Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Cold Case, Warmed?

Video games, computers, and text messaging aren't helping, but the days when kids stopped spending time outside started dwindling long before those tech gadgets hit the market.

In fact, you can trace some of it back to a 13-month period that began in February 1976 and ended in March 1977.

Before then, before those 13 months when the Oakland County Child Killer preyed, there was an innocence about kids riding their bikes and playing outside. It was no skin off mom's nose to let her adolescent boys and girls spend hours away from home, sans cell phone or any sort of adult supervision.

That's what I did as a kid---I spent untold hours cruising the neighborhoods on my bicycle, looking for open baseball diamonds, or trying to horn in on games already in progress, my mitt strung over my handle bar.

Or maybe it was off to Cunningham's Drugstore, in search of baseball cards and bubble gum.

Whatever the mission, it meant leaving the house on a summer's morning and not returning until dinner time. Mom didn't fear for my safety, and not because she didn't care about me or love me---but because she simply didn't really have to.

That all began to change in the winter of 1976, when kids started being plucked off the streets in Oakland County and turning up dead several days later.

I was about the same age as the victims of the Oakland County Child Killer, just a tad older. And those kids were doing the same thing I just described: riding their bikes, making a jaunt to the local store, etc.

In that 13-month period, four kids ages 11 to 13 were snatched and killed in southern Oakland County: Mark Stebbins, Jill Robinson, Kristine Mihelich and Timothy King. All were grabbed in different cities: Ferndale, Royal Oak, Berkley and Birmingham.

It was a scary time for parents and kids alike, but probably more for the moms and dads.

A task force was formed, and a car was identified as a possible vehicle driven by the perpetrator. Tons of leads were explored, but in the end, the case was never solved, no arrest ever made.

The case is arguably the most intriguing of any cold case in the state's history.

But King's dad, Barry, is convinced that he has solved the mystery, at least in his mind, if not via the legal system.

For several years, King has believed that a convicted pedophile named Christopher Busch was involved in the killing of Barry's son Timothy.

Timothy King: the fourth and final victim of the Oakland County Child Killer


Barry King is now "more convinced than ever" that Busch is the guilty party, especially in light of the recent court-ordered release of 3,400 pages of investigative records compiled by the the Michigan State Police.

If King is right, then good for him; at least in some way, he'll have some closure.

Busch committed suicide in 1978.

Timothy King would have turned 44 years old this year.

The other victims may have also been killed at the hands of Busch, whose victims were plucked in an order that matches, chronologically and geographically, that of the notorious Oakland County killings.

Regardless of whether the case ever gets solved in a legal sense, one thing is certain.

We lost a lot of innocence, beginning in February 1976, when youngsters were getting snatched off the streets of Oakland County, doing the same thing that kids all over the country were doing.

It was subtle, but it was definite: parents started keeping closer tabs on their kids' activities outside of the home.

And that was way before technology reeled the kids indoors.

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