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Real Name: JoAnn Matouk Romain
Case: Suspicious Death
Location: Grosse Pointe Farms, Michigan
Date: January 12, 2010


Details: Fifty-five-year-old JoAnn Matouk Romain had lived in Grosse Pointe Woods, a suburb of Detroit, Michigan, her entire life. In 1980, she married David Romain. They had three children: twenty nine year old Michelle, twenty seven year old Kellie, and twenty year old Michael. After twenty-five years of marriage, she and her husband David separated. He had left her for her best friend. According to Michelle, her parents did not get along well.
Michelle says JoAnn was full of life, was the best mom, and had the warmest heart. She says they were a close-knit family. Kellie says JoAnn was a "great lady" and everyone's best friend. She was happy and fun to be around. Their house was "the house to be at" when they were growing up. Their friends were always over. It made JoAnn happy to see them with their friends. JoAnn's brother, John Matouk, says she was an "angel" and a great soul. She was out to help everybody. She was his "favorite sister" and the closest person to him. He says she was "pretty much everything" to him.
On the evening of January 12, 2010, JoAnn attended a 7pm prayer service at St. Paul Catholic Church, which was located on Lake Shore Drive in Grosse Pointe Farms. Later that evening, Lieutenant Andrew Rogers was on routine patrol when he noticed her silver Lexus SUV on a one-way exit driveway adjacent to the church. It was approximately 100 feet from Lake St. Clair. He ran the car's license plate through the Law Enforcement Information Network (LEIN) system and learned it was registered to Michelle. He also learned its license plate expired several days earlier. Because it was on private property, he did not believe there was a reason to investigate further or issue a ticket.
About an hour later, Public Safety Officer Keith Colombo, also on routine patrol, came upon JoAnn's car. He noticed that it was the only car in the driveway. According to Chief Daniel Jensen, Director of Public Safety for Grosse Pointe Farms, the church appeared dark, and there was no apparent reason for the car to be there. Officer Colombo became concerned because there was no one around and it was late on a cold January weeknight.
Inside the car, Officer Colombo found JoAnn's purse on the front passenger seat. Her wallet and $1,500 in cash were also in the car. He returned to his patrol vehicle and ran the car's license plate. He then decided to search the area. Not seeing anyone, he thought the car's driver might be down by the water's edge because people often parked near the church to walk down to the lake. He noticed, and then followed footprints in the snow that went from the nearby curb (about seventy five feet from the car) to an embankment near the water.
Officer Colombo noticed that the footprints went down the embankment to two break walls. There were two prints that indicated that someone had sat down in the snow on the first break wall near the water. Handprints were found alongside it. It appeared that the person had slid down to the second break wall near the water's edge, where another butt print and handprints were found. He could find no prints that indicated the person had come back up from the water's edge. Based on what was found, he believed there was a person in the water. Over the radio, he reported his discovery of JoAnn's car and requested assistance from his supervisor, Lieutenant Rogers. Lieutenant Rogers contacted the U.S. Coast Guard, and a search and rescue operation began soon after.
Michelle says at around 9:20pm, as she was getting her pajamas on, she noticed a car pulling around the corner. At first, she believed it was JoAnn. She was surprised it had taken her that long to come home. But when she looked outside, she saw it was a police car. She answered the door, and the police officer told her they had found JoAnn's car abandoned in the church parking lot. He asked if she was missing. Kellie started calling her phone immediately. It kept going to voicemail, which meant it was off.
JoAnn's children started calling family friends. They believed she had gone to get coffee with someone. However, no one was with her or had heard from her. Michelle called John and told him to get to their house right away. She told him about the police officer that had come to the house and about JoAnn being missing. They all decided to go to the church since that was where her car was located. According to Michelle, she left with Kellie and John at 9:45pm; the officer stayed behind with other family members.
When Michelle, Kellie, and John pulled up to the church around 10pm, they saw crime scene tape around JoAnn's car. The police were everywhere. Kellie could not understand what was going on. According to Michelle, the car was locked. The keys were nowhere to be found. JoAnn's cell phone was missing. Her purse was on the front seat; Michelle says she never left her purse behind. When she saw it in the car, she became extremely nervous.
Kellie and Michelle searched the church grounds. They searched through every spot a person could possibly get into, both inside and outside the building. When three hours had passed and no one had heard from JoAnn, her family knew something was wrong. Coast Guard helicopters and divers searched the lake for her.
Kellie asked the police why so many officers and the Coast Guard were there. They told her that they thought JoAnn had walked into the water. Kellie did not believe that. Michelle recalls it was freezing cold that night. The water was partially frozen. The police told her that they believed JoAnn had walked from her car to the water and committed suicide. Her family reportedly begged the police to use K-9 units to track her scent. They told her family that dogs cannot detect scent in the cold. Michelle later discovered this was a lie.
Chief Jensen says there were no signs of a struggle, either around the car or in it. There were also no signs of a struggle around the prints in the snow. They did not find any evidence to suggest that a crime had been committed, such as: torn clothing, items on the ground, dumped out purse, ransacked car, scuff marks or drag marks around the scene, blood, bullet casings, etc.
At 4am, Coast Guard helicopters were called off and the car was towed to the police station. JoAnn's family had no idea where she could be; she had vanished. Grosse Pointe Farms Detective Lieutenant Richard Rosati checked the inside and outside of the car for fingerprints. He said there were no clear prints, only smudges. He did not check the purse for prints. After forty-eight hours, Grosse Pointe Farms police turned the case over to Grosse Pointe Woods police because JoAnn resided there.
JoAnn worked part-time at a boutique in Grosse Pointe. It is a very rich and tight community. According to Michelle, everybody knows everybody else's business. And nobody ever truly leaves the area. JoAnn loved living there. Her social life, on a weekly basis, involved having lunch with girlfriends, inviting people over to the house for dinner, and having friends and family over. She led a very active, loving lifestyle. She had a lot of close friends. Michelle says that when JoAnn disappeared, it was "the end of the world" for a lot of people. They put fliers together and began a massive search. They looked in the woods and in dumpsters, among other places.
There was an extensive three day long search in the area where police believed JoAnn had entered the water. Michelle says the water was about two feet deep, clear, and had virtually no current. On the night JoAnn disappeared, she was wearing a black blouse, black pants, black high-heeled shoes, and a black coat. Michelle believes they would have been able to clearly see her if she was in the water.
The Midwest Technical Recovery Team, a specialty diving team, searched for three more days. They confirmed that JoAnn was not in the water. William Robinette, the team's director, says the search was the most thorough one he and his team had ever done. They found a lot of cold water and ice, but there was no trace of her. He does not think she was in that location. His team also confirmed there was virtually no current in the lake.
Chief Jensen confirmed there was nothing found indicating that a person stepped onto broken ice or entered the water. There was no hole in the ice, although Officer Colombo said he saw no ice on the edge of the lake. There was no evidence that JoAnn actually went into the water. According to her family, the pavement near the car was dry, even though police initially claimed in their report that they followed tracks from there to the water. They later confirmed there were no visible footprints on the dry pavement. They say they wanted to convey in the report that the prints in the snow were in a straight line from the driver's side of the car down the embankment to the water's edge.
Michelle says it would not make sense for anyone to be over by the water at that time of night and at that temperature. Kellie does not believe JoAnn would go anywhere near water that she could possibly slip and fall into. She says JoAnn was cautious about everything. She also notes that JoAnn was afraid of the dark and of water. She believes someone took JoAnn that night.
John says JoAnn is probably the one person he knows that would never commit suicide. He says she had great faith. He does not believe she would walk away from her children and end her life. Michelle points out that there was no suicide note. JoAnn was never on any medications. She was a devout Catholic; she went to church on Sundays but also went during the week. Michelle notes that suicide is against "all beliefs" in Catholicism. According to two of JoAnn's doctors and her family members, she had no history of mental illness or suicidal tendencies.
Dr. Nancy Milligan had been friends with JoAnn since they were in the fourth grade at St. Joan of Arc Elementary School. She talked to JoAnn three days before her disappearance. She says JoAnn was upbeat. They had a good laugh about something that had happened in Nancy's life. At the end of the conversation, they both said, "I love you. See you soon." Nancy says JoAnn never displayed to her any signs of depression. She says JoAnn would never have left her children; they were her life and her "everything."
The police theory is that JoAnn left the church in twelve degree weather in the dark of night, crossed the initial two lane traffic, went to the median, crossed the other two lane traffic, and then walked through a snowy area to the embankment. Then, while wearing high-heeled boots, she walked down the steep, icy, snow-covered embankment. After that, she slid over two break walls, dropped five feet, and then went into a foot of freezing cold water to take her own life. This theory does not make sense to Michelle. She believes it was foul play because JoAnn would never just disappear.
Michelle hired Salvatore Rastrelli to help solve the case. He is an expert crime scene investigator and a water expert. He says he has seen several cases where officers come to a scene and believe it is a suicide right away. After that, they will do everything to prove their theory. He says in JoAnn's case, the crime scene was trampled all over and nothing was properly photographed or documented. When he looked at the photographs taken of the apparent footprints, all he could tell was that something had walked through the snow. He says it could have been anybody or anything, based on the photographs.
Rastrelli says the officers did not take ninety-degree photographs of the footprints. They did not take any photos directly above the footprints with a scale next to it. If that had been done, then the photos could have been used to compare to known footprints. He says any trained officer should not have omitted those kinds of photos. The officers also did not measure, mold, or cast the prints.
Chief Jensen says the footprints found were not confirmed "exact" footprints. There was a footprint and then another one, with some sliding going on. But it was evident to Detective McCarthy that the prints appeared to be from a small high-heeled boot. Chief Jensen confirms that the photographs were not reviewed by footprint experts. He claims they did not have time to deal with the footprints because they were focused on finding JoAnn in the water. According to her family, the footprints matched those of a large athletic or business attire shoe, not the ones she was wearing. There were also several other footprints by the water. However, police claim that Coast Guard members walked through the area where the footprints were found, destroying some of them and creating some of their own in the process.
Rastrelli conducted an experiment to see how difficult it would have been for JoAnn to traverse the embankment in high-heeled shoes. He had a female volunteer put on high-heeled shoes and walk down the embankment. It was difficult for her to walk down it in normal conditions. He thinks it would have been impossible for JoAnn to have walked down it with snow and ice on the ground.
According to Rastrelli, the police chief said he knew JoAnn's case was a suicide "in five minutes." Rastrelli says there is no way for someone to make that determination on a case that quickly. He says the investigation was conducted "so out[side] of typical procedure" that he found it suspicious.
Michelle says they always had a glimmer of hope that JoAnn was still alive. But as the days turned into weeks, and then months, they realized their odds were slim. She says the disappearance was a very traumatic event. It was extremely difficult for Kellie and Michael. Michelle says he is still an emotional wreck. It is very hard for him to talk about JoAnn. Michelle felt since she was the oldest, she was going to have to take the investigation into her own hands. She knew she had to find witnesses that saw something. She went back to that night and retraced JoAnn's steps, comparing it to what the police say happened.
The Romain family was in court on the day of JoAnn's disappearance. They were plaintiffs in a lawsuit involving black mold in their home. Michelle last saw JoAnn when they left the courthouse that afternoon. JoAnn went with Michael while Michelle went with David. Michelle and David went to dinner at a Grosse Pointe Woods restaurant and separated around 9pm.
Meanwhile, at 6pm, JoAnn dropped Michael off at home. She told him she was going to fill up the car with gas for the next morning and would be right back. At 6:25pm, she got gas at a local gas station. The station manager, Mike Beydoun, says they were good friends and she was a good customer for a very long time. On that night, she was very happy and cheerful. He pumped her gas for her. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary; they had their normal conversations about family and their days. She then left.
After JoAnn got gas, she decided to go to the 7pm prayer service at the church. At 7:05pm, she arrived there. The service was about fifteen to twenty minutes long. Michelle says it was a very routine thing for JoAnn to do; if she could make it there, she would be there. There were between ten and fifteen people at the service, so it was a relatively small gathering. A witness confirmed that JoAnn was there that night. The witness was sitting in the front, by the altar, while JoAnn was in the back. When the witness turned around, they saw JoAnn in the aisle. JoAnn apparently departed the church through the lakeside doors between 7:15 and 7:20pm, when the service ended.
Within a month of JoAnn's disappearance, Michelle hired retired FBI agent Bill Randall to help solve the case. He decided that the first thing they needed to do was get a copy of JoAnn's cell phone records. One number on the records belonged to a security company. In the week prior to her disappearance, she had left a voicemail for the company. She was trying to contact an investigator. She apparently believed she was being followed by a person or persons unknown. And she was concerned.
JoAnn also told her children about being followed. When Kellie asked who was following her, she said it was "somebody different everyday." She believed they were trying to figure out her routine. Michelle says that in the weeks leading up to JoAnn's disappearance, JoAnn seemed more nervous and more cautious. Michelle says she was not paying as much attention as she probably should have. John says JoAnn was acting very troubled, very scared, and not like herself. She would not tell him what she was concerned about, even though she normally told him everything. He felt something was not right.
Randall contacted the woman that owned the boutique where JoAnn worked. He also contacted one of her coworkers. They said that from January 7 to January 8, JoAnn was receiving more calls than usual. They said she would always walk away to talk to this person; this was very uncommon of her.
At one point, JoAnn felt that her mail was being intercepted from the post office. However, a manager at the post office told police that a typing error caused another person's name to also be put on JoAnn's post office box. This could have led to someone else going through her mail. She felt that someone had followed her to the post office. She also felt that her phone was being tapped. She even felt that people were entering her home. She was so concerned that she changed the locks on all her doors. Michelle says JoAnn did not like going to many places alone; the only place she truly felt safe was church.
Randall spoke with a number of witnesses from the church. They indicated that they did see JoAnn at the service the night she disappeared. After leaving the services, approximately 7:15 to 7:20pm, one of the witnesses said she thought she heard the car alarm going off on JoAnn's car. It could have been the panic alarm. The witness saw the lights flash for about fifteen seconds. They did not think anything of it at the time because there were no other disruptions. Another witness saw the lights on the car flash, as if someone was locking or unlocking it with a key fob. She did not see anyone near it.
A witness who left the service around 7:25pm only recalled seeing a black van parked in the driveway. She did not see JoAnn's car. Another witness left the church between 7:25 and 7:35pm. She was one of the last to leave. She felt uneasy because it was so dark. As she proceeded towards her car, she looked to the left and to the right of the driveway. She noticed no vehicles parked there. This would mean that, at some point, JoAnn's car left the church and then came back. John says it was as if someone had moved the car and then put it back very close to the same spot, but not in the exact same one. No one understands why the car left and came back.
Michelle Alt told police that when she left Grosse Pointe Academy (located next to the church) at around 7:50pm, she saw an unfamiliar light-colored crossover vehicle, possibly a Mercedes, parked near the church. She was the last person to leave the school. She did not see anyone in it and did not notice anything suspicious at the time. However, she later stated she also noticed a man running on the lakeside of Lake Shore Drive. He had a scarf around his neck but was not wearing a coat.
On Saturday, March 20, 2010, seventy days after JoAnn's disappearance, her body was found by two fishermen on Boblo Island, which is located in the Detroit River's Livingston Channel in Amherstburg, Ontario. It was thirty-five miles from where she allegedly entered the water. A detective gave Michelle the news later that day. The family's worst fears had come true. Until that point, they had hoped and prayed she would come home alive.
For Michelle Romain, losing JoAnn was like she had lost everything. She says JoAnn was like the backbone of the family. It was a huge shock, a huge adjustment, and a huge loss for everybody. John says they were devastated, but they did not stop. Now, they wanted to figure out what happened, how it happened, and why it happened.
Scott Lewis is an investigative reporter and private investigator; he came in with a "fresh set of eyes" on the case. He and Michelle did not realize how far Boblo Island was from the church until they made the trip there. JoAnn's body had to have traveled from the shallow water near the church, down a shipping channel in the middle of the lake, into the Detroit River, and go thirty miles downstream. He says that that is a "little bit of a stretch" for him.
At first, Lewis was not sure if JoAnn's case was one he wanted to get into. He told Michelle that if he thought it was a suicide, he would not get involved. If he thought it was a murder, he would get involved. He says he does not see anything that points to suicide. He does not understand why JoAnn would fill her gas tank if she was going to commit suicide. That was the first "red flag" for him. He says if she had put her car in her garage and died of carbon monoxide poisoning, or if she had shot herself, he would have believed it was a suicide. He does not believe she would have walked into the lake to commit suicide. He also does not believe she was able to travel that far without one of the divers or helicopters finding her body.
None of the investigators Michelle hired thought JoAnn could have traveled in the water from the church to the island. To Michelle, the only other possibility is that she did not enter the water near the church. Instead she theorizes that her body was dumped somewhere down the river, possibly in Detroit. Michelle wonders what JoAnn's last thoughts were, if she knew what was going on, and if she knew she was in danger and was not going to make it.
Two days after JoAnn's body was found, her identity was confirmed through dental records. The body was in an advanced state of decomposition. As a result, forensic pathologists were unable to make a definitive determination as to the time of death. Dr. Jeffrey Jentzen, professor of forensic pathology at the University of Michigan, says her body may have been there for some time. Gray-brown algae and zebra mussels were stuck to her legs and lower extremities.
The Canadian coroner who performed JoAnn's autopsy noted in his report that neither United States nor Canadian police suspected foul play. The report noted "paranoid psychosis (presumed)." Nevertheless, he wrote that he found insufficient evidence that JoAnn intended to take her life. A separate autopsy was performed by the Macomb County Medical Examiner's Office. They reached the same conclusions as the Canadian coroner. Based on the lack of significant injuries, they felt that homicide was unlikely.
Dr. Jentzen was brought in to perform another autopsy. In his opinion, JoAnn's cause of death was drowning. However, he says it is certainly possible that she could have been dead prior to entering the water. Two forensic experts said she died of "dry drowning", which means there was no water in her lungs when her body was found and that her breathing was compromised before she entered the water. The manner of her death was undetermined. Dr. Jentzen could not determine whether her death was a homicide, suicide, or accident. There were two bruises on the left upper portion of her arm. He says the bruising could have been the result of an assault. Or, it could represent just two coincidental bruises to the arm. In his opinion, they occurred before her death.
Michelle still has JoAnn's designer purse, which was purchased about six weeks before she disappeared. This was the one that was found in her car. There is a rip in it which created a large hole. JoAnn always carried the purse on her left shoulder. Michelle notes that the bruises on JoAnn's arm were in the same place where she carried her purse. To Michelle, this suggests that JoAnn was grabbed that night. She believes it is important evidence to show that JoAnn was the victim of a crime.
Chief Jensen notes that the tear on the purse was not on the strap. This leads him to believe that the tear did not occur as a result of a physical struggle. There was no buckle or rivet torn from it. The tear was in the flap area of the purse. Michelle says the police never fingerprinted the purse or tested it for DNA. She believes they did not take the tear seriously.
When JoAnn's body was found, her car keys were found zipped up in her coat pocket. Michelle is bothered by the fact that everything on JoAnn was zipped up. All of her pockets were zipped up and her jacket was zipped up to her chin. This did not make sense because she never zipped up her jacket that far. Two of her belongings were also missing: her rosary and her cell phone. According to Michelle, JoAnn normally had both of those things in her coat pocket. Michelle notes that the first thing a criminal would get rid of would be a cell phone, since they can be tracked.
Another thing Michelle noticed was that JoAnn's shoes were intact. She says that other than some clay from the river, they were in "impeccable" condition. The police maintain she walked down an embankment, over some broken concrete and exposed rebar, into some rocks, and 100 yards out into the lake to drown herself. The entire bottom of the lake is rocky. Yet, her shoes had no scuff marks; her clothes were intact; and her jewelry was still on. It did not seem like she traveled too far and went through too much.
Michelle believes JoAnn was abducted while walking out of church. She believes JoAnn was grabbed from the left side by her purse (where the bruises were on her arm). She believes JoAnn was then pushed into her own car, where the abductor then took the wheel and drove away with Jo. She believes they took JoAnn somewhere along the Detroit River, rendered her unconscious (possibly with chloroform) or killed her, put her body in the water, drove the car back to the church, parked it in a spot where it would get little attention, and created the scene in the snow with the trampled footprints and the butt marks.
Michelle says JoAnn's car being moved and then taken back to the church indicates foul play. She believes that whoever did this wanted it to look like suicide. They left her purse in the car to make it look like she had purposefully left it there. Grosse Pointe Woods Police Lieutenant Keith Waszack did not believe that the car leaving and returning to the church was suspicious.
John believes more than one person abducted JoAnn. He thinks they took her to "scare" her. He does not think their intention was to kill her. Rastrelli does not believe robbery was the motive. He believes it could have been some sort of issue between her and someone else, possibly a family member. He notes that, most of the time, it is a family member, but not all the time. Or, it was someone she knew, someone that knew she would be there. The person may have been following her or just knew she was going there.
Initially, Michelle told police there were several potential suspects. One was her father, David. He and JoAnn had been married for twenty-five years. According to Michelle, the reason they separated was because JoAnn was "fed up" with their toxic, argumentative household and just wanted to live a peaceful, happy life. She was about to file for divorce. According to Michelle, he was very angry that JoAnn left him. Michelle initially thought he might be capable of having someone else harm JoAnn. She was not sure if he was actually involved, but she felt the need to put him on the suspect list.
Nancy Barich, who worked for the law firm representing JoAnn in her divorce from David, said JoAnn seemed "distraught" and "paranoid" in the week prior to her disappearance. JoAnn told her that David was controlling. She found JoAnn's behavior to be unusual. Another employee of the law firm, Jeanne Wyatt, said JoAnn "feared trouble from her husband." Randall asked Michelle to contact David for an interview, but he declined it. During Randall's investigation, he did not find anything that would indicate that David had anything to do with JoAnn's death. David had previously told police he went home and went to sleep directly after dinner that night. He provided bank account information and cell phone records. He also passed a polygraph.
Michelle told police her number two suspect was John. She did not think he did anything, but she thought that there could have been people out to get him; she thought that those people hurt JoAnn as revenge. She says John has a very "interesting" past; he had a lot of business deals that did not go right. He also allegedly owed a large amount of money to several people. JoAnn and John's brother, Bill, also suspects her death is related to John's legal problems. Randall spoke to John; John says he had nothing to do with her death.
Lewis thinks it is entirely possible that John got in trouble with somebody. Everybody knew he and JoAnn were very tight. In some situations, she bailed him out financially. Lewis thinks if somebody wanted to get back at John or send a message to him, there would be no better way to do it than to kill JoAnn, who was probably the most important person to him.
John says that in 2009 and 2010, he was struggling financially. When the real estate depression hit, it was awful for everybody that had any real estate liabilities. He admits he owed a lot of money to certain people. He says it is possible that someone he had dealings with could have murdered JoAnn. He says no matter what, he is sorry this happened. He wishes they would have killed him instead.
Michelle told police her number one suspect was JoAnn's first cousin, Tim Matouk. He was a Harper Woods police officer at the time; he is now an investigator with the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office. Michelle says that he and JoAnn were estranged; the two had reportedly not spoken in several years. Michelle says they used to have a big, loving family, but as soon as JoAnn's mother passed away in 1994, it started falling apart.
JoAnn's parents owned a successful store in Grosse Pointe Woods. When they died, they left a large sum of money for their children to split. There was a lawsuit between the siblings over this inheritance. The money was supposed to be split five equal ways, but it was never distributed properly. There was also controversy because JoAnn continually helped John out. Ever since that time, there has been "animosity and separation" within the family.
Tim says he last spoke to JoAnn in October 2009. However, according to Michelle, a few weeks before JoAnn disappeared, he called JoAnn and the two got into an argument. Michelle does not know what he said to her exactly, but she remembers JoAnn screaming at him, saying, "How did you get my number? Never call me again." She could hear him yelling, but she could not hear what he said. She heard JoAnn say, "I never said you were the root of everyone's problems...You just need to keep your nose out of everyone's business...Leave me and my family alone. Never call me again."
After JoAnn hung up on Tim, Michelle noticed JoAnn's face had turned white. She told Michelle she might be in danger and said, "If something happens to me, look to Tim." She reportedly feared him because he was a police officer and she thought he was attempting to obtain information on John.
When asked about the argument, Tim said Bill had called him and told him that JoAnn had said that all of John's problems were because of him. He says he took exception to that, so he called her. He was confused because he did not think she had any problems with him. He asked her, "Why would you tell people that I am the reason why John's got so many problems?" Her response was, "You're nothing but a big troublemaker. I don't even wanna talk to you." Then, she hung up the phone.
Throughout all of Randall's interviews, it became apparent to him that there was a lot of infighting going on, and a lot of dislike among family members. He says this makes it even harder to try and figure out the reason behind JoAnn's death. Tim says John asked him not to attend her funeral. He decided that, in order to avoid any controversy or conflict, it was better for him not to go. Randall believes there were some personality clashes between Tim and John. He thinks Tim may have harbored some bad feelings towards John. He says there are a lot of family dynamics that come into play, and they "feed off" each other.
Michelle remembers there were issues between Tim and John. They were "butting heads" often. Tim was always "poking his nose" into what John was doing. She says it has always been "ugly" between the two of them. She says JoAnn was always like a mentor to John. So, when he was having an issue (such as the problems with Tim), JoAnn tried to be the mediator and the peacekeeper.
Michelle says she keeps rehashing the conversation she had with JoAnn regarding Tim. Even though she does not know the content of the phone call between the two, she knows JoAnn had a fear of him, and now she is gone. Barich says JoAnn told her, "Tim said to me if someone wanted to get rid of you they could do it and you would never be found." One of JoAnn's friends, who was a former FBI agent, also told police to look into Tim as a person of interest. Michelle learned that a tip sent to police stating that JoAnn was paranoid, depressed, and suicidal came from Tim himself. She is also suspicious of a "closed-door" meeting between Tim, David, and Bill at the family store a few days after JoAnn's disappearance.
Tim denies having anything to do with JoAnn's death. He says he never participated in the investigation and does not even know most of the officers involved in it. He claims that he was not in the area at the time of her death. He maintains he was working with other officers in a multi-jurisdictional task force. He also denies making threatening statements to her. Randall spoke with him and found him to be credible. Randall did not find anything to indicate he had anything to do with her death.
Michelle identified another potential suspect: Bill. She claims he was involved in illegal activity and had close relationships with police officers involved in the investigation. She suggests they were close enough to Bill that they may have covered up his involvement in the case. She claims they did this because, among other reasons, he sold them alcohol at prices cheaper than Costco.
Michelle says JoAnn went to the family store a few weeks before her death in an attempt to "smooth things over" with Bill and hopefully stop the family fighting. Michelle dropped her off there. When she came back outside, she seemed "freaked out" and scared. She would not tell Michelle what had happened. Michelle believes she walked in on or heard something she shouldn't have. Bill says JoAnn wanted to make amends. She told him he should not talk to or trust Tim. He does not understand why she said that.
Chief Jensen says the police department never believed JoAnn was a victim of a crime. He believes she committed suicide by walking into the water and drowning. He does not know how far she walked into the water. He notes that there were no witnesses to it. He believes the issues with John and the family divide are major stressors that could have led to her suicide. Police also claim John told them JoAnn was "upset and stressed" over the lawsuit that started trial on the day she disappeared. A witness reported seeing a woman matching JoAnn's description at around 6:45 or 7pm that night, standing near the church, staring out into the water. Another witness at the church said that JoAnn's body language while walking in indicated to her that she was depressed.
Randall says that in all of his years in law enforcement, they do not operate on theories, but on facts. He says, based on all the facts he has obtained through his interviews, he cannot determine whether she committed suicide or was murdered.
Michelle questions the police investigation and wonders if they may have covered up JoAnn's death. She says she struggled to get any information from them about the case. She eventually won a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit to acquire documents from the investigation.
Through these documents, Michelle reportedly found time-stamped Coast Guard records which show that the Coast Guard received a call requesting a search for JoAnn at 9:30pm. However, the LEIN check on her car did not happen until 9:55pm, almost a half hour later. According to Michelle, the police officer showed up at her house at 9:25pm and her family started calling JoAnn soon after. The family's attorney says Michelle's phone records back this up. According to the records, Michelle made calls between 9:30 and 9:45pm.
Furthermore, the car was registered in Michelle's name, not JoAnn's. Also, one of the Coast Guard members said he received a report of a person missing and possibly in the water at 10:34pm. However, according to police reports, JoAnn was not officially reported as missing until 10:42pm. The police also reportedly told the Coast Guard she had been missing since 5pm, and that there was a hole in the ice; both statements were untrue.
There is also uncertainty as to how police obtained a spare key for the car. Michelle claims that about a month before JoAnn's disappearance, JoAnn told her that the spare keys for the car and house were missing. A police officer says he picked up the spare key from JoAnn's house the day after she disappeared. However, he does not remember who gave it to him. On the night of her disappearance, a black scarf was found in the median of Lake Shore Drive. Michelle confirmed it was not JoAnn's. It was placed in an evidence locker, but was eventually donated to Goodwill.
JoAnn's family also claimed that police never dusted the car or other items for fingerprints. The police claimed the only prints in the car were from JoAnn and her children, even though those prints were not on file. Also, no documentation of the fingerprint analysis was ever turned over to the family, even after the FOIA lawsuit. Rastrelli claims the fingerprinting done on the car was not done in the correct way. The police dusted the leather and vinyl seats. According to Rastrelli, the correct way to do it is: fume the car with superglue, shine a special light on the seats, and use special photography.
To prove that JoAnn's car should not have been considered suspicious by police, Michelle's investigators left a car parked overnight in the exact spot where JoAnn's car was found. A purse and other items were left in the car, similar to JoAnn's. The car was left there on three separate occasions. It was never reported by police; it did not even receive a parking ticket.
In June 2014, Michelle and her family filed a $100 million civil lawsuit against the City of Grosse Pointe Farms and additional defendants for conspiracy to cover up JoAnn's murder. They alleged that the Grosse Pointe Farms and Grosse Pointe Woods police departments and several officers were protecting "one of their own" (presumably Tim) from being prosecuted for the murder. They claimed the police ignored and/or changed witness statements, falsified their reports, and focused their investigation only on suicide.
A witness, Paul Hawk, claims the police did not take his sighting of JoAnn that night with two men seriously. He claims he was driving near the church when he saw a woman matching her description sitting on the lake's break wall. He noticed two cars parked illegally on the lake side of the road with two men standing near them. He was worried the woman was in danger because she appeared to be slightly slumped over.
As Paul slowed down and approached the men, he noticed one of the vehicles appeared to be a municipal one. It was a dark blue or black four-door sedan, possibly a Ford Crown Victoria model, and its license plate's first three letters were "BHP." The other vehicle was a silver Lexus SUV. One of the men acted as if he had a gun in his coat pocket; he motioned for Paul to go through. When Paul asked what was going on, the man said, "get the hell out of here."
A few days later, Paul heard about JoAnn's disappearance on the news. He went to the Grosse Pointe Farms police department to report his sighting. After talking with officers for about forty minutes, they told him to go home, write down his statement, and bring it back the next day. He says he did just that. According to the lawsuit, two years passed before they followed up on his sighting. In 2012, he filed a property damage complaint and claimed the damage was caused by someone sending a message to "remain quiet" regarding his sighting.
Paul claims he went to the Michigan State Police and FBI because no one ever called him back. Shortly after speaking with the FBI, he was contacted by Grosse Pointe Woods Detective Anthony Chalut. Detective Chalut asked him about speaking with the FBI, and reportedly became "aggressive" when Paul said he could positively identify the men he had seen that night. Detective Chalut allegedly threatened to have him charged with obstructing an investigation. In 2014, after he was shown a photograph of Tim, he identified Tim as one of the men he had seen that night.
In the lawsuit, JoAnn's family also claimed that police "blatantly changed" Martyna Novak's witness statement. According to police, she reported seeing a person on Lake Shore Drive at 8:30pm that night. The person was dressed in all black and facing the church. Initially, she was unsure if the person was male or female. However, she later stated the person "seemed" like a man. Alt also claims she did immediately find the car parked near the church suspicious, despite the police report saying otherwise. Furthermore, police reportedly did not contact the witness who saw JoAnn's car alarm going off to investigate her sighting further. The witness who reportedly told police that JoAnn's body language indicated she was depressed now swears she never said that.
Finally, Suzanne Owsiany says police did not take her seriously when she tried to report that she had seen a man walking in a strange manner on Lake Shore Road near the church at approximately 8:25pm that night. He was dressed in non-athletic apparel. When she last saw him, he was crossing the road and heading towards the church.
The lawsuit claimed that after JoAnn's body was found, two Grosse Pointe Farms police officers "rushed over" to Canada and falsely claimed that she was "extremely paranoid, suffered from severe mental health issues" and that "no foul play was suspected." The lawsuit also noted that investigators never looked into Tim as a suspect, even though several people brought his name to their attention. Michelle believes it is because he has connections within the police departments.
In 2018, the lawsuit and subsequent appeal were dismissed by the courts. The U.S. District Court judge said that while JoAnn's death remains a mystery, the family was unable to prove their claims against the police. The judge also stipulated: "There are disputed facts in this matter that are very disturbing and to this day remain unresolved." The judge noted that JoAnn's children failed to present evidence to support their claims that Bill was involved in illegal activity and had close relationships with officers involved in the case. During his deposition, the family's counsel repeatedly tried to get him to say he was "buddies" with the officers. However, it was determined that while some of the officers were customers at his store, he never actually socialized with them.
The police departments maintain there was no cover-up and that JoAnn's death was a suicide. They believe the family has had a difficult time accepting her death as a suicide and has "created" the conspiracy. They note the family has been unable to come up with a strong motive for JoAnn's death, beyond a "vendetta" or family feud. They maintain that JoAnn's car was discovered at 9:55pm; the Coast Guard was contacted after 10pm; and police arrived at the family's house around 10:25pm.
Grosse Pointe Woods Public Safety Officer Darryl Fisher says he arrived at JoAnn's home at 10:25pm; this was confirmed by cell phone records. He says when he arrived, he asked Michelle about the car. She told him JoAnn had it. At 10:42pm, he informed dispatch about JoAnn being missing. Seven minutes later, he called dispatch again, saying that JoAnn's family members were going to the church. He says he left at the same time. Michelle says the officer who came to their house that night was not Officer Fisher. However, after being shown photographs of all other Grosse Pointe officers, she was unable to identify the officer who came to the house.
Several pages of the Coast Guard's files indicate they were contacted by police at 10:33pm. The Coast Guard officer who received the call confirmed this time; he says the earlier times (around 9:30pm) were incorrect and were entered manually by a station member. Another Coast Guard member confirms he was contacted at 10:34pm.
Police also claim they had reasons to not believe Paul's sighting. He initially told them he had seen the cars and the woman during the mid-to-late afternoon hours. As a result, they did not believe the woman was JoAnn and did not include Paul's statement in the case report. He later changed the times of his sighting, first saying it was around dusk and then that it was between 7:30 and 8pm. He also did not mention the man reaching for a gun in several of his statements.
Police felt that investigating Tim would create a "conflict of interest", so they contacted Michigan State Police to investigate him instead. However, no further investigation was done of him; the state police claimed they did not investigate because Grosse Pointe police said the interviews of Tim were to "clear" him.
Kellie says JoAnn was a very strong spirit. As much as they miss her every day, they still feel her around, a lot. Kellie does not feel like she is completely gone. She gave John a rosary that he keeps with him. She wanted him to have faith. He thinks about her often. He says he is never going to move on until her death gets exposed and solved that they get justice for her, and they put the people responsible for her death in prison.
Michelle says that the day JoAnn disappeared, is the day that they lost everything. They do not have that love and that light anymore. She misses everything about JoAnn. Most of all, she misses the warmth, love, and comfort she gave them. She says that is something she can never really get back.
The police found insufficient evidence to reach an official conclusion regarding the cause of JoAnn's death. They consider her case open but inactive.
Suspects: Police consider JoAnn's death to be most likely a suicide. Her family believes she was murdered. Michelle has named four people as potential suspects: JoAnn's husband, David Romain; two of JoAnn's brothers, John and Bill Matouk; and JoAnn's cousin, Tim Matouk. All deny being involved in her death.
Witness Michelle Alt reported seeing an unfamiliar light-colored crossover vehicle, possibly a Mercedes, parked near the church. She later stated she thought it was suspicious. She also noticed a man running on the lakeside of Lake Shore Drive. He had a scarf around his neck but was not wearing a coat. Interestingly, a scarf was later found by police along the road.
Martyna Novak reported seeing a man near the church on the night of JoAnn's disappearance. She described him as 6'0" with a slim build. He was wearing all black.
Paul Hawk reported seeing two cars parked next to the lakeside that night. Two men and a woman matching JoAnn's description were next to them. He described the first as White, over 6'0" and about 240 or more pounds. He described the second man as having darker features, 6'0" or under, and weighing 200 pounds or less. He stated that both men were wearing long dress coats. He later identified one of them as Tim.
Extra Notes:

  • This case was first released on October 19, 2020 as a part of the second volume of the Netflix reboot of Unsolved Mysteries.
  • Tim, along with the police officers involved in the investigation, declined to participate in the show. Interviews of them that were shown came from previous depositions.

Results: Unsolved. In November 2020, shortly after the story aired, Tim agreed to be interviewed by Unsolved Mysteries co-creator Terry Dunn Meurer. He once again denied being involved in JoAnn's death. He says there is no motive and no evidence against him. He also denied that he and JoAnn were estranged. He says they were on close terms prior to the phone call. He also denies that there was any "screaming or yelling" during the call. He insists that the warning JoAnn told Michelle about him was "made up." He does not believe that she was afraid of him following the call.
Tim also addressed questions regarding his alibi for the night of JoAnn's death. He maintains he was working for the Michigan State Police's narcotics task force that night. He says they were working on an "active target" in Warren, Michigan. He says they were not allowed to leave their location because of the "activity" that was going on in their investigation. He also says his alibi was corroborated by his phone records and by Michigan state troopers' testimony.
Tim believes that the family members who accused him know he had nothing to do with JoAnn's death. He suspects they made up their story to get money from the police department.
A $200,000 reward is being offered in this case.