A lot has changed since 1976 and 1977. Work computers to log and quantify data. Home computers and laptops. The internet. Cell phones and cameras. DNA testing. MtDNA testing. Police body cameras. Surveillance cameras. Fingerprint databases. Child Pornography databases. Sex offender registries. Ancestry databases and GEDmatch.
But before Facebook (2004) and podcasts (late 2004), and before America’s obsession with true crime stories (2009, 2020-01-11_191038), cold case forums started cropping up on the internet. No longer relegated to the one-way street of t.v. shows about murders and unsolved crimes, people could now discuss cases, mostly unsolved cases, compare notes, ask questions and vent frustrations. Web sleuthing began.
In March 2001, Todd Matthews, then the ColdCases Moderator/Media Director for Doenetwork & Outpost for Hope, posted a site called “1976-77 Oakland County Child Slayings.” The site began with the unedited transcript segments from Helen Dagner, who claimed to know the killer. In it, Dagner describes months of conversations she had with a man John in 1991. Take a look.
John was investigated in Alpena, MI in 1992, and he walked. Although the FOIA request my family would file more than a decade later was confined to file information about Christopher Busch and Greg Green, the case file on John was included, so I know he was investigated then and again in 2009. The records are quite detailed. After 1992, John moves to Atlanta, Georgia and Helen continues her own investigation.
Helen later started her own forums about the OCCK crimes. For example, http://cloakdagner.proboards.com/, and http://cloakdagner.proboards.com/thread/251/archives-oakland-county-child-murders. This case also was discussed on the forum Topix, back when that site allowed some pretty unbridled bad shit to go on. Some posters on Topix were threatening, crude and/or crazy. It was the early days of hiding behind a screen name. John’s full name, John Hastings, appeared on Topix. Helen took no prisoners. If you didn’t think John was involved, you were in for a fight. Unfortunately, she lied when she thought it helped her cause. This caused distrust with police as well as some who were interested in helping her out.
Helen died in November of 2018. There are lots of Helen stories out there and trust me, I got kicked in the face as hard as anybody out there. NO comments below, please, about your opinion, history or run-ins with Helen or Topix war stories. I will delete them. That’s not the point here.
The OCCK case stayed alive because of Helen Dagner. It did; sorry if you disagree. Back when many people over 50 could barely navigate their at-home emails, Helen went public with her story online after the police dusted her off. When I read the comments/updates on Todd Matthew’s site, I was really alarmed. Say what you want at that point about John as either suspect, participant or lying sack of shit, those comments carried one basic theme: Oakland County wants this case to go away for good. Thanks for the tip, now get lost.
Here’s something pretty awesome. Helen would monitor who was on her site(s) and for how long. She sent me many pages showing visitors from Oakland County government and the MSP. Here is an example–while this one is somewhat primitive, the IP address reports were much improved down the road, and quite informative. 2020-01-11_190906
Once the task force was “revitalized,” Helen had many discussions/communications with Dets. Gray and Robertson. Like it or not, Helen had some good sources and some of them were law enforcement. She never revealed her sources. A few of us have racked our brains trying to remember where that OCCK blonde suspect sketch came from. We just remember we saw or got it through Helen.
When I first read Helen’s 2001 “testimony” on Todd’s site in 2006, I sent a copy to a friend who was a private investigator/polygrapher (previously a police officer and a police chief). I also included copies of many newspaper articles about my brother’s case, as well as correspondence retired Det./Sgt. Jack Kalbfleisch had given me concerning the LeMans information that was never made public. I begged my friend for his opinion. He got back to me in May 2006. Regarding Helen, he said: “Cathy, a person can be crazy and still be right.”
Regarding the failures of the MSP, he told me had often crossed paths with polygraphers from the MSP and polygraph conferences and thought they had a good reputation. He said he was going to a polygraph conference in Las Vegas in a few weeks and would ask about this new task force and get a feel for whether they were really on to something, or spending money making more rabbit holes.
At this point I said, this is probably a long-shot, but I have a childhood friend who is a polygrapher in California. He lived across the street from where we lived and knew my brother Tim and our entire family. I told him if he crossed paths with Patrick Coffey, Patrick would be able to tell him more about my brother. The phone went silent and my friend said “Patrick Coffey? Patrick filled in to help teach a polygraph course in Idaho with me recently.” My friend went on to explain that Patrick was a really good guy, and that at the last minute he was subbed in for another guy who couldn’t teach that week. Michigan–Idaho–California. What are the odds?
In July I received a call from my friend. He sounded pretty freaked out. He said he had met up with Patrick at the polygraph conference and would be calling me asap and that I needed to take the call. He assured me that what Patrick had to say was very important and to listen carefully.
I learned that when my friend approached Patrick at the conference, he told him they had a mutual friend–me. Patrick had hours before encountered Larry Wasser, a Southfield, MI, polygrapher who told him he had crossed paths with the man who killed my brother. So when I keep saying on my blog that the Universe wants this case solved, I don’t know how much more evidence you all need. It took time, but eventually we got the name of the man Wasser was speaking of. Christopher Brian Busch.
For more about this background, see After the Snow: The Oakland County Child Murders and the Search for the Killer, a master’s thesis written by Julia Cianci. Julia was completing her MFA in nonfiction writing and a mutual friend suggested we talk. Julia spent hours talking with me, face-to-face and online. She was the only person who would listen to me and to this day, the only person who asked me open-ended questions. Her thesis explains how I got involved with Helen Dagner. The thesis ended long before the case blew up. Julia was kind enough to get permission from her professors to keep the dissertation “closed” and unpublished online for a few years so as not to jeopardize the investigation. I see that it has been downloaded over 5,000 times since 2009. https://scholarworks.uno.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1139&context=td *Some names were changed to protect identities. Some people who had come forward were not treated very well.
Christopher Brian Busch lived .4 miles from Helen’s suspect, John Hastings. https://www.google.com/maps/dir/200+Tuckahoe+Rd,+Bloomfield+Hills,+MI+48301/3310+Morningview+Terrace,+Bloomfield+Hills,+MIemail@example.com,-83.2603178,16.59z/data=!4m13!4m12!1m5!1m1!1s0x8824b87d26709c65:0x636822e21f0af1fd!2m2!1d-83.260512!2d42.5465639!1m5!1m1!1s0x8824b87ddd93e267:0xfdb882e950f57413!2m2!1d-83.256392!2d42.547208
I pointed this out to Detective Williams on December 27, 2007. 2020-01-11_191155
Investigators later went to Atlanta and spoke with John Hastings again on August 10, 2009. He was again sent on his way. 2020-01-11_191303
His DNA does not match the hairs found on Mark, Tim, Krisine, and in Sloan’s 1966 Bonneville. I don’t know that he ever took the polygraph to be set up by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
This is the point of my post: If Helen Dagner had not kept after this, no one would really be the wiser about how this case got “handled” in the past. I would have never known enough to be very careful with that polygrapher tip. It would have gotten buried and we would have heard more of the same: Too bad, so sad, we just can’t wrap this case up. Ted Lamborgine, Richard Lawson, Arch Sloan, Christopher Busch, Greg Green, Vince Gunnels, David Norberg, Todd Warszchycha, John Hastings, John McKinney. Just names on a whodunit dance card.
Millions of dollars to create more rabbit holes. “You can be crazy and still be right.” And you can be smart and still be wrong.