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DNA Links New Suspect To 1970's Oakland County Child Killings

OAKLAND COUNTY (WWJ) - There may be a new suspect in the Oakland County child killings of the 1970's with new DNA evidence linking the four young victims.

From February 1976 to March 1977, a serial killer abducted and held four young children against their will.

The killer held Mark Stebbins, Kristin Mihelich, Jill Robinson and Timothy King for several days before killing them. After the murder, he cleaned their bodies and clothes and placed them on display on streets throughout Metro Detroit.

The 35-year-old mystery has gone unsolved with many leads and speculation, but no physical evidence.

Now, an investigative piece by WDIV-TV reports for the first time ever, investigators have found evidence linking DNA to a new suspect.

Channel 4 Reporter Kevin Deitz said matching hairs were found on all four victims.

"Hairs from a white dog, animal hairs, have been found in the clothing of all four victims so they know that all four of these cases are definitely linked together," Deitz said.

According to Deitz's report, the new evidence leads investigators to believe more than one person may have been involved.

"They believe that it probably took more than one person because, remember, these poor kids were held for several days, and in some cases more than a week and a half, and kept alive before they were eventually killed and left on the streets of Metro Detroit," Deitz said.

A DNA match from new hairs discovered on one of the victims has led investigators to a suspect who was never named before.

"This is the first ever physical evidence connected in the Oakland County child killer case ever. Over 35 years, all this time, the families didn't even know there were some hairs on the body of one of the victims, Kristin Mihelich. And now they've been able to link that hair to a man in Kalamazoo, a man by the name of James Vincent Gunnels," Deitz said.

According to a report obtained by WDIV, police believe the hairs found on Mihelich are a mitochondrial DNA match to 49-year-old Gunnels. Police reports say this is "the first physical evidence match in the Oakland County Child Killer case's history."

Gunnels has a long history of property crimes, and was in police custody until just one month ago, living in a halfway house in Kalamazoo.

Police believe Gunnels, 16-years-old at the time, was part of a group involved in the killings. Police have also said Gunnels was molested by a key suspect in the case - a man named Christopher Busch.

"Police have  been questioning him, and he says he doesn't know how his hair got on her body and that he doesn't know her. But, he does say that he was an associate of one of the main suspects in the Oakland County Child killing case, a man named Chris Busch, a man who committed suicide many years ago," Deitz said.

Although they do not believe Gunnels was the Oakland County child killer, police say Gunnels may have worked with the killer.

"Police are considering that James Vincent Gunnels may have been a lure, to lure these children to the car, closer to the killers," Deitz said.

Although they have a DNA match, police still are not able to arrest Gunnels.

"Police, even with the hair that they have, do not have enough evidence to hold James Gunnels in custody. So, they had to let him go from prison to the halfway house, and now out into the public, living in the Kalamazoo area," Deitz said.

Investigators also found another piece of evidence while searching Busch's home.

"When police showed up at his house, they found evidence that was  very, very scary. They found a sketch that looked a lot like another victim, Mark Stebbins. And the families are just finding out about all of this right now," Deitz said.

Apparently, at the time of Busch's suicide when police found this evidence, they did not tell the victims' families.

Oakland County Child Killer - Sketch Found In Bedroom
Drawing found in Christopher Busch's home. Police say it resembles Oakland County child killing victim Mark Stebbins. (credit: WDIV-TV Detroit)

"What's concerning is that when this person, Christopher Busch, was found dead, the families were never told about this drawing that was found in his bedroom. They were never told about bloody ropes at his house. And the families want to know why," Deitz said.

"Because, when you look at that drawing, and it's hard to look at, you think of Mark Stebbins and it looks just like his missing poster. That's what his brother said, that it looks just like him. And at the time, when police walked into that house, that Busch house, the first thing they did was call the Oakland County child killer task force because of that drawing and because of these ropes," Deitz continued.

The bloody ropes have since disappeared.

Despite learning of the evidence now, families of the victims find it hard to believe everything is on the surface.

"Some of the families believe that there was a cover-up. In fact, I would say most of the families believe there was a cover-up. Possibly because of who this person [Busch] was," Deitz said. "Christopher Busch was from a wealthy family, his father was a GM executive. It makes people wonder."

Investigators said they may take their new findings to a grand jury.

"Wayne County has jurisdiction because Timmy King, the last victim, his body was found in Livonia. So, Wayne County has the authority to investigate this case, and obviously Oakland County has that authority as well," Deitz said.

Speaking live on WWJ Newsradio 950, Timothy King's Father, Barry King, said a conviction would not bring him closure.

"Closure doesn't mean anything to me. I'd just like to know who killed my son," Barry King said.

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