November 16, 2009 — Justice comes to Covert

April 26, 1998, the body of Deborah Boothby was found on Blue Star Highway. Her death was classified as a hit and run. Nope. She had been beaten to death. That mistaken assessment didn’t sit well in the community at large or in the law enforcement community. And, in the last two years police have undertaken an effort to bring those who murdered her to justice.

You can read about the case here:

Herald Palladium

Channel 3

MLive

And here

The Michigan News.

It’s a grisly crime by all accounts and it hangs on the work by a dedicated collaborative team. The Michigan State Police, the Covert Township Police, and the Michigan Attorney General’s office. We’ve seen this kind of work before, certainly in the Janet Chandler case. …And there is a figure who has played a prominent role in both cases: Detective Sergeant Diane Oppenheim. It was she who went through the Chandler file and spoke for the Michigan State Police about the case when we made the film in the fall of 2003 and early 2004. At the time she said she wanted to work the case and hoped that it would be solved before she retired. Her duties at the South Haven State Police post kept her from working that case. Instead, it fell to David Van Lopick and Michael Jaffrey and Geoffrey Flohr from the State Police (teamed up with Roger Van Lier and Rob Borowski from the Holland Police Department). Ah, but she got in on this one. …She and Officer Jay Allen from the Covert Township Police Department, Trooper Kyle Gorham from South Haven State Police Post and Dennis Pheney from the Attorney General’s Office.

Detective Sgt. Oppenheim and I spoke in January of 2008 about the Boothby case and several others. I was poking about area cold cases and this was one that stuck out a mile…misidentified as a hit and run, the initial investigation less rigorous than it should have been. I know it bothered the Detective Sergeant a lot and she said at the time that the case was under active investigation. I backed off that one immediately; she didn’t need a film maker thrashing about in a case that’s being worked. She said she thought the investigation would be wrapped within the year. It took just a little longer, but here we are: one person has pled to second-degree murder and four others have been or will be arraigned in the case. The charges are premeditated murder and first-degree felony murder. That’s life if they are convicted. It’s possible they may be offered lesser sentences for a plea.

The work on the case kicks into high gear; investigators and prosecutors have to be ready to prove what they charge in court. There are no guarantees that any of the four will plead, although that would certainly be nice and would save a lot of time and money. This kind of work is both time consuming and generally very expensive.

The team members who took on this case certainly didn’t have a lot of resources at their back; budgets are slim and getting slimmer. They DID have determination, intelligence, and luck. And it paid off.

And when this is done…do investigators get a chance to kick back a little and reflect? Well, maybe for a few minutes, but there are other area cases calling:

Maurice Walker of Covert. Murdered 1993.

Wilda Wilkinson of Bangor. Murdered Dec. 27, 1986.

Linda and Harry Holzer of Fennville. Murdered 1975.

Crystal Rainey, 8, and Robert Wayne Rainey, 4 of Bangor. Murdered in 1992.

Know something about these cases? I’m thinking Diane would LOVE to hear from you: 269.637.2125. Nope, she’s not done. Nor are those who work with her.

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