WHITE CLOUD, Mich. (WOOD) — After nearly four decades, there has been a movement in a small-town murder.
On Friday, police announced that the longtime suspect in the 1983 murder of White Cloud resident Rick Atwood had been arrested in Minneapolis.
Roy Leando Snell, 55, was extradited back to Michigan Saturday and taken to the Newaygo County Jail, officials said. He could be arraigned on felony murder and weapons charges as early as Monday.
Newaygo County Sheriff Bob Mendham had just graduated high school in August 1983. The last time 25-year-old Rick Atwood was seen alive pumping gas in his 1975 Pontiac Trans Am in White Cloud. He knew the Atwood family and went to school with Snell.
“I think it gives the community a little bit of relief. There’s always that little piece in the back of your mind that wonders, are we living with a murderer?” Mendham said. “The investigators from the very beginning, just wouldn’t let it go.”
Snell has been the main suspect from the beginning when Atwood’s car was found 50 miles away in Grand Rapids at an East Leonard Avenue service station.
The forensic investigation found evidence that led them to believe he had been shot in the front seat of his car by someone on the passenger side, and then he was moved to the trunk where he likely died.
It wouldn’t be until October when the car was found in Grand Rapids. There was nobody in the car, but there was part of a broken shovel, according to police records.
In the ensuing years, police worked the case and in 2016, publicly asked again for tips.
Jeni Decker, a crime author whose three-hour podcast series on the case was broadcast on NPR in January 2019, said the detectives who worked on this case from the beginning, most of whom have retired, put together a solid case that was stymied by a lack of body and cooperation from those who knew.
“I remember after going through the few hundred pages that I got, thinking this is a very well put together case,” Decker said. “This case, and I’ve done 10 now on the podcast, this one looked to me like the most like one that would get tried. I felt like this was the most solvable one that I had ever done.”
In the nearly four decades since the crime, Snell has been in and out of prison throughout the Midwest.
“This particular suspect needed to be off the streets because it wasn’t just this one-off thing that he did and then he just hid. He has been committing crimes since then and it’s good that police were finally able to get him off the streets,” Decker said.
The victim’s mom was informed last week after the arrest was made, she said she is grateful to police never gave up.
“We think about Rick every day. You can’t ever put it aside and forget about it because it never goes away,” said Karen Atwood.
It is believed that Snell, who has gone on to commit numerous other crimes throughout the Midwest, killed Atwood over some marijuana and cash.
“He was a typical teenager. He just got in with the wrong people,” Atwood said.
“Rick was the one who was murdered, but every member of the Atwood family, every one of Rick’s friends and, unfortunately, even the suspect’s family will pay for this as well,” Mendham said. “There was a young man that lost his life and never had the chance to become a father and a member of the community, husband.”
His body has never been found, leaving his mother with only 40-year-old memories of her son.
“There was a real gentle side to him, he loved animals,” Karen Atwood said. “He was good to us. He was good to us.”
He was the oldest of her five children.
“He was a typical teenager, played little league, football,” she said.
She said she is glad the suspect is in jail, but she says peace is still far off.
“The closure isn’t there yet, the fact that he’s arrested and he’s not going to fight extradition is good,” Atwood said. “The closure will come when it’s all over.”