Archived Story

Police search for motive in killings

Published 10:50am Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Niles Daily Star

Det. John Slenk of the Michigan State Police Paw Paw Post is assisting in the investigation at John and Carolyn Tarwacki’s home in Howard Township, where the couple was killed Friday in a double homicide that has shaken the Niles community.

During his career, Slenk has supervised many cold case investigations, most notably that of Janet Chandler, a Hope College student who was kidnapped, raped and murdered in 1979 – an investigation that brought her killers to justice nearly 30 years after her body was found along a Michigan highway.

Now, Slenk is turning over every rock, investigating every lead and questioning everyone possible in the deaths of the Tarwackis, a process he calls “victimology.”

“It’s pretty time consuming,” Slenk said of a method of investigation that includes learning everything possible about a victim or victims.

“The victims,” he said, “will point you to their killer or killers.”

What police already know the two were violently killed by a single assailant. Autopsies on both victims have been completed but results have yet to be released and authorities won’t say just what kind of weapon was used to kill the couple.

“Because a suspect is not in custody, we are obligated not to release the exact cause of death or specific weapons in order to effectively investigate and prosecute this case,” Cass County Prosecutor Victor Fitz said.

Police put out a plea to the public again Tuesday, releasing a few more details regarding their investigation in an effort to spur more tips in tracking down the person responsible for the murder of two people police say appeared to be “model citizens.”

“We did not develop a suspect or killer within 48 hours,” Slenk said. That is usually a sign, he added, that authorities are in an investigation for “a long haul.”

Still, with more than 100 tips received from the public, cooperation from the victims’ families, friends and acquaintances and ongoing interviews, police don’t have a name or a face to put with the Tarwackis’ killer. And Slenk said he will do everything in his power from keeping this double homicide from turning into a cold case.

It is at this point in the investigation, the “deliberate and methodical process” of victimology, Slenk said, is imperative.

“Until I know everything there is to know about these two people, I won’t be able to determine motive for their deaths,” he said. “Once I know the motive, I’m going to know who killed them.”

Timeline of a crime
Police have pieced together what they consider a reliable timeline, Lt. Michael Brown, of the MSP Niles Post said.

Authorities say a witness claimed to have seen a white male, age 20-30 with a medium build and brown hair in the neighborhood of the Tarwacki house in the 900 block of Carberry Road early Friday morning.

Brown said he wanted to clarify that this person of interest was “definitely walking on Yankee Street at least twice. Once while it was dark, between the hours of 6 and 6:45 a.m. and once later around, between 7:30 and 8:39 a.m.”

That timeline, Brown said, is based on information acquired through interviews, of the last contact made with the victims before their bodies were found around 12:45 p.m. Friday.

A nephew had been living with the couple. Brown wouldn’t go into details but said that police have a list of persons of interest and as they continue with their interviews they are narrowing down the names on that list.

A killer in the community
Police can confirm that there was no sign of forced entry into the house and said reports that the Tarwackis’ dog, a 200-pound great mastiff, had been found in the bathroom when authorities arrived to the scene, could not be verified as accurate.

The couple was blatantly targeted, Slenk said, an opinion shared by other investigators working the case, according to Brown.

“We don’t have any indication that this was a breaking and entering that went bad,” he said.
Asked if the killer could still be in the community, Slenk answered, “I think they’re in the community, yes.”

The person responsible could very well flee, he continued, but being someone known by the couple, their absence would draw the attention of family, friends and police.

“I’m very confident that they knew their assailant,” Slenk said.

An assailant that took the lives of a couple loved by many, the circumstances of their deaths a growing mystery.

“It appears by everyone,” Brown said, “that Carolyn and John were model citizens.”
Taking that into consideration, Slenk said, “something made someone very angry.”

The process in finding out who was responsible could take time, he added, reiterating the importance in the community’s patience, understanding and cooperation.

“Our sincere sympathies go to the families and the friends of the victims as investigators work diligently to solve this terrible crime,” Brown said.

Police are asking for the public’s help with tips and leads that might aid the investigation into the Tarwacki double homicide.

A person of interest has been identified as a white male, 20-30 years old with brown hair and a medium build in the area of Yankee Street and Carberry Road early Friday morning.

Police are asking anyone who may have seen someone in this vicinity, or possibly have dropped someone off or given anyone a ride early Friday morning to that area of Howard Township or Niles to contact authorities immediately.

Investigators would also like to speak with any friend or acquaintance of either John or Carolyn Tarwacki.

Contact the Michigan State Police at 683-4411.

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  • rayakim

    I live right down the street and wish they would hurry up and find this guy that killed these people! It’s really sad and I hope they get justice.

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