Between February 1976 and March 1977, The Oakland County Child Killer took the lives of at least four young children and spread fear throughout the residents of Oakland County, Michigan. Sadly, the person (or persons) responsible was never caught and the murders of the young, innocent victims remains unsolved.
Mark and Mike Stebbins spent the morning of February 15, 1976 playing pool at the American Legion Hall in the city of Ferndale in Oakland County. At a little after mid-day, twelve-year-old Mark told his brother he wanted to go home and watch a movie on TV. Mike decided to stay at the Legion Hall and so Mark set off alone to walk the three blocks it would take to get home.
Mark never returned home.
By 11 pm Mark’s mother Ruth Stebbins, sick with worry, reported her son missing with the police. She described Mark as 4 foot 8, having reddish-blonde hair, blue eyes and weighing around 100 pounds. Ruth also stated Mark was wearing blue jeans, a red jumper and a blue parka coat when he went out that morning. Although a missing child is always worrying the police seemed to have high hopes that nothing sinister was behind the disappearance of Mark Stebbins. Four days later their hopes of a happy resolution were shattered.
On February 19, 1976, Mark Boetigheimer, a local businessman, was making his way across a parking lot in Southfield, some 2 miles from the Ferndale home of Mark Stebbins. Beotigheimer saw what he thought was a mannequin but he soon realized to his horror it was the body of a child.
The body of the victim was soon identified as that of 12-year-old Mark Stebbins.
An autopsy revealed the cause of death as suffocation, possibly with a pillow. There was also evidence that Mark had been sexually assaulted. Discolouration of the wrists and ankles also pointed towards the unfortunate victim been tied-up.
Other than that Mark Stebbins body appeared spotless. It was clear the killer had bathed Mark and thoroughly cleaned him and his clothes before disposing of the body. The time of death was hard to ascertain but it was concluded he had only been dead a short time, meaning Mark had been held captive for several days before his murder.
Days passed to months but there was little progress in the hunt for Mark Stebbins killer. As the summer months passed without further incident the belief the murder of Mark Stebbins was just a painful one-time event became the norm. Life returned to normal for those other than the Stebbins family. The relief, however, quickly transformed to fear when winter came back around.
On December 22, 1976, 12-year-old Jill Robinson took part in a trivial quarrel with her mother as many pre-teens do. She packed some items into her rucksack and stormed out of the families Royal Oak home. Four days later on Boxing Day, a motorist discovered Jill’s body in Troy, Michigan.
The murder of Jill Robinson wasn’t instantly linked to that of Mark Stebbins. Jill died due to been shot in the face at close range with a shotgun. She also hadn’t been the victim of a sexual assault, unlike Mark. The final reason was that they were of the opposite sex, a killer usually has a “type”, it is rare to go after both genders.
There was one significant connection. Jill just like Mark. was found in the same clothes she was wearing when she vanished. Like Mark, these clothes had also been washed before the body was dumped.
There is a theory as to why Jill was killed with a shotgun. The theory is that the killer believed he had suffocated Jill to death but upon placing the body on the snow the killer then realised she was still alive. The killer, therefore, shot Jill in a panic.
The gap between the murders of Mark Stebbins and Jill Robinson was a little over ten months. There would be no such wait for the killers next victim.
On January 2, 1977, just a week after the discovery of Jill Robinson another young girl was reported missing. Earlier that day ten-year-old Kristine Mihelich left home to visit a convenience store just a little over two blocks away to buy a magazine. By 6 pm she had still not returned home. Her distressed mother Deborah Ashcroft reported her missing.
With the recent murder of Jill Robinson, a sense of urgency saw the police quickly begin to investigate the disappearance of Kristine Mihelich. A cashier serving at the store Kristine had set off to visit confirmed that she had been to the store and purchased a magazine that afternoon. Officers went door-to-door in the surrounding area in a hunt for witnesses but came up empty-handed. The search for any other clues as to Kristine’s whereabouts also came up blank. A look at some four thousand known sex offenders in the Michigan area also turned up nothing.
On January 22, 1977 everyone’s worst fears became a reality. Nineteen days after her disappearance the body of Kristine Mihelich was found in the snow, just as Mark Stebbins and Jill Robinson had been.
Kristine was found in Franklin, Michigan placed in a ditch on Bruce Lane. She was fully clothed just like the previous victims. Further examination showed she too had been washed clean.
The cause of death was suffocation, the same as Mark Stebbins, the first victim of the Oakland County Child Killer. There was some debate about whether any sexual assault had taken place. No clear evidence was detectable of a sexual assault, however, it was originally recorded by an autopsy worker that sperm had been found in the victim’s vagina and rectum. This was then dismissed by the state police who stated no sperm was present.
Again the investigation into the Oakland County Child Killer hit a brick wall. Police had no solid leads, no witnesses and little in the way of evidence. Just two months after the discovery of Kristine Mihelich the killer would tragically strike again.
On March 16, 1977, eleven-year-old Timothy King left his family home in Birmingham, Michigan to visit a nearby drugstore to buy sweets. A clerk at the store remembered Timothy visiting the store, buying some sweets and leaving at around 8 30pm. He never returned home.
The parents of Timothy wrote a letter pleading for their son’s safe return. The Detroit News printed the letter, however, the killer failed to comply with the wishes of the King family. On March 22, six days after his disappearance, the body of Timothy King was discovered.
Timothy was found on a dirt road in Livonia, Michigan, marking the first time the Oakland County Child Killer ventured outside the Oakland County border. Due to Livonia been in Wayne County, this brought there force into the case.
Timothy, like all the previous victims, had been well-fed and meticulously cleaned during his days held captive. Timothy’s final meal had been Kentucky Fried Chicken, indicating the killer had read the letter written by Timothy’s parents which noted this as his favourite meal.
The cause of death was suffocation, with the autopsy indicating the murder only took place hours before his body was discovered. This meant the twisted killer had horrifyingly kept Timothy captive for five days during which time he was sexually assaulted by his killer.
Witness Description And Psychological Profile Of The Oakland County Child Killer
Police at least had something to go on as several eyewitnesses came forward. Timothy had been seen speaking to a man driving a blue Gremlin in the parking lot of the drugstore. The suspect was described as a stockily built white male with bushy muttonchops and dark shaggy hair.
A psychological profile of the Oakland County Child Killer was also released. They stated they believed they were looking for an individual who matched the following:
- A white male.
- Age 25 to 30.
- A compulsion for cleanliness.
- A professional or worker children would trust.
- A resident of Oakland County.
- Above-average intelligence.
- White-collar class.
The Mysterious “Allen”
Shortly after the murder of Timothy King, Detroit psychiatrist Dr Bruce Danto received a letter from a man claiming to have vital information on the case. The author, known only as “Allen” proclaimed to be the roommate of the killer.
The killer, named “Frank” in the letter, was a soldier who had fought in Vietnam. “Allen” wrote:
I tell you what makes him do it it Vietnam, we there together, Frank and me, oh Frank not his real name I call him that here. Nam screw up your mindtoo. Tell you something else he killed lots of little kids then with medals for it. Burned them to death bombed them with napalm it’s real becautiful there doc. He wants the rich people like people in Birmingham to suffer like all of us suffered to get nothing back for what we did for out country.
Hes not a monster like you think he really loves children especially that little girl for 3 weeks not doing it because he hates childrens but doing it because he hates everybody else out there and this be his way to get even and get back at everybody.
The author of the letter claimed he wanted out but would only help if he was offered immunity. He told Danto to leave a coded message in the newspaper if he wanted to communicate further.
Dr Bruce Danto placed the coded message “weather bureau says trees to bloom in three weeks” in the newspaper as asked. Danto soon received a phone call from the man known as “Allen” which police recorded. “Allen” agreed to reveal the killer’s identity with photographic proof. A meeting was agreed between “Allen” and Bruce Danto at the Gas Station Lounge at 9 pm the following evening.
The mysterious “Allen” no-showed and was never heard from again.
A recording of the phone conversation was played on the WXYZ radio station in the hope that the voice of “Allen” would be recognised. Alas, it wasn’t and his true identity or that of “Frank” were never revealed. Thus we may never know whether the story is true or if it was a sick hoax.
Despite spending over $2 million on the investigation, having a task force of over one hundred and fifty detectives and receiving close to seventeen thousand tips the Oakland County Child Killer was no nearer to being named. By December 1978 the task force had been terminated and put into the hands of state police. To this day the identity of the Oakland County Child Killer remains unknown.
Other Murder Victims Linked To The Oakland County Child Killer
16-year-old Donna Serra went missing after hitchhiking to the beach after school on September 29th, 1972. On October 20, 1972, just five days after what would’ve been her seventeenth birthday, Donna’s body was found in her home town of Ray Township, Macomb County, just off 27 Mile Road laying face down in a shallow creek.
It appeared Donna had been drugged and held captive for several days before her eventual murder. Her cause of death was strangulation. Despite a new tip-off in 1992, her murder remains unsolved.
13-year-old Jane Allen went missing on August 8, 1976. The young girl was last seen hitchhiking between Pontiac (her boyfriends home) and Royal Oak (her home) in Oakland County. The police didn’t seem initially concerned due to her history of running away. Three days later this opinion was shown to be wrong as Jane’s body was discovered.
Jane Allen was found floating in a river in Miamisburg, Ohio, over 200 miles away from her Royal Oak home. Her hands had been tied behind her back. Decomposition of the body left police unable to determine whether or not the unfortunate girl had been sexually assaulted. They believed Jane was dead before been dumped in the water and that her death was caused by carbon monoxide poisoning. Police don’t believe the murder of Jane Allen is related to the Oakland County Child Killer case.
12-year-old Kimberly King was at a friends house in Warren, Michigan, having a sleepover on September 15, 1979. At around 11 pm she snuck out of the house and used a payphone to call her sister. Her sister told Kimberly to get back inside but she failed to return and was never seen again.
It was initially believed that Kimberly may have been a runaway, however, the investigation soon started to believe she was abducted and possibly the victim of foul play. Kimberly King’s disappearance remains unsolved. Her disappearance has constantly been linked to the Oakland County Child Killer investigation.
10-year-old Amy Mihaljevic went missing from a shopping mall in Bay Village, Ohio, on October 27, 1989. On February 8, 1990, Amy’s remains were discovered in Ashland County, Ohio.
Amy had been bludgeoned around the head and stabbed numerous times. Despite the difference in location, modus operandi and the gap in time from the other murders some are of the belief Amy was murdered by the Oakland County Child Killer.
Judy Ferro, Cynthia Cadieux And Sheila Srock
In the first three weeks of 1976, three teenage girls were all murdered in three neighbouring counties of Michigan. Judy Ferro, 16, was murdered in Wayne County. Cynthia Cadieux, 16, was murdered in Macomb County. Finally, Sheila Srock, 14, was murdered in Oakland County.
All three teenage victims have at times been mentioned as possible victims of the Oakland County Child Killer. The problem is that all three cases have been solved, despite many sites and sources stating they are unsolved.
Judy Ferro Murder
Judy Ferro was found beaten and strangled on January 1, 1976, at Lola Valley Park in Redford. She had spent the previous evening babysitting for the Laut family but when they returned home at 3 am they found Judy gone and the phone ripped from the wall.
A teenage neighbour of the Lauts named Gary Pervinkler soon became the prime suspect. Gary, 19, had also vanished from his home during the same evening having taken a gun and his father’s car.
Although Judy wasn’t shot a bullet casing was found in the Laut’s home. Gary’s body was found on April 7, 1976, he had died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. The casing found in the Laut home was a match to the handgun found besides Gary Pervinkler’s body. Despite doubts from Pervinklers family the case was closed.
Cynthia Cadieux Murder
Just two weeks after the murder of Judy Ferro fellow 16-year-old Cynthia Cadieux was also found murdered. Cynthia had been abducted from the side of the road on January 14, 1976. Her naked body was found early the next morning. She had been tied up, raped and then beaten to death.
Cynthia Cadieux’s murder is often linked to the Oakland County Child Killer and listed as an unsolved case. However, this isn’t the case. In 1979 Robert Anglin and Raymondd Heinrich were convicted of the murder. An unnamed third man was also involved but he had died before the arrests and police refused to release his identity. Both men were sentenced to life in prison.
Sheila Srock Murder.
14-year-old Sheila Srock was murdered just five days after Cyntia Cadieux in Birmingham, Oakland County. Sheila had been babysitting her niece for her older sister when someone entered the home. Sheila was beaten, raped and then shot.
Despite neighbours witnessing the killer leave the scene (and reportedly one witness who saw the entire attack whilst shovelling snow on his roof), it would take police 2 years to find the man responsible. In January 1979 Oliver Rhodes Andrews confessed and was convicted for the murder of Sheila Srock. Again I am not sure why the case gets mentioned as unsolved on occasion or linked to the Oakland County Child Killer.
Suspects And Leads
In 1999 law enforcement took the decision to exhume the body of David Norberg. Suspicion had fallen on Norberg, who was an autoworker, after his death from a car accident in 1981.
After his death, Norberg’s wife was going through his belongings when she came across several items. These included a silver cross which bore the name Kristine – a cross similar to one owned by Kristine Mihelich. Another item was a St Cristopher medal -Timothy King had worn such an item but it wasn’t found with his body.
Norberg’s wife told of how her husband would tie her up which led to David Norberg been strongly suspected in another murder, that of Jane Allen. She told how he would rip bits of cloth from a t-shirt and knot them together to make a rope which he would then use to tie her. The same method had been used on Jane Allen, who was found with her hands tied behind her back.
Law enforcement also suspected him in the disappearance of Kimberly King. At the time of her disappearance, Norberg lived just two streets away. Shortly after Kimberly’s disappearance, Norberg left the area.
Police, however, didn’t get the breakthrough they were hoping for. When compared to a hair found on Timothy King, Norberg’s DNA wasn’t a match. Despite this investigators refused to rule David Norberg out completely as they couldn’t be certain the hair belonged to Timothy’s killer. Even if David Norberg wasn’t the Oakland County Child Killer he is still believed to be a prime suspect in the murder of Jane Allen and the disappearance of Kimberly King.
In 2005 whilst been questioned about an unrelated murder prisoner Richard Lawson gave police the name of the man he believed to be the Oakland County Child Killer. Ted Lamborgine.
Lawson admitted he was part of a group of paedophiles operating in Detroit’s Cass Corridor in the 1970s. Amongst his fellow sick associates were two wealthier men named Bob Moore and Ted Lamborgine, who Lawson knew as Ted Orr.
Lamborgine and Moore would entice and groom young boys from the financially deprived area with money and food before abusing them at Moore’s bike shop or at nearby motels. Lawson told the interviewing officer Lamborgine would also on occasion venture out and attain young boys from wealthier areas such as Birmingham and Royal Oak. The group would also participate in paedophile sex orgies, where guest would bring a child to be shared around.
According to Lawson on one occasion Ted Lamborgine had shown him a photo album owned by Bob Moore. The album contained images of the various young boys that had been abused. Upon one particular photo, Lamborgine turned to Lawson and told him that the child looked like “the King boy” and gave Lawson a wink.
The investigating officers decided to investigate the claims further. They soon found Bob Moore had already deceased. He died of a cardiac arrest in his home with his own Pitbulls indulging in a feast of his remains before he was found. Ted Lamborgine, however, was still very much alive.
Upon his arrest, and to the surprise of the interviewing officers, Ted Lamborgine confessed to much of what Richard Lawson had said. However, despite his confession to being a paedophile, he denied he was also a murderer. Lamborgine agreed to take a lie detector test to prove his innocence.
Investigators had been here before and so they again expected another suspect to pass the polygraph test. This time they were wrong. To there surprise Lamborgine failed the test, the first to do so in over three hundred such tests conducted in relation to the Oakland County Child Killer case.
Unfortunately, there was nothing else to link Lamborgine to the murders. Over a dozen living victims did testify against Lamborgine for sexual abuse against children. He was sentenced to life in prison. Despite been offered a possible plea bargain for information on the Oakland County Child Killer case Lamborgine refused to cooperate.
Since his incarceration rumours have persisted that Ted Lamborgine has confessed on occasions to other prisoners that he abused all the known victims but that he was not the one responsible for the murders themselves. As of writing Ted Lamborgine has still declined to help with the investigation any further.
In 2007 the family of Mark Stebbins filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Lamborgine for $25,000. The family solicitor was adamant the claim was never about the money but instead trying to get new information from Lamborgine. The case was dismissed in 2008.
Christopher Busch became a newly named suspect somewhat by chance in 2006. The King family received a call from a California polygraph examiner, and former friend and neighbour of Timothy King named Patrick Coffey. Coffey told them he had recently attended a conference where he was involved in a revealing conversation.
According to Coffey, Lawrence Wasser, a fellow attendee, informed him that thirty years prior he was asked to conduct a polygraph test arranged by an attorney on her own client. The unnamed client had apparently confessed to being the Oakland County Child Killer. Wasser later denied the details of such a conversation ever taking place, though it is interesting Coffey later gave testimony under oath whilst Wasser failed to do so.
The King family contacted investigators about the new information. Months passed until they received a call from an investigator who asked if the family had known anyone with the last name Busch. Further research by the family revealed a known paedophile who had previously been a suspect back in 1977. His name was Christopher Busch.
Christopher Busch was the son of a high-level executive working for General Motors. He was also known to have repeatedly been arrested for his sexual encounters with children.
In 1977 Christopher Busch’s friend and fellow sicko Gregory Green was arrested. During questioning, Green told officers that he and Busch often fantasized about abducting a young boy and keeping them captive. Green then made the startling claim that Christopher Busch had murdered Mark Stebbins.
Christopher Busch and another associate Douglas Bennett were arrested on multiple charges of sexual conduct with minors. Whilst Bennett admitted to child molestation offences he denied any involvement with the activities of Green and Busch.
Gregory Green and Christopher Busch were then interviewed by Michigan State police and the pair undertook a polygraph test relating to the Oakland County Child Killer cases. Both men passed and were cleared of involvement on January 28, 1977, two months before the murder of final known victim Timothy King.
Gregory Green was sentenced to life for multiple counts of sexual abuse against children. Christopher Busch, however, despite abusing the same child as Green was somehow able to get the charges reduced to molesting boys and was given a probation sentence (a well-connected and wealthy family perhaps?) .
Less than two years later Christopher Busch seemingly took his own life on November 20, 1978. He had, according to his family, killed himself following depression resulting from his ongoing legal troubles. However, question marks of been raised about his death. His room supposedly had no signs of blood splatter and no gunshot residue was found on Busch. Four shell casings were also located in the room. This has led to some speculating that Christopher Busch was murdered, with some theorising the murders were committed by more than one individual and Busch was about to confess so was shut up. No evidence of this exists as far as I am aware.
Two other items of interest were also present in the room. Firstly a bloodstained ligature was discovered. Secondly, a hand-drawn picture of a child seemingly screaming in agony. The boy in the picture closely resembles that of the first victim, Mark Stebbins.
After the death of Christopher Busch, no more known murders were committed by the Oakland County Child Killer. It is also interesting that the task force looking into the murders was dispersed on December 15, 1978, less than a month after the death of Christopher Busch.
James Vincent Gunnels
In 2009 a new task force looking into the murders were able to obtain a new DNA profile from hairs found on the bodies of the first victim Mark Stebbins and the final victim Timothy King. A further hair sample was obtained from a hair found on the body of Kristine Mihelich. This new evidence led law enforcement to two new suspects.
The first of which was James Vincent Gunnels. In 1977 Gunnels was known to have kept company with two other possible suspects in the case – Christopher Busch and Gregory Green, who were both questioned about the killings at the time. Gunnels himself was only 15-years-old at the time and himself a victim of sexual abuse at the hands of Busch and Green.
The evidence which linked James Vincent Gunnels to the Oakland County Child Killer case was the hair found on Kristine Mihelich. The evidence was only a mitochondrial DNA match as opposed to a nuclear or autosomal DNA match, however, it was still seen as an exciting development.
When questioned about this new evidence James Vincent Gunnels, then aged 47, denied knowing the victim and was at a loss to explain how his DNA came to be on Kristine’s body.
In November 2012 Barry King, the father of Timothy King, was sent details of a polygraph test taken by James Vincent Gunnels on July 30, 2009, after a freedom of information request.
In the test, Gunnels was asked three questions in relation to the DNA found on Kristine Mihelich. He was asked if he participated in her killing, if he knew for certain who had killed Kristine and finally if he had physical contact with the victim. James Vincent Gunnels in the words of the examiner “completely failed” the test.
Gunnels wasn’t charged in relation to the Oakland County Child Killer case and for reasons unknown he is no longer considered a suspect by law enforcement. He has continued to state publicly his innocence in relation to the case. Those who believe in Gunnels involvement lean more to him being an accomplice to others as opposed to the killer himself.
The second suspect to come from new DNA evidence was a convicted paedophile named Arch Sloan. The hair samples found on the clothing of victims Mark Stebbins and Timothy King were matched to further hair samples taken from a 1966 Pontiac Bonneville. The vehicle belonged to the new suspect, Arch Sloan.
Arch Sloan, who had a long history of sickening sexual behaviour towards children, was serving a lifetime prison term when the new evidence was discovered. In October of 1983, a workmate of Sloan’s had allowed his 10-year-old son to spend the night with Sloan with the belief they would be going fishing early the next morning. During the stay, Sloan sexually abused and raped the young boy. In 1985 Sloan was convicted for the crime.
Arch Sloan had previously been a suspect at the time of the murders. During the investigation into Sloan, he allowed officers to inspect his 1966 Pontiac, which resulted in the hair sample been collected and stored.
Although there was a DNA match to the hair found in his car, testing revealed it wasn’t a match for Arch Sloan. Despite this investigators strongly believed that Sloan was still involved or at least knew the person or persons that were.
Arch Sloan was offered a deal for his cooperation with the investigation, including his release from prison. Sloan turned down the request. Roughly a decade later the identity of any individual relating to the hair found in the 1966 Pontiac remains unknown.
In a 2019 Investigation Discovery documentary titled Children Of The Snow new information was revealed about Sloan by 7 Investigator Heather Catallo. Catallo, who had covered the case for over sixteen years, states that Sloan took a polygraph test during his questioning sometime between 2010 and 2012. Arch Sloan, like Vince Gunnels and Ted Lamborgine, failed the lie detector test administered by the Oakland County Child Killer task force.
Sources and Further Reading
Portraits In The Snow (Book)