Cold cases may be solved, but statute of limitations prevents arrests

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published December 2, 2019


ST. CLAIR SHORES — It’s been more than a decade, but St. Clair Shores police believe they have solved two cold cases in the city thanks to forensic investigations.

Unfortunately, because of the statute of limitations, the department can’t bring a request for charges to the Macomb County Prosecutor’s Office for either of the crimes.

On Nov. 3, 2001, a married couple was leaving Gilbert’s Lodge, 22335 Harper Ave. As they were about to enter their car, a then-18-year-old man approached them wearing a Halloween mask and carrying a shotgun. He allegedly pointed it at the couple and took a purse and a wallet before running away over the wall that separates the restaurant from the neighborhood.

Police called in a K-9 unit from the Michigan State Police and tried to track the suspect, but couldn’t find him. The man had dropped the mask in the parking lot, however, and police were able to recover DNA from it.

The following day, a resident on Maxine Street called police to report that he found a dollar bill, a wallet and a pager in his shed that didn’t belong to him, according to St. Clair Shores Police Detective Lt. James Fraser. The items belonged to the couple that had been robbed. A search of the area also led to the recovery of the shotgun, which was buried in leaves under a piece of plywood near the shed, and the woman’s purse, which was found under some pine trees.

Although there was no DNA match in the system in 2001, Fraser said that the suspect has now been identified as a 36-year-old Garden City man who was arrested for domestic homicide in June and is awaiting trial.

“This guy was actually developed as a suspect way back then,” Fraser said.

Police that night stopped a car that was leaving Gilbert’s Lodge. The driver allowed the officer to search him and the vehicle, but there was no evidence in the car. Police followed up their investigation with the man later, and noted that another man was standing with him in the driveway when the officer pulled up. The other man ran away, and Fraser said they believe he was the suspect.

“The guy we have the DNA hit on was a roommate, or resided in that house,” Fraser said. “They didn’t have enough to arrest him. They wanted to talk to him,” but police could never get the man to cooperate with the investigation and come into the department.

With the 10-year statute of limitations already passed, police cannot arrest this man for the crime.

“The only way you can go beyond 10 years is if you can prove they were out of state,” Fraser said.

He said the man was arrested in 2003 for possession of a stolen vehicle, but police did not swab the man for DNA at that time.

Police are not naming the man because he has not been arrested or arraigned on charges for the crime in St. Clair Shores.

Fraser said police also believe they have solved a Dec. 3, 2008, robbery at the Best Bank inside the Kroger that was located at 31145 Harper Ave., but again, because of the statute of limitations, police cannot request charges against the suspect.

Fraser said that the suspect passed a note to the teller saying that he had a gun and to give him all the money. The note was recovered and dusted for latent fingerprints, which were sent to the Michigan State Police Crime Lab for analysis.

“In October, we got a latent fingerprint off the note that identified our suspect,” Fraser said.

The suspect is a 52-year-old Eastpointe resident who was convicted of bank robbery in 2013 and was just released from prison in April. Fraser said he doesn’t know why the fingerprint wasn’t matched at that time, but Detective 1st Lt. Robert May, with the Michigan State Police Crime Lab in Sterling Heights, said that technology is always advancing.

The Michigan State Police have a new automated fingerprint identification system that has come online in the past year, he said. While he can’t comment on individual cases, May said that new technology and evolving algorithms may have led to the match now.

“In the general sense, the algorithms have improved,” he said. “What may be happening here is you’re seeing this improved algorithm catching prints that it may not have caught before.”

Every time someone is arrested, and potentially if a background check is performed on an individual, they are entered into the unsolved latent database for a fresh comparison, May said.

“The technology improves, and so I think you’re probably going to see more of that happening in the future where we’re going to start getting hits on cold cases or old cases that we wouldn’t have gotten a hit on before,” he said.