“You have a crime scene trampled all over and nothing is properly photographed or documented,” said investigator Salvatore Rastrelli.
Rastrelli, a 25-year veteran Martin County sheriff detective, was hired by the Romain family to learn more about their mother JoAnn’s death.
“The one thing I wanted to say about the whole investigation that they conducted up there, it was so out of typical police procedure that that alone is suspicious,” Rastrelli said.
On January 12, 2010, Grosse Pointe Farms police reported Matouk 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.
“Based on the investigation, more than likely it was a suicide,” said Grosse Pointe Farms police Chief Dan Jensen.
The Local 4 Defenders asked him to interview on camera but he was not willing, so we are using his deposition in the Romain family’s civil lawsuit against the police department to help explain how and why police reacted the way they did.
“The first clues at the scene showed a single set of footprints across from the car into the water, sit down, slide to the next level, and into the water -- we went into rescue mode,” Jensen said in a deposition.
“Every death investigation that is in any way suspicious, an accident or what people may think is an outright suicide, has to be investigated as if it is a homicide,” Rastrelli said.
List of questionable police practices
Rastrelli said there were numerous questionable police practices. The first is the idea JoAnn Matouk Romain walked to her death.
“I never believed for a minute that JoAnn went down that ramp,” Rastrelli said. “Then negotiated the broken concrete and exposed rebar without falling or getting injured and would have been found right there at the scene.”
Another concern of his is the fingerprinting of Matouk Romain’s vehicle.
“They brought it into their garage at the police station and threw dust around,” Rastrelli said. “First of all, you can’t dust leather seats and vinyl seats, they’re corrugated. The only way to get fingerprints off something like that is good extreme photography with lighting after you fume the interior of the car with super glue, and that was never done.”
His other question: Why was there no DNA check of the car?
“There was no sign, no evidence of any violent crime that would warrant a DNA check,” Jensen said in his deposition.
Matouk’s family disagrees. They point to her new purse that was found inside the Lexus SUV. Photos show the purse was torn, and Rastrelli believes the tear is consistent with someone roughly grabbing the purse as if in a struggle.
During Matouk Romain’s autopsy a bruise was found on her arm.
“Like when someone grabs a purse off a woman’s shoulder hard enough to bruise her,” Rastrelli said.
Then there is Matouk Romain’s body, which was found by some fishermen in the waters off Amherstburg, Ontario, 70 days after she disappeared.
“Her body was placed in the water somewhere near that area,” Rastrelli said. “It just doesn’t make any sense when you examine her remains months later where she doesn’t have any of the typical things you would see on a drowning victim that would have traversed 30 miles of water way.”
Rastrelli pointed out Matouk Romain’s shoes had no signs of being scratched, scuffed, or damaged.
In the Canadian autopsy report, it concludes “coroner believes that there is not enough cogent or convincing evidence that she did intend to take her life.”
Matouk Romain’s death was ruled a dry drowning, meaning there was no water in her lungs. A dry drowning means air is in your lungs, not water, which makes you buoyant. Dr. David Smith is an expert in the investigation of water-related deaths and accidents. He stated in his deposition “my belief that she was extremely buoyant and the documented lack of current ... there is a high possibility that someone would have seen her floating.”
We know crews searched and searched for Matouk Romain’s body the night she disappeared, and the following day, and she could not be found.
Smith also stated, “Where she drowned and when she drowned, I believe are subject to discussion.”
There is also a question about how the police handled evidence. Remember that man witnesses said they saw running strangely by the lake the night Matouk Romain disappeared? He reportedly had a black scarf on and, according to one of the Gross Pointe Farms officers' depositions, they took the scarf into evidence: “It was released out of the property system in 2015. It was donated in November of 2010.”
This is clearly bad record keeping, and remember this case is still open, so why release evidence?
Then there are Matouk Romain’s car keys.
“The very next day after her disappearance, keys to her car suddenly reappear at the police department,” said Romain family attorney Soloman Radner.
Matouk Romain’s daughters, Kellie and Michelle Romain, have said their mother’s spare keys went missing about six weeks before her disappearance from their Morningside Drive home.
“Keys that have gone missing a month earlier, no record of where those keys came from, no record of who gave them to the police,” Radner said. “The officer couldn’t tell me anything about this, and that gave me some very serious questions as to where he really got those keys from, questions I don’t know the answer to, but his story makes no sense.”
What does all of this mean? Is there a conspiracy? A coverup? Or was it just questionable police work?
Scott Burnstein, a crime reporter and historian who mainly works on stories and investigations that involve organized crime mob hits, said the death of JoAnn Matouk Romain sparked his curiosity and has this to say:
“I’ve had sources tell me that she had a meeting with the FBI and the US Attorneys' office in the days leading up to her disappearance,” Burnstein said.
The Local 4 Defenders will have more in the next part of this investigation.
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