Hello, my loyal true crime readers! I’m excited to present a guest post by True Crime Center: a new and exciting true crime blog. Kennedy covers all types of true crime cases to both entertain her readers and to generate discussion about the cases.
Make sure you drop in on Kennedy to discuss your thoughts on the Oakland County Child Killer case and to chat about true crime!
Enjoy the guest post ~ Christine
The Oakland County Child Killer
I am from Michigan, pretty close to where the Oakland County Child murders occurred. My boyfriend’s father lived there during that time and his school friend’s little brother was one of the victims. It is especially chilling to me when a serial killer avoids being caught. This case is so puzzling because someone brutally murdered at least four children in 1976 and 1977 and to this day has never been identified. Police do not even know if it is one killer or multiple killers working together. At the time, the murder investigation of this case was the largest in U.S. history, and yet it failed to be solved. This is one of the cases that continues to haunt the people of Michigan.
The first victim of this killer was Mark Stebbins from Ferndale, Michigan. He was last seen on February 15, 1976 leaving an American Legion Hall. He told his mother he was going home to watch television and was never seen again. Mark’s body was found four days later neatly laid out on a snowbank next to a road in Southfield, Michigan. He was fully clothed in the clothes he was wearing the day he disappeared. Examination of the body concluded that the boy had been strangled and sexually assaulted with some object. He also had suffered two lacerations to the left rear of his head. His body had rope marks on both his wrists and ankles which shows he had been bound during some part of his time in captivity. Mark was only 12 years old.
The next victim was another 12-year-old, Jill Robinson. Jill was from Royal Oak, Michigan. Royal Oak is only about 10 minutes away from the city where Mark Stebbins had been murdered. Jill disappeared on December 22, 1976 so a little more than 10 months after Mark Stebbins. On that day Jill had gotten into an argument with her mother over dinner preparations and decided to pack a bag and run away. Usually when children “run away” they go to cool off and return home within hours. Unfortunately, Jill would never return home. Her bicycle was found the next day behind a hobby store in Royal Oak. Her body was later found on December 26, along interstate 75 near Troy, Michigan. Again this is within the same radius where Mark disappeared and his body was found. Also like Mark’s case, Jill’s body was found fully clothed, including her backpack, and laid neatly on a snow bank. Her body was also placed within sight of the Troy police station so this killer was pretty confident. The cause of death was a single gunshot wound to the face while lying on her back. Although how the bodies were found seemed pretty similar nobody really thought there was a connection to Mark’s murder. They happened many months apart and had different causes of death. Jill was not sexually abused or bound like Mark Stebbins had been either.
The third victim was the one that made police realize all of these murders were connected. The victim’s name was Kristine Mihelich and she was only 10 years old. Kristine was from Berkley, Michigan and disappeared on January 2, 1977. This time the murders happened less than a month apart. Kristine was at a 7-Eleven store purchasing a magazine around 3 pm when she was last seen. When she didn’t return home after a couple hours her mother reported her missing. Her body was discovered 19 days later on the side of a rural road in Franklin Village by a mail carrier. Like the other victims her body was fully clothed and laid out neatly in the snow. An autopsy concluded that she had been smothered to death. It also concluded that she had died less than 24 hours before her body was discovered. This means she had been alive for 18 days after being abducted.
Obviously all of the victims died in separate ways and seemed to have different periods of time in captivity, but the way the bodies were found and the fact that all of them had occurred in Oakland County was enough for police to determine a connection. All bodies had the same white animal hair on them, presumably from a dog. Reports were released publicly to warn of this possible serial killer operating in Oakland County. The Michigan State Police and a group of law enforcement officials from 13 different communities formed a task force devoted solely to this investigation.
Not surprisingly this news sent the southeastern part of Michigan into mass hysteria. During this time, it was pretty common to just let children go to places on their own. Nothing like this had really occurred in Michigan before and people were terrified. Children who used to walk to school everyday were now driven by their parents. The kids whose parents could not take them would walk in groups and there were even safe houses planned out where the kids could go if they felt unsafe. Children were no longer alone and running around on the streets or in playgrounds. Even the playground behind the Birmingham police station was abandoned. A tow truck driver in Livonia assaulted a man he saw talking to two boys on the street. The man who he assaulted ended up being a tire salesman from Ohio who had gotten lost and was simply asking the boys for directions. He did not even know about the serial killer prowling Oakland County. This was not good for the tire salesman; however, I think the tow truck driver was right in acting out if he thought something was sketchy. I think it is a good thing that the town came together and was being extra cautious.
Even with the town and task force actively searching for this killer, another boy had become a victim. Timothy King was 11 years old and from Birmingham, Michigan. He disappeared on March 16, 1997, around 2 months after Kristine Mihelich’s body was found. Timothy burrowed some money from his sister and rode his skateboard to the nearest drugstore to buy some candy. He was seen leaving the supermarket through the back entrance. Police knew this must have been the act of the serial killer they were looking for and wasted no time searching for the boy and spreading his story everywhere. An extensive search was conducted all throughout the Detroit area and there was widespread media coverage. Timothy’s parents went on television and begged the abductor to return their son home. In the previous cases it is known that they had been alive for at least a few days after being abducted. This gave everyone at least some hope that Timothy could be found alive.
A tip came in from a woman claiming she had seen a boy with a skateboard talking to a man in the parking lot of the drugstore that Timothy had been to. The woman described this man as a white male with a dark complexion and around 25 to 35 years of age. He had shaggy hair and sideburns and had been driving a blue AMC Gremlin with a white stripe on the sides. The woman helped police draw a composite sketch of the man which was released all over. Authorities questioned everybody in Oakland County who owned a Gremlin.
There were two other possible victims of this serial killer; however, they have never been confirmed. Cynthia Cadieux was 16 when she was abducted and bludgeoned to death on January 15, 1976. Her body was found nude and battered the next day. I am assuming she wasn’t one hundred percent considered a victim of the Oakland County Child Killer because she was older than the other victims and her body was not found fully clothed like the others. She was also found the next day which does not follow how the serial killer carried out his abductions. Jane Allan was another suspected victim. She was 14 years old and murdered by carbon monoxide poisoning on August 7, 1976 after accepting a ride while hitchhiking. She was found floating in a river in Ohio on August 11. Again the way she died and how her body was found does not seem to point to the Oakland County Child killer; however, it is not completely disproved either.
Even after all of this, the suspect was never found. Investigators put together a profile of the serial killer. They believed he had a job that gave him freedom of movement. He is also believed to have appeared to be someone a child might trust like a police officer or a doctor. Considering how close all of these abductions and murders occurred it is believed that the killer is pretty familiar with the Oakland County area. Another important thing to note is the fact that the killer was able to keep children for long periods of time without arousing the neighbors’ suspicions.
The task force checked out more than 18,000 tips, which resulted in about two dozen arrests on unrelated charges. The investigation also led to the busting of a multi-state child pornography ring operating on North Fox Island in Lake Michigan. After all of this investigating not much was found in the investigation and the task force disbanded in late 1978, turning the case over to the State Police. The killer never struck again after this.
A few weeks after the death of Timothy King, a Detroit psychiatrist who was working with the task force received a letter from someone identifying themselves as “Allen”. The letter was poorly spelled and was very guilt ridden. Allen claimed he was a slave for his roommate Frank who was indeed the Oakland County Child Killer. Allen spoke about how fearful and remorseful he was and was losing his sanity. He even talked about wanting to commit suicide. He wrote how he had accompanied Frank on road trips to scope out boys; however, he was never present during the abductions. Allen explained that Frank did indeed own a Gremlin but that he dumped it in Ohio and it would never be seen again. Allen claimed Frank committed these murders because he was traumatized by killing children in the Vietnam War. He wanted revenge on the rich people for sending forces to Vietnam. Allen then told the psychiatrist to print a certain code word in that Sunday’s Free Press paper. He did this and then received a phone call from Allen offering photographic proof in exchange for guaranteed immunity from prosecution. They arranged to meet at a bar in Detroit but Allen never showed. He was never heard from again.
This whole thing is very odd to me. People will often send letters or try to provide fake information to the police for entertainment, but this one seems pretty legit. Allen seems like a pretty messed up person who may be guilty and trying to reach out. The fact that he never showed up to the bar or tried to reach out again is both questioning and creepy. Did Frank find out he was planning on telling and murder him? Did Allen make all of this up for attention? Or, which I think may be the case, was Allen really the serial killer who was in fact guilty and almost wanting to turn himself in? Maybe he wanted the guilt to go away and wanted everyone to know why he was committing these murders, but he just made up fake names and a fake roommate. Then when the time came to actually meet someone, he chickened out. We may never know.
The next suspect was a man named Archibald Edward Sloan. He was a pedophile who had victimized young boys in his neighborhood. Hair samples in his Pontiac were matched with hair found on the bodies of Timothy King and Mark Stebbins. Archibald’s DNA did not match that of the serial killer’s, and as there was no more evidence connecting him to any crimes he was let go. He claims he often would lend his car to his pedophile friends during the time the serial killer was on the loose.
After reading this it is pretty surprising to me that the man has not been caught after learning of this information. We have his hair and his DNA and knew what car he was driving at some point. Couldn’t they ask who these friends were that Archibald lent his car to or find out some way? I am sure the pedophile did not want to rat out his friends but there must have been something that could have been done.
Yet another main suspect was a man named Chris Busch. Timmy’s family were the pushing force against Busch, really believing he had involvement in the murders. Busch had been in custody for child pornography shortly before Timmy was abducted. He committed suicide in November of 1978 and bloodstains were found in his apartment. A hand drawn image of a boy who resembled Mark Stebbins, the first victim, screaming in agony was found pinned to the wall where he committed suicide. After his suicide there were no more murders by the Oakland County Child killer.
Obviously this guy is pretty messed up. The drawing of a boy screaming in agony could prove he is the killer, or just show what everyone already knows: he is a pedophile. The bloodstains are obviously suspicious as well, and I would not be surprised if he has murdered someone. One thing I find interesting is how Allen from the letter explained his deep guilt and thoughts of suicide. Could Busch be Allen and the Oakland County Child Killer?
James Vincent Gunnels was only 16 when the crimes occurred; however, his hair was partially matched with hair found on Kristine Mihelich. Oddly enough he had been sexually assaulted many times by Chris Busch when he was younger. The hair match was old and not enough to charge Gunnels with murder. Police gave him a lie detector test about the Oakland County killings and say he intentionally held his breath to try to make the test inconclusive. While in prison for an unrelated crime he was recorded talking to his sister on the phone about the case. She explained how police found his DNA on one of the victims and Gunnels responded by saying, “I wasn’t there when it happened.” Police believe he could have disposed of the body and was working for the actual killer.
All of this evidence points to the fact that Gunnels had something to do with at least one murder. He did not want to take a lie detector test and replied with “I wasn’t there when it happened.” That screams pretty guilty to me. The fact that he was abused by another main suspect in the case has to be more than a coincidence. If Bosch was indeed the killer and Gunnels was only 16, he could have easily been threatened into disposing the bodies. Gunnels had been a victim himself and was obviously afraid of Bosch. It would not surprise me if he disposed of the bodies and that is how his DNA was found on them.
One of the last suspects was a man named Theodore Lamborgine. He was a retired auto worker in Ohio who had been involved in a child porn ring. He had pleaded guilty to 15 sexual related accounts involving young boys. He was offered a shorter sentence if he took a polygraph test about the Oakland County killings but declined the offer. He has never been linked with the Oakland County murders.
Although this guy was obviously a bad person I do not believe he was the Oakland County Child Killer. He always sexually assaulted boys and two girls were murdered in the Oakland County case. It is pretty odd that he would not take a polygraph, however.
Timothy King’s family produced a documentary titled Decades in Deceit in which they condemned the investigators and prosecutors for how they handled the case. They claimed they were not taken seriously and the leads they came up with in 2006 were not followed up on.
In 2013, an anonymous informant reported a blue AMC Gremlin buried in a farm field in Grand Blanc, Michigan. Police investigated the lead; however, not much was found and it was pretty common for farmers to dispose of unwanted cars like this. There was also a man referred to as “Bob”who claimed to possibly know who the killer was. Bob claimed there were many more victims and that it was all a part of some devil sacrifice. His case was dismissed due to a lack of evidence.
This case is probably the most personal and baffling case to me. I know almost all of the areas and streets mentioned. After much research I feel like I have hardly scratched the surface of the entire thing. There is so much evidence and suspects yet the killer remains unknown. I believe the most likely theory was that Chris Busch and James Gunnels were responsible. Chris was a very disturbed person and probably the one who carried out the plans and actual murders. Gunnels was probably more like his “slave,” too afraid of him to argue and too afraid to be put in jail if he told. They were both from Michigan so definitely could have known the area well. They also most likely would have known the other pedophile, Archibald, and borrowed his car. I believe one of them also wrote the note claiming to be Allen. Then again it could be some random guy who is not even seen as a suspect. This case is so old I am not sure if it will ever be solved. I know the people of Michigan, especially the families of the victims, will never stop the search.