Archive for March 2007

The Search for Lizzie Mae Continues

March 29, 2007

It suddenly hit me when  I was standing on the Dix Road overpass outside the massive Rouge industrial complex.

Twenty years ago I was inside that complex, a young punk not too far removed from college, wandering aimlessly through life (actually that part hasn’t changed too much), in search of a career. My job then was to investigate work related accidents reported by Ford employees. There were some gruesome accidents that I really did not care to remember.

Now here I was, standing on the outside looking in, watching members of the Downriver Mutual Aid Alliance cruising the waterway outside of what was once Rouge Steel, looking for clues in another potentially gruesome incident. Except this was no accident that was being investigated. Far from it.

 Life has a strange way of hitting you sometimes.

The search for Lizzie Mae Collier-Sweet continues. There was no resolution to her disappearance today. The optimist of course would say that means that hope can still be held out that she may still be alive. The realist knows otherwise.

Earlier in the day, Detective Lieutenant Robert Grant of the Brownstown Township Police Department met with the members of the team of area police, fire and rescue personnel that comprise the Downriver Mutual Aid Alliance. They were there to search for any clues in the disappearance of Lizzie Mae who has not been seen since her house in Brownstown Township burned down January 8. Her husband, Roger Sweet, remains the primary suspect in her disappearance and remains jailed in Oakland County on other charges which include the murder of his first wife in 1990 and the sexual abuse of a minor. Sweet guy indeed.

“We know Lizzie Mae was last seen by friends in Lincoln Park at 9:30 pm the night before the fire,” Lt. Grant briefed the assembled crews. “Her husband told us he last saw her before he went to work at around 4:30 am. When we asked where she was, he told us ‘she is probably in the woods after burning the house down’.” Grant clearly doesn’t buy Sweet’s account. “There were accelerants throughout the house and a delayed incendiary device was likely used,” which allowed Sweet to show up at work at 5:00 am as usual the morning of the fire.

“We know he (Sweet) is not a physically imposing person and if he was disposing of a body, he likely did not carry it far, ” said Grant, the disdain for the man he considers a murderer clearly evident in his voice. If the body of Lizzie Mae was to be found, it was hoped it would be in the nearby waterway, a likely disposal area.  

A jailhouse informant had given vague indication that Sweet may have disposed of his wife’s body somewhere near his place of work. A thorough search of the area was not posssible until recently when the weather brought about enough of a thaw to allow public safety crews to search the waters near the Rouge complex. But today’s search was not limited to the waters.

“We have about 50 people all together working this project today from throughout Western Wayne County,” Wayne County Sheriff Warren Evans explained to me. “My role is to coordinate and offer help in any way we can to try to solve this,” he said when asked if his office would be taking a larger role in the investigation, “But this is Brownstown Township’s investigation and they are taking the lead.”

Today’s effort was a massive search that included the surrounding waterways, tributaries and creeks. Nothing was ignored. Searches were conducted via boat, horse and air. Even freeway entrance ramps and exits were searched for any clues and answers.  

I followed the water based search from the start point, behind the Melvindale Ice Arena and up and past the Rouge complex. The dedicated search crews came up empty however. It was a longhsot for sure and much akin to trying to find the proverbial needle in a haystack. They searched for any clues, from jewelery to clothing and anything else that the imagination could conjure up.

So another day passes without answers. At least no concrete answers. Will she ever be found? It is becoming less and less likely that Lizzie’s exact whereabouts will ever be known short of a confession from her suspected killer.

There was one bright spot though to today’s events as it appeares that the media has rediscovered this case. TV crews, newspapers and radio were all over the scene.

Let’s see how long their interest remains.


Dreading The Dredging: Lizzie Mae Collier-Sweet Follow-up

March 29, 2007

Since I posted my first story on the Lizzie Mae Collier-Sweet story (March 26, 2007), I have found myself becoming increasingly drawn to the story.

This blog also appears on the Fox2 News website and my column has generated several comments there. I have also received several emails since that time and one in particular was rather surprising. It was from my uncle. Turns out he was Lizzie Mae’s supervisor at her former place of employment. I met with him and found some troubling information. I will reveal more later, but it turns out that Lizzie had confided, before leaving her job to go on a medical leave in early December, that she had purchased a shotgun because she had become fearful of her abusive husband.

I have also since spoken with the lead investigator in the case, Detective Lieutenant Richard Grant of the Brownstown Township Police Department. I am meeting with him further on Friday, one day after the scheduled dredging of an area of the Rouge River nearby Ms. Collier-Sweet’s, and her husband’s, former place of employment. The river will be dredged on Thursday based on an informant’s tip that Ms. Collier-Sweet’s body may lie there. I plan to be there, but it is with a bit of uneasiness that I will be attending.

On the one hand you know if the unthinkable becomes reality, and her body is found, at least that part of the mystery will be solved. But it also would extinguish the sliver of hope that Ms. Collier-Sweet’s family holds out that she may still be alive.

Louise Collier, Lizzie Mae’s sister, told me that while the family is realistic, they still hope beyond hope that maybe she is “in Paris, France or on a beach somewhere.” Don’t misunderstand, Louise understands and expects eventually to have to deal with the most unwanted of news in her sister’s disappearance. But it doesn’t make it any easier and the unknown is taking its toll on the family.

So many questions surround this case. Not the least of which is why was Roger Sweet allowed to even walk the streets for these past 17 years. The 1990 death of his first wife, Marlene Sweet, is now widely believed to be a homicide but the investigation, thanks to mistakes by the medical examiner, allowed Ms. Sweet’s death to be classified as an accident. It took Lizzie Mae’s disappearance to bring this fact to the light of day. Also, Mr. Sweet is now accused of child molestation. So we not only have potentially another homicide victim in Lizzie Mae but a child has been allegedly harmed at the hands of Mr. Sweet when he should have likely been behind bars. 

These are areas I intend to address and get more answers in my investigation and it is gratifying that the media seems to have suddenly regained some interest in the case.

But right now my thoughts are on Thursday’s dredging of the Rouge River. I dread what may be found but I also wish nothing more than for Ms. Collier-Sweet’s family to begin to get some answers.

I know Louise waits by the phone. I don’t know however if any answer can begin to ease her pain.

When A Game of Hoops Becomes A Death Sentence

March 27, 2007

When does it end?

Seemingly everyday I find myself shaking my head over the latest news about young people dying. So young,  so much life left in them yet cut down so senselessly. They are victims of a culture that has come to regard human life as having little value and the taking of a life has become some kind of badge of manliness.

Yesterday (Monday), 24-year old Ronald Guevara of Wayne, a Detroit suburb, lost his life after playing a game of pickup basketball. Nobody yet knows what really transpired except an argument ensued following a game of street hoops. Does it really matter what the argument was about? Was it worth costing a man his life?

Guevara died in his mother’s arms after being fatally wounded by a single shot to his head. His mother earlier, after seeing that tensions were escalating, told a group of 7-8 people that included her son, to go and fight it out one-on-one.  But it did not end there. According to newspaper reports, her son was chased into the family’s two-flat apartment and Guevara was shot on the porch.

The thugs who shot Guevara scattered like cockroaches, but Ronald lay mortally wounded. His blood now soaking the anguished arms of his grief-stricken mother. 

“It was a simple fight. It was over some stupid basketball game,” said Mrs. Guevara who now must bury a son.

If this was only an isolated incident you could dimiss it. But this was just the latest in a string of brutally violent deaths that have been visited upon Detroit area youth.

Another senseless slaying occurred recently when a 14-year old Detroit youth, angered over the fact that somebody had the audacity to paint over his gang grafitti, chased down the person he thought had committed the heinous act. When the assailant tried to enter the house, a 13-year old had the misfortune of stepping between the killer and his intended target and took the bullet, dying instantly. Dying over a few streams of painted concrete.

But the most horrifying of the youth fatalities occurred February 23 when two young boys, Darren Johnson, 11 and 13-year old Orlando Herron were killed execution style in a botched robbery in a suspected drug house in Detroit. Why the boys were in the drug house is a matter of conjecture at this time. They may have been used as drug couriers, but that is really not the point as much as here were two boys who probably had little or no chance at a normal youthful life and had no adult direction.

Tied up and frightened while the house was being torn apart by lowlifes who had invaded the home in the drug-induced belief that the drug dealer, whom they had tied up, placed in the trunk of their car and driven him to the house, had $100,000 stashed away at the home. The boys were in the wrong place, at the wrong time.

Several people are being held in the boys’ murder and if one of the suspects is to be believed, the actual killing was carried out by a woman, Sonya O’Neal, who yelled at one of her cohorts “Shoot them!” but when Charles Moore was allegedly unable to bring himself to kill the boys, O’Neal grabbed the gun and fired point blank into the head of each child, killing them instantly.  Such bravery.

So there we have it. A month of youthful carnage. It’s a sad, sad commentary on our society and the loss of value we have on human life.

This may make me sound old, but when we were kids, if we had a disagreement, somebody usually got socked in the eye or the gut at the worst, and by the next day all was forgotten.

But for today’s youth there is no next day. Only days of anguish and planning of funerals for those left behind to deal with such tragedy.


Who Speaks For Lizzie Mae?

March 26, 2007

Tara Grant is being buried today in Escanaba, MI. The attractive, upwardly mobile young mom’s disappearance and the subsequent horrific discovery of her body parts (her torso was found in the garage of the family home and the rest of her was scattered througout a Michigan park) garnered nearly around the clock television news coverage.

In the days following her disapperance, and then with the the subsequent arrest of her husband in her murder, people across Michigan and the nation were mesmerized by the case. How could they not be? The media, from TV to newspapers to radio and yes the Internet, hammered away at the story. The Macomb Sheriff held numerous press conferences updating us on the search. Her telegenic sister became the family spokesman.

We followed the manhunt for her accused murderer, and husband, across the northern Michigan wilderness and watched him being arragined from a wheelchair, recovering from frostbite which was a result of his attempted escape through the frigid north woods.

Fox News picked up the story. America’s Most Wanted was ready to feature the case until Stephen Grant’s arrest on the very day AMW was scheduled to air, scuttled that plan. A tragic story played out in front of our very eyes.

But what about Lizzie Mae Collier-Sweet? Who you ask? Well, it’s understandable if her case does not sound familiar. But it is also a very sad indictment of our media that most people have not heard about her case yet sat transfixed by the gory soap opera that played out in the Grant case.

You see, Lizzie Mae Collier-Sweet’s case apparently just isn’t sexy enough for the press. But it is equally disturbing, if not more so than the Grant case.

But why has there not been the same degree of coverage? Where are the press conferences and constant “breaking news” updates. Breaking news being a pejorative term here of course.

Lizzie Mae has not been seen or heard from since the home she shared with her husband, Roger Sweet, in Brownstown Township, MI went up in flames on January 8. Strange thing was that police found her car with luggage packed inside, including her dentures. But no Lizzie Mae. Neither her credit cards nor her cell phone have been used since her disappearance. Her husband escaped injury, but oh, by the way, he has now been charged with murder. Not Lizzie Mae’s murder however.

Roger Sweet, age 58, has been charged in the 1990 death of his first wife who died under mysterious circumstances and thanks to a botched medical examiner’s report at the time of Mrs. Sweet’s death in 1990, no charges were filed. Police now indicate that the first Mrs. Sweet died from an apparent beating which they allege came at the hands of Roger Sweet who is currently being held in jail without bail. 

Pretty salacious stuff, right? So why has the media essentially buried this story to maybe a 20-second soundbite on TV news or sub-section newspaper coverage?

I am not one to play the race card, but did I mention that Lizzie Mae Collier-Sweet is black? Should that matter? Of course not. But when it comes to news ratings, even in death, it apparently matters greatly. 

To this day, Lizzie Mae, now presumed dead by her family, has not been found. We have not been treated to hourly updates on the status of her case, we do not have anybody speaking for her on the local news. We barely even know she existed. But she did,  just as Tara Grant existed. She is apparently dead, much like Tara Grant, a probable victim of domestic violence.

Tara Grant will be buried today in Escanaba, MI. TV crews from around the state and the country will flock to the funeral home for a final farewell to somebody who had so much more life left in her save not for the apparent actions of a sociopathic husband.

Today a body of water will be dredged near Brownstown Township in the search for Lizze Mae Collier-Sweet based solely on a tip from a jailhouse snitch. That fact received 15 seconds of coverage on the TV news.

Ms. Collier-Sweet, just like Mrs. Grant, was loved by family and friends. Unfortunately she or they may not be telegenic, may not be upwardly mobile, and are probably not wealthy . They are probably just ordinary, blue-collar folks. But of course we wouldn’t know for sure because we have not really been allowed to get to know her family.

We grieved for Tara Grant because TV brought her into our living room.

Lizzie Mae Collier-Sweet is more than another potential victim of domestic violence. She is also a sad representation of our unbalanced news coverage.

Who speaks for Lizzie Mae Collier-Sweet?

Shame on our media. Shame.