The Unexplained: Was it murder or suicide?

Searching the frigid waters of the Detroit River for the missing JoAnn Roman. Photo: ClickDetroit

She had walked from her car, climbed over rocks and snow to the edge of Lake St. Clair, and was found dead in the frigid waters of the Detroit River two months later.

What happened to JoAnn Romain?

She was attending evening Mass at St. Paul Catholic Church in Grosse Pointe, Woods, Michigan.  The fifty-five-year-old wife and mother of three filled up her 2008-model Lexus SUV with gasoline before she went to the church service.  It was found abandoned in the church parking lot on the night she vanished in January of 2010.

Investigators in Grosse Pointe Farms theorized that she had walked from her car and climbed over rocks and snow to the edge of Lake St. Clair.  Somehow she got into the frigid water and died.

Her death was ruled a suicide.  There was only one set of foot tracks in the snow, leading to the water’s edge.  There was one rear-end impression along the way.

Did she go in on purpose?

Was she looking for something and slipped?

Could it have been an accident?

The water at the edge of the lake was frozen solid.  The water at the edge was also only a few feet deep.

Sara Marie Hogg

Suicide does not make sense as she was a devout Catholic, and who would fill a car with a tank of gas if they were going to take their own life the same night?

She just totally disappeared at that spot by the lake.  Canadian fishermen found her frozen-solid body two months later.  It was discovered on the Canadian side of the Detroit River near Amherstburg on March 20, 2010.  It was over thirty miles from the church where JoAnn attended the service.

The case has so many mysteries within it.  Three separate pathologists ruled it death by drowning, although there was no water in her lungs.  It seemed to be what is called a dry drowning caused by a spasm in the throat.

They agree on the cause of death, but cannot decide what caused the drowning.  There was no evidence of injury or foul play on the body.

Other oddities:  her SUV was reported gone from the parking lot for a period, but it returned to the church parking lot—in a different spot.  She had on hard-to-walk-in boots with five-inch heels.  She had no history of suffering from depression and did not leave a note.

Her boots were not scuffed or dirty.  Her brand new designer purse was on the car seat and had a rip in it.  Other sources claim her purse was not that new and did not have a rip in it.  When her body was found, her coat was zipped all the way up.  Those close to her said she would never have zipped up the coat.  Never!

JoAnn’s children are convinced she was murdered.  One daughter thinks her mother was chloroformed outside the church and left in the water at a spot near Belle Isle.  The children have filed wrongful death lawsuits against area public safety departments for not doing a proper investigation.  They have also spent thousands on hiring their own lawyers and investigators to find, charge, and prosecute a murderer.

Do they have a suspect in mind?  Yes, they do.  They are convinced it is JoAnn’s own cousin.  They overheard a short argument during a phone conversation JoAnn had with the man.  The conversation they overheard was one in which JoAnn told the person to “mind his own business,” and then she slammed down the phone.

JoAnn’s Matouk Romain’s male cousin of concern was Tim Matouk.  Tim Matouk is himself a former police officer and now an investigator for the Wayne County Prosecutor.

After over eleven years he finally made some comments on the case as he is weary of being accused of murder and having his reputation stained.  He is the victim of a vicious witch hunt, he emphasizes.

He stated that he was always on good terms with JoAnn and has never had a serious argument with her.  Their only disagreement was about JoAnn’s brother, John, who could not keep out of trouble with the law.  They had some conversations about his legal problems, but basically, that was it.

Tim has somewhat of an alibi for the night JoAnn died.  He was on duty working in the city of Warren on a Michigan State Police Narcotics Task Force case.  He has a logbook of verifiable phone calls he made that prove he was in Warren all night.  He was not actually seen physically all that time, but the calls with his actual voice were in Warren.

Some deeper digging discovered some more intrigue.  It seems that JoAnn and her four siblings were often involved in feuds among themselves.  They are children of William and Louise who arrived in America from Syria and prospered.  They established Woods Wholesale Wine and Spirits and left an estate of over twenty million dollars.

Does Tim Matouk know more about JoAnn’s disappearance than he has stated, or is it another case of loved ones of suicide victims trying to transfer blame to another party?  This is a frequent occurrence with suicides.

Authorities do not plan to re-open the case at this time.  The family continues to ask for tips and offer rewards for info that is productive.

What happened to JoAnn Romain?

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