GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- A murder investigation that has been cold for years is gaining new life as an accomplished team of detectives join the investigation.
Thursday marks the seventh anniversary of the disappearance and death of Janna Kelly, and her family has new confidence they’ll soon gain closure.
There’s no shortage of resources in the case, including a $50,000 reward, the largest in the state. However, the details surrounding the cause of Kelly’s death remain a mystery to her family.
“It was probably the happiest we had ever seen her,” Janna’s daughter Dana Isola said.
Life seemed to be hitting its peak for Janna, a 60-year-old mother and Grand Rapids insurance company co-owner.
Isola remembers that final Thanksgiving in 2007.
“My mom was excited because she was in love and even considering marriage, and I had just become engaged; so really exciting to share the news and had lots of plan for our future,” she said.
Janna loved the holidays, especially Christmas.
“Christmas was her favorite holiday, she was already talking about the prime rib and she already had the tables up and dishes on their way to be ready on December 4,” her niece Jennifer Stanton said.
Janna left work to run an errand on Dec. 4, and the next day she didn’t show up for work.
“We knew immediately something was really wrong,” Stanton said.
That began what Stanton describes as the toughest months of her life.
Janna’s coat and purse were found at a car wash Dec. 5.
Her car was found the next day abandoned, all not far from her Grand Rapids home, but there was still no sign of her.
“Every time the snow fell, was she cold? Was she lonely?” Stanton said.
March 13, 2008, Janna’s body was found in Grand Haven Township, some 40 miles away by a land surveyor.
Investigators determined Janna was killed on or around the day she went missing.
“I don’t know the circumstances or what she went through, but it had to have been awful regardless,” Isola said. “The fact that she was alone and scared and maybe knowing or not knowing what the outcome was going to be, that’s very difficult to live with and think about.”
And as days turned to nights and winter turned summer, the question of who killed Kelly became more puzzling.
“Every year is supposed to be easier and it really isn’t, and I think the holidays and the anniversary date bring it all right back to the beginning, the things you try not to think about every day,” Isola said.
The memory of that final Thanksgiving and the unfulfilled plans for the future.
But this year, on the seventh anniversary of Janna’s disappearance bring new hope as the Ottawa County Cold Case team joins the investigation.
“We are very excited,” Stanton said. “Ottawa County detectives have been amazing; they’re not giving up, they made their promise even if they retire they’re not stopping until this case is solved. It’s now part of their family.”
Captain Mark Bennett says they’re looking over everything starting from day one.
“The cold case concept is to start from the beginning,” Bennett said, “Just absorb, read through, make notes, and just go through the process.”
He said they’re redoing interviews, asking some of the same questions, asking new questions, looking at evidence and photographs.
He says DNA evidence is being processed right now that could provide answers.
Still tight-lipped on details surrounding the investigation, Captain Bennett speculates Janna’s murder wasn’t random.
“The fact that there didn’t appear to be any significant struggle in the home, ya know leads us to believe that it was somebody she knew or knew of or wasn’t particularly startled by,” he said.
He says the investigation is moving forward as new details are uncovered through what he calls “a fresh set of eyes.”
“Relationships break down, people remember something that at the time wasn’t significant and now it is,” Bennett said.
He's confident in new information the two cold case investigators who work this case full-time have been able to drum up.
“The case is certainly moving forward and we’re encouraged by the interviews that we’ve recently done, some of the cooperation we’ve obtained,” he said.
“They believe they can solve it and I believe that they can,” Stanton said.
Janna’s family now celebrates her birthday every year, something they wish they would have done more often when she was alive.
“We always said life was just too busy,” Stanton said “We learned the hard way.”
Searching for closure and pleading for anyone with information to finally come forward.
“It could be one small thing to close this case and if it’s something that just makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up,” Stanton said urging people to call with information.
If you saw anything suspicious that December in 2007 or overheard someone saying anything suspicious no matter how small investigators want to hear from you and you can remain anonymous in doing so.
There is a $50,000 reward for an arrest and conviction for the murder of Janna Kelly call Silent Observer at 616-774-2345.