SCHOOL CLOSINGS

Finding a killer: Justice for Mary Morrison

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CASCADE TWP, Mich. - Mary Morrison was 89 and peacefully enjoying her sunset years at Sentinel Pointe Retirement Community in the summer of 2011. But those years were tragically cut short that July, and it's the task of Detective Jason Richards and the Kent Metro Cold Case Team to find Mary's killer.

Concern arose when Mary didn't show up for breakfast the morning of July 19.

"If the resident didn't show up as they were supposed to, they would then get a call," Richards says, "and if they don't answer the phone -- which is not uncommon -- then they'll send somebody to go look for them."

Police were then called to the retirement home, where they found Mary dead in her small one-bedroom apartment. The medical examiner would later rule that she'd been strangled with an electrical cord.

"How could anyone pick her, and why?" Morrison's niece, Patty Kunze, asks. "The biggest question was 'Why?'"

"Why would someone come in and do that to her?" another niece, Sue Vanderveen, asks.

Mary's brother, Lyle Morrison, now 86, had just been with his sister the day before, "and all of a sudden I'm being told the lady that I love is …'We're sorry but she's gone,'" he says.

Lyle says he said goodbye to Mary for the last time that Monday evening around 5:30 p.m as staff helped her back to her room. It was the last time she was seen alive.

Since Mary was found, Detective Richards has spent countless hours pouring over the case, working the investigation every step of the way.

"There's a lot of small parts to it that get worked throughout the time I've had it," he says.

He's just one part of the Kent Metro Cold Case Team, composed of two detectives from the Kent County Sheriff's Department and two more from the Grand Rapids Police Department and overseen by Detective Sgt. Sally Wolter of the Michigan State Police.

"We're considered one of the top cold case agencies in the country, and our success speaks for itself," Wolter says.

Since its inception in 2006, the Kent Metro Cold Case Team has solved 19 cold case murders. They currently have 35 open cases out of the 188 unsolved homicides that remain in Kent County.

Success in this case means finding the person or people responsible for killing Mary Morrison three and a half years ago.

Richards tells us the outside doors of Sentinel Pointe are locked around 5:30 p.m., the same time Morrison was escorted back to her room. After that, there was only one way in and one way out of the retirement community, and each apartment has its own deadbolt lock.

"We figured she was safe where she was," Kunze says. "That was a shock too -- that someone could come to where there's supposed to be a secure place for her to be."

"It absolutely could be someone that was let into her apartment," Richards says, "or that she knew that would have been trusted to be there."

Which leaves an important question: was the murderer already in the buildin, or did they have access to a key?

"There was nothing stolen," Lyle Morrison says. "It's like the person wanted to kill Mary. That was the goal for him coming in."

Investigators have conducted more than 100 interviews in this case. "Every single person cooperated to the best that they could," Richards says.

He's hoping someone may remember something new or that they forgot, no matter how small.

"I don't believe there are witnesses that are refusing to come forward," Richards says. "I don't believe that there are a big quantity of people who were afraid to come forward."

As Mary's family moves forward into another holiday without her, Lyle finds a way to honor his beloved sister.

"My dad always will have a glass of wine at the place where she sits," Vanderveen says. "So he puts a glass of wine there, and that's for Mary. And nobody sits there for quite some time."

Lyle says Richards gives him hope, working with Silent Observer to put Mary on a billboard and continuing to work every detail and lead.

"We've collected multiple pieces of evidence," Richards says. "We've used the Michigan State Police Crime Lab. We've used a private laboratory to look at some evidence. We've even just recently had a private business jump in and help out with a couple things that we needed done."

He is dedicated to solving a murder that seems so cruel and unfair, while family fights to keep Morrison's memory alive.

"We've lost a lovely terrific lady, and nobody in this room is going to give up," Lyle said.

If you have information about the murder of Mary Morrison -- anything that could help bring this case closure -- call Silent Observer at (616) 774-2345.

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