Oakland County Child Killer


Oakland County Child Killer

Oakland County Child Killer
Also known as: The Babysitter
Killings
Number of victims: 4
Span of killings: February 15, 1976–March 16, 1977
Country: United States
State(s): Michigan

The Oakland County Child Killer was an unidentified serial killer responsible for the murders of four or more children in Oakland County, Michigan, United States in 1976 and 1977. The killer was also nicknamed “The Babysitter”, as all four victims had been recently bathed.

Contents

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Case background

During a 13-month period, four children were abducted and murdered with their bodies left in various locations within the county. The children were each held from 4 to 19 days before being killed. Their deaths triggered a murder investigation which at the time was the largest in U.S. history.[1] The murders are still unsolved.

Fear and near-mass hysteria swept southeastern Michigan, as young people were inundated with information on “stranger danger”, and parents clogged streets around schools dropping off and picking up their children. The few who did walk walked in groups and under the watchful eyes of parents in “safe houses”, where children could go if they felt uncomfortable. Children even avoided using a playground directly behind the Birmingham police station.[2] One incident in Livonia involved a tow-truck driver who assaulted a man he had seen asking two boys on the street for directions. He turned out to be an Ohio tire salesman who had gotten lost with no knowledge of the slayings.[3] The Detroit News offered a $100,000 reward for the killer’s apprehension.[2]

Victims

Confirmed

  • Mark Stebbins, 12, of Ferndale, was last seen leaving an American Legion Hall on Sunday afternoon, February 15, 1976. He had told his mother he was going home to watch television. His body was found on February 19, neatly laid out in a snowbank in the parking lot of an office building at Ten Mile Road and Greenfield in Southfield (some reports claim Oak Park; Greenfield is the boundary between the two cities). He had been strangled and sexually assaulted with an object. Rope marks were seen on his wrists. He was fully clothed in the outfit he was wearing when last seen alive.[2]
  • Jill Robinson, 12, of Royal Oak, packed a backpack and ran away from her home on Wednesday, December 22, 1976, following an argument with her mother over dinner preparations. The day after her disappearance, her bicycle was found behind a hobby store on Main Street in that city. Her body was found on the morning of December 26, along the side of Interstate 75 near Big Beaver Road in Troy. She was killed by a single shotgun blast to the face. She was fully clothed and still wearing her backpack. The body was placed within sight of the Troy police station, once again, laid out neatly in the snow.[2]
  • Kristine Mihelich, 10, was last seen Sunday, January 2, 1977 at 3:00 p.m. at a 7-Eleven store on Twelve Mile Road at Oakshire in Berkley, purchasing a magazine. A mail carrier spotted her fully clothed body 19 days later on the side of a rural road in Franklin Village. She had been smothered. The body was laid within view of nearby homes, eyes closed and arms folded across the chest, once again in the snow.[2]
  • Timothy King, 11, borrowed 30 cents from his older sister and left his home in Birmingham, skateboard in hand, to buy candy at a drugstore on nearby Maple Road on Wednesday, March 16, 1977, at about 8:30 p.m. He left the store by the rear entrance, which opened to a parking lot shared with a supermarket, and vanished.[2] An intensive search was executed that covered the entire Detroit metropolitan area, and there was widespread media coverage, already heavy with coverage of the previous three slayings. In an emotional television appeal, Timothy’s father, Barry, begged the abductor to release his son unharmed. In a letter printed in the Detroit News, Marion King wrote that she hoped Timothy could come home soon so she could serve him his favorite meal, Kentucky Fried Chicken. In the late evening hours of March 22, 1977, two teenagers in a car spotted his body in a shallow ditch alongside Gill Road, about 300 feet south of Eight Mile Road in Livonia, just across the county line in Wayne County. His prized skateboard was placed next to his body. His clothing had been neatly pressed and washed. He had been suffocated and sexually assaulted with an object. The postmortem showed that Timothy had eaten fried chicken before he was slain.[2]

Suspected

There were other abductions and murders around the Oakland County area within the same period. These are not specifically tied to the four victims above due to variations in the cases.

  • Cynthia Cadieux, 16, was abducted and bludgeoned to death on the evening of January 15, 1976. Missing from Roseville, she was discovered nude and battered in Bloomfield Township in the early morning hours of January 16.[4]
  • Sheila Srock was raped and shot dead while babysitting in a home on Villa Street in Birmingham on January 20, 1976. Her assailant had burglarized several homes in the neighborhood earlier in the evening. A neighbor had watched the entire attack in horror from his roof, where he was shoveling snow.[5]

Investigation

After the discovery of Kristine Mihelich’s body, authorities quickly realized they were dealing with three cases and evidence that were closely similar. Reports were released publicly of the possibility a serial killer was operating in the Oakland County area. The Michigan State Police led a group of law-enforcement officials from 13 communities in the formation of a task force, devoted solely to the investigation.

Soon after Timothy King was abducted, a composite drawing of the suspected kidnapper and his vehicle was released. A woman claimed she had seen a boy with a skateboard talking to a man in a parking lot of the drugstore that Timothy had told his parents he was going to ride his skateboard to. The vehicle was reportedly a blue AMC Gremlin with a white side stripe. Authorities would eventually question every Gremlin owner in Oakland County.

Investigators put together a profile of the killer based on witnesses’ descriptions of the man seen talking to Timothy King the night he disappeared—a white male with a dark complexion, 25 to 35 years old with shaggy hair and sideburns. Authorities believed that the killer had a job that gave him freedom of movement and may have appeared to be someone that a child might trust, such as a police officer, clergyman or a doctor. He was also believed to be familiar with the area and had the ability to keep children for long periods of time without rousing neighbors’ suspicions.

Detroit psychiatrist Dr. Bruce Danto, who worked with the task force, received a letter several weeks after Timothy King’s body was found from a man named “Allen”, who claimed that he was the killer’s roommate and even helped look after the victims. Allen said his roommate had been traumatized by killing children in the Vietnam War and was taking revenge out on more affluent citizens. Soon after, Danto got a phone call from Allen, who offered to provide photographic evidence in exchange for immunity from prosecution. Under police surveillance, the psychiatrist arranged to meet Allen at a gay bar near Detroit’s exclusive Palmer Woods neighborhood.[3] Allen did not show, and was never heard from again.

The task force checked out more than 18,000 tips, but was unable to make much headway in the investigation. The task force disbanded in December 1978. The killer never struck again.

Theodore Lamborgine

Police in Parma Heights, Ohio arrested Ted Lamborgine, a retired auto worker believed to have been involved in a child porn ring in the 1970s. On March 27, 2007, investigators told Detroit television station WXYZ that Lamborgine was considered the top suspect in this case. Lamborgine pleaded guilty to 15 sex-related counts involving young boys rather than accept a plea bargain that would have required him to take a polygraph test on the Oakland County child killings. Lamborgine also rejected an offer of a reduced sentence in exchange for a polygraph on the case.[6]

In October 2007, the family of Mark Stebbins filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Lamborgine seeking $25,000. The lawsuit alleges Lamborgine, who lived in Metro Detroit in the late 1970s, abducted Mark and held him captive in a Royal Oak house for four days in February 1976 before smothering him to death during a sex assault. Lamborgine has never been formally linked nor charged in the death of Mark Stebbins. Attorney David A. Binkley seeks compensation, including funeral costs, for Stebbins’ brother, Michael, but stressed money is secondary.[6]

New Developments

The case has recently sparked new interest. Timmy King’s father, Barry, and brother, Chris, have been trying to get the Michigan State Police to release information about Chris Busch, the son of Harold Lee Busch, a high level GM Executive. Chris Busch had been in police custody shortly before Timmy’s abduction for suspected involvement in a Child Pornography Ring. He committed suicide in 1978. There has been no confirmed activity of the Oakland County Child Killer since his death. The MSP has so far declined to assist the King’s quest to discover the truth about Timmy’s killer.[7]

References

  1. ^ Martindale, Mike (24 August 2007). “New DNA evidence surfaces in Oakland child killings”. The Detroit News: p. 00. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Barfknecht 1993, pp. 123–126
  3. ^ a b McIntyre
  4. ^ McIntyre 1988, p. 11
  5. ^ McIntyre 1988, p. 12
  6. ^ a b Martindale, Mike (19 October 2007). “Victim’s family in Oakland child killings sues molester over death”. The Detroit news: p. 1B. 
  7. ^ Keenan, Marney Rich (26 October 2009). “Finding Timmy’s killer: Family seeks answers 32 years after son’s death“. The Detroit News. http://www.detnews.com/article/20091026/METRO02/910260343/1409/Finding-Timmy-s-killer–Family-seeks-answers-32-years-after-son-s-death. Retrieved 2 November 2009. 

Bibliography

  • Barfknecht, Gary (1993). Unexplained Michigan Mysteries: Strange but True Tales from the Michigan Unknown. Davison: Friede Publications. ISBN 09237-5605-1. OCLC 29187818. 
  • McIntyre, Tommy (1988). Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing: The Search for a Child Killer. Detroit: Wayne State University Press. ISBN 0814319661. OCLC 17731672. 

External links

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