January 1, 2017 — A sheriff’s career review and case updates: the Deb Wilson murder has been solved; two others may be soon

Newly retired Ottawa County Sheriff Gery Rosema has had a long and illustrious career. He’s been in law enforcement for 43 years, 42 of them with Ottawa County. During the last 24 years he has served as our sheriff. And he has led a department through some tremendous changes…in technology, facilities, budget, and department size. But some things have stayed the same: treating people with dignity and respect still is at the heart of all effective interaction.

So, imagine a sheriff who sends his staff through Disney training for customer service, and a sheriff who uses the illustrations of both The Dating Game and The Newlywed Game for ways to consider relationships with the communities his officers serve. I think you’ll find this an interesting discussion of his life’s work. This is pretty much the full conversation with the sheriff and his captain, Mark Bennett. And it’s long, almost 80 minutes. But there was a lot to talk about.

And there are updates on major cases within the community. There were a cluster of open homicides when he took over as sheriff in 1993…and there have been others since. Many of those cases have been solved in a very public way: the Gail and Rick Brink murders, the Jana Kelly murder. But there is one the that was quietly solved: the Dec. 24, 1987 murder of Debra Lynn Wilson. There were no newspaper headlines or breaking news alerts because the murderer–David Oudemolen–died before he could be charged. Here is the story (it begins at about 31:50).

There had been reports of the suspect dying before he could be charged that appear here and here in the Holland Sentinel, but never with a name.

And here, too, is the story of what’s going on with the July 23, 1977 Deborah Polinsky murder: Captain Mark Bennett says he has every confidence that Debbie’s case will be solved soon.

Finally–and this is where I came in–Sheriff Rosema says that he thinks his department now knows what happened to the unidentified man who in 2002 was beaten to death and dragged out into a little wood near a blueberry field, and set alight…what we’ve all come to know as the Jack in the Box case (it begins at about 50:45). I was teaching at Hope College when Sheriff Rosema reached out to me through his detective Steve Crumb to make a film about the case. I led a group of students in a documentary class I was teaching. (You can learn more about the film here.) We all got an education. It was the first time I had been granted complete access to a police file. Sheriff Rosema held nothing back. I explained to my students that not only were we being granted an unusual privilege but that it was incumbent on them to keep private things that should not be shared. They were as good as their words. At the time Gary said that if we could identify the victim–named “Jack” by members of the department–he would be able to solve the case. It looks that’s what has happened. The case now involves multiple jurisdictions, but he says the end is in sight: an arrest is coming.

There are still other cases that have so far resisted solution: the November 1989 Tamara Jo Radecki murder, and the murder of an unidentified woman in the Marne area long ago. (I need to do some digging on this. Sheriff Rosema said he thinks she may have been the victim of one of the murderers of prostitutes in the Grand Rapids and Rockford area. I don’t know enough about this to make intelligent comment.)

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