GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — In the early morning hours of Aug. 20, a woman navigating a dark stretch of a rural road in northwest Kent County spotted what she thought was a stranded driver on the side of the road.
Her split-second decision to pull over and offer help would make a difference far beyond what she could have imagined.
“If it wasn’t for an observant motorist who stopped and questioned an individual who she thought was stranded, we may very well still be searching for Mr. Williams’ body,” Grand Rapids Police Sgt. John Wittkowski told News 8 this week.
Court records confirm it was the Good Samaritan passerby who helped police locate the body of Tyrane Williams, 60, of Grand Rapids.
News 8 reached a friend of that passerby, who said, “that’s just the kind of person she is,” referring to the woman’s decision to stop to see if she could help.
The Grand Rapids Police Department was quick to acknowledge the woman’s critical role in bringing to an end several days of fruitless searching by drone, helicopter and officers on foot.
“We cannot emphasize enough the importance of community members stepping up and assisting law enforcement in the solving of crime,” Wittkowski said. “The reality of this was never more evident than in the solving of the Tyrane Williams’ homicide.”
Police had searched unsuccessfully for Williams’ body in late August after detectives said Jaeloni Talton, 24, confessed to fatally shooting Williams and leaving his body off the shoulder of a road in northwest Kent County.
According to the arrest affidavit filed in 63rd District Court, Talton told police he and Williams had been hanging out and driving around when they stopped north of Walker so the older man could urinate.
At that point, Talton told detectives the two men argued, and he shot and killed Williams, dragging his body from the car into tall grass six feet off a rural road in the area of Alpine Avenue/M-37.
Despite Talton’s efforts to lead police to the body, and multiple additional searches by law enforcement, investigators could not locate Williams amid miles of rural roadway framed by tall grass and weeds.
But detectives had one more strategy.
“Jaeloni said that during (his disposal of Williams’ body), an older white woman chanced upon him in her vehicle and asked him if he needed help (car trouble) and he quickly sent the woman on her way,” wrote a GRPD detective in a probable cause affidavit supporting the homicide charge against Talton.
“Police subsequently released a media release in an attempt to locate the female driver Jaeloni had stated happened upon him the morning he had killed Tyrane. (The woman) subsequently contacted police after being advised of the press release. She gave investigators a similar account to what Jaeloni had provided to police as far as their encounter went. (She) provided police with the area she had seen Jaeloni at.”
Officers went to that location – Sparta Avenue, where it becomes Ball Creek north of 15 Mile Road NW – and found Williams’ body obscured from view amid tall grass 10 feet off the road’s shoulder.
“The area where Tyrane was located was just to the north of where Jaeloni had taken police during the initial search,” wrote a detective in the affidavit.
Williams had been missing for about a week and a half when his body was finally located on Sept. 1.
Shortly after Williams’ disappearance in August, his vehicle was found – on fire – on the side of a highway in Eaton County.
“Eaton County Sheriff’s Department advised that a firearm and blood had been found in that vehicle after the fire had been extinguished,” wrote a detective in the probable cause document.
The investigator wrote that police contacted a friend of Tyrane’s who had told Williams’ family that the missing 60-year-old had been murdered.
“(The friend) said that Jaeloni had been seen with Tyrane’s (vehicle) and other property after he had gone missing.It was also alleged that Jaeloni had been telling people that he ‘caught a body,’” wrote an investigator in the court document.
According to the affidavit, Jaeloni Talton initially told police he did not know what happened to Williams after he dropped him off at home the night the two men drove around together.
Police wrote that Talton said Williams had given him permission to borrow his vehicle to drive to Detroit, but the engine caught fire as he drove through Lansing.
“Jaeloni was subsequently confronted with the numerous inconsistencies in his stories as well as the significant amount of physical evidence that police obtained against him in this case (the vehicle, gun, blood, casings, bullets, phone records etc.). It was at this point that Jaeloni started crying and he admitted that he had killed Tyrane,” wrote the detective.
Talton is currently housed at the Kent County jail on charges of homicide open murder, tampering with evidence and felony firearms.
His next court hearing is scheduled for Oct. 2.