Oakland County Child Killer case remains unsolved 40 years later

By Kevin Dietz - Reporter

Next week marks the official 40th anniversary for the Oakland County Child Killer case.

If you lived in southeast Michigan at the time, you likely know the story. Four children between the ages of 10 and 12 were abducted and held for days before being killed during a 13-month period from February 1976 to March 1977. 

The entire region was frozen in fear of a person who became known as the Oakland County Child Killer. That person remains unknown. 

The victims' families have said time and again that finding the killer is a cycle of hope and heartbreak. 

"I think there is a mountain of evidence that, in fact, they will never divulge to us, even as family," said Erica Ascroft-McAvoy, who is victim Kristine Mihelich's sister. 

Victim Timothy King's father said he's looking for facts.

"I don't want the case solved by conjecture and hearsay and coincidence and suspicion. I want to know what the facts are," said Barry King. 

The case haunts the families every day. 

"Not a day goes by that I don't think about this," said Mike Stebbins, victim Mark Stebbins' brother. 

Jill Robertson was the fourth victim.

Trip to Wyoming

There have been hundreds of suspects over the years. In August 1999, as a young reporter I flew with a team of experts to a recluse area of Wyoming to exhume the body of then prime suspect David Norberg. 

L. Brooks Patterson, who was Oakland County prosecutor during the abductions, organized the trip to Wyoming. 

"It always has been a long shot, but we think it's a shot that's worth taking," he said at the time. 

DNA samples were taken and tested, but there was no match. The investigation moved on. 

The blue Gremlin

The King family first reported seeing a blue AMC Gremlin, which for decades was strongly associated with the abductions. Today, few investigators believe such a vehicle was involved. 

King family focuses on Christopher Busch

Meanwhile, the King family has remained vocal about who they think is responsible. Barry King has started a new blog -- view it here. In it, King focuses on suspect Christopher Busch, a convicted pedophile who lived in Bloomfield Hills and committed suicide in 1978 shortly after Timmy King's death.

More: Christopher Busch's plea deal

Evidence at the scene included bloody ropes and a disturbing drawing which looks like Mark Stebbins. 

View: Photos of Oakland County Child Killer suspect's suicide scene released

Suspect James Gunnels: I'm not guilty

In 2012, the Local 4 Defenders broke the story of James Gunnels, who was raped by Busch. Gunnels is a mitochondrial DNA match to a hair found on victim Kristine Mihelich, which means the hair belongs to Gunnels or one of his relatives on his mother's side. The Defenders tracked Gunnels to a home in Kalamazoo. 

"I'm not guilty. There it is. But at the same time, I know how the state police twist words to their advantage," he said. 

Chris King, Timmy's brother, believes Gunnels is connected somehow. 

"It seems clear that he must have had some knowledge of these crimes," said Chris. 

Suspect Arch Sloan

In July of that same year, Oakland County Prosecutor Jessica Cooper told us about Arch Sloan and his 1966 Pontiac Bonneville. A hair found in the car is a DNA match to evidence at two of the crime scenes -- Mark Stebbins' and Timothy King's. Sloan is serving a life sentence for molestation. The hair is not his. Police believe it belongs to an acquaintance. 

The lack of updates always has frustrated the families. 

"I understand where law enforcement is coming from and don't want to make it public, but I think they, at some point, they need to extend that olive branch to the families and let us know what they are working on," said Ascroft-McAvoy.

Family hopes public can help

The King family is suing to open up all the evidence police and prosecutors have in this case. The family hopes the public will read it and solve the case. A task force headed up by the Michigan State Police meets often and tips still come in frequently and are followed up on. 

Timeline of Oakland County Child Killer case: 

1976:

February: The first victim, Mark Stebbins, goes missing on Feb. 15. He was last seen in Ferndale. Stebbins' body was found four days later on Feb. 19 in Southfield.

December: Victim No. 2, Jill Robinson, goes missing on Dec. 22. Her body was found four days later on Dec. 26 along Interstate 75 in Troy.

1977:

January: Two more children go missing in Oakland County. Kristine Mihelich went missing on Jan. 2 in Berkley. Her body was not found until Jan. 21 in Franklin.

Gregory Greene, 27, was arrested on child sexual assault charges. Greene leads investigators to 26-year-old Christopher Busch, telling them Busch killed Stebbins. However, Busch and Green both pass polygraph examinations. Greene was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for sexually assaulting young boys. Busch gets probation for the same charges.

March: On March 16 of the same year, nearly two months after Greene's arrest, the third victim, Timothy King, goes missing in Birmingham. King was found dead March 22 in Wayne County -- near 8 Mile Road in a Livonia neighborhood.

1978:

November: Busch is found dead from a what is ruled a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. A drawing of a boy was found in Busch's room at his home in Bloomfield Township. it would take decades for police to decide the sketch resembles Stebbins.

December: The task force which had been working the case shuts down.

Decades pass without resolution. Christopher Busch was still a prime suspect.

2012:

February: Suspect James Vincent Gunnels tells the Local 4 Defenders that he had nothing to do with the child killings. Police investigators had said Gunnels was the best lead in the 35-year-old serial killer mystery. His DNA is a mitochondrial DNA match to a hair found on the body of victim Kristine Mihelich.

June: Oakland County prosecutors open files with new evidence in the Oakland County Child Killer case. Prosecutors say the evidence points away from Busch as a suspect in the investigation. The prosecutors say the families of the victims and media outlets continuing to push Busch as the Oakland County Child Killer have misinterpreted public documents and have not seen the real evidence. They say a new suspect will be named.

July: Local 4 Defenders learned there is physical and DNA evidence linking an associate of 70-year-old Arch Edward Sloan to the male victims in the murder spree which began in the 1970s. This associate left hair at the crime scene of the two murdered boys. Sloan is reportedly the owner of the car where the hair was found.

Sloan's criminal history dates back to 1959 when he was arrested at the age of 18. He was busted for gross indecency between males. He served four years and two months in jail and was released in August 1963.

It is believed Sloan worked at a garage or gas station near 10 Mile and Middlebelt roads during the time of the Oakland County Child Killer murders. Seven years after the death of Timothy King, Sloan was arrested again. He was charged with two counts of criminal sexual conduct in the first degree. The offense took place in October 1983. He was sentenced to life in prison in January 1985. He has been behind bars since.

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