BATTLE CREEK, Mich. — James Barrus said he’ll never forget the day in October 1988 when he found out his mother Gayle Barrus died.
She had been missing since Oct. 8 of that year and the family filed a police report. Two weeks later, her body was found on River Road in Emmett Township.
Barrus, who was 13 years old at the time didn't know the news until his father came to his school and pulled him out of class, he recalled. Once James Barrus got inside his father’s truck with his siblings, his dad broke the news to them.
“Yeah, pretty emotional,” Barrus said. “It’s been very difficult. I guess 'easy' is not the right word but I had to learn to move on with my life.”
Since then, there’s been a few questions lingering in his mind like what happened to his mother on that morning 31 years ago, why has the case taken so long to solve and, ultimately, who did it.
“I have about 756 pages of records from a (Freedom of Information Act) request I did about seven years ago,” Barrus said. “But that’s about 70 percent of the case volume. It’s just really about answers, trying to piece things together.”
Barrus said Detective Scott Marshall with the Battle Creek Police Department has been helping him piece the mystery together as well.
He’s been investigating the cold case over the last few years and this year there’s been some movement.
“He notified me in March of this year that they found a suspect,” Barrus said. “At the time I assumed the suspect was alive. But in September I learned that suspect was deceased.”
The suspect has been identified as Richard Compton, Barrus said. Compton was considered a suspect back in 1988. However he’s since died and was buried in Texas.
“Two weeks ago today, they were able to exhume his body and take a piece of bone,” Barrus said. “They sent it to the FBI lab in Virginia for DNA testing.”
Barrus said once the case is assigned to a case manager in Virginia then the results may take up to a year to get back.
However it’s something he’s willing to wait for, he said. It won't provide him closure regarding his mother's death. However it may answer a question that's been nagging him for decades.
“I’m hoping that timeframe is shorter,” Barrus said. “But after 31 years, another 6-12 months is a drop in the bucket.”