Nolan George. Wilburn Cooper. William Hess. Darrell Castle. Walter Hardeman. David Tweed. Robert Nowak. “Murderers all,” juries have said of those seven men who had gotten away with murder in Oakland County for at least a decade.
But others remain at large here in west Oakland County and beyond, despite Oakland County Prosecutor Jessica Cooper’s office netting those seven convictions in cold homicide cases during her first term in office. And more, it seems, are on the way, as the extradition process is currently under way for a suspect in a murder in the 1990s allegedly committed by a man currently serving time in a Texas prison.
“When we talk about cold cases, they are very difficult cases,” Cooper said. “We try. We’re good. We’re not necessarily miracle workers, but we are able to make progress on it. There’s always hope..”
And Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard’s office has not only a cold case squad, but also what he referred to as “a reserve cold case unit.”
“I created kind of a volunteer cold case unit with some experienced investigators, former homicide investors,” he said. “They come in with no pay and go through cold case files.”
The benefit of that is a fresh set of eyes on cases that have stalled over the years.
“You’ve got somebody with no background on the case taking a peek: Is there something that was missed or needs an additional look? They’ve been a great asset. When something starts to percolate on the case, we bring in the full-time investigators.”
Both Cooper and Bouchard pointed to heightened technological and scientific capabilities as boons to cracking cold homicide cases.
“When I was a pup, there was no such thing as mitochondrial DNA, DNA analysis,” Bouchard said.
Cooper stressed that her office is not the investigative limb in the tree that brings those who thought they were able to skirt the law to justice.
“(Police and sheriff’s deputies) are the ones who bring us those leads,” Cooper said. “It’s nice that we take all this credit for it, but the gist of the matter is that we are just the legal arm. The reason that the cold cases are so extraordinary is being able to bring enough evidence that would establish what we need to go forward in the court of law.”
What follows is a look at some of the unsolved murder cases in the lakes area, and in some cases an update on those cases. Oakland County Sheriff’s Department officials couldn’t be reached prior to press time for information on any unsolved murders in Commerce and Highland townships, which each contract with the department for police services.
A double homicide in Waterford Township still agonizes family members who continue to seek answers in the murder case of township residents Pamela Barnes, 41, and Kenneth Kanehl, 39, which occurred in early July 2005.
Family members had asked police to check on Barnes and Kanehl after the pair didn’t attend a family function or show up for work.
Police arrived at the home in the 5400 block of Brunswick Boulevard the couple shared for just a month and found the couple dead in their bed. Both sustained multiple gunshot wounds to their heads. Barnes’ death left a 13-year-old daughter, Alyssa Barnes, without a mother; Kanehl was survived by a 15-year-old daughter, Kylie, who to this day is struggling with the loss.
“She’s doing horribly,” said Kanehl’s step-mother, Jessie Kanehl. “It’s totally ruined her life. She’s now living out of state but thinks about it everyday. It’s devastating.”
Investigators thought they had a break in the case in September 2010 when detectives and members of the Oakland County Sheriff’s Department Forensics Services Division executed a search warrant at the home of Barnes’ ex-boyfriend’s father on West Buno Road in Milford.
But nothing came of it.
“The last progress we knew of is when they searched that home,” Jessie Kanehl said. “We haven’t heard from police in over a year and we’re not allowed to talk to detectives. Only my husband is allowed to speak strictly to the police chief.”
Police apparently interrogated a string of suspects, but there just wasn’t enough evidence to charge anyone, she said.
“They have a suspect but not enough evidence, so that’s not going to go anywhere, apparently,” Jessie said. “We never thought seven years ago we’d be talking today without an arrest.”
She said the family is frustrated with police efforts — or the lack thereof.
“The only hope we have is in God, that He will bring something to light,” she said. “I have no faith in police or in the justice system.”
She said she is angry that Cooper formed a task force on a decades-old murder case when a double-homicide committed just seven years ago remains unsolved.
“I heard Oakland County Prosecutor Jessica Cooper put together a task force for the Oakland County Child Killer, a case over 30-years-old,” Jessie Kanehl said. “Our case is only seven years old and we know who the suspect is and yet nothing is being done. As a matter of fact, the last time I spoke with a prosecutor, he said to stop thinking about it.”
She said the family will not rest until justice is served.
“We talk about it every single day,” Jessie Kanehl said. “The hard part is knowing who is responsible and the person is still able to walk around yet we’re here still grieving and picking up the pieces and our family is shattered.”
Waterford police also continue to investigate the early-morning murder of 28-year-old township resident James Dean Odle, who was shot to death in the vicinity of M-59 and Voorheis Road on July 31, 2011.
Police say Odle was shot several times near South Lynn and Lakeview streets. His body was found in a nearby yard, where he died, according to police.
Odle had been walking on South Lynn when a white GMC Acadia or white Chrysler Pacifica-type vehicle pulled alongside of him. A suspect reportedly exited a back seat of the vehicle and shot Odle.
The suspect was described as a thin black male of medium height and an unknown age, wearing a black do-rag, a black T-shirt, and white and tan checkered shorts.
At the time of the incident, police said they believed more than one person was involved in the shooting because the shooter was the passenger in the vehicle, according to Waterford Police Sergeant Scott Good.
“Whether the driver had the knowledge of what would transpire or not is a different story,” Good said.
Waterford police are also trying to solve the murder of 24-year-old Ruben Roy Gutierrez, Jr., who was gunned down in his family’s home on Cass Lake Road on Nov. 12, 2009.
According to township police, Gutierrez moved to the Waterford area about a year before and resided in the 200 block of North Cass Lake Road. He was originally from Detroit. Commonly known as Julian, Gutierrez attended classes at Oakland Community College’s Highland Lakes Campus in Waterford two days a week.
Waterford police received a 911 call at 3:09 p.m. on Nov. 12 from Gutierrez’s father, who stated he feared his son had committed suicide. The father indicated his son was on the floor and unresponsive.
When officers responded to the home on Cass Lake Road, just north of M-59, they found Gutierrez lying on the living room floor with several gunshot wounds. An autopsy revealed he had been shot three times with a high-caliber rifle. His death was ruled a homicide by the Oakland County Medical Examiner’s Office.
Good said township police never suspected Gutierrez had committed suicide.
Investigators found no sign of forced entry into the home.
In conjunction with the investigation, the family offered a $10,000 reward for information leading up to an arrest and conviction. Yet no one has been arrested.
“There are four murders unsolved in Waterford with no evidence on any of them and still no progress,” Jessie Kanehl said.
Waterford Police Department representatives couldn’t be reached for comment on these unsolved murder cases prior to press time.
WHITE LAKE TOWNSHIP
Just over two decades ago, on June 22, 1992, Akita Ervin’s “pretty badly” decomposed body was discovered off Ford Road in a wooded area in White Lake Township.
Identification of the body was difficult since her body had been exposed to the elements for a couple weeks.
Ervin was a 15-year-old student at Huron Valley Lakeland High School when she was reported missing by her mother, who lived in White Lake.
Ervin had previously run away from home, and so it was believed she had run away again. While she had returned safely the first time, she did not the second time.
A police lieutenant at the time, current White Lake Police Chief Edward Harris had just taken over the White Lake Township Police Department’s Detective Bureau two months before Ervin’s body was discovered.
Little information was yielded in a massive investigation that included polygraph tests and interviews at the time Ervin’s body was discovered.
However, 20 years later, Harris has not forgotten Ervin. Now as the township’s police chief, the case still remains the “chief’s case,” according to Lieutenant Adam Kline.
The exact cause of Ervin’s death was never determined, and the case remains unsolved.
DNA evidence turned up nothing conclusive.
Kline said nothing new has been uncovered with regards to the case in recent years. However, as recently as 2005, the investigating team traveled down to Texas to interview a pair of potential witnesses.
In Wixom, 28-year-old Artan Sulstarova is wanted for the 2004 slaying of 24-year-old Klevis Mullalli.
According to police, a homicide warrant was issued for Sulstarova, who witnesses named as the perpetrator in the Bristol Square apartment complex murder.
“The homicide is solved and a warrant is out for his arrest, but he’s left the country,” said Wixom Director of Public Safety Clarence Goodlein.
Apparently Mullalli and Sulstarova were two in a group of men playing cards when the game took an ugly turn.
“It was a bunch of guys getting together, all of Albanian ancestry, playing cards and drinking alcohol when an argument broke out,” Goodlein said.
Sulstarova allegedly stabbed Mullalli multiple times, once in the femoral artery, causing him to bleed out and die within minutes.
Wixom police do not know Sulstarova’s actual whereabouts to this day.
“We don’t know where he went,” Goodlein said. “There are some rumors he left the country, but we haven’t been able to find him, nor has anyone else.”
Wixom was the only investigating agency involved at the time of the crime, but a number of others — including the Oakland County Sheriff’s Fugitive Apprehension Team, the FBI and U.S. Marshal’s Office — assisted afterwards.
Wixom police also contacted INTERPOL (International Criminal Police Organization) in case he appeared in Albania.
More than three decades after her body was found in a ditch near Camp Dearborn, Milford detectives are still investigating who could have been responsible for the death of 20-year-old Anne Doroghazi.
“We’ve revisited the Doroghazi case over the last six months and we’ve been in contact recently with the State Police crime lab trying to determine if there is evidence that can be retested because of advances in forensic science,” said Milford Police Detective Ed Pilch.
He added that the Milford Police Department is looking to track down relatives and acquaintances in the Doroghazi case.
“We’re sure that the people originally investigated may have confided in a relative or friend that knows something about it,” Pilch said. “We feel there’s information there. A suspect could have passed away and told somebody.”
He said that since 1981, about 75 people have been interviewed and there have been as many as six persons of interest in the case.
Doroghazi’s body was recovered during the morning hours of Sept. 29, 1981 in Camp Dearborn off of General Motors and Martindale roads. An investigation determined that she was killed in an unknown location at some point between Sept. 27 and Sept. 28.
The Oakland County Medical Examiner’s Office ruled that she had been strangled. Her purse was also found near her body and contained money.
Doroghazi had lived in a trailer home at Camp Dearborn while she worked with the camp maintenance crew for three years. She was last seen in Milford near the camp approximately two days prior to the discovery of her body.
She did not have a car and would have walked along General Motors Road to a nearby gas station to buy pop or cigarettes, according to police.
Milford detectives are also looking for leads in the bizarre 1996 shooting of former Milford pastor William Peppard.
The incident occurred in October of that year, in which Peppard was shot in the abdomen with a 12-gage shotgun at his home in the middle of the night.
Over 100 people have been interviewed so far in the case, with police having difficulty finding a motive.
Former Milford Police Chief Tom Callahan previously said that mistaken identity had not been ruled out as a possibility.
Pilch said the case remains open and that there are no updates.
Peppard was a pastor at the former Milford Assembly of God on Hickory Ridge Trail. The church has since been renamed the Hickory Ridge Community Church.
Peppard is now a pastor at the Ann Arbor Assembly of God in Ann Arbor.
A phone call and e-mail to Peppard seeking comment were not returned prior to press time.
Pilch said the Doroghazi and Peppard cases are solvable, and encourages people to come forward to help bring closure to the impacted families.
Anyone with information is asked to contact the Milford Police Detective Bureau at 248-684-1815 or submit an online tip at milfordpolice.com. You can remain anonymous.
WEST BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP
Almost one decade later, West Bloomfield police are still investigating the death of 46-year-old Mildred Siebert, who died after she was attacked by an intruder in her Autumn Ridge home.
The incident occurred on the morning of May 16, 2002, when Siebert discovered a stranger in her house after she woke up.
The discovery led to a struggle between the two. She was stabbed during the fight and again after she initially escaped.
The intruder was able to escape while Siebert struggled to make it to her driveway, where she collapsed at the scene and was found by nearby Samaritans.
The only piece of evidence recovered at the scene was a Tommy Hilfiger charm that Siebert might have ripped off the intruder.
She suffered knife wounds to her head, throat and face, but survived the initial attack. However, her injuries ultimately led to her passing on May 20, 2002.
“We have detectives still doing investigations on that homicide. We have not made any progress as far as identifying a suspect,” said West Bloomfield Police Lieutenant Tim Diamond. “We’re certainly open to any information and we take all leads seriously.”
Diamond said that the major hiccup in the case is a lack of witnesses because the victim was alone in her home at the time of the attack.
“The only description that we had to work with was that it was a white male and that (description) was from the victim herself,” Diamond said. “She wrote the description down because she wasn’t able to talk and she wrote that it was a crazy white boy. And that’s all we have.”
He added that Siebert had another woman living with her in the home at the time, but the woman wasn’t home during the attack. Dozens of people have been interviewed, including family members and acquaintances, Diamond said.
According to police, the investigation is ongoing and was reviewed again in 2011 with a fresh set of detectives.
The only other cold case in the township dates back to the 1950s, when a young girl’s body was recovered near Halstead Road.
Anyone with information on these two cases is asked to contact West Bloomfield Police at 248-975-9200.
Staff writers Angela Niemi, Michael Shelton, and Leslie Shepard, and assistant editor Kirk Pinho contributed to this report.