Police follow new leads in Roberson murder case

RCPD chief credits January memorial walk for new information

REED CITY — After months of awareness-raising efforts on Janette Roberson’s behalf, police have new information that might bring them closer to solving the 31-year-old murder case.

Roberson was 27 years when she was killed on Jan. 19, 1983, in the basement of the Gamble’s store in downtown Reed City. Years of investigation into the brutal homicide have left police without enough evidence to arrest or prosecute any suspects. DNA evidence, even when examined and cataloged with modern means, has never been matched to anyone, possibly because the killer has not committed another crime that would place his DNA profile in national crime databases.

On the anniversary of the murder this year, friends and family members organized a walk to remember Roberson and encourage community members to come forward with information that could be related to the case, no matter how small the detail might have been. In the weeks leading up to the walk, organizers hung posters throughout Mecosta and Osceola counties.

Those efforts may have paid off, said Reed City Police Chief Chuck Davis, who is now working on the case alongside Michigan State Police Det. Sgt. Mike Stephens.

“Out of all the posters and the walk, I think we’ve got some names worth looking into,” he said this week. “We can’t promise anything, but there’s things that have come to light. People’s names have come up — some have been looked at in past and some haven’t, it’s a little bit of both. We’ve got an awful lot of work to do before we can start pushing forward. ... It’s going to take a while to sit down and dissect every interview from the past, but it’s a worthwhile endeavor at this point, and we’re going to do it.”

Beginning to work on such an old case will mean bringing it into the 21st century. Because all the notes in the case file were done on typewriters, police will begin digitizing those notes to make them easier to index, search and cross-reference, Davis said.

Lana Lockheart, Roberson’s sister who lives in South Carolina, said she feels confident in the work Davis and Stephens are doing. She and Davis spoke on the phone last week about the case. She said it was the first time any member of law enforcement had contacted her about the investigation since it began 31 years ago.

“It had me in tears I was so happy,” she said. “There’s good people working on this now. Chuck Davis and Det. Stephens want it solved, and if there’s anything to find, I think they’ll find it.”

More awareness-raising events are being planned for this summer and around Roberson’s birthday in October, said Jeni Decker, who organized January’s walk.

“We’re talking about it already,” she said, adding that a group of supporters might march in some parades this summer to draw more attention to the case. “We’re still doing our own research too. I’m excited that the police are excited about the case, and we hope they keep working on it.”

The community interest in seeing justice for Roberson has been inspiring to Lockheart, who has sometimes worried her sister would be forgotten.

“The response was more than I ever expected,” she said. “I’m glad people are coming forward and I feel like there’s people now who really want it solved.”