I’ve always said that there is a special place in hell for those that harm children. During a 13-month period, from 1976 and 1977 residents of Oakland County Michigan were gripped with fear. Children were disappearing and no one knew who was next. Soon bodies of the missing children were being found and it became evident that a child murderer was operating in the area.
After informing his mother that he was going home to watch television, 12 year old Mark Stebbins was seen leaving an American Legion hall on February 15 1976. 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, Michigan. Though he was fully clothed in the outfit he was wearing when he was last seen, alive authorities concluded that he had been sexually assaulted with an object, and had suffered two lacerations to the left rear of his head. Rope marks were evident upon both his wrists and ankles, indicating he had been bound throughout his period of captivity.
Ten months later, Jill Robinson, of Royal Oak, Michigan; would have an argument with her mother. On Wednesday, December 22, 1976, the twelve-year-old packed a backpack, grabbed her bicycle and ran away from home. The following day her bicycle was found behind a hobby store on Main Street in Royal Oak. Unfortunately, her remains were found on December 26th along the side of Interstate 75 near Big Beaver Road in Troy, Michigan. Young Ms. Robinson’s death had been caused by a single 12-gauge shotgun blast to the face. Her body was found fully clothed, lying face-up and laid out neatly in the snow; a stone’s throw from the Troy police station. There was no evidence of any sexual assault.
It was Sunday, January 2, 1977, at approximately 3:00 pm, Kristine Mihelich was seen at a 7-Eleven store in Berkley, Michigan. Three hours later her mother reported the 10-year-old missing. Nineteen days later, a mail carrier spotted her body laid in the snow. The young lady had been smothered and her body placed in full view of nearby residents.
On Wednesday, March 16, 1977, eleven-year-old Timothy King borrowed 30 cents from his older sister and left his Birmingham, MI home about 8:30 pm to buy candy at a nearby drugstore. A witness spotted him leaving the store and reported that he seemed to simply have vanished. Already swamped with media coverage and public pressure from the previous three slayings, authorities executed an intensive search that covered the entire Detroit metropolitan area. Timothy’s father, Barry King broadcasted an emotional television appeal. Mt. King begged the abductor to release his son unharmed. In a letter printed in the Detroit News, Timothy’s mother, Marion King, wrote that she hoped Timothy could come home soon so she could serve him his favorite meal, Kentucky Fried Chicken; however, that meal would never be served. On the evening of March 22, 1977, two teenagers in a car spotted Timothy’s body in a shallow ditch alongside Gill Road, in Livonia, Michigan. He had been suffocated and sexually assaulted with an object. Ironically, the postmortem showed that Timothy had eaten fried chicken before he was slain. Findings also showed that he had been suffocated approximately six hours before his body was found.
Several other murders of children occurred following these four murders; however, they lacked the= components that tied the four together. Reports of a serial killer operating in the Oakland County area sent Oakland and Wayne county residents into an uproar. The Michigan State Police formed a task force of law-enforcement officials from 13 communities that devoted their time and efforts solely to the investigation.
A woman claimed she had seen Timothy King with a skateboard talking to a man in a parking lot of the drugstore he had visited. The woman gave a description of the man and the vehicle that he drove. Other witnesses came forth and corroborated the testimony of the woman. The man was described as a 25 to 35-year-old white male with a dark complexion, sporting shaggy hair, and sideburns. The vehicle he drove 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. 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.
The task force headed by Michigan State Police would check out more than 18,000 tips, resulting in over twenty arrests and the busting of a multi-state child pornography ring. However, task force members were never able to charge a suspect in the investigation. In December 1978 the task force disbanded and the investigation was turned over to the State Police. As quickly as the kidnappings and murders began, they seemed to end and the Oakland County child killer never struck again.
In our communities, we tend to look at police officers as our sole source of protection. If this true, we, unfortunately, will be faced with tragedies like this time and time again. It is our responsibility to look out for each other. Neighbors and friends, be conscious of each other and pay attention when a strange presence appears in your area. The only way to truly maintain the sanctity and peace in our living area is to have an established presence in our communities. Serial murder, kidnapping, sexual assault, etc. are all crimes of opportunity. Community unification removes a great deal of the opportunity and thereby lessens the chances for this situation and situations like this to occur.