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Published: Sunday, 10/21/2001

New leads may finally close brutal '81 murder

BY ROBIN ERB
BLADE STAFF WRITER

She shopped at the Kroger store on North Summit Street, bought $73.84 in groceries, and loaded them into her 1978 Thunderbird.

Then, the mother of three, who had promised to be home by dinnertime, disappeared. At daybreak the next morning, her mutilated body was found in a tangle of weeds just north of the state line in Erie Township, Michigan. She'd been stabbed 15 times; her throat slashed.

About the same time, two men were making their way through the area. Jordan Mark Sutkiewicz was a mentally ill drifter from Maryland who, authorities said, had a penchant for sniffing stolen airplane glue. Thomas Gilbert was a suspected serial killer from Akron who later that year would stab to death two Akron-area women.

Detectives scrutinized both men; former Monroe County Prosecutor William Frey and other officials now say that authorities arrested the wrong one.

Monroe County Sheriff's Capt. Otra Lynch and Detective Sgt. Walt Carlson failed to pursue leads linking Gilbert to the Krouse murder, leaving Mr. Sutkiewicz to “languish” for 10 years in prison for a murder he didn't commit, according to lawyer Justin Ravitz, who took Mr. Sutkiewicz's civil suit for wrongful imprisonment to a federal court in 1994. The case was settled out of court for an undisclosed amount.

“It's not that they didn't blow the whistle. They buried the whistle,” the Southfield, Mich., attorney said. “And with it, they buried Jordan.”

Mark Verwys, the attorney for the investigators, maintained his clients did their job properly, though he concedes that Gilbert - currently in prison for two other similar murders - now appears to be Mrs. Krouse's killer. The Monroe detectives could not have known that at the time of Mr. Sutkiewicz's arrest, Mr. Verwys said.

Mr. Sutkiewicz told deputies about details of the slaying that only the killer - or someone who saw the murder - could know, he said.

“There is no doubt in my mind there was probable cause to arrest him,” Mr. Verwys said, adding that it was the prosecutor's office, not the deputies, who ultimately charged Mr. Sutkiewicz. “[The deputies] did nothing wrong.”

The now-retired Captain Lynch agreed.

“I feel strong enough about this thing to say [Mr. Sutkiewicz] either was the one or he was there,” he said. “There were so many things he knew that only the killer or someone who was there could have known.”

Detectives Carlson and William Maurice, the two lead investigators in the case, are dead. Detective Maurice was not named as a defendant in the civil suit.

Now, there may be new leads in the case.

In Toledo, cold-case detectives who two decades ago assisted Monroe County authorities at the beginning of their investigation, recently reviewed the old files. Though they will not comment directly on the pending investigation, they told The Blade they are pursuing, among other things, possible DNA evidence.

Gilbert remains a prime suspect, authorities say. He is serving a life sentence at Chillicothe Correctional Institution for sexually assaulting and stabbing to death a 19-year-old Akron convenience store clerk and a 14-year-old runaway from Stowe, Ohio, a nearby suburb, a month after Mrs. Krouse was murdered.

Gilbert declined requests by The Blade for an interview.

Thomas Gilbert remains a prime suspect in the slaying, authorities say. Thomas Gilbert remains a prime suspect in the slaying, authorities say.
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Those closest to Mrs. Krouse told homicide investigators that the 32-year-old Lakeside Avenue resident was a giving, compassionate woman whose “sun rose and set [around] her three children.” A long-time employee at Lehn & Fink household products, she was a “good worker” and “well-liked” by her colleagues.

On July 10, 1981, she planned to visit her ailing mother in Riverside Hospital after grocery shopping. Police know that she purchased groceries at the Kroger store and returned to her car. What they don't know is what happened next.

Just about dinnertime, several teenagers noticed a man rifling through Mrs. Krouse's car. Dana Dear, 16, was one of them.

She had been driving to her Point Place home, the teen later told police, when she saw a “large-built” and “muscular” man park the T-bird on the grassy area just north of the Kroger store.

Stepping from her car and walking within a few yards from him, she told the stranger he shouldn't park on the grass because he could be towed. Covered with what she guessed at the time to be grease stains, the stranger stared at her momentarily, turned, and ran.

She initially dismissed the encounter. “I figured `Fine, then get towed,'” she said.

At 9 that night, a concerned Jerry Krouse called police from home to report his wife missing. In the dark, a search party of family members set out to find her, scanning nearby ditches and the wooded areas with flashlights.

A Washington Township police officer patrolling the area spotted the Krouses' car just after midnight. It was caked in mud and marked with blood stains. Toilet paper that apparently had been used to clean the car of fingerprints littered the area.

It wasn't until after daybreak that Mr. Krouse's brother found his sister-in-law's body north of infrequently traveled Shoreline Drive.

Murder victim Gloria Krouse was a devoted mother to her 3 children. Murder victim Gloria Krouse was a devoted mother to her 3 children.
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Jordan Mark Sutkiewicz had mental problems long before his glue-sniffing habit further mangled his mind.

The sixth child of a large Frederick, Md., family, he spent much of his growing up in and out of mental institutions where doctors described him in clinic reports as “mildly retarded,” “delusional,” and “suffering schizophrenia.”

He believed he could control other people's minds and that he was related to Jimmy Carter and Johnny Cash. He owned Lake Michigan, he told authorities.

Notably docile and even withdrawn, Mr. Sutkiewicz never made it past the seventh grade, never held a permanent job, and spent much of his time wandering the streets.

By mid-1981, Mr. Sutkiewicz, then 25 years old, had hitchhiked his way to the Midwest, stolen glue from a Toledo K-mart, and spent time at Toledo's Cherry Street Mission.

When police picked him up July 22, the scrawny, wild-haired drifter was loitering in a field near the Kroger store where Mrs. Krouse had disappeared.

Like the face in the composite drawing of the man seen rifling Mrs. Krouse's car, he had long hair, and wore sunglasses. That same day Monroe County detectives placed him in a lineup. Two juveniles tentatively identified him as the man they saw rifling through Mrs. Krouse's car.

The pastor did more than that.

Pastor Younts gleaned details of the crime from Mr. Sutkiewicz that investigators believed only the killer or police would know, such as the color of Mrs. Krouse's purse and the number of grocery bags in her trunk.

Mr. Sutkiewicz was returned to the sheriff's department the next day, where his “confession” continued and led to his immediate arrest. The Monroe County prosecutor's office filed a first-degree murder charge against him.

In October, 1981, Mr. Sutkiewicz was found incompetent to stand trial for the slaying. He was instead sent to the Michigan Forensic Center for the Criminally Insane in Ypsilanti, Mich.

Mr. Sutkiewicz recently recalled his time at the center as “lonely.”

“I just wanted out the whole time I was there,” he said.

“I didn't feel good. They told me that I did it [killed a woman], but I didn't believe them. I don't think I'd do that.”

Though Michigan law required the murder charges be dropped against the mentally incompetent Mr. Sutkiewicz, he was not to be released from the lockup until he had “regained competency.”

That would take nearly 10 years.

Monroe County distributed this composite drawing of the suspect. Monroe County distributed this composite drawing of the suspect.
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On March 3, 1991, Barbara O'Neal, chief clinician at the Forensic Center, reported to Monroe County Prosecutor William Frey that new medication had stabilized Mr. Sutkiewicz and that he might be released from the facility in a short time.

She wanted to know if Mr. Frey, who had taken over the prosecutor's office in 1986, planned on refiling the murder charge against Mr. Sutkiewicz.

Though he had not been involved with the case a decade earlier, Mr. Frey certainly remembered it. He knew Mrs. Krouse's parents and remembered the hideous details of her death.

Mr. Frey “went on and on that Jordan was guilty,” Ms. O'Neal wrote in her report of their conversation.

But while poring through the investigative files of the case that night, Mr. Frey changed his mind.

Not only was Mr. Sutkiewicz most likely innocent of the crime, he said, but the real culprit sat in a prison in Ohio, never having been charged.

For the first time that night, Mr. Frey said he heard the “confession” tapes recorded by Pastor Younts. On the tapes, Mr. Frey said, the pastor fed Mr. Sutkiewicz details of the case that the pastor most likely received from investigators.

Though “well-intentioned,” Mr. Frey said, the pastor “programmed” the vulnerable Mr. Sutkiewicz to regurgitate critical details of the crime.

Contacted last week, Pastor Younts said he believes Mr. Sutkiewicz was “coached” about details of the crime, but not by him. He said Mr. Sutkiewicz was a delusional and confused street person who “can't even put a sentence together. It wasn't a confession to me.”

“But then he gets to Monroe and he suddenly waxes poetic,” Pastor Younts added. “You have to wonder how he went from what he told me to what he supposedly says the next day.”

As for the “confession” Mr. Sutkiewicz made to the detectives, Mr. Frey learned from a police report that much of it was rambling statements from Mr. Sutkiewicz about “the living dead,” God, Satan, and Dracula.

Even more stunning in the files was information indicating that a better suspect had emerged early on in the Krouse investigation.

Several circumstantial facts linked Thomas Gilbert to the scene: He frequented the Kroger deli. He fished in the area. Several acquaintances asked him about fresh cuts on his hands in the days after Mrs. Krouse died. He told them different stories: that he'd been in a knife fight and that he injured it while working on his car.

Gilbert was “positively” identified in a police lineup in September that year as the man in Mrs. Krouse's car the day she died.

Mr. Frey said Gilbert's violent past further supported the case against him.

As a juvenile, he had been tried but acquitted in the rape and stabbing death of his 55-year-old neighbor, even though he had confessed to breaking into her home. He kidnapped and assaulted at knifepoint a couple who stopped to help him with a stalled vehicle.

Weeks after Mrs. Krouse died, Gilbert confessed that he had fatally stabbed the 19-year-old convenience store clerk and the 14-year-old runaway in the Akron area. He also admitted raping at knifepoint a barmaid in Erie Township, Michigan, just north of Toledo.

According to the files Mr. Frey reviewed in 1991, Sergeant Carlson had confronted Gilbert in prison on Sept. 1, 1981, about the inmate's possible involvement in Mrs. Krouse's murder. Gilbert “shook his head yes.

“[Gilbert] stated that he would not like to see anyone go to prison for what he did,” the sergeant wrote in his report.

Two weeks after Sergeant Carlson's interview with Gilbert, Toledo investigators questioned Gilbert about Mrs. Krouse. “From his appearance it indicated we hit on something he did not want to discuss,” investigators wrote.

In 1991, Dana Dear, who 10 years earlier had confronted the man in Mrs. Krouse's car, was watching television with her husband when she saw - for the first time - a picture of the ragged-looking and thin Mr. Sutkiewicz who had been charged with Mrs. Krouse's killing.

She immediately called Mr. Frey.

“I said `Mr. Frey, you got real problems,'” she recalled. “You guys locked up the wrong man.”

Mr. Sutkiewicz was released from the Forensic Center in June, 1991.

Gilbert never was charged with Mrs. Krouse's death. Monroe County investigators said they didn't have sufficient evidence. Toledo investigators said they couldn't move on the case because it belonged to Monroe County.

Mr. Frey told The Blade he was ready to file charges but then was voted out of office and was facing unrelated legal problems of his own that eventually led to a suspension of his law license.

It's not clear whether the deputies heard the “confession” tapes from Pastor Younts. It's also not clear whether the tapes or the information about Gilbert ever made it to the office of then Prosecutor Michael LaBeau. Now a Monroe County Circuit Court judge, Mr. LaBeau said he most likely left the details to his assistant prosecutor, William LaVoy.

Mr. LaVoy, also a sitting Monroe County Circuit Court judge, declined comment, saying it was inappropriate to speak about the case.

Attorney Ravitz, who in the early 1990s heard about Mr. Sutkiewicz's plight from a source in the mental health field, presented Mr. Sutkiewicz's wrongful imprisonment lawsuit to a Detroit federal court jury in 1994. He lost the case, he believes, because a judge ruled Pastor Younts' tapes could not be introduced during the trial.

The U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals later reversed that decision, calling the tapes “tainted” and sending the case back for a second trial. By that time, both sides were weary of the already 15-year-old case.

The original $2 million lawsuit was settled out of court for an undisclosed amount - “pennies on the dollar,” according to Mr. Verwys.

The agreement was “enough to get Jordan the treatment he needs,” Mr. Ravitz said.

A separate lawsuit against Mr. Younts was settled for $25,000.

Mr. Sutkiewicz now spends his days watching television and doing yard work at an adult foster home in Michigan. In Point Place, Mr. Krouse declined to be interviewed for this story, saying it is too painful.

In Chillicothe, Gilbert had his first hearing for parole in August; it was denied. He will not be eligible again until 2011. And in Monroe and Toledo, investigators continue to sort through old paper files, track down witnesses, and wait for the results of crime lab tests.

Like other investigators now looking at the case, Monroe County sheriff's Detective Joseph Higham said he gets angry every time he sees the files.

Mrs. Krouse, he said, “didn't put herself at risk. She's someone who's shopping in broad daylight. She's anyone's mother or sister.

“And it irritates me that someone would kill this woman and never be held accountable for it. We hope that will change.”



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