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Published: Saturday, 8/25/2007

Hillsdale man guilty in slayings of sisters

BY BENJAMIN ALEXANDER-BLOCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Moench Moench
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HILLSDALE - A Hillsdale County man was convicted yesterday of six felonies and will face life in prison for slaying two sisters and setting fire to a mobile home.

Stephen Michael Moench, 55, shot Annabelle "Betty" Brown, 63, and Viola Mae Morgan, 61, on Aug. 11, 2006, in a mobile home park near Reading, just southwest of Hillsdale and about 80 miles west of Toledo. Dr. Lawrence E. Dasch, the Hillsdale County medical examiner, said each woman died of a single gunshot wound in the chest.

Moench also attempted to kill a third sister, Linda Crawford; shot and killed her dog, Duke, and burned down the house of a neighbor in an attempt to kill sisters Moran and Brenda Kemp.

The jury convicted Moench in Hillsdale County Circuit Court on all seven counts Chief Assistant Prosecutor Valerie R. White levied against him: two counts of first-degree murder, three of attempted murder, and one each of arson and discharge of a firearm causing property damage.

He is to be sentenced Sept. 24 by Judge Michael R. Smith.

Moench lived in the same mobile home park as the sisters. Hillsdale County sheriff's deputies said the slayings were the result of a long-simmering dispute.

Deputies said Moench and Mrs. Morgan had a friendship that went sour, so sour that the owner and manager of the park, Keith Avra, had to meet with him, the three sisters, and some neighbors to end the dispute. Ms. White said it was just something about Moench's nature.

"He is the type of person that if he found a cigarette butt on his lawn, he immediately assumed that his neighbors had thrown it," she said. "If he found that some dog had gone to the bathroom on his lawn, he'd assume it was his neighbor's dog."

The day of the shooting, Moench arrived home about 5 p.m. and began flicking cigarette butts from his lawn at the sisters. The sisters told him to stop and to stay away from them.

Then Moench, who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, removed a 20-gauge shotgun from the trunk of his red Dodge Neon, pointed it at the sisters, and clicked the trigger twice.

The gun did not fire. Moench went back to his trunk to load or unjam the weapon, and then went back to what he was doing before - firing across the street at the sisters.

"He had one thing in mind and that was to show them who was boss, and the jury was able to see that," Ms. White said.

Mrs. Morgan fell to the ground outside, Ms. Brown was shot inside the home, and Ms. Crawford, who was not hurt, ran next door and called 911. Moench next shot Duke.

Moench then set the Kemp sisters' home on fire. Deputies later rescued the Kemps by pulling them out of the home before the home burned down.

Moench stayed in his home for a few minutes, then drove off, deputies said. He was arrested in Branch County about 6 p.m.

Ms. Brown lived in Hilsdale all her life, was close to her sisters, and was a former waitress and factory worker, according to her son, James Estel.

He said his mother always was the life of a party.

He said his aunt, Mrs. Morgan, loved the outdoors and worked 43 years at Jonesville Products, an auto supplier.

Contact Benjamin Alexander-Bloch

at: babloch@theblade.com

or 419-724-6168.



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