A home invasion leads to unsolved arson and double murder.
Crimes and mysteries frequently go together, whether that may be from the perpetrator’s calculated doing or due to an unexplained chain of events, that leave more questions than answers. From the unexplained disappearance of a single person or group of people to the unsolved murder of a single individual or the murders of two or even more individuals. These cold cases, without a doubt, deserve the chance to be closed just as much.
Case in point
An apparent home invasion leads to the death of two high school sophomores and close friends all the way back in 1982, between May 9 and May 10, in a small town in Michigan. That night, when their respective parents reluctantly let their boys spend the night at one of their houses, unsupervised, led to a parent’s worst nightmare becoming a reality.
In the small town of Deerfield, in Lenawee County, Michigan, from where two high school sophomores, 16-year old David Cole and 17-year old Timothy “Tim” Fowler, grew up and had become close friends. Also, as for why Tim wasn’t the same age as David, despite being in the same grade, was due to him being held back a year during grammar school, but I digress.
The two boys, after bonding over several shared interests including automobiles, frequently hung out together. After completing high school, both boys aspired to open up and operate their own Auto Body Shop together. Their love of automobiles was so strong that during their free time, up until their untimely deaths, they worked on a 1968 Mercedes Benz.
Both David’s and Tim’s families described them as “good kids” who kept their noses clean.
On May 9, 1982, David’s mother and stepfather, Sandra Hill and Matt Hall, had gone to West Virginia to visit a sick relative. Since they were going to be away, David asked them if it was all right that he invite Tim over to their two-story farmhouse, which was just a few miles outside of Deerfield. As a mother and not liking the idea of her son and his friend staying the night without parental supervision, she suggested to her son that he should go over to Tim’s instead, which was less than two miles from their’s and she knew his parents would be home. Likewise, Tim’s parents were against the idea of the boys staying at David’s empty house too.
“I’d told him I’d just as soon Tim not stay, but if David wanted to stay at Tim’s, it was OK just as long he came back to turn on the lights and feed the animals.”
— Sanda Hill (David’s mother)
However, both David and Tim persistently asked to stay the night at David’s, and both sets of parents ultimately caved in, albeit reluctantly.
In the early morning hours of May 10, at approximately 12:45 a.m., firefighters were called to the farmhouse. When they got there, the farmhouse was notably already fully engulfed in flames. Once the fire was extinguished, and while sifting through the charred remains of the house, responders found the bodies of both boys in the farmhouse’s bathroom which, notably lacked any windows. Other evidence to note at the scene was that the boys were still in their street clothes and that a five-gallon can of gasoline that was kept in the barn of the farmhouse was discovered, along with the bodies, with the rubble after the fire was put out.
The fact that the boys were found still wearing their street clothes led investigators to initially believe that they were awake at the time the fire started.
Following the tragic incident, subsequent reporting by many media outlets led to a discrepancy in media reports
Of the factors not completely clear due in part to this discrepancy
- Why or how did the boys end up in the windowless bathroom?
Two news stations, WTOL 11 and Monore News, both written in July of 2016, reported that it remained unclear as to why the boys went into the bathroom during the fire, rather than exiting the residence.
Another source, Michigan Live, reported that investigators had ruled out the possibility that the boys were herded into the windowless bathroom, where they were subsequently locked in.
I know what you’re thinking, “If they were forced into the bathroom then locked in while a fire was started, why didn’t they just break the lock to get out and make a run for it?” The reason they couldn’t was that the lock to the bathroom was on the outside. What’s more is that during the investigation, it was discovered that not only was the bathroom only able to be locked from the outside but that it was actually “an addition” to the farmhouse.
As for the Michigan Live report, it appears to quote a Citizen Patriot article,¹ written on the incident back in 1983. The latter article reads:
“Ordered into the windowless bathroom by their assailants, the boys soon realized their danger as smoke seeped under the door, the room’s only exit.”
Reportedly, as the scene was being investigated once the fire was put out, one of the bodies was notably discovered in the bathtub. Investigators surmise that the boy had filled the tub and tried to submerge himself in the water in a desperate bid to survive, to no avail. Unfortunately, the bathtub in question was found to be made of fiberglass and consequently melted around him.
Going by the theory of a home invasion, due to the discrepancy, it is unclear whether David and Tim were already in the bathroom when their assailants broke in, or if they were made to go in there by force.
Furthermore, it is unclear as to where the fire started. According to the 1983 Citizen Patriot article, gasoline was poured in front of the bathroom door and ignited; however, more recent reports claim that the fire was started from the kitchen, which was located adjacent to the bathroom.
Following the incident, investigators initially operated under the theory that it was a result of a “squabble” over a female love interest. The Citizen Patriot article, again quoted by Michigan Live, as saying:
“A high school disagreement that was carried too far by teenagers from nearby Petersburg. It’s likely that the boys knew their killers and highly unlikely the murders were the work of someone simply passing through. You have to go out of your way to pass through Deerfield.”
However, without any further context given, this excerpt from the article makes no sense and is cited only from Michigan Live. As a result, from where the information from this excerpt came is unclear.
Around that time, three teens from Petersburg were questioned, as confirmed by a Lenawee County Sheriff’s detective, but due to a lack of evidence, the investigation has since slowed.
Going back to one of the articles written back in July of 2016, according to Monroe News, although the murders occurred in Lenawee County, it was just across the Monroe County line, and that there are several connections to Summerfield Township and Petersburg.
Detective Kevin Greca of Lenawee County and Lt. Moore claim that they have developed a good number of suspects, even though not only have two of these suspects have passed away within the last three decades since the double murders happened but that one of them was incarcerated for unrelated charges.
As far as what the motive was for the whole incident, that much remains unclear. Although Detective Greca mentions that he has established at least a dozen possible scenarios; what evidence and known clues investigators do have yet to pin down the most accurate scenario as to what happened.
- As mentioned earlier, a quarrel over a love interest is one of most believed theories.
- The second most believed theory is that it was over substance abuse.
On that last note, Kim Spencer, the younger sister of Tim, emphasized that her older brother never partook in recreational drug use, but she believes it was possible that her brother was targeted to “send a message” to someone else who may have been in debt concerning drug use.
In 2016, Kim joined (and was verified under KimSpencer), a forum on Websleuths where users discussed the unsolved murders of her brother and David. On the forum, she said of the case,
“Thank You, they were not bad kids. My brother had a girlfriend and the girlfriend was not faithful (we found this out after). She received phone calls stating that if she talked the same thing would happen to her. She has been requestioned. She conveniently “forgot” about this until she was shown a picture of the crime scene.”
Additionally, Kim shared a theory of her own, saying:
“I agree with those of you who believe this was more than just over a girl. Its just sad, because I know that girl knows the truth behind all this. There are some drug related theories that I know the detective has been working on. That would be one of the reasons why the Michigan State Trooper is involved also because the crime is in one county and the suspects are in another. My personal theory on the drug issue is that another member of my family owed a drug dealer some money and instead of killing the person who owed him money, he had my other brother killed to send a message. This is crazy that this sort of thing happened to my family in such a small town, but regardless this is only my theory and I have not only lost a family member over it I have also lost another member who believes I blame him. Unfortunately, I do not know who to trust and who not to. I never know who is related to the suspects so I do choose to keep most of what the detective tells me to myself.”
As of late, police still hold the belief that there are people in the area with knowledge over who started the fire, and from there, the motive behind it. According to Detective Greca, there are currently five suspects that the authorities are investigating. Once the right information is in hand, Detective Greca commented that the case could be, and still is, solvable; and despite the challenges the case has been facing since the beginning, that recent progress is being made even now.
Lastly, according to Kim, her parents still live in the area and still holds out hope that one day, her family will finally get closure and answers.
Anyone with information on this fire is encouraged to contact Crime Stoppers of Lenawee County. If anyone has any information about this case, please call 517–266–6161 or, toll-free, 877–276 8477. Alternatively, text your tip to 274637 and start it off with “Lenawee” or submit a tip at www.tipsubmit.com. It can also be left anonymously.
¹Original 1983 Citizen Patriot article — (Unable to locate).
²Images from imgur