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Cold Case: A Thread in Common

“Murder doesn’t stereotype. It can happen to any of us.”

Trapped in time at 27 and 80 years old.

Both Northern Michigan murders that have never been solved.

Cases go cold for any number of reasons, whether it be a lack of evidence or something else.

We want to revisit a story we brought you in February: the murder of Jeanette Roberson.

Reintroducing you to the technology that may finally mean justice and preview our next case, in this special report from Charlie Tinker and Photojournalist Jeff Blakeman.

“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.” 

A horror story that became all too real for Lana Jarvie when, 34 years ago, her sister Jeanette Roberson, was brutally beaten to death in the basement of a Reed City pet store.

“She’s been dead longer than she was alive,” said Lana. “She’s missing her grandchildren, she’s missing her children. She’s just missing.”

No suspects, no arrests and thus far, no chance for closure.

“The lead detective back then, not one time ever called my mother and told her the status of that case ever,” remembered Lana. “She died two years ago, without answers.”

“Does it ever reach a point where you feel the system has failed a family like this?”

“It weighs on you that you can’t solve every case,” related Michigan State Police Detective/Sergeant John Forner. “It brings a sense of urgency to us as far as being diligent in these cases.”

In February, we showed you the promise of modern-day forensics–state-of-the-art technology that could finally give investigators a telling glimpse into Jeanette Roberson’s final moments on earth.

Detective Forner hopes it will do the same for 80-year-old Esther Gaffney.

"She had a daughter that lived not too far away,” remembered the detective. “That daughter was the last person to see Esther alive, July 10 of 2004.”

The grandmother, who lived for her family and the church, had been shot to death.

The killer then attempted to burn the house down around her.

“What was the motive?” asked Esther’s sister, Ruth Wagner-Belisle. “Whether they hoped to gain something by her death, I can’t imagine they would.”

Ruth hopes she lives long enough to learn the answer.

“This has gone unsolved for so many years, what kind of effect has that had on you?”

“Hope fades,” Ruth responded. “When she was killed, she was the same age I am now. I can’t help but think of what it would have been like if she were around yet. I really miss her.”

That is exactly why detectives need your help…

You were so responsive when we first aired that story–that we had a number of tips to hand over to police, which can make all the difference.

Watch Cold Case, The Esther Gaffney Story Part One Tuesday on 9 & 10 News at 5 as we walk you through the story of her murder, and why it has never been solved. 

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