Sidney P. Hildebrant

Sidney P. Hildebrant, a 76-year-old man living alone in an isolated trailer in central Michigan’s Winterfield Township, was found beaten to death Sept. 5, 1997. According to forensic reports, he had sustained six “blunt force” blows to the head, including three that had broken his jaw in four places. Sidney’s body was discovered in the trailer the next day by Phillip Hildebrant, his oldest son.

Numerous leads and suspects were investigated during the following months by the Michigan State Police and Clare County Sheriff’s Dept. No physical evidence had been found at the scene, according to newspaper reports.

In the fall of 1999, a break came when an alleged witness, Travis Troost, who also was a convicted felon, approached officials with three suspects, all in their 20s at the time. Daren Albert Olson, Jason Michael Conrad and Ronald James Balcer were arrested and charged with felony murder and armed robbery.

Troost said he and the other three had gone to the trailer because Hildebrant was rumored to carry large amounts of cash. Troost said that when Hildebrant wouldn’t give them money, the other three beat him to death with “something” — he wasn’t sure what. An empty wallet had been found in the nearby woods.

Even though many aspects of Troost’s statement were consistent with earlier reports filed by forensic pathologist Dr. Stephen Cohle, his testimony was faulty and his credibility was shaky at best. Between the time of the murder in 1997 and the 80th District Court trial in 2000, Troost was sentenced to prison for home invasion and robbery. Troost’s own brother testified that Travis was a liar and “did what he wanted to get what he wanted.”

Clare County Prosecutor Norman Gage was relying on the testimony of a felon who was being transported from prison in Ionia to testify.

On May 12, 2000, a jury acquitted the three defendants after deliberating for a little more than one hour, according to Sue Field, managing editor of The Morning Sun in Mt. Pleasant.

Prosecutor Gage now says he believes Troost fabricated his story 13 years ago to get special privileges. Troost was trying to negotiate his way out of prison, according to newspaper reports from the time of the trial.

Gage said he also now believes that at least two of the three defendants charged in Hildebrant’s murder were not involved in the incident at all.

In 2001, according to Det. 1st Lt. Cameron Henke of the Michigan State Police 6th District headquarters, a cold-case team of five officers (including Henke) reinvestigated the homicide of Sidney Hildebrant for nearly a year and was unable to gather enough evidence to warrant charges against other suspects.

“Investigators have been left to wonder what role, if any, the three initial suspects who were acquitted had, and what Travis Troost knows about the murder of Sidney Hildebrant,” says Henke.

He added that any new information would be greatly appreciated.

“We still believe there is someone out there who knows what happened,” he said. “Detectives are also looking into whether the advances in forensic science would be applicable to solving this case today.”

In the meantime, the Hildebrant family has been spread to the wind with little or no closure.

“Sidney was such a nice guy,” remembers a niece, Gertrude Hildebrant. “He always let the kids borrow money.” She added that she had lost track of most of the family except for her own son, Donald Hildebrant of Morley.

“I heard that Sid was killed for a six-pack of beer,” says Donald. “That’s really sad.”

Sidney’s youngest son, Robert Hildebrant of Flint, says his father had worked as a metal fabricator at the Chevrolet plant in Flint from which he retired in 1978. He had moved to Winterfield Township in 1979. Robert said his parents were divorced. They had three children: Phillip, Robert, and Nancy.

Robert admitted that his family is estranged and that he has no contact with his siblings. He does, however, believe his older brother, Phillip, is living on the property where his father’s trailer once sat, 8644 W. Long Lake Road in Clare County.

“It was all wrong,” recalls Det. Mike Coon of the Clare County Sheriff’s Dept., who was a patrolman at the time of the murder. “It was all wrong from the very beginning.” He urges anyone with any information about the case to contact Det. Sgt. Jerry Carter at the Michigan State Police post in Mt. Pleasant.

— Nancy Spier

 

Investigative Contact:
Det. Sgt. Jerry Carter, Michigan State Police in Mt. Pleasant, 989.773.5951

Date of Birth:

Age at Death/Disappearance:
76

Date of Death/Disappearance:
Sept. 4, 1997

Case Type:
Homicide

Case Status:
Open

Relative Links:

 
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