Family hopes arrest in Deanie Peters case clears name of longtime suspect

Target 8

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The family of a longtime suspect in the disappearance 40 years ago of Deanie Peters hopes the recent arrest of another man in the case will clear his name.

It was only a few years after Deanie, 14, disappeared in February 1981 from her brother’s wrestling practice at Forest Hills Central Middle School that detectives started focusing on Bruce Bunch — a focus that has remained for decades, even beyond Bunch’s death.

Deanie’s body has never been found.

An undated courtesy photo of Deanie Peters.

Bunch’s cousin, Kirby Johnson from Sheridan, said she hopes the arrest will shift the focus from him.

“I’m really, really hoping that Bruce is out of it,” Johnson said. “Because Bruce didn’t do this. Take his name out of everybody’s mouth.”

Bunch’s cousin had heard the theory: That Deanie had argued with a girl Bunch knew, that he ran her down with his car when he was 17, possibly meaning only to scare her, then buried her body.

A cold case team that started working the case in 2008 couldn’t rule him out as a suspect.

“We could never eliminate Bruce Bunch and I believe that we already uncovered some proof that Bruce had some involvement in this along with others and our focus then went to those people,” retired Michigan State Police detective Sgt. Sally Wolter told Target 8 earlier this year.

Over four years, the Kent Metro Cold Case Team interviewed more than 200 people and searched up to 15 possible burial sites.

Bunch died in 2008 in Kentucky before the cold case team could question him.

But the arrest of James Frisbie last month — the first arrest in the case — raises new questions about the Bruce Bunch theory.

A booking photo James Douglas Frisbie, left, and a courtesy photo of Bruce Bunch, right.

Was there a connection between the two?

Frisbie, 61, is charged with perjury for allegedly lying about possible suspects or witnesses in the case.

Some familiar with Frisbie, who was from Caledonia, said they had never heard of Bunch, who grew up in Lowell and was four years younger.

Bunch’s cousin said she’d never heard of Frisbie until his arrest.

“I don’t know him. I have not a clue who he is,” she said.

Wolter, the former cold case team leader, said she hadn’t been contacted by the new team working the case and that she couldn’t comment.

Bunch became a suspect after talking while drunk around a campfire about the disappearance shortly after it happened.

He later denied any involvement and said he was talking only about a dream.

“Yeah, he got drunk, definitely, yeah. He was a mean drunk, definitely, at times, you know,” his cousin said. “Most of the time, he was a teddy bear.”

Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker refused to say whether there was any connection between Frisbie and Bunch.

He also refused to say if his office had ruled out Bunch as a suspect.

Retired Kent County sheriff’s detective John Orange, who helped investigate the disappearance years ago, recalls interviewing Frisbie early on.

The Metro Cold Case team, which started on the case in 2008, also interviewed Frisbie.

“I remember him in a couple interviews, but what was said in those interviews I wouldn’t remember anymore,” Orange said on Friday.

He said Frisbie never was a suspect in the death.

“We went to him for information, but never for him as a suspect,” he said.

The retired detective said he hopes Frisbie’s arrest could lead to the discovery of Deanie’s body.

“I hope he does (know something), and if he does, he’ll divulge it,” Orange said.

Frisbie is free on bond. He is expected back in court Aug. 26 to determine if there is enough evidence to stand trial.

Target 8 reached out to him, but he has not responded. His attorney, David Dodge, refused to comment.

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