Cold-Case Murders in Lansing Set For New Special Detective
A new cold-case detective is shedding fresh light on unsolved murders in Lansing, Michigan dating back to the 1960s.
"On a warm summer evening in 1979, Karen Oatley went for a ride on her 10-speed bike.
The 14-year-old, who was born almost deaf and wore a hearing aid, never came home. Her body was found a day later in a wooded area near what was then Gardner Junior High School. It was only a few blocks from her house. She had been strangled and her throat was slashed.
Nearly 35 years later, her parents, Lee and Sandra Oatley, still don’t know who killed her. Or why. The case is one of 63 unsolved homicides in Lansing between 1963 and 2012, according to police records. A case is typically designated “cold” after one year if no charges are filed.
The not knowing, Lee Oatley said, is [']like having a bamboo shoot under your fingernails.[']
[']You live with it every single day,['] Oatley said in a telephone interview from Ft. Myers, Fla., where he and his wife now live. [']There’s always something that will come up during the course of a day that will remind you of it.[']
[']Of course we pray a lot,['] he added. A resolution is [']one of the first things we pray for.[']
Last year, at the urging of Mayor Virg Bernero, the department assigned a detective to handle cold cases. It’s the first time the department has done that. The goal, said Police Chief Mike Yankowksi, is to [']bring peace to the families and friends of those tragically killed.[']
[']Our goal is to solve every homicide,['] Yankowski said. [']We want to bring justice to the victims and the victims’ families. That’s why we got into this business.[']
It’s also possible that solving a cold case could prevent other killings.
City Councilwoman Carol Wood said solving a cold case likely would have stopped the serial killer who targeted her mother.
Matthew Macon, who is serving a life sentence, told police that he killed his first victim in 2004. Three years later, according to Macon’s own statements to police, he killed Wood’s mother, Ruth Hallman.
[']If Matthew Macon had been convicted of that (2004) crime,['] Wood said, [']maybe my mother wouldn’t be dead today.[']
Detective Lee McCallister, an 18-year veteran, is the department’s cold case investigator. The position was created last fall, although Yankowski said it wasn’t until this year that McCallister has been able to dedicate significant time to cold cases.
He has been cataloging evidence, seeking information from previously assigned investigators, and when necessary re-interviewing witnesses and suspects. McCallister works closely with other detectives and is able to enlist the help of other area agencies as well as federal agencies.
He assigns a solvability rating to each case, Yankowksi said, determining how best to deploy resources. McCallister’s focus, for now, is cases that are most likely to be solved.
McCallister has been reviewing cases back to 1963, which is the first case the department began tracking as an unsolved homicide.
It was the April 19, 1963 shooting of Everett Marlett at his [']living quarters['] next to the motel he owned at 3519 S. Cedar St., according to State Journal archives.
For the upcoming fiscal year, the department has budgeted $149,000 for the cold case detective position. That includes salary and benefits, as well as funding for training, and travel to interview suspects, witnesses or follow up on leads.
So far, one case has been submitted to the Ingham County Prosecutor’s Office, seeking charges.
Yankowski declined to give specifics. He said McCallister is close to submitting a second case, as well.
Rodney Graham Jr. has become an advocate for his cousin — 17-year-old Nicole Haynes — who was beaten to death nearly 20 years ago in her home.
Graham, 37, said the announcement of a cold case detective has given him a glimmer of hope.
[']I don’t want my cousin to be remembered as a box with a name on it,['] he said, referring to her police case file. [']She deserves better than that.[']
Nicole’s body was found Feb. 15, 1995 inside her house in the 600 block of South Francis Street.
It was believed she had been living alone after dropping out of Eastern High School.
There were no signs of forced entry, and Graham said her dog, a pit bull, was found locked up.
He said family members were trying to convince her to go back to school.
Nicole enjoyed photography, and at one point worked at a portrait studio.
She had considered becoming a beautician.
[']She was still a kid,['] Graham said. [']She still had kid dreams.[']
Lansing police placed a renewed emphasis on cold case homicides after a Lansing City Pulse report last year highlighted the fact that the department’s tracking of the cases was incomplete and not well organized.
The department’s own internal list of cold cases, which was obtained by the State Journal, did not include a handful of victims.
It also included several cases that had led to charges and or convictions and should have been considered solved.
The department now has a comprehensive list, officials said.
Cases between 1993 and 2013 are posted on the city’s website. Officials said the rest of the cases dating back to 1963 will be posted soon.
Yankowski said the website list provides transparency, allowing the public to know what cases are unsolved and track the department’s progress.
Bernero’s administration proposed and advocated for a cold case detective, said Bernero’s executive assistant, Randy Hannan. Previously, cold cases were divided among individual detectives.
More than 20 detectives are listed on the department’s internal list.
[']We took a look at how they were handling cold cases, saw a need for improvement, and we acted on it,['] Hannan said.
Lee Oatley used to meet regularly with one of the detectives who worked on his daughter’s case.
But since he and his wife and children left Lansing in the early 1980s, he has not been contacted by police. He has lived in Alabama, California and now Florida.
Oatley, a onetime engineering technician for the Michigan Department of Transportation, left for another job.
But his daughter’s senseless killing haunted him.
Lansing, he said, became a place he wished he’d never lived.
[']When I drove down the street,['] he said, [']everyone I looked at, I wondered if they were person that killed my daughter.[']
It has been more than 30 years of not knowing. And hoping, he said, for [']a miracle.[']"