“The first question people ask me is, will the killer be caught and the second is, will he take another child? Who knows–who in the hell knows. . . . I’d like to see this bastard in jail.”Posted: May 15, 2013
Quote from then-Birmingham Police Chief Jerry Tobin in June 1977. This quote appeared on a website devoted to these crimes in July 2009. My brother saw this on the website and sent it to me immediately. What did I think of this quote from an article by Jane Briggs-Bunting in The Detroit Free Press? I think I explained early on that over the years my Mom had saved many, many newspapers covering the murder of her youngest son. We opened these boxes and combed through them after her death in September 2004.
I checked for this particular article, but did not have it. But I sure as hell had others that echoed the same sentiment. But this article, appearing on another website, was particularly interesting. What follows are quotes from this and other news articles on the same subject, as well as the email exchanges with my bro.
Here’s what the website said:
Yes, many local police already knew in June 1977 that the chances of catching the OCCK were slim. Birmingham Police Chief Jerry Tobin thought the answer was, even if we never solve the crime, ‘We can make the killer paranoid that everyone’s watching him . . . and prevent him from killing another child.’ . . . ‘ The first question people ask me is, will the killer be caught and the second is, will he take another child? . . . ‘Who in the hell knows? I’d like to see this bastard in jail. But if we never solve these murders, preventing another abduction would be our goal.’
From website, quoting article in The Detroit Free Press, June, 1977, by Jane Briggs-Bunting (no specific date given).
As my brother observed in an email dated July 27, 2009, “[t]his quote goes against the grain of every cop quote I have ever seen. What happened to ‘We will never rest until we bring this vicious murderer to justice,’ and ‘We will do everything we can, but we may need the public’s help to solve this case’? As my brother observed, this article was mid-summer. “There was shit about the killings being only in the winter in the press at the time. Why wasn’t the chief asking the public to remain vigilant? Why wasn’t he urging people who might have guilty knowledge to come forward? Instead, we get ‘who in the hell knows’ and ‘I’d like to see this bastard in jail.'”
On the one hand, Tobin’s quote reflects the belief that the chances that catching the killer were slim, but another way the quote makes sense is that he knew the case would never be solved, but he was pretty sure another abduction would not take place. And before you send me an email about me being a conspiracy theorist, when LE and prosecutors handle a case this way, it leaves it open to all of this speculation.
My brother and I discussed the fact that we initially thought any possible cover-up of Busch’s involvement may have happened after his “suicide” in November 1978 (“shit, it couldn’t have been him–there was that polygraph clearing him–and, no matter, he’s dead”), but that it was possible old H. Lee Busch was able to say “We’ll put him in a mental hospital in Europe,” and keep it quiet that way. Yeah, it’s just a possibility. But shoddy police work has left open a lot of possibilities.
This scenario jibes with the statement made by an ex-Oakland County Sheriffs deputy to a friend of our family–which, as my brother observed, was not “It was some rich kid from Bloomfield HIlls, but he’s dead now,” it was something like “It was some rich kid from Bloomfield Hills, BUT WE COULDN’T TOUCH HIM.”
My brother also observed: “When it comes to conspiracy theories, the age-old question is always ‘ineptitude/laziness or cover-up.” A conspiracy is an agreement between two or more people for an illicit purpose. This happens every goddamn day. All you have to do to discredit a conspiracy is attach the word “theory” to it. Turns people’s brains right off, but it shouldn’t.
As my brother also pointed out, “the ‘this bastard’ quote is interesting [if it’s accurate–we do not have this actual article]. Does the word ‘this’ possibly connote knowledge of a specific person? If he didn’t know the identity of the suspect, would he be more likely to say ‘the bastard’? Compare it to ‘this killer’/’the killer.’ Also, why the assumption it is just one person?”
And the construction I’d LIKE to see this bastard in jail? That’s a weird construction for a cop, unless you count “I’d LIKE another doughnut.” As my brother notes, Chief Tobin is already moving the goalposts, announcing that the goal is not bringing the murderer to justice, but “preventing another abduction.” Why? Is Tobin implicitly indicating that they don’t have jack shit and are totally clueless, or is the real reason that there is a cover-up in place–that they know damn well they’ll never bring the killer in (because H. Lee Busch will never allow that), but are rationalizing it all by saying that at least the abductions will stop?Or simply covering bases in case, as actually happened, Chris Busch bubbles to the surface and, they don’t know if he is or isn’t the killer, aren’t about to look into it further, but he smells really, really bad and they need to squelch any further inquiry? So, so sick,
I remember feeling really bad for Tim’s classmates after I overheard my Mom talking to someone during the week Tim was missing. She said she knew why my brothers didn’t want to sleep in their room–because Tim’s empty bed was a reminder of what was going on. It was one big room and all three of them shared the room. She also observed that Tim’s empty desk at school had to be hurting his classmates every minute.
I knew everyone in Birmingham and all Oakland County suburbs was scared out of their minds. Over the years–even when I lived in Idaho for more than two decades, I would occasionally run into someone who lived in Oakland County during that very dark time. Someone who was parenting young kids at that time, or someone who was Tim’s age or younger. Their memories always rattled me.
I went to college five months after Tim was murdered and spent as little time back in B’ham after that as possible. It still is hard for me to go to Michigan. When I would drive back from college in Wisconsin and see the sign marking the cross into Oakland County, I would always mentally fill in “Child Killer” after Oakland County. A friends’ mom said to me at one point “you don’t come around much.” I felt like saying “ya think????!!,” but I didn’t. Long way of saying I never saw the long term impact these crimes had on the community.
I’m guessing family members of Mark, Jill and Kris might say the same thing, but I found that in spite of the support of friends, the experience was, in addition to being devastating, incredibly isolating. My brothers and I used the phrase “Ground Zero” long, long before 9/11 to describe it. All of B’ham, Ferndale, Berkley, Royal Oak and Livonia can be considered Ground Zero in many senses, but let me assure you that at the homes of these four kids, it was beyond words. When a community is doing triage after something this heinous, the completely broken people can’t really be helped. They are goners–move on.
So I had no idea, but I should have, how this nightmare would affect kids growing up in Oakland County post-OCCK. I feel privileged that some have them reached out to me. It makes me realize we really were not alone. At least 15 people have told me over the years how this crime impacted their parenting, long before this crap bubbled to the surface in the past 6-7 years.
Now to the point. A reader who was eight or nine at the time Tim was murdered recently wrote:
“I seem to recall seeing a TV news story, perhaps in late 1978 or 1979, to the effect that police officials announced that they were either ending, or at least winding down, the OCCK investigation. I can’t remember exactly. I do remember it being probably about a couple years after Tim’s death (and for what it’s worth, I seem to recall that I saw it on Channel 7). But what I remember more than anything else was that the police were quoted as stating that they believed that the killer–and this is virtually as direct a quote as I can provide 35 years later–that the killer ‘was either dead, or in a mental hospital.’ Again, I was very young when I saw this, but I remember it quite well, and more to the point–this may be the only instance of a case where the police publicly announced, not an arrest, but that they believed that the killer was dead or in a mental hospital.
This observation is remarkable, not only because of its substance, but because some poor kid was dialed in to this enough to pick up on what police were saying and remembers it to this day.
This was something one of my brothers and I were talking about in late July, 2009. I am going to quote extensively from the emails he and I exchanged on this observation police made repeatedly in the months and years after Tim was murdered.
In October of 1978 (yes, pre-Chris Busch “suicide”) it was reported that the OCCK task force was due to run out of money by the end of the year and that it would be disbanded. It was officially terminated in mid-December 1978. The investigation would always be considered open, and all tips would be actively investigated, don’t you know. But this guy’s memory is right on. Although the task force was officially deep-sixed at the end of 1978, those quotes about the killer being dead or in a mental institution were repeated in 1980 when the MSP assigned one guy to babysit the OCCK case in the off-chance someone grew a conscience or the police connected the dots. Emphasis on “off-chance.”
More on the interesting newspaper quotes my brother and I found and discussed in July 27, 2009, in the next post.
“What if the killer is from a very wealthy family? Suppose the parents discover their son is the killer and send him off to Europe for psychiatric treatment. The family name is spared, their son is receiving treatment, and they are sure no one else will be killed. They can live with that.”
MSP Lt. Joe Koenig, quoted in The Detroit News on March 16, 1980.
“We went over those tips so many times. I don’t think it will do any good [to reexamine tips]. But they can do what they want.”
MSP OCCK Task Force Commander Robert Robertson, March 16, 1980, in response to a reexamination of tips by a MSP lieutenant assigned to same in January of that year.