PONTIAC, Mich. - A murder mystery involving a woman whose body was found in a Pontiac park went cold for years until modern technology helped detectives track down the killer.
Officials said DNA technology caught up with Rosalia Brantley's killer, even though it wasn't available when she was murdered 23 years ago.
Deputies from the Oakland County Sheriff's Cold Case Squad spoke with the Local 4 Defenders about how they solved the murder.
Brantley's body was found at Hawthorne Park in Pontiac around 6 a.m. on Aug. 29, 1994.
Brantley had been beaten, stabbed and rolled in a curtain, so police had a mystery on their hands.
Police said Brantley didn't have enemies. She was 23 years old, liked to go out with her friends and was the mother of a toddler.
"I was robbed of the chance of getting to know my mom," Dominique Stanfield said.
Stanfield was only 3 years old when his mother was murdered.
"When I was in elementary, I always cried because I didn't have my mom," Stanfield said. "I would always be upset because I couldn't believe she was gone. So I was in a lot of pain."
What happened to his mother had been a mystery for over two decades. The case haunted Deputies Lou Eblee and Bill Peterson, retired officers who volunteer their time to the Oakland County Sheriff's Cold Case unit.
"Current investigators are so busy with current cases that they don't have time to be looking at cases 20, 30, 40 years old," Eblee said.
That's where Eblee and Peterson come into play, spending countless months and years searching for killers who have gotten away.
"It gives me a great deal of satisfaction when we can solve a case," Peterson said. "Take somebody off the street who sorely needs to be off the street."
The murder mystery started on a Saturday night in Pontiac, where Brantley lived. She had gone out with friends to a bar called the Puerto Rican Club in Pontiac.
"Some shots were fired outside the club, and she got split from her friends and they were all looking for each other and trying to get in contact," Peterson said. "Those were not the days of cellphones being common. They had pagers. She hooked up with some other people she knew and got a ride. They stopped at a pay phone at a place outside a place called Terry Tires."
The stop on North Perry Street proved very important later in the case.
The 23-year-old then went to stay with a friend at 800 Scottwood Street, which is walking distance from Terry's Tires. Her pager went off in the middle of the night.
"It was raining," Peterson said. "It was 4:30 in the morning. He told her it will wait until morning. She said, 'No, I've got to answer this.' So she left."
Brantley left the home on Scottwood, walking back to that pay phone outside Terry's Tires. Who paged her? Police still don't know. They don't know if she ever made it to the phone, or what happened, because she wasn't seen alive again.
The next morning at Hawthorne Park, a passer-by noticed Brantley's body a few feet away from the boat ramp. She was wrapped up in a curtain.
"She had two serious stab wounds," Eblee said. "Fatal stab wounds. One to the neck, one to the chest. But she had multiple smaller stabs. She had been beaten on her face, her neck, her chest, her arms, abdomen, back, her extremities."
"All I remember is the ambulance coming to the house, and I remember her funeral, as well," Stanfield said.
He said he was too young to understand the pain that lived with him every day.
"My first day on my own," Stanfield said. "My first day getting my first car, you know, everything. First day of a new job. Everything first, I would want her to be there."
All leads went nowhere for police. More than 20 years passed before police got information from a jailhouse snitch.
"His reliability was questionable at best, which is common," Peterson said.
But detectives had to check it out.
"We collected evidence, we went through the evidence on all those cases, including Rosalia Brantley, and there was evidence to be compared, so our guys submitted that to the state police lab for DNA comparison," Peterson said. "The lab came back and said, 'It's not the guy you suspected on this, but you might want to check out this fellow.'"
The name suggested was Brandon Gohagen.
"It turned out he was imprisoned on another murder from 1995," Peterson said.
Deputies met with Gohagen, who denied knowing Brantley.
"He doesn't have a reasonable explanation for his DNA to be where it was, and he certainly didn't because he denied knowing her, denied ever having sex with her," Eblee said.
The case went to trial, and Gohagen was found guilty of sexually assaulting and murdering Brantley. He received a life sentence.
"I dreamed of something like this happening, but I never thought it would," Stanfield said. "Seeing this picture tells me that she still lives within me. I'm glad justice was finally served."
The Oakland County Sheriff's Cold Case unit is made up of eight volunteer police officers who dedicate their time and expertise to solving cold cases.
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