“This is clearly not a suicide. This is a homicide and needs to be treated as such.”Scott Burnstein, crime reporter and historian
For more than a decade, a mystery has enveloped the Metro Detroit communities of Grosse Pointe Farms and Grosse Pointe Woods: Did JoAnn Matouk Romain die from suicide or was she murdered?
On the night of Jan. 12, 2010, Grosse Pointe Farms police reported that Matouk Romain, then 55, walked out of her evening prayer service at St. Paul on the Lake Catholic Church and continued walking across the street right into Lake St. Clair where she killed herself.
Matouk Romain had been living with her daughters on Morningside Drive at the time. That night, after police came to their home to ask if she was missing, both Kellie and Michelle Romain kept frantically calling their mom’s cellphone. When she still did not answer, they decided against police advice and headed to St. Paul on the Lake Catholic Church.
“It looked straight out of a movie scene,” said Kellie Romain, JoAnn’s daughter.
The daughters were greeted with bright lights, chaos and a full-fledged crime scene as they approached the church. It was a search for a missing person who was never reported missing.
“As we’re driving up Lake Shore, there’s a helicopter circling the water with a spotlight, there’s caution tape surrounding the vehicle, there are officers all around like a crime scene,” Michelle Romain said. “But we hadn’t reported her missing, she wasn’t missing to us, so how is all of this going on?”
Kellie Romain said that night they were telling them their mother was in the water, but she couldn’t believe that.
“We’re like, ‘No she’s not. Not our mom, our mom would never be in the water, she did not like the water.’” said Kellie Romain.
Timeline of evening JoAnn went ‘missing’
The Local 4 Defenders took a look at the timeline of that evening.
Lt. Andrew Rogers from Grosse Pointe Farms police was the first to spot JoAnn Matouk Romain’s car in the church parking lot that evening. Rogers ran her plates at 8:58 p.m. but deemed no action was necessary. Local 4 Defenders reviewed his taped deposition.
According to testimony, about an hour later at 9:58 p.m., Grosse Pointe Farms police officer Keith Columbo came on scene and ran a second lien on the car. The Lexus had been in the church parking lot now for about 2.5 hours after the prayer service.
Columbo said in his deposition: “I looked across Lake Shore Road, I saw imprints in the snow in the embankment.”
Attorney: “How far away from the vehicle were the footprints?”
Columbo: “Seventy-five feet.”
Columbo testified he went to the lakefront and did not see any return footprints from the water’s edge.
“I believed there was someone in the water,” Columbo said.
That is when Columbo said the investigation into the disappearance of JoAnn Matouk Romain began.
“Why in the world the police somehow made this conclusion within five minutes. They see a car parked in a church, no foot prints going from the car to the water, but something gives them the impetus to look 150 feet away in a snow bank by the lake?” said attorney Solomon Radner. “The absurdity of coming up with that conclusion in five minutes without a person being reported missing, without doing an investigation into whether or not she was missing.”
The Local 4 Defenders took a look at the area where JoAnn Matouk Romain would have had to cross to get into the lake, climbing onto huge rocks and barriers down an embankment to finally get into the water. In 2010, the water levels of Lake St. Clair would have been much lower, and so she would have had to walk nearly two football fields in her high heels before she got to a level to drown herself.
“In order to jump in the water to kill herself, she would have to negotiate the type of obstacles that I think would be difficult for, you know, someone in the military let alone a 4 foot 10, 250-pound housewife that is not in peak physical condition and is wearing high heels," said Scott Burnstein, a crime reporter and historian.
Burnstein, who mainly works on stories and investigations that involve organized crime mob hits, said the death of JoAnn Matouk Romain sparked his curiosity.
“This is clearly not a suicide,” Burnstein said. "This is a homicide and needs to be treated as such.”
One big issue of concern is the time police arrived at Matouk Romain’s home. Her daughters say it was 9:24 p.m. and minutes later they started frantically calling their mom.
“If you look at my client’s phone records, those phone calls take place between 9:30 p.m. and 9:45 p.m., not between 10:30 and 10:45 p.m.,” Radner said.
So how could police arrive at an address 30 minutes before the car lien was run that caused all the suspicion? Columbo ran the lien at 9:53 p.m., and that’s when he said under oath the investigation began.
“It leaves a lot of questions and it kicks this, in my opinion, this whole sprawling conspiracy off quite dubiously,” Burnstein said.
Here is another questionable timeline:
According to U.S. Coast Guard records, police contacted the coast guard at 9:30 p.m. The crew was launched at 9:38 p.m. and arrived on scene at 9:51 p.m. to search for the missing mother.
However, if you follow the police timeline, the Coast Guard records would seem to be impossible. Police said they arrived at the house at 10:24 p.m. after police ran the lien.
That leaves you wondering, how then would the Coast Guard be notified at 9:30 p.m. that a search was needed?
Something isn’t adding up. Is it a conspiracy? Bad record keeping?
It could be bad record keeping. Handwritten reports state the Coast Guard was first called at 10:35 p.m., so, you have two different reports from one agency, reporting two different times. And that’s not all.
Seventy days later, Matouk Roamin’s body is washed ashore in Canada and was discovered by some fishermen. Her clothes and shoes gave some strange clues to what may have happened to her.
“How is she full-bodied clothed, shoes in impeccable condition and clothing in impeccable condition? It’s not just going to happen,” Michelle Romain said.
“I believe her body was placed in the water somewhere near that area,” said investigator Salvatore Rastrelli.
The autopsy reports left as many questions as answers as we discover Matouk Romain died with no water in her lungs.
JoAnn Matouk Romain mystery series -- watch here:
- Part 1: Secrets of a Small Town
- Part 2: Missing When You Are Not Reported Missing
- Part 3: 'If anything ever happens to me ... '
- Part 4: Questionable Police Practices
- Part 5: Very Disturbing and Unresolved