The Impact of these Crimes on Oakland County Children, circa 1976-77Posted: May 15, 2013
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.