GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) -- Cold case detectives told 24 HourNews 8 they have interviewed suspects in West Michigan who knowwhere to find the body of Deanie Peters, who was 14 when shedisappeared from her school nearly three decades ago.
And, they've made those suspects a promise: Anybody involved inthe Feb. 5, 1981, disappearance won't face criminal charges --unless they helped kill Deanie.
"There are individuals in the Grand Rapids area that know whathappened to Deanie Peters, that know where her body is, and they'vechosen to remain uncooperative in this investigation," said Sgt.Sally Wolter, the head of the Kent Metro Cold Case Team.
The statute of limitations has expired for those who helped hideDeanie's body, or who know about it and have refused to tellpolice.
Wolter said she believes a "number" of people still living inWest Michigan know where Deanie's body is buried.
In this special report, 24 Hour News 8 tracked the cold caseteam's investigation from Kent County to Kentucky and backagain.
Along the way -- new details about threats against Deanie, arecently failed lie-detector test and the man identified by policeas the main suspect.
Also, Deanie's mom and stepfather, Mary and John Peters, satdown for their first broadcast interview since days after thedisappearance.
"I can't believe anybody could do this to parents, or anybodycould know something and keep it a secret for all these years,"Mary Peters said. "It's hard."
Deanie was a typical teenager -- hanging out at the mall,borrowing her friends' clothes, sneaking out her bedroom window tosmoke cigarettes. She was an eighth-grader at Forest Hills CentralMiddle School.
She liked the band Meatloaf -- and boys.
"She was the girl that for me, that I think every girl wouldhave liked to look like," said one of her best friends, Cathy WeeksKingma. "At 14, she definitely didn't look like 14. She wasabsolutely beautiful."
On Feb. 5, 1981, just before 5 p.m., she was getting ready toleave the middle school gymnasium with her mom after watching herlittle brother wrestle.
"She asked if she could go to the bathroom first, and she walkedacross the gym floor and never came back," her mother said.
Kent County Detective Ken Kleinheksel, the originalinvestigator, said he was stumped.
"At the time, she was last seen by the back door of the school-- she was walking side-by-side with a friend, or a girlfriend, orwith a young lady approximately 15 to 17, 18 years old, and theywere talking and there was no argument; there was no disturbance,"he said days after the disappearance.
Did she run away? Was she kidnapped?
For weeks, friends, family and volunteers searched for Deanie.Her mom and stepfather pleaded for her return.
The case struck fear in a community that, until then, had beengiven little reason to fear. And investigators couldn't provide anyrelief.
"I know we made mistakes back in those days," said now-retiredKleinheksel in a recent interview. "We had limited resources. Wedidn't find her."
A shaky start
At first, Kent County detectives focused on middle schoolcustodian Arthur Diaz. Kids at school knew him as Mr. Art. He was40 years old, had moved to West Michigan from Chicago and taken thejob at Forest Hills.
"They thought I had kidnapped her and sold her somewhere inChicago, or somewhere in Nevada," he said. "I have some friends outin Nevada, and I'm saying, 'you are nuts. I've been here all thistime.' "
Diaz was cleaning the school office the night Deaniedisappeared, though he tells 24 Hour News 8 he didn't see herthere.
But he remembers her.
"She was a happy-go-lucky kid," Diaz said.
Detectives interviewed him repeatedly -- "you know, thegood-cop, bad-cop, good-cop, bad-cop routine."
Perhaps, they suggested, he burned her in the schoolincinerator.
He faced questions in front of a grand jury -- after spendingthe night at the Kent County jail.
In his cell was another inmate, planted there by police -- a manwho owed detectives a favor. Would Diaz make a jailhouseconfession?
Diaz thought the inmate was an undercover cop. He said he hadnothing to confess.
"I thought I was living in a nightmare," he said of theexperience. "You're going to hang me for something I didn'tdo?"
Diaz said he lost sleep, spent $1,600 on an attorney and watchedas detectives searched his property. Shortly after thedisappearance, he said, Deanie's mother confronted him at theschool.
She recalled that Diaz helped her look for Deanie immediatelyafter she vanished.
In 2008, the newly formed Kent County Metro Cold Case Team tookits turn at Diaz, but he said he refused to take a polygraphtest.
The team -- with detectives from Kent County, Grand Rapids andthe Michigan State Police -- started working the case in March 2008with a $300,000 grant.
A source close to the team told 24 Hour News 8 that Diaz -- now69 -- is no longer considered a suspect.
But to the retired custodian, living on Grand Rapids' northeastside, that is little relief.
"There's going to be doubt in somebody's mind somewhere," Diazsaid. "It leaves a little
shadow over your head. It's not a halo upthere. It's a dark cloud."
The case also weighs heavily on detectives.
"It's really difficult to put 10,000 man hours onto aninvestigation, 16 months, and not be at the point where you wouldexpect to be," Wolter said.
In recent years, cold case investigators have cracked otherhigh-profile cases:
- The 1993 murder of millionaire businessman Robert Fryling at his Cascade Township home. An outside investigator solved it eight years later with arrests of a pimp and a prostitute.
- The 1975 murder of Laurel Ellis in Heritage Hill, with the conviction of Lamont Marshall in 2008. He is linked to five other murders in the Grand Rapids neighborhood.
- The 1979 gang rape and murder of Janet Chandler in Holland, solved with the arrests of six people, including five security guards in 2006 -- 27 years later.
"After watching the Janet Chandler case, that's a clear exampleof how individuals can hold a secret so horrifying for so long,"Wolter said.
Early on, police in Deanie's case received a tip that turnedtheir focus away from the janitor and onto Joseph Fallstrom, ofLowell.
But Fallstrom steered them elsewhere -- telling investigatorswhat he heard at a summertime gathering four or five years afterDeanie's disappearance.
He said he was partying around a bonfire on a sod farm along theGrand River. Also in attendance, he said, was a friend of a friendnamed Bruce Bunch.
"He's throwing a big fit, crying and blubbering and saying, 'Ikilled her. I killed Deanie Peters.' And he kept carrying on aboutit, you know, and I bumped one of my friends and I said, 'What's hetalking about?' 'Oh, that's just Bruce. When he gets drunk, he's apoor-me baby.' "
Deanie was officially declared dead in 1992 -- 11 years aftershe vanished. Cause of death: unknown. Place of death: unknown,according to her death certificate.
Her mom and stepfather have moved to Arizona, but still find itdifficult to move on. Her little brother, William, who was 6 whenDeanie watched him wrestle, is now 35.
They've kept some of Deanie's stuffed animals, and the photosthat keep her 14 forever.
"I don't think you ever get over it -- you kind of move on,"Mary Peters said. "There's certain times of the year (when) it'sworse than others, like now, because it's coming up on theanniversary of her disappearance of 29 years. So, I don't think youever get over it, because there's no closure here."
Even without a known killer to forgive, the family has found thegrace to grant forgiveness.
"I've already forgiven that person a long time ago, or persons,you know," she said. "They're the ones who have to live with theguilt, not us."
The search, now, is for Deanie's body -- and her killer.
For a time, it appeared Fallstrom might be the man.
24 Hour News 8 spoke to another man who also overheard Bunchtalking about Deanie at the party, though that man wouldn't go intodetail and didn't want his name used.
The original detectives interviewed Fallstrom in the 1980s.
"They said, 'We heard a different story,' " he recalled.
"'What would that have been?'" Fallstrom said he responded.
Answered the detectives: "'Well, we heard that you and yourbrother accidentally ran her over at a party and that you guysdisposed of her body.'"
Fallstrom -- the story goes -- was canoeing with friends downthe Flat River in the years after the disappearance when theyapproached the former Young Marines Camp, on a hill overlooking thewater in Ionia County.
"Supposedly, I pointed up there and said, 'That's where weburied Deanie Peters.' Well, that's an absolute lie," Fallstromsaid. "I never even canoed that stretch of river."
That led to repeated searches at the former camp.
"Over the years, every so many years, it would come up again,"Fallstrom said. "And then I'd be visited again by some detectives,and they'd want to hear the story.
"The whole time I told them, 'I will take a polygraph.' "
"'That won't be necessary,' " he recalled detectives saying."Almost like they wanted to keep me wrapped up in it."
Fallstrom denied it again in 2008 when the cold case teamtracked him down.
This time, he said, he took a polygraph.
"At the end of the polygraph, (the polygraph operator) said,'Mr. Fallstrom, I'm going to pass this along to the detectives.You're clearly not part of this.' And, I said, 'Yeah, that's whatI've been saying for the past 20-some years."
He also showed the cold case team what he says finally clearedhis name -- an alibi, in writing.
A U.S. Army document shows he was at Fort Benning, Ga., as atrainee in early 1981 -- when Deanie went missing.
A source close to the investigation said the Army papers --which Fallstrom only recently obtained -- officially eliminated himas a suspect.
"You can't explain the amount of shame -- to be in the eye ofthe spotlight," Fallstrom said.
A theory revisited
But recently, the spotlight shifted, focusing on a new theory --or actually, an old one that has resurfaced.
At a November news conference, cold case team members asked formore information
about a physical altercation between Deanie andother students.
"I can't tell you what the altercation was about, but I can tellyou it concerned Deanie enough and it concerned the schoolofficials enough that knew about that to document it," Wolterrecently told 24 Hour News 8.
One of Deanie's best friends, who asked not to be identified,told 24 Hour News 8 that Deanie told her about the altercation.
Deanie said it happened at the middle school between Deanie andtwo girls just days before the disappearance. It involved a boyDeanie was dating.
The other girls, including the boy's sister, threatened Deanieif she didn't break up with him, the friend recalled.
Wolter wouldn't discuss details of the fight. "A lot ofhomicides occur for simple, mind-blowing reasons," she said.
Deanie's mom said the cold case team only recently told herabout the fight.
"It doesn't make sense at all, for somebody to fight, orpossibly kill my daughter over a boy," Mary Peters said.
The best friend said she told a detective about the fight justdays after the disappearance. She wondered why police didn't followup on it 29 years ago.
Kleinheksel said he doesn't recall being told about the fightduring his search for Deanie.
"We had hundreds of leads, hundreds of tips, and was there alack of communication? Yes, there was," he said. "I'm not pointingfingers at anybody -- (it's) just that we never got thatinformation to follow up on."
A police source told 24 Hour News 8 one of the girls in thefight was identified as a former girlfriend of Bruce Bunch.
Bunch was 17 when Deanie vanished. He lived with his family in adouble-wide trailer backed up against a wooded hill on Grand RiverDrive.
He was a junior at Lowell High School -- not a good student,relatives said, but he showed an interest in fixing cars.
And, an acquaintance recalled, he also showed an interest in agirl who went to Deanie's school.
"He would show up at the sod field parties this one particularsummer with this pretty girl -- way too pretty for him, let's justput it that way," Fallstrom said.
Since retiring in 1994, Kleinheksel has worked on the case as aprivate detective, out of his basement office.
Kleinheksel said he recently tracked down a new witness: a womanliving in Lowell who already had spoken to the cold case team.
She told him Bunch drove to her house with friends onenight:
"He came that night, Bruce Bunch did, and he was just upset andjust goofy, and he said, 'Today, I was at a school, and didn'tmention the name of the school, and I hit a girl with my car. Hesaid, 'I either backed over her or ran over her, and I killed her.'So he loaded her up in the car, we -- and I don't know who the 'we'is -- and took her out and they took her down Cascade to SnowAvenue.
"At the end of Snow Avenue comes the freeway, and they tookher out and they -- there's a pile of rocks. They laid her on theground and covered her up with a big pile of rocks."
Kleinheksel thinks Bunch and others later buried her elsewhereafter the spring thaw.
In search of Bruce Bunch
In 2008, Metro Cold Case detectives started tracking Bunch -- aman now identified by a source as their best suspect.
In Michigan, the team searched potential burial sites connectedto Bunch and others.
The team has interviewed more than 300 people, worked more than10,000 hours and has traveled to seven states, including Kentucky.And they've focused on one man.
Somerset is a town in southern Kentucky -- a state best knownfor horse racing and bourbon.
But Somerset is in Pulaski County, a "dry" county, where findingbourbon takes some work, and where bells ringing from the whitesteeples of Baptist churches are the biggest draw.
Bunch settled there with his first wife, Beth, their youngdaughter and his wife's two sons. He had family there.
It was 1985 and four years after Deanie disappeared.. Bunch hadopened his own garage.
"He was a real good mechanic -- probably the best around," saida friend, Terry Bryant. "There wasn't nothing he couldn't fix ordiagnose."
Jeff Rouse worked for Bunch, drank with him and, eventually,bought his garage.
"If a man was going to be around a drunk, he's the kind youwanted to be around, keep you rolling all the time," Rousesaid.
He recalled one of those drunken experiences.
"We were all sitting around after-hours one night -- we'd allhad a few beers -- and he made a joke: when he was 17, 18 years oldbeing a murder suspect. That's the only thing I've heard the mansay about it."
Nobody pressed Bunch for details, Rouse said. "We all kind ofthought it was a joke, really, you know?"
Several years after the disappearance, in April 1988, Bunch andhis wife were visiting relatives in Lowell.
The story about Bunch's blubbering at the sod farm had reachedLowell police, who pulled him in for questioning.
"When I asked him what was going on, what was said, how heanswered the questions, all he told me is they don't know whatthey're talking about," recalls his first wife, Beth Vaught. "Anyother time I brought it up, it was not subject to discussion."
Police had hearsay,
but no evidence -- no crime scene, nobody.
In early 2008, Bunch told a reporter about a dream he had aboutDeanie after watching a TV report, but insisted he did not killher. He said he told others about the dream, which prompted rumorsthat spun out of control.
He also told the reporter he did not know Deanie.
"His statement changed every time someone talked to him," Woltersaid.
The investigation has frustrated cold case detectives, sheadded.
"Solving old cases doesn't always mean you make an arrest, butyou come up with answers, and I think we're at that point where wedo have some answers," Wolter said.
The cold case team eliminated old suspects -- Diaz andFallstrom, among them.
Also among those cleared: Edward Zakrzewski II, who is onFlorida's death row for killing his wife and using a machete tokill his two children. He used to live near Forest Hills CentralMiddle but had moved from Michigan before Deanie vanished.
Police also eliminated Deanie's stepfather, John Peters.
Instead, detectives have zeroed in on one man: Bunch. Detectivesinterviewed his relatives, friends and co-workers.
"They thought he had murdered a girl and done something with thebody, and they couldn't find the body," Bryant said.
Vaught said all five of the cold case detectives interviewed herand her new husband in Somerset. She told them about herex-husband's nightmares and about the violence.
"Bruce seemed troubled many times through the years," she said."I can't explain anything as to why he was having nightmares."
She said he once pushed her from their stopped car when he wasdrunk, breaking her ankle.
"I know that he was a big drinker when I was with him and therewere some times, some pretty scary times, when he and I had ourlittle scuffles," Vaught said.
Although Bunch has no criminal record in Michigan or Kentucky,court documents obtained by 24 Hour News 8 show his first wifefiled for a domestic violence order in 1994.
He "will do anything to keep me, such as beating me, killing meand or blowing his own head off," she wrote. "Also, he looks for mewhen I'm away from the house and says he'll run me off theroad."
"He was a loud, obnoxious, forceful person," Vaught said.
It wasn't unusual, she said, for Bunch to wake up after a nightof heavy drinking, and remember nothing.
"He'd get up the next day, get moving and say, 'I did what?'"
The couple divorced in 1998 after 15 years of marriage, and shewas left with lingering questions.
"I don't know why, but I've always had an idea that if Bruce wasinvolved with it, it was probably an accident and he was probablydrunk, in a car, and he and maybe others just got scared and didthe wrong thing back when," she said.
Before the cold case team could interview Bunch, he died. He wasburied in Somerset on Feb. 5, 2008 -- the 27th anniversary ofDeanie's disappearance.
The cause of death: myocardial infarction -- a heart attack --at a Somerset hospital as doctors performed a heartcatheterization. He was 44 years old and had a history of heartproblems.
Dead or alive, the cold case team wanted to learn as much as itcould.
Is it possible he revealed a secret? A death-bed confession?
"That seemed to be the main concern -- was to pick and dig andtry to put the pieces together from something that maybe he hadsaid or done," Vaught said.
Detectives found his only child, his daughter, Janelle Mosely,in Louisville.
"The detectives have came to everybody and asked everybody thatthey can possibly ask, and they haven't found out anything thatthey didn't know before, and I mean, I just don't see why they keepbringing it up," Mosely said. "People can talk, but that's all theycan do is talk. There's nothing to be proven. Oh, we don't know whoit is, so let's put the blame on some dead guy."
It wasn't the first time Mosely had heard about Deanie and herfather's alleged involvement.
About nine years ago when Mosely was 16, a retired detective ---she believes it was Kleinheksel -- tried to reach her father. So,she questioned her dad.
"I said, why? And he told me that there was some girl that wasmissing, her body was missing and they thought that he could havesomething to do with it because he knew the girl or he met thegirl, or something like that," she said. "I asked him straight out.I said, did you have anything to do with it, dad? 'No, hell no.'That's what he told me. 'Hell no.' "
Mosely said she has no reason to doubt her dad. Even though herfather drank a lot and had a big mouth, he was still a good man,she said.
"He was a very lovable guy, even though he was an asshole,because he was -- but it was because of his mouth," she added.
Rouse said cold case detectives didn't like what he had tosay.
"Bruce was too good-hearted of a person," he said. "Accidentshappen, and kids do stupid things, but I'd never believe it. Icouldn't see it. He just wasn't that way.
"As far as Bruce goes, I think they're picking on the wrong bum.They need to leave him be. He's dead and gone. He lived his life.He's left this earth. They need to leave him be."
for the first time, Target 8 has found a connection betweenBunch and Deanie -- revealed by his daughter and an aunt who alsolives in Kentucky.
"Yeah, he'd met her, that's what he told me. He met her," hisdaughter said.
Woman in altercation talks
So, what's next?
Cold case detectives are making a promise: Those who know whereto find Deanie's body won't be prosecuted.
"Every single individual that we've felt had knowledge of thiscase was told that there'd be no prosecution, unless theythemselves admitted to killing Deanie Peters," Wolter said. "(They)would not go to jail, not suffer any prosecution and basicallywould be a hero in the Peters family to finally give them peace ofmind."
24 Hour News 8 reached one of the women involved in thataltercation with Deanie.
Her husband's uncle is Jack Christensen, a retired Kent Countysheriff's captain who worked on Deanie's case years ago.
The woman says she was friends with Bunch, but not hisgirlfriend.
"He wished," she told 24 Hour News 8.
Through the door of her Ada home, she filled in some of theblanks, admitting she and two other girls threatened Deanie over aboy.
"It was a stupid deal because this girl -- it was a boy -- like,'You better stay away from him.'
"It wasn't like we pounded on her," she said. "We probablythreatened her, which was a bad thing."
When asked whether she had passed a recent lie-detector test,the woman responded: "Heck no."
Said Wolter: "I'm surprised she was truthful."
The woman said she was not involved in the disappearance.
"If I knew something, why wouldn't I tell? This was 30 yearsago," she said. "Why didn't they talk to us 30 years ago, you know,when we remembered?"
Police say they hope the offer of immunity and a $25,000 rewardwill shake out the truth.
Friends, relatives and others drawn into this mystery say it'stime for an end.
"If they find her, that would be a relief," said Diaz, theformer janitor and original suspect. "For the family, for her andme. That'd be a big relief for everybody."
Said Vaught: "I really hope and pray that Deanie Peters' familyfinds some closure, that they can someday. And, in the event thathappens, we can put all of this behind us, too."
Added Weeks Kingma: "For me, I believe she deserves to rest inpeace. I believe it's peace of mind for all those who alwayswondered what happened to her. She deserves a place on this earththat said she was here."
Deanie's mom made a plea -- directly to those who know.
"Maybe they can come forward anonymously, because I don't care,"she said. "I've forgiven them a long time ago."
Wind chills will be in -10 to +10, and snowfall totals in the 1- to 3-inch range.
A memorial marker was unveiled for three young siblings who died in an apartment fire 10 months ago.
Kent County leaders told 24 Hour News 8 they weren't surprised by Gary Rolls Jr.'s resignation from the Kent County Commission Thursday, but those that would comment were happy with the decision.