82-year-old ar­rested in ’75 mur­der

The man was ar­rested on charges in the 1975 dis­ap­pear­ance of his wife.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - - Front Page - Bruce Viel­metti

An 82-year-old Michi­gan man has been ar­rested on mur­der charges in the 1975 dis­ap­pear­ance of his wife from Stur­geon Bay.

Ac­cord­ing to a new crim­i­nal com­plaint, Richard Gale Pierce, of Che­boy­gan, was the last per­son who saw his wife, Carol Jean Pierce, 35, in Septem­ber 1975. The com­plaint says he “had mo­tive and op­por­tu­nity to end her life, and ben­e­fit­ted from her demise in nu­mer­ous ways.”

While the 19-page com­plaint de­tails Carol Jean’s prior marriages, her time with Pierce as he served in the U.S. Coast Guard, oth­ers’ im­pres­sions of their re­la­tion­ship, and their plans to move to Che­boy­gan upon his re­tire­ment, it cites no new ev­i­dence in the case, but the ac­cre­tion of years of some­times in­con­sis­tent state­ments by Pierce to oth­ers about Carol Jean’s dis­ap­pear­ance.

Carol Jean’s re­mains were never found, and no ac­tiv­ity was ever found associated with her ac­counts or So­cial Se­cu­rity num­ber. She and Pierce were legally di­vorced in 1977.

Though Pierce was clearly a sus­pect for decades, the last in­ves­tiga­tive ef­forts in the case ap­peared to have been in 2010, ac­cord­ing to the com­plaint, un­til the Wis­con­sin Cold Case Re­view Team of the Wis­con­sin As­so­ci­a­tion of Homi­cide In­ves­ti­ga­tors dis­cussed it last month.

The ar­rest was an­nounced Thurs­day by the Depart­ment of Jus­tice and Stur­geon Bay Po­lice, which were as­sisted by au­thor­i­ties in Michi­gan

“With no an­swers as to ‘why’ for years, per­haps some ‘an­swers’ will be­gin to be of­fered to the Fil­lion fam­ily mem­bers,” Stur­geon Bay Po­lice Chief

Ar­leigh Porter said of Carol Jean’s fam­ily.

“While the pur­suit of jus­tice is of­ten dif­fi­cult, and in this case long over­due, in­ves­ti­ga­tors never gave up and hope to bring to light an­swers to fam­ily mem­bers on Carol Jean’s be­half.” Ac­cord­ing to the com­plaint: Pierce told fel­low Coast Guard mem­bers that on Sept. 8, 1975, he re­turned to the cou­ple’s trailer and found ev­i­dence his wife had left him and taken their sav­ings. He only re­ported her miss­ing 82 days later. He told po­lice that she had left be­fore and re­turned af­ter a cou­ple days.

The cou­ple had mar­ried in 1966. It was her third mar­riage and his se­cond. In 1973, he was as­signed to the Coast Guard cut­ter Mesquite, sta­tioned in Stur­geon Bay.

Peo­ple who knew the cou­ple later told in­ves­ti­ga­tors they seemed to ar­gue a lot, that Carol Jean was “the sus­pi­cious type” and of­ten the ag­gres­sor in ar­gu­ments. Oth­ers re­called Carol Jean ap­pear­ing beaten and phys­i­cally abused. At least one for­mer neigh­bor told in­ves­ti­ga­tors Carol Jean said she thought her hus­band was go­ing to kill her.

But in let­ters to her mother in the months be­fore she dis­ap­peared, Carol Jean seemed up­beat about her hus­band’s im­pend­ing re­tire­ment and their planned move to Che­boy­gan. She was even try­ing to save $100 to buy him a Coast Guard ring as a sur­prise re­tire­ment gift.

She told her mother the cou­ple had taken out a pre­paid $25,000 life in­surance pol­icy; it was never col­lected.

Neigh­bors also re­called Carol Jean’s ex­cite­ment about the move and said she would never have walked out on her hus­band as he claimed.

But Pierce’s ship­mates got a dif­fer­ent im­pres­sion about his view of the mar­riage. One re­called Pierce com­ment­ing fa­vor­ably when the ship cap­tain’s wife died from a fall down their base­ment steps.

Sev­eral peo­ple told in­ves­ti­ga­tors Pierce didn’t seem very up­set that his wife left him. He even in­vited her mother to his re­tire­ment party a cou­ple weeks later, telling her he as­sumed Carol Jean was stay­ing with her.

Pierce moved to Michi­gan that same month, met a woman at a bar the next month and mar­ried her in 1978. She is now de­ceased.

Her grand­son told in­ves­ti­ga­tors in 2005 that one time af­ter his grand­mother gave in­struc­tions to Pierce about the place­ment of fur­ni­ture, direc­tions Pierce dis­agreed with, Pierce com­mented to him, “That’s why I got rid of my wife.”

Carol Jean Pierce

Richard Gale Pierce

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