UNSOLVED: Murder at the Reedsburg Dam

Monday marked 32 years since state police say someone shot and killed John Skamelka as he was fishing near the Reedsburg Dam just outside of Houghton Lake.

Detectives have chased several leads since then, but the case remains cold.

July 19th, 1989 — John Skamelka set out for a day of fishing just outside of Houghton Lake.

But John’s day enjoying one of his favorite pastimes, would end in tragedy.

His son Phillip still remembers the moment that changed life forever.

“It’s kind of a freaky situation, state police came down and said what happened at my mom’s and we went down there and of course they fingerprinted all of us to make sure we didn’t have anything to do with it,” recalled Phillip.

State police got a call that afternoon about a man who was unresponsive at the Reedsburg Dam.

That man, was John Skamelaka.

“After the EMTs had went to work on Mr. Skamelka, they realized it wasn’t a heart attack and in fact it appeared he had been shot. After they started the investigation they did notice his wallet was missing at the time,” said D/Sgt. Doug Baumann with the Michigan State Police.

Detectives weren’t able to track down any eye witnesses, but did get a description of a man who’d been seen in the area for several days.

Witnesses said he wasn’t a regular around the dam and appeared standoffish.

“Seemed to be weathered if you will, had a couple days’ worth of hair growth on his face, longer hair, greasy, it was described as being greasy, slicked back and then also that he had, what was described at the time, as a later model station wagon, maybe an Oldsmobile or a Ford Pinto style. When law enforcement arrived on scene, and we’re shown where the vehicle had been camped, it was gone and what appeared to be tire marks from someone leaving in a hurry,” said Baumann.

But despite an exhaustive statewide search, investigators kept running into dead ends.

“Lots of tips come in, we got this person that’s been talking about it, this person might know and then you follow up on it and if might have been a different crime they were talking about or it was a look alike,” said Baumann.

And the wait for answers began to take its toll on John’s family.

“I was so stressed out, I had anxiety so bad, and I just kept thinking, they have to catch this guy, and no one knew really where to look. I saw my mom get old overnight, it was really not good,” said Phillip.

And the three decades since have yielded few new clues or leads.

“At this point it’s truly just a who done it. What we’re hoping here is with the new advancement in some of our technologies, fingerprints, DNA if we can get resubmittals on some of those things collected at the scene maybe we can get a connection,” said Baumann.

John’s son Philip still makes trips to visit his father’s gravesite just outside of Midland.

“You got to just deal with it you know, part of life, it’s terrible the way it happened,” said Phillip.

Hoping and praying for answers that have eluded detectives and his family for 32 years.

“Oh definitely we want answers. He loved everybody, if anyone needed help with anything, food or anything. If anybody out there knows, someone knows who did it, he’s had to talk to somebody, if you’re know, call state police, call me, just let somebody know, somebody actually knows something out there that they’re not saying,” said Phillip.

If you have any information on who may have killed John Skamelka, you’re asked to call Michigan State Police in Cadillac at 231-779-6040.

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And you can listen to extended interviews with John’s son Philip and D/Sgt. Baumann on our unsolved podcast.