Swanton suspect held in '91 slaying

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  • Zich

    Mary Jane Zich didn't live to see her daughter, Desiree Pena, marry, graduate high school, or bear her now two-week-old grandson.

    Nearly 16 years ago, the 27-year-old Clay Township woman was strangled, and, nearly two weeks after she vanished, her body was found in the trunk of her car in East Toledo.

    Mrs. Pena, who is now 18 and recently moved from Clay Township to San Antonio, was 3 years old when her mother was killed.

    "[The years after her death] were very difficult. It was very hard," she said. "You have the rest of your family; but to not have the one person you depend on, it's just really hard."

    Yesterday, Mrs. Pena and other relatives received good news about Mrs. Zich's slaying - the indictment and arrest of her then-husband in her death.

    Thomas "Tom" Zich, 60, of Fulton County was held in the Lucas County jail last night on one count of murder after an indictment earlier in the day by a Lucas County grand jury.

    He was arrested without incident about 3 p.m. at his home, 1900 U.S. 20, by members of the Northern Ohio Violent Fugitive Task Force.

    Mrs. Zich was last seen alive Nov. 29, 1991.

    Mary Jane Zich
    Mary Jane Zich

    She reportedly received a phone call, left home, and did not return, said Toledo police Detective Bart Beavers, a member of the Lucas County cold-case squad.

    Mr. Zich reported his wife missing Dec. 7, 1991, to the Ottawa County Sheriff's Office.

    Acting on a tip, Toledo police located her 1985 Mercury Marquis in the 400 block of Greenwood Avenue on Dec. 18, 1991. They forced open the trunk and found her frozen body.

    Two years ago, cold-case investigators contacted Mrs. Zich's family about re-opening the case, said Sgt. Steve Forrester, one of the investigators.

    Since then, they reviewed the case file - including paperwork from the Ottawa County Sheriff's Office and Clay Township police - and re-interviewed witnesses, including Mr. Zich. He never admitted to killing his wife, Detective Beavers said.

    Police believe Mrs. Zich went home Nov. 29 to tell her husband she wanted a divorce and was never seen or heard from again, Sergeant Forrester said.

    He said Mary Jane Zich was the fifth of Mr. Zich's six wives. He is a skilled worker at Jeep. He and other workers came to Toledo from Kenosha, Wis., in 1985. He has a minor criminal record, the sergeant said.

    Mary Lou Andaverde, Mrs. Zich's sister-in-law, was shocked and relieved to hear of the arrest. She and other relatives always suspected Mr. Zich in the killing.

    "He was very jealous and abusive to her," Mrs. Andaverde said. "We noticed things right away after they were married. There was no contact with family and she was a family-oriented person."

    She said the Ziches weren't married a year before Mrs. Zich was killed. The couple met when she was a waitress at a Navarre Avenue restaurant and he was a customer.

    Mrs. Andaverde said Mrs. Zich was working at an Oak Harbor restaurant at the time of her death. She described her as a "very vivacious person - very loving, very giving person."

    Mrs. Andaverde said the family never gave up on her case. The only sad part, she said, is that Mrs. Zich's father, who died almost two years ago, wasn't alive to hear the news.

    "We've been waiting for this for so long," Mrs. Pena said. "Now that it's here, it's an amazing feeling."

    Contact Christina Hall at:


    or 419-724-6007.