35 years since Detroit man’s murder, family pushes police for closure

Family thinks police didn’t take case seriously because victim was gay

“If they had this fingerprint in 2004, if they had it in 1987, why wasn’t there anything done with it then? Why did they wait until 2004 to let us know about it?” Beth questioned.

The 4-unit apartment building on the corner of Greiner and Pelkey on Detroit’s east side hasn’t been lived in for more than a decade.

But in August of 1987, Edward Sayers lived in the top right unit.

It was August 21st. It was a Friday. It rained that day, and the temperature had actually dipped from recent highs to 80 degrees.

That’s also the last day anyone saw Sayers alive.

“He had a great sense of humor,” his sisters Beth Krebs and Ruth Kondrat remember.

Ed was the middle child of five and big brother to Ruth and Beth.

“You don’t want to say there’s favorites in the family but he was (Mom’s) favorite-- no doubt.”

Fast forward to August 25, 1987.

That’s when Beth and Ruth got the phone calls from their parents.

“They had said he was stabbed. And I immediately said, ‘What hospital is he in?’ And they said he was in the morgue,” says Krebs. “The police report says there were 32 stab wounds. Just horrible. Horrible.”

Horrible to say the least. One cut was basically ear to ear and through his jugular vein.

Ruth and Beth’s mother was devastated as any parent would be.

“My mother’s health definitely went down after that,” Kondrat says. “She only lived 11 years after he passed.”

“We were supposed to go out Friday night, but I wasn’t feeling well so I invited him over to my house but he didn’t come over,” remembers Dennis Choinier. “I think he was killed Friday night, because he didn’t go to work Saturday.”

Dennis Choinier grew up with Ed and was good friends with him at the time of his death.

Ed’s father called him to say he hadn’t been to work for a few days and asked if Choinier would check his apartment.

“The landlord met me there and as he was fumbling with keys, the door just opened,” Choinier said. “I walked in... the radio was on... and I looked around and you could see Ed’s body on the bed-- fully clothed, blood all over. He’d been slashed on his neck, back of the head, his hands.

“So he was fighting it off.”

Beth remembers the word police used to describe what happened.

“Police did say it was an overkill,” meaning, as Beth explained, there were so many wounds and so brutal. “So they feel it was someone that he did know.”

But who?

Perhaps it was the man who left a perfect clue behind when he left the apartment.

“I told the police-- there was a blood imprint in the bathroom sink,” Choinier said.

Yet the case was never made... And then years passed.

“When the cold case detectives called us in 2004, they said they have a fingerprint of somebody and they showed us a picture of that person. As soon as i saw that i broke down,” said Beth. “Actually seeing someone who could have done this to Ed was overwhelming to me.”

But neither Beth nor Ruth recognized the man. Neither did Choinier, who says police told him the man lived in Ed Sayers’ neighborhood in 1987.

“If they had this fingerprint in 2004, if they had it in 1987, why wasn’t there anything done with it then? Why did they wait until 2004 to let us know about it?” Beth questioned.

Beth and Ruth, as well as Choinier have their suspicions that the case wasn’t taken as seriously as it should’ve been in 1987, because Ed was gay.

“At the time of Ed’s death, was when AIDS was just starting,” says Choinier. “Ed bought a case of Teddy Bears and would go to Henry Ford Hospital to the AIDS ward to give them Teddy Bears to cheer them up.

“That’s the kind of guy he was.”

Ruth said he also would go and just talk to AIDS patients because often they had no one. For a young man who had wanted to be a Capuchin priest, it seemed natural.

The question still remains: Is there a chance that in 1987 this didn’t get the Detroit Police Department’s full attention because Sayers was gay?

Commander Michael McGinnis answered it this way.

“I would hope not. I mean, I can’t speak to that, but I doubt it.”

DPD has acknowledged its troubled past in this area in recent years, but McGinnis says in the Sayers case, officers worked the crime scene by the book.

And yes, they did process the bloody fingerprint, and that man is still a prime suspect. McGinnis cleared up why it took 17 years for family to know about it.

“In 1987, there was no match (in the system) for that fingerprint. Subsequently, around 2004, a match became available.”

Detectives identified the man and followed up.

“And no, that person is not cleared,” said McGinnis.

Police say the interview with the man behind the bloody fingerprint did not go well.

“Individuals are able to cooperate and sometimes they decide not to cooperate,” McGinnis said. “When they don’t cooperate, there’s not a lot of leverage that we have to encourage them to do so.”

So, who was this mystery man who lived in the area? Could it have been a love interest? Or possibly, it was someone Sayers misread.

“My theory is he hit on him and the guy went berserk and he just killed him,” says Choinier. “A queer slasher, I called it.”

Over the years, Ruth and Beth have compiled their own case file to help detectives-- who at one point misplaced the actual file.

“I’m doing everything I can to solve this for us,” Beth says as she thumbs through the family’s file.

Now 35 years later, they’re pushing police harder than ever.

“We are not going away. As long as we have any thread of anything we think can solve this, we’re going to be there.”

A family unable to describe what justice would mean.

“It’s hard to say,” says Beth.

“I can’t put it into words,” Ruth says as her voice cracks with emotion.

“We just want to know what happened.”

“We may not know why it happened, but after 35 years, any answers would be great.”

About the Author:

Jason anchors Local 4's 5:30 p.m. newscast. He joined WDIV in January 2015 as a general assignment reporter and has a Journalism degree from Michigan State University.