The enigmatic Mr. McKinney.

Among the hundreds of pages of interviews of people who thought John McKinney was the most gentle, kind, sympathetic, prince of a man, there are also signs that he had some serious “not so nice” shit going on. In this post I am going to pull some of the threads that stuck out to me and highlight in the next post the few times the child killings come up in 800-plus pages.

As you read the documents, you will see that McKinney, a nondenominational minister and art gallery owner, had a very unconventional approach to “marriage counseling.” The kind that could probably get you murdered. Obviously bisexual (although not to some of his patrons and some church admirers), he had all kinds of hook-ups in the mix. It’s obvious he treated his mistresses and his boyfriends much, much better than he did his wife and kids. There’s no hypocrite like a religious hypocrite.

His business did not appear to be doing well. He may have owed someone money. While the investigation looked at individuals who might have had reason to want McKinney dead, it is clear from the evidence at the crime scene and the condition of McKinney’s body that more than one person was present when he was murdered. The killer(s) spent some time with him before he died. He was beaten approximately 30 minutes to an hour before he was shot in the head. The beating started upstairs and McKinney went into a downstairs bathroom at some point before he was shot. A gold chair was pulled over so it was outside the bathroom. Doesn’t really seem like the time for a sit down.

While suspect names are redacted (it is, after all, an unsolved homicide), during the investigation a number are later polygraphed and cleared. In fact, many people consented to and passed polygraphs. See, e.g., FOIA documents (“FOIA”) 610, 809, 835. Therefore their names show up later unredacted.

Dr. Shitheel Sillery was the Oakland County ME who performed the autopsy on McKinney. A Birmingham police officer assigned to attending the autopsy wrote a report that indicated “[a]t no time during the autopsy did this Dr. Sillery indicate the time of death, nor did he say what caused the victim’s death.” FOIA 12. This police narrative indicated McKinney had been severely beaten before his death, including “black and blue bruises on the victim’s scrotum indicating to the doctor that the subject may have been severely beaten up.” FOIA 10. Later an undated transcript shows a detective called Sillery to get some idea what his fucking report was going to say since it was still not ready and police were trying to move the investigation along. FOIA 33.

Sillery tells the detective that although McKinney was hit or kicked on the right side of his back and the left side of his chest, there were blows to his face, jaw broken, his nose broken, his left arm scratched and lacerated, there was no bruise to the scrotum. It was jock itch, according to the good doctor. FOIA 35. Ok, pal, I’m going to have to defer to you on that one rather than run a Google image search to see if jock itch ever presents as black and blue. The undated autopsy protocol, when it finally issues, simply states that “[t]he genitalia are those of an adult male.” This pathologist is a real brain surgeon. No mention of jock itch or bruising. Maybe it all cleared up post-mortem. FOIA 155.

Two days after McKinney’s body is found, staff from the state crime lab and Joe Krease (MSP, second in command of the OCCK task force) met with the Birmingham police to discuss the case. FOIA 76. There is no detailing of this discussion to be found in the FOIA documents.

FOIA 113 and 114 are photos of portions of an envelope found at the crime scene that would have contained photographs (“Order extra prints now!”).

Part-time gallery employee Freda Riccardo told police she “feels as if John McKinney was hiding something in the gallery” and whatever it was he didn’t want an employee to become too familiar with it. She also said that McKinney “had strong feelings about the occult.” FOIA 197. Other friends (a couple) said that “John was getting into religion so strongly that it was almost becoming an occult [sic].” FOIA 214.

A number of people interviewed observed changes in McKinney, most saying over the prior six months. (March 1977. Hmm.) A friend of McKinney’s mentions other friends (a couple) “knew of John’s changing lifestyle, app. 6 months ago.” FOIA 119. A Dr. Schorenstein “stated he always knew John McKinney as a very neat person” and that “some time ago John was apparently going through some kind of change because his dress style and his hair styles changed from neat and conservative to a little on the hippie side.” FOIA 175.

A gallery employee also told police McKinney was “meticulously clean.” FOIA 328.

A woman who had worked with McKinney at The Little Gallery described a period beginning in 1973 where she and her friends observed that “John is not the John he used to be.” FOIA 448. She describes him returning to “his old self” in the year prior to his murder, but “there was a period there where I just didn’t understand John, I didn’t know the man.” FOIA 448. Thomas W. Kneff told police he “noticed a big change in the personality of John McKinney.” FOIA 479. His description of the change is not very helpful, but it sounded like in May 1977 McKinney was not the hustling, energetic art gallery owner Kneff had previously known.

A customer and friend said a mutual acquaintance mentioned “about 6 months ago or so that John was going through an incredible [inner-turmoil] about” various relationships in his life. FOIA 787. He described McKinney as moody and suggested police take a look at McKinney’s customer list which “can’t be that big.”

Gallery employee Steve Accomando tells police that McKinney “is always going to somebody. He always has an appointment, all the time, is never home because he is with the people that he knows for some reason or another. People about seeing somebody about art, or speaking at some you know something because he is on a lot of committees and stuff but I don’t know what any of them are. FOIA 269. While Accomando did not know anybody who would want to harm John, McKinney “did say he had some enemies . . . he talked about them but he never said who.” FOIA 271. He explained that in the last couple of weeks before the murder “John McKinney was up tight and edgy and he was making a lot of mistakes in his work. He was unable to comprehend why John McKinney was in this state of mind.” FOIA 488.

In one of the many pages that are out-of-order, Martin Hoogasian tells police McKinney and his “buddy” Doug Webster (previously a part owner of the gallery) “are simulated by crows. In other words, John McKinney and Doug Webster at times picture themselves as crows.” FOIA 199, 417. He states that “John McKinney has become involved in ‘Don Juan’ magic.” FOIA 416. There are other references in the documents to triangles and pyramids in the documents that may mean something to someone more well-versed in what this might mean.

In another interview, a man tells police that McKinney and Webster “were on you might say a mystical level without even doing it verbally.” FOIA 749. “Since the energy got to be so much between the[m] they both realized they better separate for a while so this person went to Arizona or some place like that you know out in the west.” FOIA 750.

A letter to police describes Doug Webster’s exit to Arizona was because John’s “mind power” was too great and Doug “could not take it any more.” FOIA 805.

On September 21, 1977, the day after McKinney’s body was found, Birmingham police received a call from an unidentified person who “stated that John McKinney had been involved in homosexual activities since he was 13 years of age. He stated that Mrs. McKinney should know who his present boyfriend is. He also stated that John McKinney’s brother, a Harley McKinney [redacted] could verify John’s homosexual activities. FOIA 201.

That same day, a reporter for the Detroit News stated that “he had heard rumors that John McKinney had contacts with the Underworld. He stated [McKinney] spent Sunday’s at the Bloomfield Hills Nursing Home at Square Lake and Woodward.” The reporter stated “that this nursing home, according to his sources, is operated by Lenny Shultz who is a noted underworld person.” FOIA 201.

Dr. Henry Phillips told police that “not many people knew it, but that John McKinney had a very bad temper.” FOIA 212. Sally Saunders, who had known McKinney for many years, told police “John would get angry and turn almost white, but would not show his rage physically.” FOIA 229.

A part-time employee told police that she felt McKinney “would tell people what he wanted them to hear” and that she “did not believe everything John McKinney told her.” FOIA 429.

The wife of one of McKinney’s assistant pastors told police she “only saw the good side of John McKinney,” and added that several years ago McKinney was known as Bill–that all his friends called him Bill.” McKinney requested they start calling him John over the past few years. FOIA 492, 493.

A waitress who served McKinney and his mistress Linda Webster on Sunday, September 18, some 24 to 36 hours before the murder, told police McKinney “did seem somewhat nervous.” FOIA 230. The next morning McKinney was late for a meeting and apologized saying “he had a very trying Sunday and he slept in.” FOIA 238, 362.

Mention is made in various places, in response to police questioning, that McKinney was using or renting an apartment in the area. FOIA 214. Nobody comes up with an exact location or address. “[S]ome time ago John made a deposit to move into an apartment complex, however something happen[ed] and that fizzled out,” this was maybe the Clifford West Mansion at Lone Pine and Cranbrook. FOIA 228. Another friend told police he “knew for the last two or three years [McKinney] did not go home very much at night, he slept in the Gallery or I don’t know where else he did not go home.” FOIA 290. Another man mentions that about “a year ago or something like that,” McKinney had taken up residence in Birmingham.” FOIA 304. Dr. Schornstein told police that Peggy DeSalle helped finance McKinney’s home in Troy, which was news to him as he thought McKinney lived in Clawson. FOIA 384. He did not know of any other home McKinney had or any apartment he may have leased. FOIA 384. Another person said McKinney “had taken up residence in Birmingham, that was around the time when he got in that car accident, um the summertime. I don’t remember.” FOIA 749. Said another: “John also told me he had an apartment though nobody that I’ve talked with said they knew of one.” FOIA 805.

Nowhere in the documents is there any mention of Pat and Donna Coffey, our neighbors, who were described to me as “silent partners” in McKinney’s gallery. At FOIA 529, however Doug Webster, a 1973 BFA graduate of EMU, mentions that in 1973 Kevin “Coffee” was working for McKinney doing framing and other work. Kevin is the eldest of the Coffey kids. Webster says that Kevin left McKinney’s gallery later in 1973 and then he went to work there.

As of early December 1977, a B’ham PD sergeant reports that double-agent Assistant Prosecutor Richard Thompson, chief deputy to Brooks Patterson, “wants to get together with me and discuss the case.” FOIA 518. There is no further mention of such a meeting in the FOIA documents, however after a suspect (name redacted) is polygraphed and caught deliberately distorting the exam, he is taken to the OCP office so DICK can interview him. FOIA 522. The man was polygraphed again in two weeks or so and cleared.

Police spend a lot of time trying to identify the origin of two pieces of cloth art work that were found in the center of McKinney’s desk the morning his body was found. The pieces were batiks and signed Cigler 77. More on that later. For now, know that mention of this piece or pieces is at FOIA 165, 183-84, 190, 209, 306, 403, 433, 434, 459, 476, 480, 751-52. At the time no one interviewed knew of this artist. But one of my readers knows who this is. These brief mentions of the Cigler piece(s) probably will not add much to the mix, but you never know.

FOIA 674 is interesting. Check the date:

My next post will address some specific mention of the child killings in the FOIA documents, as well as reports concerning a “fortune teller” police met with in this case. Obviously in today’s world she would be known as a medium. I am impressed police met with her. My money’s on the medium. Next post.

Pages referred to above:

Coincidence? A case of “you can make anything fit if you try hard enough?” Or a missing piece?

In 2021 I filed a FOIA request with the Birmingham Police Department for the case file on the September 1977 homicide of 50-year-old John McKinney. The estimate for the documents was $2,300. I took a pass on that, as had someone/some group before me who had requested the files and also decided that the money would be better spent elsewhere. Recently, however, that goddamn murder was getting under my skin and I decided I needed to see those files for myself. As I have explained a number of times over the years, McKinney’s body was found in his art gallery which was walking distance from our house, six months after my brother Tim’s abduction and murder.

I had learned in the mid to late aughts that McKinney was often at our neighbors’ house for dinner and that one of the older children in that family (a young adult in 1977) had turned McKinney’s name in to police as an OCCK suspect a number of times over the years. I don’t know when she made the first call, but she thought strongly enough about this to renew her calls to police over the years. It turns out a few other people had the similar thoughts after his murder.

McKinney’s murder has been addressed in Portrait in the Snow, The Oakland County Child Killings . . . Scandals and Small Conspiracies, M. F. Cribari (2011); The Kill Jar: Obsession, Descent and a Hunt for Detroit’s Most Notorious Serial Killer, J. Reuben Appelman (2019); and The Snow Killings: Inside the Oakland County Child Killer Investigation, Marney Rich Keenan (2020). All are available on Amazon and worth reading if you follow the OCCK case.

As I have noted before, McKinney is also a subject of discussion online. For example:

His murder is also the subject of an episode of the podcast Don’t Talk to Strangers (“No Apparent Motive”):

I remember my brother Chris, who was all of 16 at the time, telling me later in the Fall of 1977 he had read a news article about this man’s murder that ended, out of the blue, with a statement something like–the murder had nothing to do with the Oakland County child killings. My brother asked me (basically), WTF?! It seemed crazy–B’ham wasn’t exactly a big murder town and now there had been three in two years (14-year-old Sheila Srock, whose case was eventually solved; my brother Tim; and now McKinney)–but it was a crazy time. For us it was strictly survival mode and surely police or those pricks at the prosecutor’s office would let us know if something was up, right?

So recently I renewed my FOIA request. Because there were multiple copies of reports in these files, the PD reduced the cost to just over $1,700.

Inspector Cory Williams (Wayne County PO) went in to the Birmingham Police Department to review the McKinney files before he retired in 2019. He told me that McKinney was “a homicide waiting to happen.” After reading the FOIA documents for myself, I certainly agree.

After I read the 800-plus pages, I reread Portraits in the Snow. Recall that this book was written in 2011 and without the benefit of the case file on McKinney. “Homicide waiting to happen” fits well with “Whoever was sent to silence the killer of kids would have to make sure it was an unrelated murder or accident.” Portraits, page 278. Any number of people could have killed McKinney, some with reasons that supported justifiable homicide (or damn close).

I remain unnerved by this man, what he may have been involved in and with whom, as well as the reasons behind his murder. At the risk of being accused of trying to make “anything” fit, I have pulled some threads from the case file and will set them out in my next posts before posting the FOIA documents in their entirety. Then you can read them for yourself.