The Detroit News
Fresh eyes scope out cold case
Michael Arntfield and his students at The Cold Case Investigative Society aren’t in the business of bashing law enforcement. But after spending eight months examining the 36-yearold unsolved Oakland County Child Killings case, they have concluded the investigation is crippled by “a complete institutional breakdown.”
This shouldn’t come as a shock to those who have followed the case. Ever since a new suspect emerged in 2008, numerous investigative agencies have been spinning their own theories about suspects, both dead and alive. The concurrent assembly of two grand juries convened by dueling prosecutors is confusing, to say the least. Muddying the waters are the odd reports from a so-called informant named “Bob” who claims the killer is involved with rogue police officers.
“This case was frustrating just to read, before we even got involved,” says Arntfield. “Some of the stuff is just mindboggling. At some point, somebody needs to step up to the plate and take ownership of this case.”
If you haven’t already gathered, Arntfield is not your average, erudite, sweatervested college professor. He’s a 14-year veteran homicide detective in London who also holds a Ph.D. in media studies.
Two years ago, Arntfield began a course called The Serial Killer in the Media and Popular Culture. Armed with basic police investigative techniques, students analyzed decades-old cold cases from all around North America.
“The idea was to combine the information-age expertise of Generation Y and X-ers, with their youthful enthusiasm and lack of bias, to look at these cold cases and see what detectives with the same jaded perspective they’ve held for 20 years might have missed,” he says.
Some cases even got close to being solved. In one 40-yearold unsolved murder case in Wisconsin, Arntfield says students used social media to track down a person of interest whom police didn’t even know was alive.
The students’ final reports, which include analysis and recommendations — are turned over to law enforcement.
The course evolved into The Cold Case Investigative Society, a now extremely popular “club” made up of a dozen handpicked graduate and undergraduate students from a variety of disciplines from mathematics to biology to the visual arts.
“The more different life experiences, demographics and, even left- and right-brain differences, the more unique and valuable perspectives they bring to the table,” Arntfield says.
Last fall, the Society chose the serial child murder case that has been a thorn in the side of Metro Detroit investigators for decades. The students poured over news accounts; they studied several thousand pages of police reports, interviewed the victims’ families and visited evidence scenes.
Last week they turned over their 25-page analysis to the Michigan State Police. It was direct, succinct, and did not mince words. Among their findings:
Prime suspect Christopher Busch, if alive, would be on trial for one or more of these murders and there is compelling evidence that others conspired and colluded with him.
Investigators missed an opportunity to draw a nexus between those involved in child pornography and these murders.
Busch’s suicide was most likely staged to implicate him or he was murdered by a coconspirator looking to place all culpability on him.
The convening of two grand juries is “at best, a redundant practice” and “at worst, is yet another example of state officials seeking to diffuse their responsibility to the victims’ families and the respective communities.”
Arntfield says the methodology used in the Society was gleaned from a series of recommendations that came out of an inquest into “horrific oversights in an Ontario serial murder case not dissimilar to this case.”
“Law enforcement needs to be self-critical sometimes,“Arntfield says. “To look at our mistakes and move forward.”
Still, he adds: “This is not an exposé on who screwed up. This is lending our analysis and expertise for law enforcement’s benefit. It’s up to them to listen, right?”