Between 1976 and 1977, the sleepy suburbs of Oakland County, Michigan, were invaded by a demonic presence. This demon would eventually be known as the Oakland County Child Killer. Despite a massive manhunt and hours upon hours burned by Oakland County investigators, the killer remains at large to this day.
Was the Oakland County Child Killer a Vietnam War veteran angry at the rich? Was he a well-known local pedophile? Was he another infamous serial killer who preyed on the children and young men of Chicago? Or was the Oakland County Child Killer a known rapist who allegedly committed suicide a year after his last crime?
Twelve-year-old Mark Stebbins would become the first official victim of the Oakland County Child Killer. The Ferndale, Michigan, resident was last seen alive leaving an American Legion hall on Sunday afternoon, February 15, 1976. Stebbins reportedly told his mother that he planned on going home in order to watch a movie on television. When Mark failed to turn up at home by 11:00 PM, his panicked mother called the police and reported her son missing. While on the phone with dispatch, Stebbins’s mother described her child as wearing a blue hooded parka, a pair of blue jeans, black rubber boots, and a red sweatshirt.
Four days later on February 19, Stebbins’s body was found at approximately 11:45 AM by a businessman in Southfield, Michigan. The man at first thought that the body was a mannequin but, upon closer inspection, saw that it was the murdered corpse of a child. A forensic team would later declare that Stebbins’s killer had sexually assaulted the boy and bound him prior to strangling him to death. An eyewitness provided police with information that detailed how Stebbins’s body had been placed in the parking lot sometime before 9:30 AM that morning.
Jill Robinson, like Mark Stebbins, was also just 12 when she died. However, unlike Mark, Jill went missing after she ran away from home. Following an argument with her mother on Wednesday, December 22, 1976, Jill packed a backpack and ran away. It would later be revealed that Jill and Karol Robinson had quarreled over mundane household chores.
The day after Jill ran away, her bicycle was discovered behind a store located on Main Street in Royal Oak, Michigan. On the day after Christmas, Jill’s snow-covered corpse was found along Interstate 75 in Troy, Michigan. Investigators located Jill’s backpack and noted that it still contained her personal items. Whatever had caused the murder, robbery was not the motive.
The killer had blown off half of Jill’s face with a 12-gauge shotgun. Jill’s resting place turned out to be within sight of a Troy Police Department station. An eyewitness would also come forward to report that a blue Pontiac LeMans had been parked near the victim at around 4:30 AM that morning. Surprisingly, this lead was never really followed up on by police.
Kristine Mihelich has the unenviable distinction of being the Oakland County Child Killer’s youngest victim. When she went missing on January 2, 1977, Mihelich, a resident of Berkley, Michigan, was only ten years old. Witnesses last saw Mihelich alive at 3:00 PM on January 2 at a 7-Eleven store located on Twelve Mile Road in Berkley. Mihelich reportedly bought a magazine and then left the store. Her mother would not report her missing until 6:00 PM that night.
At some point between 3:00 PM and 6:00 PM, Kristine was abducted while walking home from the 7-Eleven. During the 19 days that Kristine was missing, her mother, Deborah Ashcroft, went on local television and begged Kristine’s captor to let her daughter go. The family’s neighbors also raised $17,000 in the hopes that this money could be used as a ransom payment for Kristine’s release.
Tragically, Kristine would never be seen alive again. On January 21, her body was found in the snow on Bruce Lane in Franklin Village, Michigan. US Postal Service letter carrier Jerome Wozny found the body. Kristine had been smothered to death and left fully clothed in the winter snow. Her killer had also placed Kristine’s hands on her chest in a disgusting mockery of the typical funeral pose. An official autopsy would reveal the shocking truth that Kristine’s captor had only killed her less than 24 hours before her corpse was discovered.
The last official victim of the Oakland County Child Killer was 11-year-old Timothy King of Birmingham, Michigan. King was the youngest in a family of four (three boys and one girl). On March 16, 1977, Timothy was home alone because his sister was on a date, his older brothers were busy, and his parents were out to dinner with one of his father’s clients. Mother Marion King later told the press that Timothy was sometimes left home alone, and on March 16, his parents only planned to be gone for a short time.
At around 7:30 PM, Timothy left his house carrying his skateboard. He planned on grabbing some candy at a drug store located on Maple Road and then heading somewhere to skateboard. An hour later, two eyewitnesses saw Timothy leave the drug store and walk out into a parking lot that abutted a supermarket. There, the witnesses said a man with long, shaggy hair approached Timothy. The pair entered the man’s car, which one eyewitness said looked like a blue AMC Gremlin with a white racing stripe on the side.
During the night of Timothy’s abduction, his older brother Christopher walked through their neighborhood with a baseball bat hoping to catch and throttle his younger brother’s kidnapper. Timothy’s body was finally discovered six days later on a side road in the town of Livonia. An autopsy revealed that Timothy had been sexually assaulted and suffocated just six hours before his body was discovered in the snow. The killer had neatly washed and pressed Timothy’s clothes prior to killing him and had fed him fried chicken. This latter fact revealed that the killer kept track of the news coverage of his crimes, for Timothy’s parents had pleaded with the kidnapper in a newspaper letter to feed him Kentucky Fried Chicken.
While the Oakland County Child Killer has only been officially linked to four murders, many investigators, both professional and amateur, have linked him to other cases in the Oakland County area. One of those cases is the murder of Jane Allen.
Fourteen-year-old (some sources say that she was 13) Jane Allen was kidnapped on August 8, 1976, while she was hitchhiking between Pontiac and Royal Oak, Michigan. Her body was found three days later floating in the Miami River in Miamisburg, Ohio. Allen’s wrists had been bound behind her back with torn strips taken from a white T-shirt. The decomposition of Jane’s body made it impossible to tell whether or not she had been sexually assaulted, but Ohio investigators did deduce that Jane was already dead by the time that she had been thrown into the river. Investigators also suspected that Jane had died due to carbon monoxide poisoning.
Like the other victims, Kimberly King (no relation to Timothy King) came from the suburbs of the Greater Detroit area. Also, like many of the victims, Kimberly was just 12 years old when she went missing on September 16, 1979. Kimberly was last seen alive walking in her neighborhood in Warren, Michigan.
The last person to see Kimberly alive was her friend, Annie. Annie told police that Kimberly had slipped out of Annie’s window on September 16 sometime before midnight. Kimberly then called her sister Konnie, who lived in Pontiac. Kimberly claimed to be calling from a pay phone near a Gary Mart on Nine Mile Road. Konnie told Kimberly to go back to Annie’s house.
Kimberly King’s body was never found, even despite a 1983 letter to the Roseville Police Department in Roseville, Michigan. This letter reportedly told investigators where Kimberly’s corpse could be found. Another tantalizing clue is the fact that Kimberly’s father was close friends with two of the primary suspects in the Oakland County case, Archibald Sloan and David Norberg.
The one Ohio case possibly linked to the Oakland County Child Killer occurred in October 1989, a full 13 years after the first murder. Amy Mihaljevic was abducted on October 27, 1989. At the time, she was only ten years old.
Amy lived in the quiet town of Bay Village, Ohio, a sleepy suburb of nearby Cleveland. It was in Bay Village that Amy was attacked and abducted from the Bay Village Shopping Center. Several months later, on February 8, 1990, Amy’s body was found along a road in Ashland County, Ohio. The coroner for Cuyahoga County discovered that Amy’s kidnapper had killed her and dumped her body not long after October 27. Blood found in Amy’s underwear indicated that she may have been sexually assaulted.
Almost two decades after the discovery of Amy’s body, Ohio investigators and the FBI revealed in 2006 that Amy had received a strange phone call prior to her death. The unidentified man on the phone asked Amy to help him surprise her mother because she had recently received a job promotion. Amy was not the only girl to receive this call—other girls in suburban Cleveland also got this call during the summer and fall of 1989.
On the night of January 15, 1976, 16-year-old Cynthia Cadieux left a friend’s home at around 8:30 PM in order to return to her Roseville, Michigan, home. Over five hours later, a passing motorist on Franklin Road in Oakland County spotted Cynthia’s corpse. She was nude and had clearly died after sustaining blows to her head from a blunt object. Cynthia’s killer had also raped her.
A postmortem examination revealed that Cynthia’s body had been dragged over snow-covered pavement for an unstated period of time. Also, police investigators found Cynthia’s clothes 4.6 meters (15 ft) from her corpse. Four days later, 14-year-old Sheila Shrock was shot to death inside her home in Birmingham, Michigan. This latter murder would be solved when Oliver Rhodes Andrews confessed to the crime and was sentenced to life in prison. The murder of Cynthia Cadieux remains unsolved.
On May 7, 1976, Christopher Busch sexually violated teenager Vincent Gunnels. This assault took place at a cabin located near Ess Lake. Busch would later be accused of systematically grooming and raping Gunnels.
Christopher was the son of Harold Lee Busch, a top executive at General Motors. Christopher was also known to traffic in child pornography. Busch’s bad reputation was so widely known that Barry and Chris King, the father and uncle of murder victim Timothy King, asked the Michigan State Police to tell the public about Busch. His life would end in a very bizarre way two years later. In November 1978, Busch was found dead in his apartment. Investigators ruled the death a suicide from a gunshot wound, even though there was no gunshot residue on his hands. A search of Busch’s house revealed a horrifying sketch of a screaming child that resembled victim Mark Stebbins.
Decades later, in 2011, Michigan police revealed that hairs from a white dog had been found on all four of the Oakland County Child Killer’s victims. Also in that year, homicide investigators told the media that they believed that more than one person was involved in the murders. This information suggested that Busch and Gunnels worked together, since Gunnels’s hair was found on the body of victim Kristine Mihelich.
Other major suspects in the case include the convicted pedophile Archibald Edward Sloan. Sloan became a primary suspect when hair samples uncovered in his 1966 Pontiac Bonneville matched hair samples found on the bodies of Timothy King and Mark Stebbins. Despite this, police could not tie Sloan to the other murders, and they ultimately released the suspect after he confessed that he often let his friends, who also happened to be pedophiles, use his car.
Weeks after the death of Timothy King, psychiatrist Dr. Bruce Danto received a handwritten confession from a man named “Allen.” The letter claimed that Allen was the unwilling accomplice of his roommate, a man named “Frank.” Allen claimed that he and Frank drove around in Frank’s AMC Gremlin looking for child victims in the affluent neighborhoods of Oakland County. Allen said that Frank was motivated to kill wealthy children because he wanted their parents to suffer for sending him to Vietnam. Dr. Danto was convinced by this letter and arranged to meet Allen at a bar. Allen never showed, and he never wrote to Dr. Danto again.
For a time, some investigators wondered whether infamous American serial killer John Wayne Gacy was involved in the Michigan murders. Gacy was in Michigan between 1976 and 1977, and one eyewitness to the abduction of Timothy King described a suspect who bore an eerie resemblance to Gacy. However, DNA tests carried out in 2013 ruled out Gacy as a suspect.
The last major suspect in the Oakland County case, Theodore Lamborgine, was actually taken to court by the Stebbins family in October 2007. The family accused Lamborgine of kidnapping, sexually assaulting, and murdering Mark Stebbins. The family sought a wrongful death conviction and $25,000 in damages. The year before, Lamborgine admitted to being involved in a child pornography ring and sexually assaulting several young boys. Lamborgine refused to take a polygraph concerning the Oakland County murders, and in 2012, DNA testing ruled out Lamborgine as the man responsible for killing King and Stebbins.