsakes that serial killers sometimes take from their victims.


Some investigators suspect he might be dead.


Michigan State Police have theorized that one man, dubbed the Oakland County child killer, abducted and killed four children -- Timothy King, 11, of Birmingham; Kristine Mihelich, 10, of Berkley; Jill Robinson, 12, of Royal Oak, and Mark Stebbins, 12, of Ferndale -- in 1976 and 1977. He left them dead on roadsides to be found.


A woman who police interviewed soon after the killings said she saw one of the victims just before he disappeared with a young man in, or near, a blue AMC Gremlin. Police drew up a composite sketch of the man and have been looking for him ever since.


The revived interest in the case has unleashed a new wave of calls from people who have been inspired to confront dark fears -- or claim to know something.


One man, now 37, said the renewed interest in the case brought back memories of when he was 11. He said he and a friend were on Evergreen when a reddish van passed them, turned around, passed again and suddenly stopped. Another man, now 42, recalled hitchhiking in the 1970s and being picked up by a "weird person" whose "car smelled horrible like maybe a dead person was in the trunk." And a woman said her "old boyfriend would joke he was the Oakland County child killer." She said he had a Gremlin and moved to Wisconsin, might have since married, and "was just very creepy."


Gray said most tips are not specific enough to be investigated, but one good tip might be all he needs.


20050218: Police still on child killer case MI Oakland County Serial Killer News

Authorities hope technology will help find murderer of four Oakland kids in '70s

It has been 29 years since the body of a missing Ferndale boy was found in a Southfield parking lot, the first of four children who were lured or abducted from supposedly safe suburban streets in 1976 and 1977 by the still-unknown Oakland County child killer.

Mark Stebbins, 12, of Ferndale said goodbye to his mother at an American Legion hall in Ferndale on Feb. 15, 1976, and said he was walking home. Four days later his body was found along 10 Mile and an autopsy determined he had been smothered.

Michigan State Police and eight other police agencies will announce today that those four victims and the unsolved crimes are very much on their minds.

"I read an e-mail from the father of one of the victims recently in which he said police have given up on finding the Oakland County child killer," said State Police Detective Sgt. Garry Gray. "I want him and everyone else to know nothing could be further from the truth."

Faded, dog-eared, fingerprint-smudged files containing thousands of tips and leads from the initial investigation were recently trucked from the state police post in Northville to the Metro North post in Oak Park, where Gray and others hope new technology, including computers and DNA evidence, may help investigators find the person or persons responsible.

"I believe there was more than one person involved in these," said Gray. "And it's also quite possible that these were four different homicides done by four different people."

But the similarities in the deaths of Mark Stebbins; Jill Robinson, 12, of Royal Oak; Kristine Milhelich, 10, of Berkley; and Timothy King, 11, of Birmingham have intrigued anyone familiar with the cases to this day.

Robinson disappeared Dec. 22, 1976, and her body was found Dec. 26 along Interstate 75 in Troy. Milhelich vanished Jan. 7, 1977, in Berkley; her body was found 19 days later near 13 Mile in Franklin. King was last seen March 16, 1977, outside a Maple Road drugstore and found six days later along Gill Road in Livonia.

The killings stopped as abruptly as they started, leading police to speculate the person responsible either died, was incarcerated, moved or somehow stopped his or her deadly behavior.

The King abduction-slaying was linked to a man seen driving a blue Gremlin near the Birmingham drugstore and for months anyone driving such a vehicle drew suspicious stares. Gray and others believe the infamous blue Gremlin some witnesses claimed seeing may have had nothing to do with any of the slayings. But there were similarities in the cases, including:

� All four were alone and abducted from business areas.

� None of the kidnappings were reported by witnesses, leading to speculation the children went willingly with their abductors.

� Two were abducted on Sunday afternoon, two on Wednesday evenings.

� All were held in captivity from three to 19 days.

� All appeared well-fed and very clean, as if bathed before or after their deaths.

� All were left along roadsides where they could be easily found.

� Three of the young victims were smothered. Robinson was killed by a shotgun blast.

At the peak of the investigation, more than 200 investigators were part of one of the first multi-agency police task forces of its kind. They combed through more than 20,000 tips. Many of those reports, taken by telephone and written by hand, could be placed in a computer program that can make dozens of comparisons and detect the slightest of similarities that may lead to a killer, Gray said.

Gray said a statewide advisory would be put out to news media outlets seeking tips on the unsolved cases. He also plans to seek a grant that will enable the hiring of workers to input the mountainous stack of reports into a computer program. Tips were classified as low (little to zero probability), medium (possible) or high (high likelihood requiring further investigation) categories.

"A tip is only as good as the investigator handling it," said Gray. "Who knows? Maybe someone had a bad day years ago and missed something. Or didn't see the possible links in the thousands of tips that came in. The important thing is keeping an open mind."

Sean Bell was 5 years old when her niece, Kristine Mihelich, was born. She was 16 when Kristine was murdered.

"We were like sisters; I was her big sister when this happened," said Bell of Petoskey. "I'm really happy they are still trying to find out who killed her. The whole family is. It would help us with at least some closure."

Berkley Police Sgt. Ray Anger, a 31-year police veteran who was part of the original task force, also is hopeful. Anger, who has lived and breathed the Mihelich case nearly his entire career, was part of a group that traveled to Wyoming in August 1999 to exhume the body of a former Warren man, David Norberg, who was suspected in the murders.

A necklace found among Norberg's belongings after he died in a car crash in 1981 was engraved with "Kristine" and it was thought that if a hair found with her body matched one of Norberg's locks, they might have corroborative evidence that he was the killer. There was no match.

"One of these days someone is going to pick up a telephone and call one of the victim's parents and say 'I have some news for you.' " said Anger. "I hope that person to make that call is me. It would be a comfort to the family and certainly a highlight to a career."

One thing investigators agree upon is that the killer, or someone who witnessed or knew something about the crimes, could still be alive and eager to clear their conscience before they die.

Not content with waiting for that one break, they will continue to run down leads, both new and old, said Detective Sgt. Dave Robertson, whose father, retired State Police Capt. Robert Robertson, headed the original task force in the 1970s.



Copyright 1995-2006 by Elisabeth Wetsch
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