Missing man found dead remembered as good friend

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A man missing for nearly 10 days has been identified as the body found in a park along the Grand River, not far from Grand Valley State University.

Thursday, the Grand Rapids Police Department revealed it was 51-year-old James Earl Robertson that was stabbed to death somewhere in the city. His body was dumped at the Grand River Open Space Park in Tallmadge Township, between Grand Rapids and GVSU’s campus.

“This is a relatively isolated area. Obviously, this crime started in the city of Grand Rapids. That particular location, that park, is quite a ways away,” Grand Rapids Police Sgt.John Wittkowski said.

An autopsy revealed that Robertson died of stab wounds.

The body was discovered Wednesday in the course of a missing person’s search by detectives that started Nov. 25.

A photo of the area in Tallmadge Township where a man's body was found on Dec. 4, 2019.
A photo of the area in Tallmadge Township where a man’s body was found on Dec. 4, 2019.

“It was excellent detective work that brought them down there,” Wittkowski said.

In custody now at the Kent County Jail is an unidentified suspect who is being held held on open murder and is expected to be arraigned soon.

Police believe Robertson was killed somewhere in the city of Grand Rapids but are not saying where exactly.

Robertson’s police record has numerous arrests for drug related infractions and show he was sentenced to eight to 20 years in prison for operating a drug house.

But the criminal record does not tell the story of the father of four sons and a daughter.

“You can’t really look at that. Everybody knew him and knew he was still a good guy. His past doesn’t match up to where he is now,” Mark Lewis said, who met Robertson in 4th grade at Sigsbee Elementary.

The two continued to be friends at Creston High School, then for the next 41 years.

“Some friends you meet, they’re going to be your friend all the way to the end and that was my friend to the end,” Lewis said. “He had a good heart. He would look out for you. If he was your friend, he was a true friend.”

Lewis was worried about his friend since he disappeared 10 days ago and feared the worst.

“I realized this Saturday. I just felt this was it, he’s not coming back because that’s just not like him to not call or when his mother called to not pick up. Not that long, maybe two or three days at the most, but that was too long. I knew something was wrong,” Lewis said.

Family members say they discovered the victim’s car at the park and found that unusual.

“We were on it. I would have went to the end of this earth to find out what happened to him,” Carolyn Stewart, a close friend of Robertson, said.

Stewart and Robertson’s family saw the his body for the first time Thursday.

“I was praying for a miracle,” Stewart said. “I’m just confident that justice will be served.”

This case is still under investigation and police are asking anyone with information to call the police department at 616.456.3400 or Silent Observer at 616.774.2345

News 8’s Leon Hendrix contributed to this report.

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