March 16 fell on a Wednesday in 1977. It was the last day I would see my brother Tim alive. Five days earlier, my Dad turned 46. My brother Chris had his 16th birthday on Tuesday.
That day, after a typically god awful Midwest winter, it was 70-plus degrees. People were giddy. My brother Tim skateboarded at the Hunter-Maple Pharmacy/Chatham Supermarket parking lot with three other friends all afternoon after school. The lot had a decent incline, and the kids would skateboard from the top of the lot to the bottom. This lot was four blocks from our house. It was very near Adams Elementary School, where Tim and his friends were in 6th grade, and Poppleton Park. (BTW, Chris Busch’s oldest brother, Charles, lived with his family directly across the street from Poppleton Park at that time.) One of Tim’s friends walked home from the lot around 5 p.m. Tim showed up at home later and had dinner.
The previous week, some friends invited me to go to see Jerry Lewis’ stand-up routine at a new hotel/conference center in Dearborn. I put off asking my Mom because I figured the answer would be no since it was a school night. I was a senior in high school. My friends asked again, so I pitched it to my Mom on that Monday and she said yes.
After school on Wednesday, I babysat for two kids I had been babysitting off and on since the summer after 6th grade. I don’t remember eating dinner at home that night and maybe had dinner with the kids I was babysitting.
After I got home, as I was getting ready to go out, my Mom told me she and my Dad were going to a client’s house for a will signing. My Mom was going as the witness. She said that she had talked to Tim and they were letting him stay home alone because he had been asking to be able to do that for some time. My brother Mark, a 9th grader, had play practice at the junior high and had already left home. Chris was babysitting for another family and offered to have Tim come with him. My parents then left, went to the client’s house and then decided to go out for a quick dinner after that.
Although I wanted to go to the show, I was not all that fired up about getting dressed up for it. As I was sitting on our couch looking down to buckle the ankle strap of my shoe, Tim came into the room, stood in front of me and said “You look pretty.” I was caught off guard because, although I was close with Tim, none of my brothers ever said anything like that to me back then, ever. And had Tim said it in front of the other two, they probably would have hacked on him for it. I smiled and looked at him and said “thanks” and then he got kind of an impish look on his face. I said “Ok, what do you want?” He smiled and asked if he could borrow money from me and run up to Hunter-Maple to buy some candy. I did not immediately agree and I forget what I said but he said “please,” with a big smile. He explained that he was saving his money (from a newspaper route—back when a kid could have one without getting murdered) for a blue running suit—a track suit. I had a part-time job as a waitress and I had a big jar of change in my bedroom with tip money in it. I did laugh, because at least he asked rather than helping himself. Truthfully, my concern was Tim crossing Adams Road—and I told him to be careful. I said I would leave the front screen door closed but crack open the main front door because otherwise the door would lock shut behind me when I left. Tim was very grateful, very happy, and he left through the front door. Soon after that my friends picked me up and we went to Dearborn.
Although I distinctly remember having seen the faces of Mark Stebbins, Jill Robinson and Kristine Mihelich in the newspapers over the past year-plus, never—not once—did I think about the possibility that a serial killer or killers was running around abducting kids from neighboring suburbs and that predators were crawling around Oakland County. So I am not making it up when I say Tim had never been left on his own before—this was the first time my Mom agreed to it, and that I never, not once thought about the possibility of Tim crossing paths with a serial killer or pedophile. I was worried about the drivers on Adams Road.
While I was headed to the show, my brother bought candy at Hunter-Maple and then was seen talking to a man in the parking lot. My parents got home and Tim was not there. Mark and Chris show up and don’t have any idea where Tim is. My parents get concerned around 9 pm (?) and call the Birmingham police. The officer who responded to the call immediately picked up on the fact that an 11-year-old kid was missing and that given what had happened over the previous 13 months in neighboring suburbs, this was cause for very serious concern.
The drinking age was 18 in 1977. I was 17, but we all got served at the bar after the show. No one asked for any I.D. We were all dressed up and looked older than we were that night. We pulled into my driveway closer to 2 am than midnight. All of the lights were on at my house. We all assumed we were in very deep shit. My friends took off to go face the music at their homes. As soon as I walked in my parents asked me if I knew where Tim was. I told them about giving Tim the money, him heading to the store, and how I left the door open a bit so he could get back in. I was their last hope. Their shoulders totally sunk when I told them what had taken place in the living room hours before.
While I was at the show, when my brother Chris learned no one knew where Tim was, he ran around the neighborhood in the dark carrying a baseball bat. He did go into the Hunter-Maple parking lot, which was empty except for a few cars. One was a blue Gremlin with a white hockey stripe. Chris looked in the car and saw that it had the denim interior option, which he had always thought was pretty cool. He told police numerous times he had seen this Gremlin in the parking lot later in the evening—he said he thought maybe someone who lived adjacent to the lot maybe had parked there overnight rather than on the streets, which were not wide. In a few days the news would be inundated with requests to look out for a blue Gremlin with a white hockey stripe because a woman had seen a boy who looked like Tim standing next to such a car talking to a man. Chris never believed the Gremlin was involved, but that’s all the cops had and they blew Chris off because he was a kid.
My Mom and Chris also drove around the neighborhood that night. They stopped in front of Tim’s friend’s house on nearby Madison Street. Maybe Tim was there. The house was completely dark. My Mom broke down sobbing. Chris offered to go to the door anyway, but she said no. They went home.
After I walked in, my parents told me what the police had said—that this did not look good at all. My Mom was terrorized. I asked her if anyone had called the local hospitals to see if a little boy had been treated at the emergency room or admitted. She said no and I made the calls while she stood next to me. Of course the answer was “no.” We all knew Tim did not run away, although that’s the first thing people say. I can’t even put into words the feeling of helplessness and fear we all felt.
The next day I went to school and I couldn’t handle being there. I told a few friends what was going on—one or two hoped Tim had just run away for a night. (Right.) As I drove home that morning, I saw low-flying helicopters near our neighborhood. I screamed out Tim’s name in my car, clenched the steering wheel and started crying uncontrollably. I was scared shitless and I knew wherever Tim was, he was too.
Beginning that day, police were at our house 24/7. One officer had the day shift, the other the night shift. They ran a lot of defense for us and were incredibly kind.
We were all interviewed by police and the FBI in the next 24-36 hours. When the FBI agent couldn’t even look me in the eye, I knew it was all over. He looked like he was about to cry himself. He apologized more than once for having to ask me these questions.
I don’t know why, but I think my parents made my brothers go to school during the week Tim was missing. I didn’t go. I couldn’t sleep and was up for 24 hours at a time more than once that week. I would manage, but when neighbors or friends stopped by and I saw the looks on their faces, again I knew this was the end of life as we knew it and that Tim was being subjected to some very bad treatment while we were all hiding at home. The next day my Dad walked into the basement where my brothers and I, along with my best friend, were talking in hushed tones. He needed to use the downstairs phone. He looked at us and stopped up short, shook his head and then said almost to himself “if you kids can live through this, you can live through anything.” He quickly used the phone and went back upstairs to deal with the police. We all looked at each other and said nothing. There was nothing to say.