During the winter of 1976/77, four horrific murders of children occurred in Oakland County, Michigan, that remain unsolved. They created a palatable fear in Oakland County and beyond because people in the area had just not experienced anything like it.
I remember this vividly because I was the right age at the time (ten) and even though we lived in the next county, this was all over the news and parents were freaked out throughout SE Michigan. All the rules changed and no children were outside alone, without an adult, ever. No more, "Go ride your bike but be back by summertime," no more, "Yes you can ride your horse to Laura's." (Laura lived over 5 miles away.) No more walking to the library after school and Mom would pick you up later. My bus stop was at the end of our private road, a quarter mile away and although all the families living on the road were on rather uneasy terms, there was always a parent waiting at the bus stop, turns were taken and there were headcounts done and that was just unheard of. (At least I didn't get pudding thrown on me anymore while walking to the bus stop.) Anyway, this put the whole area into a state of near hysteria and primal fear for children.
All four children, two girls and two boys, were snatched out of thin air and after a matter of time, turned up dead.
Mark, of Ferndale, was twelve years old and last seen at an American Legion on February 17, 1976. His body was found two days later in Southfield. He had been strangled and sexually assaulted post-mortem.
Jill lived in Royal Oak and was 12. She had an argument with her mother and told her mother she was running away on December 22, 1976. Her body was found December 26 on the side of I-75 in Troy (a major thoroughfare). She had been killed by a shotgun blast to the face.
Kristine was from Berkley, Michigan, aged ten. She disappeared on her way to a 7-11 in Berkeley on January 2, 1977, being found 19 days later, dumped on a rural road out in Franklin Village. She had been smothered.
Timmy King was 11 and lived in Birmingham. He disappeared March 16, 1977 and was found March 22 in a ditch in Livonia. He had been suffocated and sexually assaulted post-mortem.
At first, police were not convinced that the killings were related, since the victim selection and manners of death were so different. However, when comparisons started being made, the similarities were glaring. All victims were snatched off the street, seemingly into thin air, in safe areas. They were all held captive for a matter of days after the abduction. They showed signs of being well cared for and bathed. One victim even had a favorite dinner after the parent made a plea for the return and promised to serve a favorite meal. All the victims were re-dressed in their own clothing with most of their belongings intact.
There was evidence of sexual trauma on both boys, none on the girls.
There was a plea in the media for help and a task force of over 300 officers and support personel was formed. Rumors and suspicions ran rampant. Among the most relevant: There was a blue AMC Gremlin spotted near one of the snatch sites. This has since be ruled out or discounted.
The task force tried taking a proactive approach, taking out decoy ads in gay magazines and frequenting gay hangouts in hopes of uncovering something, since both boys had been sodomized post-mortem and neither girl had been sexually assaulted in any sort of obvious manner.
The task force received over 100,000 tips and over 20,000 were investigated seriously. Every crackpot in the state came out of the woodwork to confess or offer their "vision".
A priest with a dubious reputation was investigated. There was much speculation that the kids were old enough to know not to go with strangers and would have had to have been fooled into a sense of security. The priest was cleared.
There was no connection between the kids, other than living in the same county in a roughly close geographical area.
Some of the outcome of this dread and fear was the "Nay Nay, Stanger Stay Away" program brought into the schools. It featured a cute little pony who warned about the danger of strangers.
Eventually, the case grew cold with no solid suspects and no DNA at the time but investigators always hoped they would someday catch a break.
They thought they had a break when David Norberg, who had been an initial suspect for the Oakland County Child Killings and some other violent crimes, died. Norberg had been an autoworker in SE Michigan and had moved to Wyoming. He had driven a blue Opal, very similar to a blue Gremlin, and stopped driving it not long after the killings. When he moved to Wyoming, he resumed driving the Opal. He died in a car accident not long after moving. He was apparently a violent man who sexually and physically assaulted not only his wife but also his sister. There was speculation he had killed two girls other than the two who were victims of the OCCK.
When he died, his widow found a silver cross inscribed "Kristine" among his belongings. Kristine Mihelich had owned a cross that her aunt said was identical. Mrs. Norberg also found a St. Christopher's medal, such as the one Timmy King wore that was never recovered, and a green worm pin similar to the one Jill Robinson routinely wore. Sadly, Mrs. Norberg gave these away after her husband died and since so much time had passed, could not remember who she gave them to.
Norberg's DNA was tested and he was cleared.
The case recently went from the back burner to the front again when Michigan Law Enforcement zeroed in on a man named Todd Warzecha, who had moved to Texas. Warzecha had long been suspected in the unsolved murder of two boys in Bay County, Michigan. Police arrived to take Warzecha's DNA samples and instead, found him from hanging in a storage shed on his property, a suicide.
In the dark underbelly of the internet, this case has caused much speculation and armchair sleuthing. I've followed it for about the past five years. Reading sites online, it's difficult to sort the real from the fantasy.
There is one woman who posts on every single forum I have ever seen regarding the case. I'm not going to state her name here but let it suffice to say, she has been kicked off more than one forum, dismissed as a crackpot by law enforcement and has a criminal record herself. (I know this for a fact because I looked her up on Michigan's handy dandy offender tracking system and confirmed it.) She posits that she knew the OCCK, whom she refers to as "John" and over several months of coffee and gentle questioning, he eventually confessed and indeed, detailed all the reasons why he killed the children. She claims she has presented this to law enforcement and at one point, she had the support of a very active forum moderator.
All this panned out to nothing and I put it in the fruit and nuts category. What I'm trying to convey is don't always take what you read online as the gospel truth. If a law enforcement official is quoted, take that seriously. And you can bet, they are holding cards to their vests as well.
The Law Enforcement types are currently bringing a new perspective to the case. They are once again forming a task force, albeit much smaller, and reconstructing all the evidence and reviewing it case by case and resubmitting it for more detailed DNA testing. I've read that there are currently 12 suspects who have not been cleared.
It will be interesting to see how this turns out. I have my fingers crossed for the officers. I know how much this scared the ever loving crap out of my mom and many other parents during the time. I know people who were kids at that time who are still traumatized by it.
And I apologize for having scant information on the victims. There just wasn't a lot of detailed victim biography out there. I know they have families who still miss them, still miss seeing them go to high school, pursue careers, have children themselves. E! is doing a special on serial killers and this case is featured and Timmy King's dad is interviewed. My thoughts and prayers are with the families of these innocent victims and hopefully, justice will be done.
Justice delayed is not justice denied.