Perjury arrest sparks hope for answers in Deanie Peters cold case

Kent County

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A probable cause document filed in Kent County District Court shows a man is accused of perjury in connection to the disappearance of Deanie Peters 40 years ago, but does not explain what authorities say he lied about.

The document alleges James Frisbie, 61, lied regarding information, knowledge and/or statements he made to law enforcement about possible suspects or witnesses in the course of a “cold case homicide,” but says little else.

“His statements were disproved by other witness testimony during investigative subpoena and through prior reports and interviews conducted with James Frisbie and other witnesses reference this investigation,” the document, dated July 3, reads.

The paperwork doesn’t even include Deanie’s name, though authorities have confirmed to News 8 that Frisbie’s charges stem from her case.

On Tuesday, Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker told News 8 he couldn’t talk about specifics of Frisbie’s alleged lies.

“It’s still an active investigation. This is part of the investigation, so we can’t get into the details of where this all fits,” Becker said.

When Frisbie made the false statements, the probable cause document says, he was under oath after being called to give testimony under an investigative subpoena. That’s the same tool prosecutors used to force witnesses to testify in the cold case murder of Renee Pagel near Rockford. That eventually led to a murder conviction.

“This (investigative subpoena) is part of a process,” Becker said. “This is a process we do for sometimes cold cases. This is the process we used for the Pagel case, which led to great results. We do it for other cases that aren’t cold cases. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. We don’t know where it’s going to lead us. … In general, we do have success, but not all of the time.”

Court documents also allege that Frisbie told other witnesses not to bring their cellphones when they appeared under investigative subpoenas; two of them listened to Frisbie and didn’t bring their phones. One of them allegedly lied about his phone while under oath, the document says, but later told the truth to avoid a perjury charge. A charge of bribing, intimidating or interfering with witnesses was listed among the counts Frisbie was initially arrested for, though the prosecutor’s office never authorized that charge so he wasn’t ultimately arraigned on it.

MOM WANTS TO BRING DEANIE PETERS HOME

Deanie was 14 when she went missing from Forest Hills Central Middle School on Feb. 5, 1981. She stepped out of her brother’s wrestling practice, telling her mom she would be right back — but no one ever saw her again.

An undated courtesy photo of Deanie Peters.

Searches for her body have never yielded anything.

“I’m not the only person in the world with a missing child, but when it happens to you, it feels like you are,” Deanie Peters’ mother Mary Peters told News 8 over the phone Tuesday.

Mary Peters, who now lives out of state, said that while she didn’t get an early warning of the arrest from Kent County, she was still relieved to learn about it Monday night.

“I thought God had answered my prayers. There’s hope,” she said. “I’m 75 now. It’d be nice to bring her home. I’m running out of time.”

Ariadyne Herbert, 71, said her friendship with Mary Peters made Deanie’s disappearance personal.

“We were very close, so when Deanie disappeared, it was like if it was a relative of mine that disappeared,” she said. “It was horrible and it wasn’t a short period. I mean, it’s 40 years I went through this.”

“I just hope to God that this gets solved before I die,” she added.

She said she has long worked with investigators on the case and that she tried to speak with Frisbie about it years ago.

“We knew he knew something, but he wouldn’t talk to us at all,” she said.

She was also optimistic that his arrest means the family may finally get some answers.

“It makes me feel wonderful. I’m hoping that he will tell us where her body is,” Herbert said. “All I want is to find her and to put her to rest in a proper burial.” 

To Frisbie, she had a simple message: Tell authorities what you know.

“I would beg them to please let this sweet little kid have a proper burial,” Herbert said. “Her parents and all her friends have went through hell these past 40 years and I beg him to please put an end to it and just tell us where she is.”

Frisbie, who was 21 when Deanie vanished, is the first person ever charged in connection to the case.

“This case has been looked at number of times,” Becker said. “We’re trying to overturn every other rock we can and going over some well-trodden ground and some other not-so-well-trodden ground. So it’s not just shaking the tree. We take filing charges very seriously and we don’t do it on a whim.”

COURT DOCUMENT: FRISBIE SAID ‘NOPE’ TO BEING ARRESTED

In addition to the perjury charge, Frisbie faces a count of resisting an officer during his arrest on July 2.

Court records from 63rd District Court in Grand Rapids Township allege that when a Kent County sheriff’s deputy went to Frisbie’s company, Frisbie Sign Co. on 66th Street at McCords Avenue SE in Alto, and told Frisbie he was under arrest, Frisbie replied, “Nope.” The deputy said that when he told Frisbie to turn around to be handcuffed, Frisbie again said, “No,” and “I’m not going to court.”

The records say Frisbie tried to walk into an open garage, but the deputy blocked him and told him again he was under arrest. Frisbie then told the deputy to take his hands off him and “balled up his fists,” the records say. Frisbie allegedly continued to try to pull away, but the deputy eventually got a handcuff on his wrist, at which point Frisbie gave up.

He was arraigned July 3 on the count of perjury in 61st District Court in downtown Grand Rapids. He’s expected back in court Aug. 6 for a preliminary exam.

Online Michigan State Police records show Frisbie has a criminal record dating back to 1978. While he initially faced a felony charges in a few of his six cases, he always pleaded down to misdemeanors, including possession of a firearm while under the influence, trespassing, vandalism, a weapons count and, most recently, a count of disturbing the peace in July 2013.

—News 8’s Joe LaFurgey and Dana Whyte contributed to this report.

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