Arrests made in 1997 cold case murder; headless, handless body was found near Blissfield

  • In US
  • 2023-01-25 00:17:52Z
  • By The Daily Telegram

A little more than 25 years ago, a farmer found the remains of a body in a cornfield near Blissfield. The man's head and hands had been cut off, making identifying the victim difficult.

On Tuesday, Michigan authorities announced that two Ohio men have been arrested and charged with the man's murder. But the victim's identity remains a mystery.

Richardo Sepulveda, 51, of Cincinnati and Michael Sepulveda, 49, of Toledo were arrested Tuesday by the U.S. Marshals Service after being charged with the 1997 cold case homicide of "John Doe," Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel announced.

The Sepulvedas are brothers, Michigan State Police said in a news release.

The two men are being extradited to Lenawee County on the following charges: first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, assault with intent to main, conspiracy to commit assault with intent to main, tampering with evidence and conspiracy to commit tampering with evidence. The murder charge is punishable by up to life in prison without parole. The other charges have maximum penalties of 10 years in prison.

Michael Sepulveda has waived extradition, and Richardo Sepulveda has a hearing Wednesday, the attorney general's office said.

"Michigan State Police worked with multiple local and federal law enforcement agencies and prosecutors to gather evidence and establish a timeline of events," Nessel said in a news release. "I am grateful for their persistence in pursuing this case. All crime victims deserve justice regardless of how long it takes to receive it."

The Michigan State Police First District Cold-Case Unit was assisted by members of the state police's Monroe Post, the First District Fugitive Team, U.S. Marshals Service, and the Lucas and Butler County sheriff's offices in Ohio, a news release from the state police said.

Arrest warrants were issued Jan. 17, the state police said.

A farmer stumbled on the partially decomposed body Nov. 19, 1997, in a cornfield off Corey Highway in Blissfield Township.

An autopsy determined that the body is that of a man between 20 and 40 years old. He stood between 5 feet, 5 inches and 5 feet, 10 inches tall and was of medium build.

Police searched the cornfield and surrounding area but did not find the body parts, lending credence to a theory that the man was killed elsewhere before being dumped in the county. Many local residents felt the man was killed in Toledo during a drug deal gone bad.

Michigan State Police Detective Hugh Welsh, the original investigator in the case, sifted through missing persons reports from the region and eliminated a majority of them.

In September 1999, a DNA profile of the victim was developed, but it has not led to an identification of the victim, so far. Detective Sgt. Larry Rothman of the Michigan State Police First District's Cold-Case Unit said the DNA profile has been uploaded to the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System as well as genealogy websites.

"We're constantly getting information back," Rothman said Tuesday. "So far, we haven't had a positive identification, but hopefully we'll be able to identify the victim sooner or later, especially now that we've arrested a couple of people in the case."

Investigators don't know how the victim died, Rothman said, but it is assumed he died from some kind of trauma to the head.

"There are still a few things out there that we're trying to piece together," he said.

There is a possibility other people could be charged in connection with the crime.

"We're hoping other people come forward," Rothman said. "There's no doubt that other people from that time period know some things."

Anyone who has information related to this investigation is asked to contact Rothman at (313) 407-9379.

While some theorized the victim was killed in Toledo, Rothman said the court case will stay in Lenawee County.

"(The cornfield) was our crime scene," he said.

The investigation into this murder has been active since 2016, Rothman said. The COVID-19 pandemic and other homicides took time away from this case, but investigators revisited it when the Cold-Case Unit took over and eventually submitted it to the attorney general's office.

The Cold-Case Unit is reviewing every cold case in the state police's First District, which includes Lenawee County. State police consider cases to be open, closed or inactive, Rothman said. An inactive case is one where all current investigative leads have been exhausted. At that point, it would be transferred to the Cold-Case Unit.

That unit is made up of state police detectives as well as criminal justice students and faculty from Michigan State University, Rothman said.

Genealogy websites that can use a person's DNA to develop their family tree are a new tool for investigators.

"The potential to be able to solve decade-old cases that we didn't have before with genealogy and technology is kind of a breakthrough thing," Rothman said. "It's a great time to be able to revisit all of our other cold cases to see what evidence that we have that we can submit to the (crime) lab again or use genealogy to be able to break some of these cases."

This article originally appeared on The Daily Telegram: Arrests made in 1997 cold case murder; body was found near Blissfield


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