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.

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.

Comments (21)
  1. Roy C. Johnson says:

    I was 10 and living in Detroit when all this was happening. It still freaks me out. I think we’d all like to know who did this.

  2. Charlie says:

    I get chills just reading this story…..I hope they can catch this person or atleast solve the murder of these children. Well written!

  3. Mary says:

    Law Enforcement need to ask James Gunnels if he knows a man with the last name of Stanislaw that drove a taxi during that time. I think his nick name was Sunny.

  4. Mary Smith says:

    if memory serves me correctly, timothy king was found on Gill road..just north of 8 mile road,,,which would make it oakland county…gill road does not continue south of 8 mile….i lived nearby and my childrens school was on Gill road….so I was very concerned..as was the whole neighborhood…..

    1. Allan says:

      Gill road does continue s of 8 mile, or the map I found on line at least shows this. And everything I’ve ever read states he was found on Gill in Livonia

  5. Cindy says:

    I have often wondered if the brutal rape and murder of April Marie Tinsley from Fort Wayne, Indiana is connected to the Oakland Child Killings. April was abducted on April 1st,1988 Good Friday, according to forensics she was murdered at approximately 4pm on Saturday, April 2nd,1988, her fully clothed body was found on April 4th,1988 it’s been rumored she was raped with an object. April’s killer left taunting messages for law enforcement stating in his threatening messages he would kill again, April’s case can be found on AMW hosted by John Walsh. April’s kller is still at large there are currently over 400 persons of interest being DNA tested. April’s killer left many clues, April would now be 31 years of age, it’s been 23 years since she was so brutally murdered.

  6. Cindy says:

    Drawing found in Christopher Busch’s home. Police say it resembles Oakland County child killing victim Mark Stebbins. (credit: WDIV-TV Detroit)
    The drawing found in Busch’s home clearly gives one the impression the child is being tortured, a cruel legacy for the families of the victims. How sad.

  7. Theejo says:

    I lived in Royal Oak in the 70’s and knew a guy who was recently released from prison having sexually molested his 11 year old son (same age as the victims)
    Police searched for a gremlin with white stripes; He drove a honda civic hatchback with white stripes and traded it off after the witness report. He liked to kill small animals and practice taxidermy. He was a member of MENSA high IQ society and a former alter boy. He had a fixation regarding death and satanism
    I have reported this countless times to authorities and the detective in charge advised me they have no plans to compare his DNA to evidence DNA…

  8. Amy says:

    I was 11 also in 1977-same age as Timothy King. I remember the mass hysteria sweeping the area at the time and how many police detectives were on the case. There is no way that this Chris Busch could have escaped their notice. Theire had to have been a coverup or payoff somewhere. His parents were known to drive around in Flint in limos trying to pay off the victims’ families. Mr. King was an attorney in the area with some influence and I think ts thru his efforts that these new leads have been found. Why was Busch given probation when his associate was given life in prison in late 1976 for the same crime (molesting boys)? Had Busch been in prison like he should have, Tim King would be alive today. I really admire Mr. King for sticking with it all these years. It would be easy to jsut give up and try to forget but he has kept the investigation alive. Its a testament to a Father’s love. I hope he finds some asnwers in this lifetime. Its way past time.

  9. Christiano Ronaldo says:

    Thank you for some other excellent article. Where else may just anyone get that type of information in such a perfect means of writing? I’ve a presentation subsequent week, and I’m on the look for such information.

  10. Disgusting that law enforcement would value a wealthy pedophile & child killer more than the children he killed. By not coming out with this evidence at the time, that’s exactly what they’re doing. Must’ve been a conflict of interest somewhere…like the sicko’s dad running ads in the paper or donating money to the city in some way.

    It’s amazing to me that this case isn’t as well-known as the Zodiac Killer, Ted Bundy or Jeffrey Dahmer. Few people outside of Detroit have heard of it. North Fox Island should be as notorious as the Grassy Knoll. I hope the relatives of the victims sue the pants off everyone involved in this blatant coverup.

  11. Ken Klanseck says:

    What ever happen to the Gremlin the killer was suppose to of been driving?

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