|This case has remained unsolved for a minimum of 47 years, 9 months, and 21 days.|
Oakland County, Michigan (MI) is composed of 62 cities and towns, including the majority of Detroit’s northern suburbs. Even in the 70s, the area was bustling with close to one million residents, and had a relatively affluent and diverse population. But with more people tends to come more crime, and after a spree of child assaults and murders took place from 1976–77, many suspected that a serial killer might be in their midst.
Currently, there are four confirmed victims of the Oakland County Child Killer (OCCK), sometimes known as the Babysitter Killer, with many other killings that might be related. Despite over four decades of investigation from various law enforcement agencies, the killer or killers remain uncaught. Who committed the Oakland County Child Killings?
Table of Contents
The Oakland County Child Killer
For this article, I’ll go through the confirmed victims of the OCCK, their disappearances and discoveries, discuss some other potential victims, and then have a look at the suspects that authorities have investigated over the years. I tried to find as much information as I could about the victims, but as with so many older stories, there was only so much I could dig up in old newspapers and articles.
The four confirmed victims are listed in chronological order from when they disappeared and were later found. Authorities believe that there may be more victims out there, but only these four are currently confirmed victims of the OCCK. I will update this list if and when more information comes out. As always, if you have information to contribute, please reach out to me so I can update my article.
Confirmed Victim #1: Mark Stebbins
In 1976, Mark was 12 years old and a 7th grade student at Lincoln Junior High School. He was still small in stature, roughly 4’8 in height and weighing about 100 lbs. Although he was described as quiet, he was also a good student and seemingly well-liked by classmates and peers.
Mark’s family lived in Ferndale, an inner-ring suburb of Detroit, MI. His parents were divorced and he lived with his mother and his brother, Michael. The two enjoyed spending time at the local American Legion Hall, a veterans service organization that is committed to mentoring youth and sponsoring wholesome programs. When he grew up, Mark hoped to become a Marine.
February 15, 1976: Mark Disappears
On the afternoon of February 15, 1976, Mark was playing pool at an American Legion Hall with his brother, Michael. He wanted to return home in time to watch a movie on TV though, so he called his mother around 1:30 PM to letting her know that he’d be heading home.
Michael stayed behind, playing pool for another hour or so before heading home himself. When he arrived home, he saw that Mark hadn’t arrived — which was odd because his brother had left an hour before he did. In 2018, Michael explained to a news outlet that he still feels guilt for not walking home with his brother:
“I left probably an hour after [Mark] did. Maybe if I would’ve went home with him. Who’s to say? I might have been able to save him because maybe they wouldn’t have been looking for two kids” (Fox2Detroit).
It seemed unlike Mark to not have returned home by a reasonable hour, especially because he’d called beforehand to let his mother know that he was on the way. By 11 PM that night, his worried mother contacted the Ferndale Police Department to report her son as missing.
February 19, 1976: Mark’s Body Found
A businessman was walking near a local mall around 11:45 AM on February 19 when he thought he saw a dressed mannequin. When he got closer, he realized that it was no mannequin; it was a child’s body. He immediately alerted authorities, and the body was unfortunately confirmed to be Mark’s.
During the autopsy, authorities found a single human hair on Mark’s clothing, which would later be matched to hairs found on a later victim. There were signs that he’d been sexually assaulted, and that he’d been restrained by ropes. His cause of death was ruled as suffocation.
Body Was Not There Earlier
As authorities began their investigation, they interviewed another witness who explained that they’d been walking their dog in the same area that morning around 9:30 AM and hadn’t seen the body then. If the body had been there earlier, the dog would have found it, the witness explained.
It seemed that Mark’s body had been placed there sometime between 9:30 and 11:45 AM, when the businessman found it. Aside from that however, authorities had little information to go on.
Case Remained Unsolved
For a while, the case remained unsolved with no new leads or tips that proved fruitful. Things changed later that year when another young child, 12-year-old Jill Robinson, was discovered murdered in the same county.
Confirmed Victim #2: Jill Robinson
Jill Robinson was 12 years old in December 1976. She lived with her mother and two younger sisters in Royal Oak, MI, an inner-ring suburb of Detroit. Described as very bright, and perhaps a bit stubborn, she was a good student who worked hard in school and got good grades.
From a young age, Jill had nightmares that someone was going to shoot her. Her fears couldn’t be calmed and her parents took her to a child psychologist, hoping to assuage her that nothing bad was going to happen to her. Perhaps they should have taken her concerns more seriously.
December 22, 1976: Jill Runs Away
From what I can gather from sources, Jill was arguing with her mother on the afternoon of December 22, 1976 regarding chores. Frustrated, Jill took her bike, packed a bag, and left from her Royal Oak home, running off as so many children do. However, unlike most of the children who choose to run away, Jill never returned.
A friend of the Robinson family spotted Jill later that evening by Tiny Tim’s Hobby Center, a nearby hobby shop that she liked to frequent. And when Jill still wasn’t home by later that night, her father contacted authorities around 11:30 PM.
December 23, 1976: Jill Spotted Again
The next morning, December 23, two witnesses said they saw Jill near Donut Depot between 6–7 AM. Later that day, her bike was found behind the hobby store, but she was nowhere to be found. She would never be seen alive again.
According to news sources, authorities didn’t take Jill’s disappearance as seriously as they should’ve. From the sounds of it, she was a runaway, and therefore the case wasn’t worked as though a child had been abducted. That would all change when her body was found just a few days later.
December 26, 1976: Jill’s Body Found
Four days after she disappeared, Jill’s snow-covered body was found on the shoulder of the I-75, north of Troy, MI. It was an area about 20 minutes from her home. She wasn’t bound, nor did she show signs of having been tied up as Mark Stebbins had.
Autopsy reports showed that Jill had been killed with a 12-gauge shotgun blast to the head. She was still fully-clothed, her backpack on. Surprisingly, there were no signs that she’d been raped or molested, and it seemed that she’d been cared for and fed in the time since she went missing.
Angry with the Case’s Handling
Because authorities pinned Jill as a runaway, the case wasn’t taken as seriously as a potential child abduction case. Jill’s father, Tom Robinson, spent many years angry and upset with authorities’ handling of his daughter’s case. He explained:
“They won’t respond to what they consider a runaway for 48 hours, but [Jill] wasn’t a runaway. She was a kid who got angry, stomped her feet out of the house and got picked up by a creep” (The Crime Wire).
But Jill wouldn’t be the last child to die, and soon, authorities would begin to suspect that they had an active serial killer in Oakland County.
Confirmed Victim #3: Kristine Mihelich
In 1976, Kristine Mihelich was just 10 years old and a 5th grade student at Pattengill Elementary School. Her parents were divorced and she lived with her mother and younger brothers in Berkley, MI. Described as quiet and shy, Kristine was an average student with only a handful of friends.
January 2, 1977: Kristine Disappears
On January 2, 1977, only about a week since Jill Robinson’s body was found, Kristine went to a local 7-Eleven in Berkley, MI to purchase a teen magazine. It should have been an easy enough walk there and back, even for a 10-year-old, but she never returned home.
Worried when her daughter didn’t return, Kristine’s mother, Deborah Ascroft, contacted authorities. There were whispers that Kristine was another victim of whomever had killed Jill. Acroft told a news outlet at the time, “People keep talking about the Royal Oak girl, but I’m just not even going to think about that.”
January 21, 1977: Kristine’s Body Found
Several weeks after she disappeared, Kristine’s body was found in Franklin, MI by a mailman making deliveries. Franklin is about 8 miles from Berkley, so it seems that Kristine had been transported there at some point in time. Her body was found in the same clothes she’d disappeared in.
During the autopsy, it was discovered that Kristine had been suffocated, the same way that Mark Stebbins had been. Although she’d also been cared for in the weeks since her disappearance, unlike Mark, there were no signs of sexual assault.
Parents Start to Panic
With three young children missing and found murdered in the span of about a year, parents in Oakland County began to fear that their children could be next. At Pattengill Elementary, the school that Kristine had attended, children used to walk home, but now most were picked up from school by their parents.
Despite the precautions taken by parents in the area, authorities still weren’t convinced that there was a serial killer. It would take one more victim for law enforcement to finally acknowledge that the OCCK really existed.
Confirmed Victim #4: Timothy “Tim” King
In 1977, Timothy King was an 11-year-old boy who played basketball on his school’s team. He lived in Birmingham, MI with his parents and siblings, an older sister and two older brothers. Tim was described as outgoing, athletic, and well-liked, and unlike Jill Robinson, there was no doubt that he’d been abducted when he went missing.
March 16, 1977: Timothy Goes Missing
On the evening of March 16, 1977, Tim borrowed 30 cents from his sister and then went to a local pharmacy to purchase some candy, only three blocks away from his home. This wasn’t an uncommon occurrence for him, and he’d done it many times before. Why should this time have been any different?
It didn’t take Tim long to get there on his skateboard, and the clerk recalled selling Tim some candy. The clerk said that he saw Tim walk out of the store around 8:30 PM. That was the last time anyone saw the boy alive.
Tim’s Parents Return Home
Around 9 PM that night, Tim’s parents returned home to see that the front door was ajar and that their son wasn’t home. Tim’s older sister wasn’t home either as she’d gone elsewhere for the evening, so it wasn’t clear how long Tim had been missing for. His parents searched the property and surrounding area, then contacted authorities to report Tim as missing.
The Birmingham Police Department took the case seriously, with the police chief at the time stating: “Whatever happened to Tim happened between the time he left the store and before he got home. It doesn’t look particularly good at this time.”
TV & Witness Interviews
In a TV interview, Barry King (Tim’s father) made an emotional appeal to Tim or whoever had Tim, begging for his son’s safe return: “We love him very much, wherever he is and whoever he is with.” He mentioned that Tim could have Kentucky Fried Chicken when he got home — apparently, Tim’s favorite meal.
On the other side of things, authorities asked for anyone with any information to come forward. One witness did, saying that she’d seen Tim speaking with a man in a dark blue AMC Gremlin. It’s not clear if the man or the suspect car was ever identified.
March 23, 1977: Tim’s Body Found
Two teenagers made the gruesome discovery of finding Tim’s body in a ditch about 300 feet from a busy road in Livonia, MI. Tim was still wearing the same clothes he’d last been seen in, and his skateboard was nearby, roughly 15 feet from his body.
An autopsy revealed that Tim had been fed and taken care of in the time since his disappearance, and his body had been washed before being dumped. Tim also had fried chicken in his stomach — the same meal that Tim’s father had promised to his missing son on the news interview. His cause of death, like two of the other victims, was suffocation. He’d also been sexually assaulted, as Mark Stebbins had been.
Finally, after Tim’s murder, authorities accepted the idea that a serial killer of children was prowling Oakland County. It should also be stated that Tim was actually the seventh child to go missing in the area over the past year or so, but he is only the fourth confirmed victim of the OCCK.
A task force was put together, coined the Oakland County Special Task Force (OCTF), with the sole goal of identifying and bringing to justice the OCCK. The case file ended up having more than 20,000 tips and 500,000 pages of documentation, along with thousands of interviews.
A Profile and Sketches Made
Several sketches have been made of potential suspects from witness descriptions, and a formal criminal profile was established for who might’ve committed the assaults and murders.
The OCTF released a suspect profile in March 1977, summarized below:
- Caucasian male, 20–30 years old
- Above average education and intelligence
- Ability and capacity to store child for at least 18 days
- Homosexual, with mental problems (possibly seeing a psychiatrist)
- Compulsively clean — fanatically so, and no substance abuse involving drugs or alcohol
- Has had prior contact with police and works a white collar, 9–5 job
- Different (stranger ranger)
However, despite having sketches, physical evidence left on the victims, a suspect profile, and a task force working on solving the cases, no one has ever been arrested for the crimes.
Other Potential Victims
All of the confirmed victims of the OCCK were kidnapped from affluent suburbs north of Detroit, MI. In addition to the four confirmed victims, there are a number of other potential victims that might’ve also been murdered by the OCCK, spanning the years 1969–1979. These potential victims are also listed in chronological order:
- Patricia Ann Spencer (16) & Pamela Sue Hobley (15): Last seen walking together on River Road in Oscoda, MI on October 31, 1969. They’ve never been seen again.
- Donna Serra (17): Donna was last seen hitchhiking in Macomb County, MI on September 29, 1972. Her body was discovered in a shallow creek on October 20, 1972, and investigators determined that she’d been imprisoned and drugged for several days.
- Laura Wilson (16): Laura’s body was discovered on November 10, 1972 in Detroit, MI. She had been raped, beaten, and murdered after going to a Bi-Rite Market.
- Jane Louise “Janey” Allen (13): Janey was last seen hitchhiking in Oakland County, MI on August 7, 1976 before her body was discovered in Ohio five days later. The body’s decomposed state didn’t allow investigators to determine if she’d been sexually assaulted.
- Valerie Bishop (10): On Detroit’s west side on February 2, 1977, Valerie was attacked, raped, and stabbed when she was sent to a corner store to pick up milk.
- Kimberly Alice “Kim” King (12): Kim snuck out of a friend’s house during a sleepover in Warren, MI on September 15, 1979 and was never seen again.
As is stands now, the OCCK is suspected to have murdered up to ten victims ranging in age from 10–17 years old, although there could more, yet undiscovered victims out there.
Several Suspects Examined
Authorities had several suspects for the OCCK, many of whom were either convicted or suspected pedophiles. A pedophile ring was also uncovered that had been targeting young boys in the Detroit area since the early 70s, with some of the following suspects involved in the ring.
Suspect #1: Archibald Edward Sloan
Archibald Edward Sloan was living in the Farmington Hills area and working as a mechanic when the four children went missing or were murdered. He is currently serving a life sentence in the Gus Harrison Correctional Facility for sex crimes against minors.
Hairs found in Sloan’s 1966 Pontiac Bonneville matched mitochondrial DNA (the DNA one inherits through one’s mother) found on two of the victims: Timothy King and Mark Stebbins. However, the hairs were not from Sloan himself; it’s not clear who the hairs belonged to.
Additionally, when the DNA found on the bodies was tested against Sloan’s DNA, there wasn’t a match. Oakland County Chief Assistant Prosecutor Paul Walton explained, “It doesn’t mean [Sloan] didn’t do it, but whoever those hairs belong to is obviously a person of interest.”
Sloan was also known to have driven a black 1969 Chevy pickup truck and a blue 1971 Chevy pickup truck. An Oakland County Prosecutor told a news outlet, “Investigators are looking for information concerning any other people who may have used this car or who had access to any of these vehicles.”
Suspect #2: Christopher Busch
According to newspaper reports, Busch was “an admitted serial pedophile who told police he fantasized about kidnapping and molesting children.” Busch also drove a blue Chevrolet Vega hatchback which was reportedly similar to the AMC Gremlin that was spotted at one of the abduction scenes.
Barry King, one of the confirmed victim’s fathers, strongly suspected Busch as being the OCCK. Busch’s nephew also reported that his uncle had driven him to Timothy King’s abduction site and remarked, “He was standing right there when he was taken.”
In 1977, Busch pleaded guilty to reduced charges of molesting young boys and was sentenced to probation. One year later, Busch was found dead in his parents’ home of a suspected suicide before he could ever be charged in the OCCK case.
In Busch’s room, a drawing of a screaming boy was found, a drawing that “resembled Mark Stebbins,” one of the victims in the case. Other evidence recovered from the scene included ropes and a shotgun shell, but that evidence was “thrown out” by police when they concluded that Busch’s death was a suicide, so it could never be tested for DNA evidence.
However, the mitochondrial DNA that was recovered from Timothy King’s body did not match Busch’s DNA, the same way it hadn’t matched Sloan’s. It doesn’t completely rule them out as suspects, but it suggests that someone else had to be involved.
Suspect #3: Bob Moore
To understand this suspect, first we have to discuss Richard Lawson. Lawson participated in a 1970s sex ring that targeted young boys in Detroit. When Lawson was being taken out of a courtroom in 2006 while facing his criminal sexual conduct charges, he told a local news outlet that he knew who the OCCK was. Later, he named one of his co-conspirators in the sex ring, Bob Moore, stating that he was the real OCCK.
In a statement summarized by police, Lawson pointed the finger at Moore: “Lawson went on to say that Moore had a bedroom set up in the basement of the building where he molested young boys.” However, it seems that at the time this accusation was levied, Moore was already deceased.
As far as I can tell, there was no physical evidence tying Moore to any of the crime scenes. Authorities also weren’t able to question him about the accusation because he was already dead.
Suspect #4: Gregory Woodard Greene
Greene lived in the Detroit area during the time that the four confirmed victims went missing. He was later sentenced to life in prison in June 1977 for sexual assault charges against children, which seems to fit in with the crimes committed against the confirmed victims.
In 1977, Greene told authorities that the aforementioned Christopher Busch was the one to kill Mark Stebbins. According to news sources, both Greene and Busch took and passed polygraph examinations regarding the murders.
However, some Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) documents obtained by a blog called “The Oakland County Child Killer” suggest that Greene would have been in jail (because he couldn’t afford to make bond) during the time that Timothy King was killed. For this reason, most people don’t think that Greene was the OCCK.
Suspect #5: James Gunnels
A parolee by the name of James Gunnels was potentially tied to the murder of Kristine Mihelich when the FBI concluded that Gunnels’ mitochondrial DNA matched a hair found on the victim’s body. (That means that the hair belongs to either Gunnels or a male relative on his mother’s side.) Gunnels said he didn’t know how his DNA got there, and he has never been charged in the OCCK murders.
Unlike the other potential suspects, Gunnels doesn’t have any child sex offenses on his record. Instead, his offenses include controlled substance manufacturing (methamphetamines), larceny, breaking and entering, unlawfully driving away in an automobile, and attempted prison escape. That doesn’t mean that he couldn’t have committed the child killings — only that he hasn’t been caught and convicted for child sex offenses.
Gunnels has also denied any involvement with the child killings, telling a news outlet in 2012:
“I’m not guilty. There it is there. But at the same time, I know how the state police twist words to their advantage. My heart goes out to those families. It really really, really does. I don’t feel that they were served justice through any of this.”James Gunnels (Source: Click on Detroit)
What Do I Think Happened?
This case is a difficult one simply because of the number of victims and potential victims involved. It also strikes me as strange that while both confirmed male victims displayed signs of sexual assault, neither female victim did. This is contrary to the Office of Justice Programs statistics which suggest that female victims are more likely to be sexually assaulted after a kidnapping.
With the victims of the OCCK, the male victims were the ones who were sexually assaulted. Perhaps this ties into the pedophile ring that was preying upon young boys in Detroit in the 70s, but more investigation is needed to conclude that.
Sloan May Know More Than He’s Saying
The fact that some hairs were found on the male victims’ bodies that were also found in Sloan’s car suggests to me that he may have been working with the killer, or at least been acquainted with him enough to let the killer borrow the car on a semi-regular basis. How else would the same hairs (linked by mitochondrial DNA) end up both in Sloan’s car and on the bodies of the victims?
Gunnels Probably Knows More, Too
The fact that some of hair linked by mitochondrial DNA to Gunnels (or one of his maternal male relatives) was found on the victims also suggests that he knows more than he’s told authorities. Perhaps someone should take a closer look into his maternal male relatives. As Oakland County Prosecutor Jessica Cooper said, “Finding anyone like this who turns out to be the donor of the hair may be the key to solving these… murders.”
Was a Woman Involved?
Some have suggested a woman may have been involved in the kidnappings, because children are more likely to implicitly trust and go with a woman rather than a man. This is certainly possible, although we don’t have any publicly-available evidence to support this theory. There also hasn’t been any evidence found (to my knowledge) that suggests a woman was involved.
Justice is Long Overdue
Regardless of if the OCCK was one killer or several killers working together, these victims deserve justice. It’s been over fifty years since the first potential victims went missing.
Mark Stebbins’ brother, Michael Stebbins, who has waited more than four decades for answers, has begged for information:
“I would hope that if anybody out there has information in the case that they would please put it forward because it has been a very long 45 years for me with no answers at all.”Michael Stebbins (Source: Click on Detroit)
If you know something, it’s time to come forward — for Mark, Jill, Kristine, Tim, and all the other potential victims out there.
Despite the long decades since these cases took place, updates have been few and far between.
September 1977: Anonymous Letter
An anonymous letter was mailed to authorities in which the writer “Allen” suggesting that “Frank” was the real OCCK. Allen claimed that he stayed with the children in a Detroit apartment while Frank went to work. Law enforcement was never able to track down the letter-writer or the alleged killer.
February 2019: Children of the Snow Documentary
In February 2019, Investigation Discovery released a documentary about the OCCK titled “Children of the Snow.” It suggested that a pedophile ring was active at the time of the killings, operating from North Fox Island, and that the child killings may have been tied to the ring. The documentary is available on Hulu.
June 2020: The Snow Killings Book
Do You Have Information?
If you have information in the OCCK case, please reach out to the Michigan State Police at (734) 287–5053 or (833) 784–9425.
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