As scores of Metro Detroiters descend on Traverse City this weekend for the annual summer rites of passage, the National Cherry Festival and the Fourth of July, many year-round residents will not be able shake the horrible memory of this small town's most notorious unsolved crime: the tragic hit and run death two years ago of a beloved waitress, daughter, sister, wife and friend.
"The first year you go through all your firsts," says Nicole Nostrandt, 36. "But now that we are coming up on the second anniversary, still without any answers, it feels defeating. You can't close and move on."
On July 5, 2013, Nostrandt's younger sister, Kelly Ann Boyce, 29, was bicycling to her downtown home on Washington Street after working a double shift at North Peak Brewing Company.
Witnesses said Boyce was struck from behind by a dark pickup or SUV and dragged for more than a block. Her screams woke up neighbors, who called 911. Though an ambulance rushed to her aid, she died from her injuries a short time later at Munson Medical Center.
In the immediate aftermath tips flooded in, some 300 in a matter of days. Traverse City detectives worked round the clock, 24/7. FBI and members of the Michigan State Police accident reconstruction team traveled to Traverse City to assist in the investigation. In an editorial, the Traverse City Record Eagle said the "apparent randomness and savagery" of the hit and run created a "terroristic element to her death." A $10,000 reward quickly grew to $50,000.
At a memorial, more than 1,500 people rode bikes in a police-escorted bicycle procession through downtown Traverse City to Hannah Park. That night, the city skyscape was twinkling in a panorama of light — from sky lanterns sent upward on the beach at the end of Boyce's memorial and from thousands of porch lights. Earlier, the local radio station WTCM-AM and FM asked their listeners to show their support for the family and the police by leaving their porch lights on from sundown to sun up.
Of the 744 tips police have fielded, Detective Sgt. Jim Bussell says 702 have been closed. "The problem from the beginning," Bussell says, "is that we don't have any vehicle parts or a solid description of the vehicle. Witnesses said it was a dark colored possibly an SUV or pickup truck, but it was also a poorly lit area and we don't have any evidence there was damage to the vehicle."
The Monday after her death Boyce had planned to celebrate the one-year anniversary of her marriage to Pauly Hurlbert, a musician, pilot and flight instructor. She thought nothing of working two jobs — at the Omelette Shoppe and North Peak, all while pursuing her degree in psychology.
Raised in Benzie County with the Tamarack Trout Farm as the family business, Kelly was the second daughter born to Michelle and Steve Boyce. Nicole was the oldest, then Kelly, then Craig, 29, and Scott, 25. The family is close; everyone still lives up north and in close proximity to each other.
"She was loved by a lot of people and she's missed by a lot of people," Detective Bussell says. "It's the biggest unsolved crime for our agency, at least in the last 18 years that I've been here. It's one we'd really like to solve for sure."
The family is constantly on the lookout for similar crimes. Nostrandt cites the unsolved case of a 37-year-old married mother of five who was killed by a hit and run driver in 2012 while walking home late one night in Washington Township. She, too, was dragged for about 1/8 mile.
"It wasn't like they just bumped Kelly and then drove on," Nostrandt says. "They went around parked cars and turned the corner dragging her. That's what makes me think it was intentional. If it was just a random accident, why wouldn't they have stopped?"
Nostrandt says she wakes up every morning wondering if today might be the day she gets the call that says they have a suspect. She goes to sleep every night wondering: "Kelly was screaming loud enough for neighbors to wake up at 2 a.m. How does a person with a conscience not hear that when they lay down to go sleep at night? How do they not hear her voice?"
Police are asking people to be mindful of others' behavior. "The tips that we are looking for now are somebody that may have had a significant decline in their quality of life and are feeling remorse or guilt," Bussell said. "They may have developed a substance abuse problem or relationship issues. They may have said something to somebody close to them that would lead them to believe they may have been involved in this type of incident."
For now, Nostrandt says it's hard not to consider anyone and everyone a suspect. "You always wonder if it is someone from out of town or someone local. During the Fourth of July and the Cherry Festival, Traverse City just gets so overloaded with people. Everybody goes up north. What do you consider local?"