Unsolved: The Oakland County Child Killer (1976-1977)

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On this blog, we are going to cover, The Oakland County Child Killer.

The name Oakland County Child Killer was the name given to the perpetrators responsible for the serial killings of at least 4 children in Oakland County, Michigan between 1976 and 1977. The victims were held captive for an unconfirmed amount of days before being killed. Forensic DNA testing has implicated 2 suspects one of who has died, and the other serving a life sentence for offenses against these children. A DNA profile created from the samples taken from the bodies is from the main perpetrator but does not match the DNA of anybody named in the connection of the case. The main perpetrator is still at large.

Between February 1st 1976 and March 16, 1977, 2 boys and 2 girls between the ages 10 and 12 went missing outside their homes, going somewhere or at another location in Oakland County, Michigan just north of Detroit. Each of the victims body’s was discovered in a public area within 19 days of his or her disappearance. The children were all either strangled or shot to death with the boys being sexually assaulted. The 4 deaths immediately called for a murder investigation, during this time was the largest in the US history. 2 Local Detroit newspapers as well as numerous radio and television stations covered the case.

The 4 confirmed victims I’m going to go into detail and explain how they died.

  1. Mark Stebbins – 12 years old of Ferndale, Michigan, did not come home after being at the American Legion Hall on February 15, 1976. His body was found 4 days later and he was still wearing the same clothes that he was last seen in, he was found lying in a snowbank in the a parking lot of a local office building. The autopsy confirmed that Mark had been strangled an sexually abused with a foreign object, there was 2 lacerations to the back left of his head. There was also marks on his wrists and ankles from a rope which indicated that he had been held captive.
  2. Jill Robinson – 12 years old of Royal Oak, Michigan, let home on December 22, 1976, after having an argument with her mother over dinner. The following day, her bike was found being a local hobby store, just 4 days later, her body was found along side Interstate 75 in Troy, Michigan and what a coincidence, just in view of the Troy police station on the morning of December 26. The autopsy confirmed she had been shot in the face with a 12 gauge shotgun, she was wearing the same clothes and had the same backpack that she had taken before she left home.
  3. Kristine Mihelich – 10 years old of Berkley, Michigan was reported missing to police on January 2, 1977 after she did not return home from a gas station on 12 mile road at Oakshire. A postal worker found her body 19 days later on the side of the road in Franklin Village, she was wearing the same clothes she went missing in. The autopsy confirmed she had been smothered to death and it occurred less than 24 hours earlier while her body laid within view of nearby homes.
  4. Timothy King – 11 years old of Birmingham, Michigan was reported missing on March 16, 1977 after going to the pharmacy and never returning. A search covering the entire Detroit area was conducted before his body was found on March 22 by 2 teenagers in a ditch alongside Gill Road in Livonia. The autopsy confirmed he had been sexually assaulted with a foreign object and aspirated around 6 hours earlier.

So, why were only the boys sexually assaulted and what were they sexually assaulted with? During my research I was unable to find if anybody listed what the foreign body was and I could not find any conclusive evidence. But were they really the only ones that were taken? There was 3 other suspected abductions and murders but they could not be tied due to variations but there were similarities.

  1. Cynthia Cadieux – 16 years old of Roseville, Michigan was found on January 16, 1976 in Bloomfield Township, the autopsy confirmed she had been beaten to death.
  2. Jane Allan – 14 years old was found in a river in Miamisburg, Ohio on August 11, 1976, she had accepted a ride in Royal Oak just 4 days earlier. Autopsy confirmed she had died from Carbon Monoxide poisoning.
  3. Kimberly Alice King – 12 years old of Warren disappeared September 15, 1979, police believed she was taken and is connected to the killings.

After the discovery of Kristine Mihelich’s body, police started to notice similarities that was shared by her case and of those of Mark Stebbins and Jill Robinson’s cases, the reports were released to the public to warn them of a serial killer possibly operating in the Oakland County Area, at this time they had no clue they were looking for more than 1 person.

The Michigan State police put together a group of police officers from 13 communities to form a task force and they were strictly devoted to investigating the killings of the 3 children.

After Timothy King disappeared, a woman told police that she had seen a boy with a skateboard talking to a man in the parking lot of the pharmacy where she was last seen. A composite drawing of the man and his blue AMC Gremlin was released, and police started to question every Gremlin owner in Oakland County.

Investigators could create a profile that was based on witnesses’ descriptions of the man that was seen talking to Timothy King. He was a white male, between the ages of 25-35 years old with a dark complexion, he had shaggy hair and sideburns, they believed he had a job that gave him freedom to move around and made him appear trusting to children, he was believed to be familiar with the area and had the capabilities of keeping children captive for long periods of time without becoming suspecting to neighbors.

The task force had over 18,000 tips, and check every single one of them, and in result it led to 2 dozen arrests on unrelated charges, and it also uncovered a multi-state child pornography ring that was operating in North Fox Island in Lake Michigan. The task force was still unable to make much headway in the investigation and it finally disabled in December 1978, and the investigation was turned over to the State police.

A few weeks after Timothy King’s murder, a psychiatrist who worked with the task force received a letter, it had multiple spelling errors and was written by an anonymous author, (“Allen”) claiming to be a sadomasochist slave of the killer (“Frank”). “Allen” wrote that they had both served in the Vietnam War, and that “Frank” was traumatized by having killed the children. “Frank” had taken revenge on more affluent citizens which included residents of Birmingham, for sending forces to Vietnam. “Allen” expressed fear and remorse in his letter, saying he was losing sanity and was endangered and suicidal, and admitted to having accompanied “Frank” as the latter sought boys to kill. He instructed the psychiatrist to respond by printing the code words “weather bureau says trees to bloom in 3 weeks”  in the Sunday’s edition of the Detroit Free Pres before offering to provide photo evidence in exchange for immunity from prosecution. The psychiatrist arrested to meet “Allen” at a bar, but he didn’t shop up and was never heard from again.

There was a person of interest after hair samples that were found in a 1966 Pontiac Bonneville matched hair found on the bodies of the Timothy King and Mark Stebbins, the person was, Archibald Edward Sloan he was a known child molester who victimized young boys in his neighborhood, but the hair was not from Sloan himself.

A witness claimed to have seen Timothy King being abducted by two men, one described as being in his late 20’s and other being described as the serial killer John Wayne Gacy who was allegedly in Michigan around the time of the Killings. Gacy’s DNA however did not match the DNA found on the victims’ bodies.

Police arrested Ted Lamborgine in Parma Heights, Ohio, he was a retired auto worker and was to have been involved in a child pornography ring in the 1970’s. Investigators told Detroit television WZYX that Lamborgine was considered a top suspect in the case on March 27,2007. Lamborgine pleased guilty to 15 counts of sex related crimes involving young boys rather than accepting a plea bargain that would have required him to take a polygraph test on the Oakland County killings. He also rejected an offer of reduced sentence in exchange for a polygraph on the case.

In October of 2007, the family of Mark Stebbins filed a wrongful death suit against Lamborgine seeking $25,000. The lawsuit alleges Lamborgine abducted Mark and held him captive in a Royal Oak House for 4 days in February 1976 before smothering him to death during a sexual assault. Lamborgine was never formally linked or charged in the death of Mark Stebbins. Attorney David A Binkley sought compensation and that included funeral costs.

But the case sparked a new interest when Timothy King’s father, Barry and his brother Chris, tried to get State Police to release information about Chris Bush. He had been in police custody shortly before King’s abduction for suspected involvement in child pornography. He committed suicide in November 1978.  After conducting a search of the body there was no gunshot residue found on him and no blood spatter the entry would was between his eyes. At the crime scene they did find 4 shell casings and he was also wrapped neatly under his sheets. There was ligature marks found in his apartment as was a hand drawn image of a boy closely resembling Mark Stebbins’s screaming which was pinned to the wall. There has not been confirmed activity by the Oakland County Child Killer for nearly 20 months prior to Busch’s death. The State Police have since released 3,400 pages of investigative records to Barry King.

In 2012, a forensic DNA test was conducted and had showed that hair found on the seat of Sloan’s car and on the bodies of Mark Stebbins and Timothy King were a match and had come from the same unknown male. The DNA does not match Sloan, but implicates he had lent the car too or knew.

In 2013, an anonymous informant reported a blue AMC Gremlin buried in a farm field that was being developed in Grand Blanc, Michigan. Police are investigating the Gremlin to ties to the crime as Timothy King was last seen in a blue Gremlin.

There was a 2 part 4 hour documentary about the killings released in February 2019. At the same time this was airing, Heather Catallo, a WXYZ-TV investigative reporter announced that a key suspect, convicted child sex offender, Arch Edward Sloan had failed a polygraph test when he was interviewed by the Oakland County Killer Task Force in 2010 and 2012. Back in 2012, new DNA technology found that Sloan’s car contained hair with the same mitochondrial profile as evidence found on the victims but it wasn’t Sloan’s.

Still to this day, there have been no suspects arrested or charged for the brutal killings of the children. The families still sit and wonder who was responsible for the murdering of their children.

Sources:

Oakland County Child Killer – Wikipedia

Children of the Snow: Michigan’s Pedophile Child Killer and Pornography Ring | Winter Watch

The Oakland County Child Killer (thetruecrimefiles.com)

10 Horrific Facts About The Oakland County Child Killer – Listverse