Trigger Warning: This story discusses possible suicide.
In January 2010, JoAnn Romain disappeared after attending a prayer service in Michigan, USA. Two months later, her body was found in the Detroit River, over 56kms from where investigators initially thought she had died.
At the time, police ruled the death a suicide, however, her two daughters, Kellie and Michelle, still believe that she was murdered.
The fifth case on the Netflix series Unsolved Mysteries, JoAnn’s death is still a mystery, however, there have been many theories as to what may have happened.
According to the Detroit Free Press, Michelle obtained “time-stamped Coast Guard records through the Freedom of Information Act” which raised significant questions about the death of her mother, particularly the timeline, which she and her legal team feel “is the most significant issue in the case”.
At 9.55 pm, Michelle’s abandoned car was found in the parking lot of St Paul’s on the Lake Catholic Church. Inside the car were her purse, wallet and cash.
Police also found footprints of a small holed high heel in the snow leading to the water with no return footprints.
According to the documents, a phone call was made to the Coast Guard at 9.30pm, requesting a search be held on the day she disappeared.
A police officer then called the US Coast Guard and a search and rescue mission went underway from 10.30pm until 1.30am.
Two months later, JoAnn’s remains were found.
What didn’t add up?
According to Michelle, the police arrived at her house at 9.25pm to say that her mother was nowhere to be found, 30 minutes before she was officially declared missing.
Even though the police ruled it a suicide, suggesting that JoAnne walked into the “icy ” Michigan Lake St. Clair, Michelle’s private investigations (which included forensics and scientists) concluded that there was no hole in the ice.
Other findings included the footprints found did not match the shoes JoAnn was wearing the night she disappeared, her car — which was actually registered under Michelle’s name — had just been filled with petrol and that she didn’t have a history of mental illness.
The reports also found that there was no current at the time that could have pushed her body 56km down the river and an autopsy showed that there was no water in her lungs. They also found that JoAnn had bruises on her upper arm where she carried her purse, which was also found with torn handles which may have suggested a struggle.
Michelle sued the Grosse Point Woods and Grosse Pointe Farms Police department, alongside her cousin Timothy Matouk, a former Harper Woods police officer, alleging they were involved in a cover-up.
In the lawsuit, she alleged that the police did not cast a mould of the footprints, witnesses saw JoAnn leaving the church around 7.20pm while another heard her car alarm for approximately ten seconds. Her car and purse were never tested for DNA, her boots had no scuff marks and a forensic expert said it was “almost inconceivable” she had drowned herself.
What does Michelle think happened?
In an interview with the Detroit Free Press in 2016 (six years after JoAnn’s disappearance), Michelle said she believed that her mother had been “abducted from church and dumped into the water near Belle Isle over some ‘personal vendetta’ against a relative; that some police officers knew about it, covered it up and called it suicide to protect the killer”.
In 2014, Grosse Pointe Farms Police Lt. Rich Rosati denied Michelle’s claims saying: “We firmly believe that she committed suicide,” Rosati told the Free Press last week. “We believe that the evidence at the scene corroborates that, and that’s about it.”
On November 20, 2015, Michelle approached the FBI and in the same interview with the Detroit Free Press said: “It just doesn’t make sense,” she said. “It never has”.
Unsolved Mysteries features interviews with both Michelle and Kellie, along with relatives and suspects John and Tim Matouk.
The case still remains unsolved.
Watch Unsolved Mysteries: Volume 2 on Netflix now.
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