JoAnn Matouk Romain mystery series Part 3: 'If anything ever happens to me ... '

Strange phone call, statement from cousin, witness account leave many questions

JoAnn Matouk Romain hangs up the phone and tells her daughters: "If anything ever happens to me, look to him."

Ten years and counting and the death of JoAnn Matouk Romain remains a mystery.

Police believe she killed herself. Matouk Romain’s family believes something more sinister happened to the mom of three.

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.

It wasn’t until 70 days later that her body would wash up in the water along Canada.

Matouk Romain’s family doesn’t believe she committed suicide; her children believe something more sinister happened to the mom of three. They have shared their allegations with police, in their civil lawsuit, and now with the Local 4 Defenders.

Full Screen
1 / 19

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

Strange phone call in December

Her daughters, Kellie and Michelle Romain, recall a conversation they had with their mother in mid-December 2009. They told police their mother was talking to her cousin, Tim Matouk, on the phone that day while they were in the room.

“We all of a sudden started to hear yelling, like, at this person. And we’re like, ‘What the heck is going on?’ And she’s like, ‘You need to, I never said you were the root of everyone’s problems, I told you to keep your nose out of everyone’s business,’” Kellie Romain said.

Kellie and Michelle said JoAnn hung up the phone and gave this warning:

“'You know, if something ever happens to me, look to him,'" Michelle Romain said.

Michelle Romain said her mother never gave her specific details but was worried.

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

“What kind of crazy?” Local 4 Defender Karen Drew asked.

“Like she was being followed,” Kellie Romain said.

The family said Matouk Romain shared her fears of her cousin Tim Matouk to others as well.

According to an affidavit filed in the civil case, paralegal Nancy Barich said Joann Matouk Romain told her “Tim Matouk said to me if someone wanted to get rid of you they could do it and you would never be found.”

“She was kind of planting that seed because she was fearful. I think she didn’t want us to know as her children how scared she truly was or she didn’t want us to be in danger either,” Michelle Romain said. “Or going to her paralegal and saying he threatened to make me disappear and told me, you know, nobody would ever know what happened to me. Which is kind of odd because that’s exactly what happened here. She disappeared. She’s dead and nobody really knows what happened.”

Statement from Tim Matouk

Tim Matouk was a Harper Woods police officer at the time of JoAnn Matouk Romain’s disappearance. Now he is an investigator with the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office. The Local 4 Defenders asked him to sit down to talk about the case. Instead, he issued this statement:

“On a very tragic night in January 2010 when JoAnn went missing, I was on duty working a Michigan State Police narcotics task force in Warren, Michigan. My location that night has been verified and confirmed by the testimony of Michigan State troopers and corroborated by cell phone records. After a lengthy five-year lawsuit, not one but two federal courts dismissed the case against me. Any allegations connecting me to the death of Joann are untrue and false.” -- Tim Matouk

Siblings war

Family drama for the Matouks started years ago at the Woods Wholesale Wine Store in Grosse Pointe Woods. JoAnn’s parents owned the store and when they died they left a large sum of money for her and her four siblings to split.

Woods Wholesale Wine in Grosse Pointe Woods, Mich. (WDIV)

The siblings war began with two sides divided, and from what we have learned, much of the controversy was over the fact JoAnn continually helped and supported her brother John.

“I was very close with her,” said John Matouk. “She wouldn’t tell me about the conversation that she had with Tim Matouk. All she kept saying was, ‘We need to go to the cops, we need to go to the cops.’”

Michelle Romain said her mom went to Woods Wholesale Wine a few weeks after that call with her cousin Tim in an attempt to smooth things over. Michelle said her mother hoped to talk with her brother Bill to try to stop the family fighting.

Matouk Romain’s daughters' story of what happened that day was reported to police.

“I drove her to the store and she’s like, ‘I’m just going to go in and talk to my brother.’ Even though they had an estranged relationship, she didn’t talk to him often at all,” Michelle Romain said. “She was like, ‘I’m going to go tell him about Tim and how he called.’”

Michelle Romain said her mother went upstairs unannounced at the liquor store and she came back out more freaked out than she was when she went inside.

“I don’t know what she saw, I don’t know what she heard,” Michelle Romain said. “She wouldn’t say what the conversation was about. She wouldn’t say what happened up there, she just wanted to go to church and pray. Which tells me she walked in on something, she heard something that she shouldn’t have. She was more freaked out than I’ve seen her in my life. She was scared. It’s like she knew something was going to happen. She didn’t know what, she just knew something was going to happen.”

In a court deposition, JoAnn’s brother Bill describes a much different encounter that day inside the wine shop:

“Wanted to make things right, I haven’t talked to you in a long time, I feel bad about everything, that’s about it. ‘I want to make amends,' she said,” Bill Matouk said in his deposition. "She said, ‘You shouldn’t talk to cousin Tim and you shouldn’t trust him.’ I said, 'Why? He’s a good guy, why shouldn’t I trust him? I got no reason not to.’ I kept explaining to her we come in and we visit, what’s the trust factor? We’re not in business together or anything like that, it’s just my family. So I told her,‘ I don’t know what you’re talking about, there’s nothing not to trust him about.’”

Attorney: How long did that meeting last about?"

Bill Matouk: “A minute or two.”

Under oath, Tim Matouk testified he never threatened his cousin Joann.

“I said, ‘JoAnn, why would you tell people that I am the reason John has got so many problems?’ Her response to me is, ‘You’re just nothing but a big troublemaker. I don’t even want to talk to you.’ And she hung up the phone,” Tim Matouk testified.

When an attorney asked him “Did you at any time in your life ever express or imply to JoAnn Matouk Romain that you would have her disappear?” He answered “No.”

Witness statement places Tim at scene

Why all this attention on Tim Matouk? In addition to what JoAnn Matouk Romain allegedly told her daughters and the paralegal, there is an eyewitness whose statement, if believed, puts Tim Matouk at the scene of JoAnn’s disappearance on Jan. 12, 2010.

After learning about Matouk Romain’s disappearance, six days later, Paul Hawk went to Grosse Pointe Farms police with what he says he saw that night on Lake Shore Road. However, police did not deem him credible. His statement was not released by police until the Romain family sued the police department for access to the reports related to their mother’s case.

The Local 4 Defenders obtained the affidavit filed in the civil case. In it, Paul Hawk stated on the night of Jan. 12, 2010 he was traveling north on Lake Shore Road and he observed a heavyset woman with dark hair, dressed in all black clothing, sitting on the break wall of Lake St. Clair. She was sitting still, motionless, and was slightly slumped over. He became concerned and suspicious.

Hawk goes on to state: “I further observed two vehicles parked illegally in the road. I observed two men standing near each of the cars.”

According to Hawk’s statement one of the men “motioned for me to drive through.”

Hawk stated he went to Grosse Pointe Farms police, met with the chief and two officers for 40 minutes and handed in a statement.

Grosse Pointe Woods public safety officer Anthony Chalut interviewed Hawk.

“I believe Mr. Hawk had a credibility issue,” Chalut said.

However, Hawk wouldn’t let it go. Years later he stated in the in the affidavit “after seeing a photograph of Timothy Matouk I can identify with absolute certainty that he was one of the two men I saw on the side of the road Jan. 12, 2010.”

Hawk’s affidavit, however, was stricken by the judge in the civil case and was not allowed as evidence.

There is more to this story -- signs of a struggle kept quiet? Questionable police practices? Mysterious missing keys suddenly reappear. The Local 4 Defenders dig deeper into this mystery in part four of this series.

Full Screen
1 / 11

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.