Cold Case: The Janette Roberson Story Part 1

A killer on the loose and a family left without answers.

Janette Roberson’s murder in Reed City has gone unsolved for more than a quarter century.

We looked into the case with state police and spoke to Janette’s family about the lack of closure.

This is part one of our special report, Cold Case: The Janette Roberson Story. 

“She was the quintessential homemaker. She did the kids, she did the house,” says Lana Jarvie, Janette’s younger sister.

Beautiful and religious, with an unmistakable kindness, Janette Roberson lived the life of an ordinary small-town girl.

“She did everything you would see on a 50s television show that a homemaker does. She did it to perfection,” explains Lana.

Janette moved to Reed City back in 1983, where she worked at the pet store in the basement of what’s now Reed City Hardware. 

“She would give the clothes off her back if she thought you needed them, literally. She would do anything for anybody,” says Lana.

Then, on January 19, 1983, sometime between 1 and 4 p.m., Janette Roberson’s ordinary life ended with extraordinary cruelty.

“In broad daylight, basically, someone entered the store and killed Janette,” says Detective Sergeant John Forner, Michigan State Police.

Lana recalls, “I was in the shower at home. It still doesn’t feel real. This stuff only happens to other people. This is like a book that you’re reading and you go ‘wow’.” 

Forner adds, “It was a brutal murder.”

The murder weapon was one or more different blunt objects noted in the original reports.

Many of the details remain a mystery to the public, but speculation paints Janette’s murder as a crime of passion.

“I don’t believe it’s a stranger that happened to walk through town that day that did this. The injuries to her suggest there was a fit of rage during this incident,” explains Forner.

Newspaper clippings from the time show police were looking for people seen nearby, releasing three sketches, based on witness descriptions, of one man in particular.

“There were people that were in the store that day, most of which I believe have been identified,” says Forner. “There was at least one male subject that was never identified so there were sketches put out to the public at that time.”

The mystery man has never turned up and investigators began to look at the people Janette knew best. 

“We always start in the inner circle of the victim, those closest to the victim and work outward. Alvin was a suspect at that time, the husband,” says Forner.

Detectives learned Alvin and Janette planned to divorce, and even that he had a new girlfriend. 

But like the others, investigators eventually ruled Alvin out as a suspect.

While there’s still plenty of evidence of what Janette may have been doing that day, there is far less evidence of the identity of her killer, who may still walk among us, 34 years later.

Fast forward to today, still no arrests and emerging tensions between police and the family. 

“The original people, the police officers messed up the crime scene. That’s a big no no. Even I know better. It was like this was a joke. This was a human being. And it was my sister,” says Lana.

Forner says, “There were too many hands, too many different agencies working the case. When you get too many hands into something, there’s something that’s going to be missed. It’s important to make sure that we do our best. It’s our job to get all the answers.”

We asked Lana if the day comes when police say, we’re done. Our investigation is over. We’ve been looking into this for far too long. It’s been 34 years. Are you prepared for something like that?

Lana says, “No. I will never give up hope it’s solved. I went to school here, I graduated from here, I knew these people. I just want to get a hold of him.”

*This is part 1 of a two-part series. Part 2 will air Tuesday on 9&10 News at 5.