JoAnn Matouk Romain mystery series Part 1: Secrets of a Small Town

‘So right away I know something’s off, something’s wrong’

A Gross Pointe Woods mother of three disappears, then 70 days later she is found in a different country dead. Police believe she walked into Lake St. Clair and killed herself, her family believes something more sinister happened. Why was a search for the mother started when she wasn’t even reported missing? More coverage:

“You can describe something as paranoid or whatever, but when it’s something real, and you come to find out it’s actually real. You say, ‘I’m being followed,’ and all of the sudden she’s missing. Yeah, you’re not paranoid."

Kellie Romain, JoAnn Matouk Romain's daughter

It is a mystery that has haunted Grosse Pointe Farms and Grosse Pointe Woods for more than a decade: What happened to mother of three JoAnn Matouk Romain?

Was the 55-year-old’s death a suicide or the work of something more sinister?

“I firmly believe it was a murder,” said crime historian Scott Bernstein.

On Jan. 12, 2010, Grosse Pointe Farms police reported Matouk Romain walked out of her evening church service at St. Paul on the Lake Catholic Church on Lake Shore Road, then walked across the street right into Lake St. Clair and killed herself.

St. Paul on the Lake Catholic Church in Grosse Pointe Farms, Mich. (WDIV)

It wasn’t until 70 days later that her body would wash up in the waters along the Detroit River’s Canadian shoreline.

While Matouk Romain’s death got the initial attention of the press, it did not take center stage since news outlets don’t report much on suicides.

Then there was the word Matouk Romain was paranoid and depressed, and the public seemed to be satisfied with the explanation she committed suicide. However, her family believes that was far from the truth.

“You can describe something as paranoid or whatever, but when it’s something real, and you come to find out it’s actually real. You say, ‘I’m being followed,’ and all of the sudden she’s missing. Yeah, you’re not paranoid,” said JoAnn’s daughter Kellie Romain.

Kellie Romain told Local 4 she remembers what her mother told her shortly before she died in 2010.

“(She) said ‘You know, if something ever happens to me, look at him,’” Kellie Romain said.

Local 4 Defender Karen Drew asked, “When she said that, what did you think?”

“That’s when all the craziness really started to happen,” Kellie Romain said.

JoAnn’s life in Grosse Pointe Woods

JoAnn Matouk Romain was born and raised in Grosse Pointe Woods in her childhood home on Anita Street. In 1980, she married David Romain. They would go on to have three children: Kellie, Michelle and Michael.

“She was very strong in her faith, in her family. Her family was her everything. Her kids were her everything,” said JoAnn’s daughter Michelle Romain.

The Romain children were raised in a home on Hidden Lane in Grosse Pointe Woods, a home the children describe as filled with many memories of birthday parties, family dinners and get-togethers with friends.

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JoAnn Matouk Romain with her husband, David Romain, and their three children Michell, Michael and Kellie.

“She was everyone’s second mom. She was just the most loving, caring person that you could ever come across,” Kellie Romain said.

The Romains had a happy life in their upper-class community. However, 25 years into their marriage, the couple separated. David Romain left JoAnn for her best friend.

“She was a little lady, but she was strong,” Kellie Romain said.

After the marriage ended, JoAnn Matouk moved in with her daughters Kellie and Michelle to a home on Morningside Drive. She kept busy with a part time job and many trips to church, sometimes two or three times a week.

“She knew where all of the services were,” Kellie Romain said. “She always knew where there was a shorter service or a full service or she knew where she could pop in.”

The night she went missing

Matouk Romain’s church was St. Paul on the Lake Catholic Church in Grosse Pointe Farms. She would frequently stop in for a quick prayer service. It was also the place she was the night she disappeared on Jan. 12, 2010, attending a 7 p.m. prayer service.

According to police reports, at 7:20 p.m. that evening, a witness saw Matouk Romain exit the church. A minute later, another witness at the church said she heard a car alarm go off. The witness looked and saw it was a Lexus -- Matouk Romain drove a Lexus.

Then, according to police reports that the Local 4 Defenders reviewed, a third witness saw something strange at 7:50 p.m.: A man who seemed out of place, wearing a lightweight coat and scarf running strangely along the lake side of Lake Shore Drive.

Police would later find that scarf, and according to court records, the scarf would be taken out of police evidence and donated to a charity. That’s just one of many questionable police responses you will see as we go through this mystery.

Missing after church service

Meanwhile, back on Morningside Drive, Kellie and Michelle Romain returned to their home about 9 p.m. They had been out to dinner. They tell the Local 4 Defenders they wondered why their mother wasn’t home yet.

“I kept calling her. We’re like, ‘OK she’s not answering,’” Kellie Romain said.

They thought maybe their mother turned off the phone in church, but still they were worried.

“That’s strange. She would have called us if she would have went somewhere with a friend,” Kellie Romain said.

Michelle Romain recalls seeing lights coming around the corner of their home.

“I look out the window, oh it’s a cop car,” Michelle Romain said.

Kellie Romain said the cop car pulled up to their home at 9:24 p.m. When we asked her how she remembered the precise time of 9:24, Kellie Romain said, "I instantly looked at my phone to see.”

“I walk outside, and I walk up to the cop car and I say, ‘Can I help you?’ And he said, ‘We found your mom’s car abandoned in the church parking lot, is she missing?’” Michelle Romain said. “And then I thought to myself, ‘How would he know she was driving that car? It’s registered to me. So if you ran the license plate, you would be looking for me, not my mom.’ So right away I know something’s off, something’s wrong.”

Another question the daughters would have: Why did police consider their mom missing after just a couple of hours of her car sitting in a church parking lot?

“No police department, in any city, all over the world, is going to after two hours come to your house after a car is parked somewhere and ask if somebody is missing that was driving that vehicle. It’s just not going to happen,” Michelle Romain said.

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These are images of the area outside St. Paul on the Lake Catholic Church where JoAnn Matouk Romain went missing Jan. 12, 2010.

JoAnn Matouk Romain mystery series -- watch here:

Read more here: Karen Drew: Why I decided to cover mysterious death of JoAnn Matouk Romain


About the Author:

Karen Drew is the anchor of Local 4 News First at 4, weekdays at 4 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. She is also an award-winning investigative reporter.