It’s autumn of 2010 and I’m standing in the exact spot where 10-year-old Kristine Mihelich’s ice-burned body had been found in the dead of winter, 1977, her newly plum-colored face a muted beacon in the freshly fallen snow off the side of a wooded cul-de-sac 30 minutes from the more slushy detritus of Detroit. It was 34 years ago that Kristine had been snatched, exploited like a new toy, then re-gifted to the world as a mere conjecture of what she’d been when new.
A mailman had discovered Kristine on his regular route here in Franklin Village, only ten minutes from my boyhood home. He’d banked his mail truck and walked toward swaths of color off the side of the road. There was no blood at the drop scene but he’d been drawn by Kristine’s coat, slightly frozen to the mannequin of her torso.
The mailman, a homely guy in his early thirties, stood over Kristine’s body, then made hurried footprints back to his vehicle.
At the time, Franklin Village, even beyond this street, was still very wooded, pocked here and there with chimneys that built downward into great rooms that found fireplaces with dogs snoring next to them, balls rolling across the hardwood flooring, the smell of bread being baked and, more or less, families still intact between the walls of their architecturally-sound homes.
Franklin Village, at least metaphorically, should have been hanging from a Christmas tree back then, encased in glass. When the snow fell, it was as if you could hear somebody moan from five houses down. It was that quiet inside its orb.
Nobody died in Franklin Village until they were old, and Kristine didn’t die here, either. She’d been killed during captivity, somewhere else, then driven around for a while and dumped here like a stack of newspapers hitting the curb in a Dickens movie.
The street I’m standing on, Bruce Lane, where Kristine had been tossed, bares the given name of a well-known Detroit area psychiatrist of the time, Bruce Danto. Danto had a track record of writing about serial killers in the early 70s, so a drop site with his name attached to it was titillating to the local press. Conjecture was that Kristine’s killer had been directly challenging the psychiatrist. Kristine was dropped miles from where she’d been abducted and, since you don’t ever know Bruce Lane is here unless you’re looking for it, the killer was presumed to have been making a public statement with his placement of her body.
Other people thought Danto himself was Kristine’s murderer and that his academic fascination with serial killings was a translucent cover for the obtuse-looking doctor with a receding hairline and bad glasses.
For a while, people even suspected the ungainly mailman with only lightly developed social skills and a house full of trinkets. After all, he’d found the body and there were no other footprints in the snow besides his. Police chalked that up to the overnight dithering that would have fouled the area around Kristine’s deposit, covering anybody else’s tracks. As well, a news chopper had come in almost immediately after Kristine was discovered, and any footprints that might have previously trailed out of the snow like an ellipses leading to the killer might have been blown away by its downdraft.
When police had interviewed the mailman after finding Kristine’s body, he’d indeed “seemed off.” He was nervous, avoided eye contact, and was generally silent throughout the interview process. None of that leads to being truly suspect, of course.
He’d just found a body, is all.