Oakland County Child Killer
By Lisa Brody

09/29/2010
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Barry King
Barry King is determined; he is a man on a mission.

Thirty three years after his son, Timmy, was killed by the Oakland County Child Killer, King is intent on following new leads, demanding answers— any and all answers, from the Michigan State Police task force, suing the Oakland County Prosecutor for information related to possible case updates, and contacting the media to help open doors to hopefully crack, and maybe solve, this long-dormant case.

Doors are shutting in his face, one after another, yet King cannot rest. His 11-year old son was murdered, sexually molested, and left for police to find, and he believes there is new information on a suspect, a deceased convicted sex offender who police did not follow through with at the time, or perhaps did not know about, and he wants closure. Now. He no longer cares how many investigators he alienates, or how many attorneys or prosecutors he angers. He is nearing the end of his long life, and his patience has worn thin. He said he believes he knows who killed his son and the three other innocent children, who the man known as the Oakland County Child Killer was, and he wants everyone else to not only know who that man was, he wants law enforcement and the Oakland County Prosecutor's Office to acknowledge it.

For those who lived in the metro Detroit area in the mid to late-70s, suburban innocence was shattered by a never-identified serial killer who preyed on pre-teen boys and girls, snatching them from their neighborhoods, sexually molesting the boys, keeping them for a few days, bathing them so there was no trace of him, and then killing them. Called the Oakland County Child Killer, to this day, the murders are an unsolved mystery that haunts not only the lives of the families of the four children killed at his hands, but of formerly carefree kids and pre-teens who were used to bike riding through communities, stopping to jump on neighborhood trampolines, to play on playgrounds and skateboard down tree-lined streets, and to wave at friendly neighbors. Children used to walking and riding their bicycles home with friends from school suddenly discovered mothers outside their buildings at the end of the school day.

Like the generation before them who hid indoors during the polio epidemic, during 1976 and 1977, the easygoing youth of boys and girls in Oakland County was abruptly cut short, and they were kept indoors to play with only those playmates parents knew very well. Fear gripped parents and kids. Swings and monkey bars around the county hung vacant. Anyone and everyone was suspect.

During a 13-month period, which began on February 15, 1976, when Mark Stebbins of Ferndale was first abducted, and ending on March 22, 1977, when the fourth victim, Timothy King of Birmingham, was found in Livonia, four children were abducted and murdered, their freshly-killed bodies discovered around the area. Before each of the youths were killed, they were held between four and 19 days each.

At the time, the Oakland County Child Killer Investigation was the largest murder investigation in U.S. history, with the FBI joining local law enforcement and the Michigan State Police. To date, despite thousands of leads and dozens of suspects, the killer has never been found.

While there were other murder victims in the county at the time, only four youths were confirmed as victims of the Oakland County Child Killer. They were 12-year old Mark Stebbins of Ferndale, who was last seen leaving an American Legion Hall on the afternoon of Sunday, February 15, 1976. Stebbins had told his mother he was leaving to go home to watch television. He never made it home. His body was found four days later, on Thursday, February 19, neatly laid out in a snowbank in the parking lot of an office building at Ten Mile and Greenfield roads in Southfield.

He had been sexually assaulted with an object, and strangled. Rope marks were visible on his wrists, and he was fully clothed in the outfit he had last been seen in. He had been freshly bathed.

Initially, it was believed to be the work of a one-time deviant. There was no further activity until December 22, 1976, when 12-year old Jill Robinson packed a backpack and ran away from her Royal Oak home following a fight with her mother over making dinner. The next day her bicycle was discovered behind a hobby store on Main Street in Royal Oak.

On the morning of December 26, Jill's body was found in a snowbank on the side of I-75 near Big Beaver Road, in plain view of the Troy Police. She had been killed by a shotgun blast to the face. She was fully-clothed, with her backpack on her back.

Soon again, the killer struck. Kristine Mihelich, 10, was last seen on Sunday, January 2, 1977, around 3 p.m. at a 7-Eleven store on Twelve Mile Road in Berkley while buying a magazine. After a frenzied search for her, a mail carrier discovered her fully-clothed body 19 days later on the side of Bruce Lane in Franklin Village.

Kristine had been smothered, freshly bathed, with her eyes closed and her arms folded across her chest. She also had been placed in the snow, and was laid out in plain view of several nearby homes.

Bloomfield Township psychiatrist Bruce Danto, working with police, felt that the killer was speaking out to him, leaving him a message by placing Kristi's body on Bruce Lane. Several weeks later he received a letter from a man named "Allen," who claimed he was the killer's roommate, and had even helped care for the victims. Shortly thereafter, "Allen" phoned Danto, offering to provide photos in exchange for prosecutorial immunity. They were to meet at a gay bar near Detroit's Palmer Woods, but "Allen" never showed up. Danto made numerous attempts to reach out to "Allen" and to the killer, to no productive avail. In case he was ever approached again, Danto's home and office were observed by undercover FBI officers for the next 18 months.

Despite numerous warnings not to go anywhere on his own, on Wednesday, March 16, 1977, at around 8:30 p.m., 11-year old Timothy King of Birmingham borrowed 30 cents from his older sister, and without telling her, left his home with his treasured skateboard to head to a nearby drugstore, the Hunter-Maple Pharmacy at Maple and Woodward, to buy candy. His parents were having dinner across Woodward at Peabody's Restaurant, and his older siblings were babysitting him. He was last seen leaving the drugstore from the rear exit, which shared a large parking lot with a grocery store, where the current downtown Kroger's is today. Sadly, he was never seen again alive.

There was an all-out search for Timothy which covered the entire metro Detroit area. Barry King went on TV, and made an emotional plea to the Oakland County Child Killer, begging him to release his son unharmed. Timothy's mother, Marion, wrote a letter to the killer that was printed in The Detroit News, stating she hoped he would be released soon so that he could enjoy his favorite meal of Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Late on March 22, 1977, two teenagers in a car noticed his body in a shallow ditch along Gill road, just south of Eight Mile Road in Livonia, technically just across the county line in Wayne County. His treasured possession, his skateboard, was placed next to his body.

Timothy had been freshly bathed, his body was still warm and damp, and his clothing had been neatly pressed and washed. He had been sexually assaulted with an object, and suffocated. There were rope marks on his wrists and ankles, signs that he had been tied down.

An autopsy showed that he had eaten fried chicken right before he was killed.

Current Birmingham Chief of Police Don Studt was a Birmingham policeman in 1977, and was randomly assigned to the King household when Timothy was abducted. He investigated the case, basically living in the home for a month. He broke the news to the family when Timothy's body was discovered, and accompanied Marion King to the morgue to identify the body. It is not a time he would like to relive, nor will he discuss it, other than to say it was horrible, and a profoundly difficult time.

Law enforcement knew after the second case, and certainly by the third, that they were dealing with a serial killer. The Michigan State Police led a group of over 200 law enforcement officials from 13 communities, forming a task force devoted solely to the investigation. Soon after Timothy King was abducted, a composite drawing of the suspected kidnapper and his vehicle was released. A woman claimed she had seen a boy with a skateboard talking to a man in a parking lot of the drugstore to which Timothy had gone. The vehicle was reportedly a blue American Motors Gremlin with a white side stripe. Ultimately, law officials would question every Gremlin owner in Oakland County, and every blue Gremlin was reviewed.

"The biggest red herring of all was the blue Gremlin," said Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, who was the Oakland County Prosecutor at the time. "But that was all we had to go on at the time. We were looking at any lead at the time."

The investigators put together a profile of the killer based upon witnesses' descriptions of the man believed to have been seen talking to Timothy King the night he disappeared. He was a Caucasian male with a dark complexion, about 25 to 35 years old with shaggy hair and sideburns. Authorities believed that the killer had a job that allowed him to move around freely, and that he may have appeared to be someone that a child might trust, such as a police officer, clergyman, or a doctor. Law enforcement believed he was likely someone familiar with the area, and had the ability to keep children for long periods of time without arousing neighbors' suspicions.

"It was all hands on deck. It was trying to pull out all stops to prevent another homicide. We had guys come out on their days off," said Patterson.

Although the task force checked out more than 18,000 tips, they never made substantive headway on any of them, and they disbanded in December 1978.

"But homicide cases are always open. There is no statute of limitations on homicides, and they can always go back and be revisited," Patterson pointed out.

The Oakland County Child Killer has never been heard from again.

It's unknown if the killer died in the years since he last made his presence known, moved away, or was incarcerated for other crimes, and that is why he hasn't struck again. Psychologists and profilers say it is unlikely that a sociopath with a proclivity for sexually molesting and killing children would just stop on his own. Patterson said that most people who have been involved in the case in the past believe whoever was the killer is probably dead.

At various times over the last 33 years, the Michigan State Police have had leads they have pursued, all for naught. On February 17, 2005, almost 29 years to the day after Mark Stebbins was abducted, the Michigan State Police re-activated their search and task force, recognizing that new technology and forensic research could hopefully provide new results. They transferred their files, containing over 99,000 names, to their Oak Park outpost and began a renewed search.

Out of their entire database, the only useable item of evidence they came up with is one lone piece of hair that they tested for DNA.

Barry King, whose wife Marion passed away in 2004, stayed close with many of the law enforcement investigators who worked the original Oakland County Child Killer case, such as Michigan State Police Captain Harold Love and Detective Sergeant Dave Robertson, and as it progressed, stayed on top of all new developments. An attorney, he would pass along legal developments as well as interesting or important tips. It was a mutually symbiotic relationship which, unfortunately, never bore the perfect ripe fruit.

Until, King believes, July 2006, when Patrick Coffey, a California polygraph examiner, who had been a childhood friend of the King children, attended an American Polygraph Association conference, and met Lawrence Wasser, a Southfield forensic polygraph examiner. Coffey grew up across the street from the Kings, and has claimed he became a forensic polygraph examiner because of Timothy's murder. Chris King, Timothy's older brother, received a call from Coffey after the conference, telling him that he met an examiner from the Detroit area who had polygraphed the Oakland County Child Killer in 1977 before Timothy had been abducted and killed.

"Coffey told my son Chris that Wasser identified Christopher Busch, a three-time convicted sex offender who was a pedophile, as the person who killed the kids. He said he had polygraphed him in the Stebbins case," said King. "He lived at Maple and Lahser at the time; there had been some mentions of him in The Detroit News. He was the son of a prominent GM executive, and he committed suicide in November 1978."

Christopher Busch was the son of Harold Lee Busch, a high level General Motors executive, and his wife Elsie, who lived on Morningview Terrace in Bloomfield Village. Their son lived with them at that address. Both elder Busch have since passed away. Christopher Busch was in and out of police custody around the time of the Oakland County Child Killings for his involvement with a suspected child pornography ring, and had been previously convicted in pedophile cases.

While he would likely not have driven an AMC Gremlin with a father working for GM, research shows that General Motors had a few similar subcompact cars out at that time, especially the Chevy Monza, introduced in September 1974, in production from 1975 through 1980, which it is possible Busch could have been driving. The Monza also had a hatchback style. The Chevrolet Camaro and the Pontiac Astre had similar body platforms and styles, and were popular models at that time, as well.

Busch and a cohort, Gregory Greene, as well as Vincent Gunnels, were arrested, arraigned and bound over for trial in Flint in February 1977 on multiple charges of criminal sexual contact. They were charged with using gifts, threats and physical force to persuade as many as 75 boys to engage in sodomy, oral sex and lewd photography sessions.

The boys, who ranged in age from 10 to 14, were discarded by Busch, Greene and Gunnels once they reached puberty, according to a police source at the time. Supposedly the men met them by picking them up as hitchhikers and by working as counselors at community service groups and as sports team coaches.

Occurring concurrent with Mark Stebbins abuse and murder, Patterson had the men investigated and polygraphed, although today he does not recall them being serious suspects. It was concluded at the time that neither was a suspect in Stebbins case.

"That name (Busch) really does not ring a bell. It was not on the front burner at the time," Patterson said.

According to Larry Wasser's Detroit attorney, he did polygraph someone for a criminal sexual conduct case at that time, "but it had nothing to do with the Timothy King case," the attorney, who requested to remain nameless, said. He did not specify if Wasser did or did not polygraph Busch.

"The sad thing is, this man (Coffey) started something out of nothing. There is no basis in truth, and he has gotten the family stirred up for nothing," the lawyer said. "He basically made it all up. Maybe he wants recognition, or he wanted to write a book."

Busch was freed on $1,000 cash bond for the extensive alleged crimes in Flint; Greene and Gunnels remained in Genesee County jail in lieu of $75,000 bond, and were sentenced to prison for the crimes. Busch did not serve any jail time for the crimes, although his record showed that he was a convicted sex offender.

Busch's movements are unknown after that time and November 20, 1978, when he committed suicide. According to incident reports from the Bloomfield Township police, they received a call from the Busch's housekeeper who said she cleaned every Monday, that she could not enter because the night latch was locked from inside. Several days' worth of newspapers were piled in front of the door, and she reported that she felt "something was wrong with Mr. Busch."

Busch's brother, Charles, arrived, and with the police, broke the glass to the storm door off the kitchen, eventually gaining access to the house. Charles led the police up the stairs to Christopher's bedroom, where his door was closed. According to the police report, Det. Quarles wrote, "We opened the door and observed the brother in bed with a 22 cal(iber) rifle by his side, lying on his back, obviously dead, and for some time (3-4 days). Victim had apparent gunshot wound to the head, with a rifle found next to the victim, pointing at his head."

The death was ruled a suicide.

Charles Busch informed police his parents were in England, and that he, his wife Nancy, and his two other brothers, John and David, had not noticed any despondency on Chris' part.

However George Enochs, Christopher's Oakland County Probation Officer, possibly for the Flint criminal sexual conduct cases, stated on November 28, 1977 that Christopher had been despondent over "the four cases against him and may have committed suicide because of this."

The report does not elaborate as to what the "four cases against him" were, and on November 29, 1978, the investigation into his death was closed.

Around the same time, perhaps coincidentally, the Oakland County Child Killer ceased all activities, and has not been heard of either.

"It's everyone's belief that Christopher Busch probably did it. But there's no proof. And they're never going to know 100 percent after all these years," said Wasser's attorney.

"Busch is certainly a good lead. But we may never know for sure," said Patterson.

Birmingham Police Chief Studt concurs. "Busch is as good a suspect as any. But am I willing to definitely say it was him? Not until I see some proof."

That is what Barry King wants to see. Because whether or not Patrick Coffey heard it first hand from Larry Wasser, or imagined he did, King believes law enforcement and the Oakland County Prosecutor's office knows things, have evidence, are doing investigations, and are not telling him or any of the other families of the children who were murdered. He has filed suit against the Michigan State Police and the Oakland County Prosecutor's Office, demanding the right to see and know all of the information they know.

"I went 30 plus years without having any worry at all about the fact that the police were doing a good job on this. I don’t sleep as well as I used to. I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about this case and what happened to Tim," says King. He says Oakland County Prosecutor Jessica Cooper won’t talk to him and has sent him a letter that she will not, and cannot, release the files on Busch. But King wonders why, since Busch has been dead for years, and he cannot be convicted, why he can't see the file and decide on his own.

In King's lawsuit against the Michigan State Police, it is noted that on October 16, 2009, Deborah Jarvis and Erica McAvoy, Kristine Mihelich's mother and sister, met with Detective Sergeant Garry Gray of the Michigan State Police to discuss the status of Kristine's case, and Gray identified Busch, Green and Gunnels as the current persons of interest in the case, and identified three notebooks, one for each of the men. Gray also showed them photographs of the Busch suicide scene, which included bloody ligatures, and a drawing of a young man.

Both Green and Gunnels were in prison at the time of Timothy King's murder, and may have been at the time of Michelich's as well. King and Stebbins had both been tied down prior to being killed.

Sgt. Gray did not return calls to Downtown Publications.

"The Michigan Constitution, in Article 1, Section 24, says that crime victims have the right to confer with the prosecutor," he said. "I'm suing because I just want to see the file and make up my own mind. After so many years of conjecture, I need to know whether there's been a cover up or a mistake.

"If I see the file," King said, " and see that they're looking at the same facts as I am, and coming to the same, or even a different conclusion than I do, that's fine. I just want to know about Christopher Busch. I want a conversation with the prosecutor, who can finally look me in the eye and tell me how a three-time convicted pedophile never spent a night in jail.

"That's all I want. That's all my family wants."

Oakland County Prosecutor Jessica Cooper has not responded to King's numerous inquiries, and has unsuccessfully attempted to have his lawsuit thrown out. They will meet in court on October 29.

"All I can say is that it is an open and extremely active investigation," said Cooper. "With new techniques and new information, hopefully one day there will be new developments. However, I cannot discuss this publicly. Mr. King knows this cannot be discussed, and he is deferring precious resources with his lawsuit."

In her letter to King, she reiterates that the prosecutor's office is not an investigative agency, and that the policy of the office is to advise their police agencies to keep all developments of their investigations confidential until they are ready to present them to the Prosecutor for possible issuance of charges.

Patterson, the original prosecuting attorney, continues to follow the case that follows him.

"He ought to have access to the files and records. It's not going to do any harm. Who's rights are they protecting?" he asked. "If I was prosecuting attorney, not to start a fight with the current Prosecutor, those files would be sitting on my conference table and Barry would be looking at them. If they're so confidential, then swear King in as an Assistant Prosecutor, or have (Oakland County Sheriff) Mike Bouchard deputize him. There's a million ways to get around it. Personally, that's how I would have approached it."

Patterson said that if a suspect is deceased, it does not prevent the Prosecutor's Office or a law enforcement agency from acknowledging that person's name.

"I do not know of any rules or laws that prevent a deceased suspect’s name from being released or acknowledged. And we're talking over 30 years now," he said.

That may be the change in tone that King has experienced, from an open, collaborative experience with the Task Force and previous administrations at the Prosecutor's Office, to a relationship that is one-sided, and views King and the other family members not as collaborators, but as adversaries who are in the way of them doing their job.

King doesn't care. It's been 33 years. His son Timmy is forever 12 years old; Kristi Mihelich is 10; Jill Robinson, 12; and Mark Stebbins, 12. Family members have grown old, and some have passed away. Siblings have grown up, and had children of their own. It's time to close the family album on the Oakland County Child Killer.

"This was probably the most notorious case, along with Jimmy Hoffa, in my 16 years as Prosecutor. Both made national attention. Hoffa, for who he was. This case, for the four little kids," said Patterson. Both, still unsolved.

Was Christopher Busch the killer? There may never be prosecutorial certainty. But King wants to be able to make up his own mind. And finally find peace.

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