In the fall of 2009, Marney Keenan had a fateful meeting that would lead to 10 years of reporting on a 40-year-old cold case, and ultimately, the publishing of her first book, The Snow Killings.
“I wrote the book, or committed myself to writing the book, because I wanted to bring the truth about the entire investigation to light,” she said.
Anyone who lived in Oakland County during the late ‘70s remembers the Oakland County Child Killer. Over 13 months between 1975-1976, four kids, aged between 10 and 12, were taken from sidewalks and a drug store parking lot. The victims – Mark Stebbins, Jill Robinson, Kristine Mihelich, and Timothy King – were abducted, held for days, and murdered, their bodies all found along public roadsides.
That meeting – one that lasted three hours – was with the last victim’s father, Barry King. It started by King telling Keenan and her editor at The Detroit News that a friend of Timothy, who had grown up to be a polygraph examiner, had the most promising lead the case had seen in decades. One that pointed to Christopher Busch, a convicted pedophile and son of a wealthy General Motors executive, who had been freed weeks before Timothy disappeared.
“Were it not for that conversation, we wouldn't be doing this interview. There would be no book,” said Keenan, who currently lives in Bloomfield Hills and grew up in the area.
After Keenan broke the story for The Detroit News about that lead, she would go on to report about the case for years before turning the information into a book.
“I wanted to celebrate those, like Barry King, who made it their mission to find justice for these kids. I also want to shed light on those who conspired to keep a lot of this information away from the public through the cover-up,” she said. “So, that's why I wanted to do it and in order to do that I had to get inside the investigation. That took a long time and I had to gain the trust of the lead detective and had to follow the case through.”
She did gain that trust, with both former detectives and the victims' families. Keenan’s decades in reporting – she worked for the Detroit News for 26 years, as well as the Chicago Tribune and other weekly and daily newspapers – helped her tell this particular story.
The process of writing the book itself, which was published in June, was complex. Keenan found herself with multiple file cabinets full of police records, old newspaper clippings, and transcriptions of interviews related to the case.
After deciding to tell the story chronologically, Keenan used a whiteboard to help her outline all the chapters, important facts, and build a narrative arc.
“Then I’d change my mind about the structure and mix it all up and drive myself nuts,” she said. “I had a huge learning curve.”
Keenan hopes people come forward after reading the book, through the Oakland County Child Killer’s Task Force tip line, conveniently located on the books’ website.
“People saw things, people have knowledge of what went on during that 13 month period in 1976 and 1977. The families deserve answers. The public deserves answers,” Keenan said. “There was a cover-up. We were never supposed to know about Chris Busch…A cover-up that was intended solely to save face of task force officials. It's an injustice heaped upon a tragedy, you know?
“So, I think with the combination of science and getting this case out on a national scale, we might be able to find some answers,” Keenan said.
Photo: Laurie Tennent