The brutal unsolved murder of 27-year-old Janette Roberson still haunts the city town of Reed City, Michigan, to this very day. Janette, her husband Alvin, and their two children moved to the quaint city in 1983. Those who knew Janette described her as being remarkably kind to everybody she met. “She was patient, gentle and one of the sweetest people ever,” recalled family friend, Carrie Hudson.1 As well as being a caring mother to two young children, she also had a profound compassion for animals; one friend recollected how she nursed a small bird back to health after she found it injured. “She was the quintessential homemaker. She did the kids, she did the house,” her sister fondly recalled. Janette wasn’t just a housewife, either. She worked in the pet department of a local store called Gambles – now Reed City Hardware. Her department was located in the store’s basement.
Unfortunately, on the 19th of January, 1983, somebody cut Janette’s life tragically short. At some point between 2PM and 4PM, Janette was murdered in broad daylight as she carried out her work duties in the small 10-by-10 room filled with pet supplies. She had been raped, violently bludgeoned with a blunt object and then stabbed multiple times with multiple objects found in store. Janette died alone on the cold basement floor of Gambles as shoppers perused without a care in the world on the floor above. She was found by another store employee. The store had been relatively busy that afternoon yet nobody heard a thing. Almost all of the people who were shopping above were identified and questioned except for one man. Composite sketches of this anonymous man were drawn up. He was described as a white man with sandy blonde hair and a blue jacket; he stood around 5 feet 9 inches and weighed approximately 170 pounds.
The brutal murder rocked the small city where there hadn’t been a murder since eight years prior when Frank Kronski murdered his estranged wife. Around 200 mourners congregated to pay their last respects to Janette at the McDowell Funeral Home. Afterwards, she was buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in Reed City.
As is the case with all murders, the first suspect was Janette’s husband, Alvin. An investigation uncovered that he had been having an affair behind his wife’s back. In fact, Alvin later went on to marry this same woman and move to Georgia with her and the children. Nevertheless, investigators soon ruled him out as a suspect. While their marriage had been on the rocks, he still deeply loved his wife and would never wish harm on her. “He was devastated. He couldn’t have had anything to do with it,” said Janette’s sister, Lana. Another suspect came to light when police tracked down a man who had left town on a bus that same afternoon. He was questioned and later released. One line of enquiry early on in the investigation was the bizarre phone calls Janette had received. On the 18th of January, she received two separate phone calls at home; however, when she picked up the phone, nobody spoke and then hung up. After this became public knowledge, a friend of Janette came forward and told police that Janette had been receiving obscene calls.
Since the brutal murder, there have been a number of theories as to why Janette was targeted.
One widely believed theory was that Janette was killed in a fit of rage by somebody she knew; the murder was an exceptionally frenzied and brutal one. She was murdered with objects that were discovered in the shop indicating it wasn’t a premeditated murder but more likely a crime of passion. Her family have long believed that maybe Janette’s killer had a crush on her and when she turned down their advances, they were left seething. Investigators also looked into the theory that Janette’s killer had potentially been hiding in the basement and waited for the perfect moment to ambush her.
Eventually the tips dwindled to a halt; no other suspects were ever publicly named and the case was put back on the shelf. In 2014, Michigan State Police Det. Sgt. Mike Stephens took over the Roberson murder case from Det. George Pratt who had retired after serving the department for longer than Stephens had even been alive. The two have continued to communicate when any tips or leads surface. When the investigation began in 1983, DNA collection and analysis wasn’t standard procedure. However, DNA from the crime scene was retrieved but hasn’t yet been matched to anybody. This indicates that the perpetrator has avoided being charged with any other crimes; if he were to commit another crime and be apprehended for said crime, his DNA profile would have been entered into the national database and linked back to the Robertson crime scene. “This person could have committed this crime and not committed another crime ever, but because of the violence, that’s not likely,” said Det. Pratt.
Eventually the case went cold, but over the forthcoming years, Janette’s family held an annual “Justice for Janette” walk to keep Janette’s name and face in the public eye. During the 2018 walk, Janette’s sister, Javie, addressed the theory that Janette’s husband killed her. “He didn’t,” she said. “There is a murderer walking around free. Somebody has to know something, had to have seen something that day. Maybe it is something small, something they think is irrelevant – it’s not.”2
If you have any information in regards to the murder of Janette Roberson, please call (231) 832-3743. The cold case still remains unsolved.
- The Pioneer, 19 January, 2015 – “Community Unites during Justice for Janette Walk”
- The Pioneer, 29 January, 2019 – “Wanting Answers”