Detective in 1986 murder: ‘Thought we had better suspects’

Southwest Michigan

BANGOR, Mich. (WOOD) — The Michigan State Police detective who for years investigated the unsolved murder of Wilda Wilkinson said he had all but ruled out Michael Curry as a suspect — even after Curry had confessed four times.

Retired Detective Sgt. Dana Averill said he was surprised to learn Curry, 51, is finally being charged with the 1986 killing.

“We didn’t think that he was really involved,” Averill told 24 Hour News 8 on Friday.

State police, working with Bangor police, zeroed in on Curry not long after Wilkinson, 59, was found dead by her daughter in her home in July 1986. The nurse’s aide had been strangled.

Curry, who lived near the victim, confessed not long after the killing — to a man in jail and in writing. He also confessed to police, saying he strangled her during a burglary.

“We put him on a polygraph and at first he said, ‘I’ll tell you all about it,’ then we put him on a polygraph, he reneged everything,” Averill said.

Not only that, he said, Curry knew few facts of the case.

“We thought that he was just screwing with us basically, because he was that kind of a guy,” Averill said.

That led police to look at others, including relatives of the victim, he said.

“We thought we had better suspects,” Averill said. “There was a guy in prison down in Florida that was in prison for murder, actually, that was tied in with the family,” said Averill, who retired from the state police 21 years ago.

A former Bangor police officer told 24 Hour News 8 that despite misgivings about the confessions, the case was turned over to prosecutors shortly after the murder, but charges were not filed.

Former Van Buren County Prosecutor Juris Kaps told 24 Hour News 8 he recalls the case, but not a lot of the details. He said there wasn’t enough evidence to charge Curry back then.

“I have no idea what they’ve done over the last year,” Kaps said. “I have no idea what new information or anything they have.”

Police now are saying little about any new evidence they might have against Curry. They recently exhumed the victim’s body, determined she’d been strangled, and they found troubling statements on his Facebook page.

They also say that in his earlier confessions, he knew that the victim wasn’t wearing underwear when her body was found. He told police he had removed them to make it look like a rape.

Curry recently got out of prison for nearly beating his roommate to death in 1989.  He’s expected in South Haven District Court on Wednesday for a probable cause hearing.

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