By Christy Strawser
WYANDOTTE (WWJ) Beverly Lake’s husband teased her about nosiness when she set up high-powered binoculars on a tripod and pointed it out the 11th floor window of their apartment. Her neighbor, nicknamed Hawkeye, one-upped her and put binoculars in every window.
“My husband said ‘You two are the nosiest people on the face of the Earth, and he said, he made this horrible, dire prediction: ‘Someday, you’re going to witness a murder.’ And he was right,” Lake said.
The day before Lawrence DeLisle drove his station wagon into the Detroit River 25 years ago, killing his four children, Lake told WWJ’s Roberta Jasina she saw this:
“We were looking down and we saw a car, an old station wagon,” Lake recalled. “It came to the foot of Eureka (at the Detroit River) and sat there awhile and then I saw it back up and made a U-turn through our driveway and leave. My dad looked down and said, made a comment, and said ‘Oh, I guess that’s a family.’ We didn’t think anything more about it until the following evening.”
The next night, she said the same car did the same thing. A third time, about 20 minutes later, it happened again, but this time the car was roaring and crashed right through the Detroit River barrier. The DeLisles were under water.
Lake made the 911 call.
“I heard Suzanne scream soon as the car went into the river,” Lake said to Jasina. “She screamed ‘My baby’s in the car.'” Lake later saw the children emerge from the dark depths of the Detroit River in the arms of rescue divers, one by one.
“I remember how cute little boy’s knees are and I saw his legs hanging there, just limp,” Lake said about the. She stayed awake that night, hoping it was all just a bad dream.
That moment when the car sat at the river the night before the DeLisle children drowned loomed large over the fate of the father.
“We saw something that was carefully planned,” Lake said, describing the next day’s crash into the water as the most deliberate act she’s ever seen.
When WWJ’s Roberta Jasina asked Robert Colombo, now chief judge of Wayne County Circuit Court, if he thinks Lawrence DeLisle is guilty — he answers quickly. And the moment Lake eye spied out the window helps to shape his opinion.
“Yes,” says Colombo, who presided over the trial, about DeLisle’s guilt. “The fact that he had been there the day before and had driven around the area, the fact that he was there that day and made the approach to the river a couple of times, the fact that he accelerated the car … The fact that he had tried to blow up his family eight years before …”
DeLisle’s claim a leg cramp forced him to slam on the accelerator was “unbelievable,” the judge added. There was evidence he steered between street poles so they wouldn’t stop the car on its way into the water.
“This was the saddest case I ever tried,” Colombo said.
DeLisle defenders point to a disputed confession and an allegedly tainted jury as evidence of innocence, but Colombo says justice was served.
“There is no such thing as a perfect trial, but it was a fair trial and justice was done,” Colombo said.
Lake agrees DeLisle got the sentence he deserves — life behind bars. But she’s serving a sentence of her own, a cage of memories she can’t shake. It took Lake years to recover from images of the soft blonde baby in the pink sleeper and the little boy with sweet knees.
“Even now I think about how old they’d be, and how old that boy would be and what his life would be like,” Lake said. “That night is indelibly etched in my memory.”
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