How Government Keeps Secrets It Shouldn’t Be Keeping.Posted: October 27, 2019
If the Michigan State Police Task Force and the Oakland County Prosecutor’s Office spent half the time investigating the OCCK murders as they did keeping the case on lock down from any inquiry, we might have gotten somewhere. At least we may have gotten some honest answers about what went wrong and how these agencies plan to deal with the tough cases in the future. Some honest answers and acknowledgement of the mess that was created during this decades-old investigation would have shown some measure of humility toward the children who were trafficked and exploited in Michigan and the four (and probably more) victims of the OCCK killer(s).
Thank you to readers who forward information and links to me. Two arrived within hours of each other and the timing and message are too obvious to ignore. Here is one, a link to a Detroit Metro Times article dated June 5, 2019: “US Attorney: Michigan is the nation’s most corrupt state.” https://www.metrotimes.com/news-hits/archives/2019/06/05/us-attorney-michigan-is-the-nations-most-corrupt-state. While this might be news to some of you, I have felt this way about Oakland County at a gut and later an intellectual level for a very long time. What a surprise, it is apparently endemic to the state. U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider explained that “Our statistics show we lead the nation in corruption cases, by far.” He went on to explain that every state has about one corruption case each year, while larger districts like New York, Los Angeles and Miami usually have four. In Michigan there were 18 per year for the last five years.
The article points out that in 2012 the FBI organized the Detroit Area Public Corruption Task Force to address this widespread corruption. It is still operating “and in some cases local authorities aren’t informed of the fed’s activities BECAUSE THEY CAN’T BE TRUSTED.” Ya think?!
As the reader who sent me this link pointed out, the article goes on to support my gut feeling that the mainstream Michigan press is weak and never asks the hard questions or follows up on agency or law enforcement bullshit.
Of course, the media has a role in all this. The Michigan press generally isn’t known for challenging the power structure, which is well-represented and celebrated at the annual Mackinac Policy Conference. And the state’s media elite that joins lobbyists, politicians, corporate executives, and other powerful state players at Mackinac isn’t there to ask tough questions or challenge anyone — it goes to join in the celebration.
A celebration the reporter goes on to describe as “access journalism at its grossest.” U.S. Attorney Schneider states: “UNTIL THE STATE’S [NEWS]ANCHORS AND REPORTERS REPLACE THEIR LAPDOG INSTINCTS WITH A DRIVE TO TAKE DOWN THOSE WORKING ON BEHALF OF THE POWERFUL, MICHIGAN WILL REMAIN THE NATION’S MOST CORRUPT STATE.”
I have said many tines that the Detroit area press did not ask the hard questions about the OCCK case back in the day and did not adequately cover the revelations about wealthy child trafficker, child rapist and child pornographer Frank Shelden, North Fox Island and Shelden’s alleged list of 270 “sponsors” who liked what he was doing. The Detroit area press ignored the N. Fox Island horror in spite of the fact that at a much smaller newspaper up north, reporter Marilyn Wright was engaged in true investigative journalism on this subject and wrote numerous articles for the Traverse City Record-Eagle.
Nor do I want to overlook the reporting of Marney Keenan for The Detroit News (October 26, 2009) or that of David Ashenfelter for the Detroit Free Press June 17 and 18, 2012) on the actions and missteps of the then OCCK task force. Both were very quick studies and both made a complex story understandable. But, a misinformation campaign by the Oakland County Prosecutor’s office was to follow soon thereafter–the magic hair evidence allegedly linking incarcerated pedophile Arch Sloan’s car to hairs found on Mark and Tim. Hairs that to this very day have not been tested using the most advanced available DNA testing, described in my last post.
Finally, I also want to acknowledge that the articles I read from the Royal Oak Tribune (previously the Royal Oak Daily Tribune) about this case from 1976-78 were uniformly a cut above those in the News and Free Press. Maybe they weren’t as worried about General Motors pulling its advertising dollars, but their articles did seem to address harder issues and angles than those of the two bigger papers. In the wake of the “rejuvenation” of the task force (i.e. fighting with the families and pulling the wool over the public’s eyes), the Tribune published two courageous editorials basically asking public officials and law enforcement to engage in frank discussion. What a concept.
To USAG Scheider’s point, after Marney Keenan’s piece appeared on the front page of The Detroit News (a decade ago yesterday), someone from the Michigan State Police called an editor or two at the News asking why their lap dog, I mean beat reporter, wasn’t covering the task force developments. Here’s a short answer–because he is a pussy and because you would have punished him down the road when he had to contact you on other stories.
There is a good chance Michigan will remain the nation’s most corrupt state.
Then consider this timely article from The Alpena News, sent to me by another reader. https://www.thealpenanews.com/opinion/editorials-and-columns/2019/10/govt-transparency-is-for-you-not-just-me/ The Alpena News is hosting Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel at the Alpena County Library this coming Tuesday, October 29, 2019, at 1 p.m. for a seminar on “transparency laws,” including the Freedom of Information Act and the Michigan Open Meetings Act. Reporter Jason Hinkley explains that “[o]ur reporters will be there and we’ve specifically invited Northeast Michigan government leaders, but we hope you’ll be there, too, to learn how you can make sure government’s not keeping secrets it shouldn’t be keeping.”
Hinkley describes how he and another reporter were investigating the low standard in Michigan’s indigent criminal defense system. They filed FOIA requests with three Michigan counties to obtain the billing records for public defenders to see how much work they were really putting in. Ingham County was the only one to argue they did not have to provide the records because they were exempt. The newspaper appealed this decision to the county board of commissioners, who sided with the newspaper. Hinkley explains: “The county board sided with us, though we reached an agreement through which the State Journal had to pay some astronomical amount–it was around $1,000 if memory serves–for the county to copy all of the bills and redact names and other information they felt should be withheld.”
The $1,000 price tag is clearly contrary to the spirit of the Michigan FOIA. But remember, my Dad paid 10-times that, over $11,000, for 3,500 documents (quite a few of the pages blank, with no explanation for the “exemption”)the Michigan State Police provided in response to a lawsuit filed after they rejected my Dad’s request. The media did not file their own FOIA actions–they relied on the documents my Dad obtained and paid for. Some journalists were provided files from other Michigan jurisdictions, simply upon request. Some of these files were files these agencies told my Dad, who had asked for them first, that the files just didn’t exist. Go figure.
Why is it that the big Michigan press backs off so easily when rebuffed by the Michigan State Police and Oakland County? How did Michigan become the nation’s most corrupt state? Did it start long before officials protected rich people like Frank Shelden and high-ups at General Motors? Did it start long before the state did not protect children and instead protected child traffickers, rapists and pornographers? What was set in motion or maybe set in concrete when Detroit PD used animals like Richard Lawson as “police informants” and turned a blind eye to what he was doing to children? Why don’t we have any answers about how taxpayer money was spent investigating the OCCK murders? Why are the state police allowed to control the entire narrative about this investigation and answer no questions about how this investigation has been approached and where it stands? Oakland County has much to account and atone for, but that would require another very long post, and they are worthless at this point.
J. Reuben Appelman’s book, The Kill Jar, a memoir that addresses the OCCK case and investigation, came out in 2018. https://www.amazon.com/J.-Reuben-Appelman/e/B005HYR13S?ref=dbs_a_mng_rwt_scns_share. In early 2019, Children of the Snow, a 2-part documentary on this case aired on Investigation Discovery, https://www.investigationdiscovery.com/crimefeed/id-shows/oakland-child-killer-children-of-the-snow. It is now airing on Hulu, https://www.hulu.com/series/children-of-the-snow-e5670464-7adc-4907-80c1-9f38ce17ee82, and is available from Amazon. https://www.amazon.com/Children-Snow-Season-1/dp/B07NSGJYMY. WDIV created a series that aired just before Children of the Snow and it appeared on t.v. and online. https://www.clickondetroit.com/news/local/oakland-county-child-killer/oakland-county-child-killer-a-look-back-at-what-happened-in-1976-77-1. Various podcasts have discussed the case in the wake of renewed publicity. Another book is due out and hopefully another documentary. If you think what you have seen and heard so far is a descent into Hell, I believe that what follows will be more intense. Michigan will not be portrayed in a positive light, although a few exceptional investigators (then and now and NOT from the MSP) will hopefully be highlighted. Frankly, I hope Michigan never recovers from the black eye it most certainly deserves at many levels as regards this case (and other child murder and child trafficking and exploitation cases), even as the rare exceptions to the mis- and malfeasance are hopefully distinguished.
Please consider writing or emailing the following Michigan officials and asking them to learn about this case, to figure out what the MSP has done and is currently doing on the OCCK case, why advanced DNA testing has not been done, and why the tip line “advertised” at the conclusion of the Children of the Snow documentary was a cynical and diversionary tactic to make it look like people could come forward with information and actually be heard. Like the case, which they so adamantly describe as “open” and “active,” is actually receiving any real attention.
I have heard from more than a few people that they left a message on the tip line (when they could get through and when the mailbox was not full), and never heard back from anyone. As I said in my last post, I have it on good authority that this cold case is now being handled by one detective–who is brand new to the case, had a full caseload of active cases and NO administrative help to deal with the tip line.
No more gaslighting and bullshit, Michigan. That tip line bullshit was a nice way to end the documentary, but in practice it is a fraud. It is time for the Michigan Governor, the Michigan Attorney General and the Corporal of the Michigan State Police to acknowledge this black hole, the lack of resources and the lies and cover-ups surrounding this case. Make a decision. If you aren’t going to devote resources and demand some answers, just say so. Quit making us twist in the wind.
Thankfully, I am not a constituent. It is important, however, for these officials to be aware of how these crimes affected people who lived and live in Michigan and for them to acknowledge how people have been treated who tried to come forward with information. More importantly, why is all the evidence not being re-run using the most current DNA testing methods. If you have an explanation, let’s hear it. Let’s hear about those magic hairs Jessica Cooper dangled out in a press conference over seven years ago. SEVEN YEARS.
You will need to tell your own story and express any outrage you might feel. Maybe you think it’s time to cut off all funding for this investigation. If that is the case, officials still need to explain their position.
Maybe they will choose to stay in the dark, and not get out ahead of what I sincerely hope is complete exposure of how Michigan officials and law enforcement have dealt with these most heinous crimes. The messages of the two articles I reference above–that Michigan is the nation’s most corrupt state and that entities in Michigan abuse transparency laws, shed light on the very dark OCCK case.
Folks, we really are at the end of the road. You might argue that hey, at least that $11,000 and the investigation by Wayne County and Livonia gives us a pretty good idea of what happened to these kids, various pedophiles who wound up dead during that time, and why the investigation was handled the way it was. But is that what passes for justice in Michigan? It might be. Officials and law enforcement want to have it both ways: (1) We can’t talk because it will disrupt our investigation!; yet (2) We can’t devote resources to this dog of a case, where no one will ever be charged. Oh yeah, and (3) We don’t have to say shit about any of this.
The MSP should be required to explain to the Governor and to the Michigan AG where this case is, how tax dollars have been and are being spent, and why adequate resources have not been provided to back up the claims in the recent documentary that their investigation is active and that the tip line is actually being manned. The AG should also look into the way the Oakland County Prosecutor’s office does business, but that is a completely separate cesspool. Good luck with that. The public is owed answers. Officials may choose to ignore this case, but a really relevant question the Detroit area media should be asking is who has the case now and what happened in the investigation from 2005 forward.
MICHIGAN GOVERNOR GRETCHEN WHITMER
https://www.michigan.gov/whitmer/0,9309,7-387-90498_90663—,00.html (see the “Share Your Opinion” choice to reach via email)
MICHIGAN ATTORNEY GENERAL DANA NESSEL
DIRECTOR OF THE MICHIGAN STATE POLICE, CORPORAL JOSEPH GASPER
There are other people in Michigan who should perhaps be contacted, if so, please comment and leave contact information. Also, people have asked about other serial cases and that will have to be addressed in separate posts. For example, it has been suggested that the “Freeway Phantom” murders (1971-1972, unidentified serial killer abducted, raped and strangled six girls between the ages of 10 and 18 in the Washington, D.C. area) is related. More than a few people have contacted me about other serial murders. I have no information about these other cases. See, for example, the book Murderers of Children: Laurie Dann, Oakland County Child Killer, Christine Schurrer, Freeway Phantom, Jermaine Herron, Martha Ann Johnson, Books LLC (2010).