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Author seeks truth in Oakland County Child Killer case

Kurt Anthony Krug
Special to The Detroit News

Finding the truth about who killed four children 44 years ago compelled Marney Rich Keenan to write a book that may shed light on the Oakland County Child killings.

The retired Detroit News columnist has written her first book, “The Snow Killings: Inside the Oakland County Child Killer Investigation,” an account of the unsolved deaths. The book was written to honor the father of one of the victims and a retired detective who fought tirelessly for justice for more than four decades, she said.

“I wanted to bring the truth to the entire investigation to light. I wanted to celebrate those who made it their mission to find justice for these kids, those being Barry King and Det. Cory Williams,” said Keenan. “I also wanted to shed light on those who sought to deceive the public by the cover-up and, more recently, those who obstructed the investigation for political gain.” 

It took Keenan almost 10 years and numerous drafts to write this book. She had access to old reports, conducted hundreds of interviews and filed countless FOIA requests — all of which took up three file cabinets. She also used a large whiteboard to keep the chronology straight.

"The Snow Killings: Inside the Oakland County Child Killer Investigation" by Marney Rich Keenan

“This book exposes a culture that failed our most vulnerable and holds accountable those who sought to conceal the evil perpetrated on them,” said Keenan. “More importantly, it shines a light on the heroic efforts of those who, at great cost, pursued the truth on behalf of Mark, Jill, Kristine and Tim. They deserve nothing less.”

For 13 months between 1976 and 1977, the children in Oakland County were abducted, held captive for 4-19 days and then murdered. These children were:

— Mark Stebbins, 12, of Ferndale, who disappeared Feb. 15, 1976. His body was found four days later in a snowbank in a parking lot of an office building. He had been strangled and sexually assaulted. Rope marks were found on both his wrists and ankles.

— Jill Robinson, 12, of Royal Oak, who disappeared Dec. 22, 1976. Her body was found the day after Christmas that year alongside Interstate 75 in Troy within plain view of the Troy Police Department. She had been shot in the face with a 12-gauge shotgun. 

— Kristine Mihelich, 10, of Berkley, who disappeared Jan. 2, 1977. Her body was found 19 days later on the side of a road in Franklin Village. She had been smothered to death less than 24 hours earlier. 

— Timothy King, 11, of Birmingham, who disappeared March 16, 1977. His body was found six days later in a shallow ditch in Livonia. He had been sexually assaulted and suffocated about six hours earlier.

Marney Rich Keenan

Their bodies were bathed and their clothes were cleaned. Only the boys were sexually assaulted. These murders triggered what was at time the largest manhunt in U.S. history. The task force was comprised of 200 policemen from local, county and state, as well as FBI. Investigators explored about 20,000 leads and interviewed thousands of people. The case made national news.

 During the investigation, the task force discovered a multi-state child pornography ring operating on North Fox Island in Lake Michigan. According to Keenan, child pornography in the mid-’70s was a flourishing nationwide multi-million-dollar industry.

“We know the four kids were exploited for this purpose,” Keenan said. “The industry was operating completely underground with home movies made in the Cass Corridor and seedy basements in Times Square. Det. Williams (who’s retired from the Livonia Police Dept. and stills consults on this case) identified a prostitution/pornography ring in the Cass Corridor in which kids were shuttled to the homes of prominent businessmen in the suburbs… With this case, kids from the suburbs were considered delicacies. They were held for a period of time in captivity — fed and cleaned — and they were likely used in these films.” 

The task force disbanded in December 1978, unable to crack this case.

“When people ask, ‘How could this have happened?’ Well, I think a certain sense of denial is in full force that something this abhorrent could be happening in suburban America,” said Keenan. “We all say it couldn’t be, yet take a look at the Catholic Church, look at Jeffrey Epstein, who was trafficking young girls to his remote private island 40 years later.”

Keenan wrote about the killings during milestone anniversaries for The News. In October 2009, Barry King, father of Timothy King, invited Keenan and now-retired News editor Judy Diebolt to his Birmingham home. They spoke for three hours.

“He started the conversation by saying, ‘The story I’m about to tell you began in the big white house across the street.’ He ended the conversation three hours later by saying, ‘My family thinks we know who killed Timmy.’ He told us in these three hours about the lead his family had unearthed,” recalled Keenan. “It was a very fortuitous conversation that came to light (regarding) a childhood friend of Timothy’s named Patrick Coffey, who lived in the big white house across the street. Coffey was so impacted by the death of his childhood friend that he grew up to be a polygraph examiner.”

Barry King told Kennan around 2006, Coffey, of California, attended a polygraph convention in Las Vegas. There, Coffey met Lawrence Wasser of the Michigan Association of Polygraph Examiners. They spoke about their Michigan roots with Coffey mentioning the Oakland County Child Killer. Wasser told Coffey he polygraphed someone who confessed to those murders 30 years before, but wouldn’t name names because he claimed it would be unethical. Wasser did tell Coffey, however, that this person has since died.

“At that point, Coffey called the King family with this bombshell of information,” said Keenan. “The Kings went to Williams, who served an investigative subpoena to compel Wasser to cough up the name of the person he polygraphed.”

Eventually, they learned Wasser polygraphed Christopher Busch. The son of the late Harold Busch, a prominent General Motors executive who lived in Bloomfield Village, the younger Busch was a convicted pedophile who never went to prison. 

“Busch was never named as a suspect. Nobody ever knew that during the height of the panic and hysteria that engulfed southeastern Michigan where a child-killer was snatching kids off the streets that a pedophile was living in our midst,” said Keenan. “This is a 27-year-old pedophile living within a 5-mile radius of all four victims. He escapes justice. But not only that, nobody ever knew his name.”

Busch had been in police custody not long before Timothy King’s disappearance for suspected involvement in a child pornography case in Flint. In the end, the police released him because he passed a polygraph (Wasser polygraphed him for another unrelated case). A few weeks later, Timothy King was abducted and murdered.

In November 1978, Busch supposedly killed himself at his family’s home. However, that’s called into question since there was a bullet hole between his eyes and no blood spatter was found, Keenan said. 

At that point, there had been no confirmed activity by the Oakland County Child Killer for 20 months. The task force disbanded the month after Busch’s alleged suicide.

Was Busch the Oakland County Child Killer?

“I don’t know if I believe he’s the killer. I do know he was involved, though,” said Keenan. “Everyone knew he was involved. I’m not even saying the police knew, but they knew he might be. The longer time went on and no more kids went missing, they were convinced.”

The case is still open. Anyone with information may call the Oakland County Child Killer task force at (833) 784-9425.

'The Snow Killings: Inside the Oakland County Child Killer Investigation'

by Marney Rich Keenan

McFarland $29.95