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By: Alex Postrado
What Happened To JoAnn Romain? An Unsolved Case Of Suicide Or Murder
It was an unusually sketchy case.
On the night of January 12, 2010, a woman named JoAnn Matouk Romain disappeared after leaving her home to attend a prayer service at their local church.
Over two months later, her body was found 一 drifting across a river, more than 35 miles away from where the police identified she may have fallen into the water and drowned.
All would not have been puzzling if things were as simple as these.
After all, a considerable number of drowning victims are commonly recovered far from the actual drowning site.
But, in the case of JoAnn Romain, a lot of details do not add up. Some say it was suicide. Others 一 murder.
But exactly what happened that cold, fateful night is still up for debate to this day.
Who Was JoAnn Romain?
At the time of her death, JoAnn Romain was a 55-year-old Michigan local and mother of three grown children: Michelle, Kellie, and Michael.
Her 1980 marriage to her children’s father, Dave Romain, ended up unsuccessful, so by the time JoAnn disappeared, the two were no longer living together.
JoAnn was then living at her residence in Grosse Pointe Woods, Michigan, where her regular routine 一 as a devout Catholic 一 involved attending the services of St. Paul Catholic Church.
Who would have thought that through that seemingly harmless pursuit of purpose, JoAnn Romain would meet her untimely end?
The Timeline of JoAnn’s Disappearance
According to the investigation, when JoAnn Romain left her house on the evening of January 12, 2010, her first stop was at a local gas station, where she knew the gas attendant and even “engaged in some normal, unhurried conversation” with him.
Nothing suspicious happened after that yet. In fact, she arrived at the St. Paul Catholic Church sometime around 7:15 p.m. to 7:20 p.m. 一 early enough to attend the service.
But things started to get strange when Romain left the church.
It is said that as she went out, someone from the church heard her car alarm go off.
The sound went on for roughly 15 seconds, but when people came to check out what happened, Romain, along with her car, was no longer there.
No one has seen her since then. Until around 9:20 p.m. on the same night, it became official: JoAnn Romain was a missing person.
That time, the police showed up at Romain’s children’s door to let them know about what happened, as well as about what they found:
Romain’s ride, a Lexus, was discovered abandoned at the church’s parking lot with her purse, wallet, and cash still intact in the front seat;
And JoAnn Romain, absent at the scene, with no other clue as to where she headed 一 perhaps, except for a pair of footprints across the snowy path, leading down to the shore of Lake St. Clair.
The Finding of the Body
One of the biggest mysteries of JoAnn Romain’s case was the fact that her supposed footprints across the partially frozen lakeside led to “no broken ice or evidence that someone had entered the water.”
It was, as if, she walked through the icy Lake St. Clair and then just vanished.
Moreover, careful inspection of the location revealed that, at the time of the incident, Lake St. Clair was “only a few feet deep,” noticeably “with no current.”
This means that if Romain indeed fell into the water, as one newscaster from that time puts it, she still should’ve been there.
But JoAnn Romain was nowhere to be found that night 一 nor in the next days and nights that followed.
As a matter of fact, despite the efforts of both the authorities and Romain’s children to locate her whereabouts, for more than two months, there remained no leads.
Until seventy days later 一 when a body was retrieved in the waters near the Canadian side of the Detroit River.
Incidentally, the body was positively identified to be JoAnn Romain’s.
And albeit grief-stricken, Romain’s children went on to have their mother’s corpse undergo multiple autopsies, from where they eventually learned that JoAnn’s cause of death was 一 as many guessed 一 drowning.
Was it Suicide or Murder?
Among the proposed explanations for JoAnn Romain’s disappearance 一 a theory, mainly suggested by the police 一 was suicide.
They claimed that the investigators found “no sign of a struggle in or around the car.”
And taking that into account, it would not be hard to imagine that Romain possibly left her car for the freezing waters of Lake St. Clair out of her own volition.
However, this ruling was questioned, primarily by Romain’s children 一 particularly, her daughters Michelle and Kellie.
They were convinced that someone killed their mother for more than a couple of reasons.
The first was that the Lexus that JoAnn Romain was driving that night turns out to actually be registered to her daughter, Michelle.
So, that being the case, if the police noticed that the Lexus was abandoned at such hours, why did they immediately go on to search for JoAnn, instead of her daughter?
Another thing about the car was that it was found in the church’s driveway.
And circling back to one witness statement from a person who also happened to be at the church that night, both JoAnn and her car were gone the moment someone checked for the noise at the parking lot.
Would that mean that Romain left, only for her to return sometime later to “re-park” the car by the church?
Inconsistencies in the Case
To add to the incongruities, the investigations and search for JoAnn Romain began quite a bit too early 一 even too soon for her children to grow suspicious of their mother’s whereabouts and safety.
And the details only go more confounding from here. They are as follows:
JoAnn was a devout Catholic, which leads her children to believe that she would never think of committing suicide;
- She was not on any medications nor in therapy for any mental health concerns;
- For someone close to her children, JoAnn apparently left no suicide note;
- JoAnn 一 according to her family 一 had fear of both the dark and deep waters, making it unlikely for her to commit suicide by drowning after walking alone across the dark and icy Lake St. Clair;
- If she, however, did, she would have absurdly “traversed the steep slope down to the lake in 4-inch heeled boots”;
- There is also no explanation for her alleged behavior weeks prior to her disappearance, wherein she seemed unusually nervous and even went ahead to contact an investigator at one point;
- JoAnn was also reportedly “taking more calls” in the days leading to her death;
- The snow in the supposed scene of her disappearance did not only had footprints, but also buttprints;
- The police immediately had access to the inside of JoAnn’s car that January night 一 even though the car keys were only found, zipped up in her jacket, the day her body was finally recovered;
- Both JoAnn’s cell phone and rosary were missing from her body 一 a detail that was dubious to the Romain children;
- And when her body was retrieved, contusions were discovered on her upper left arm.
Things like these strengthened the belief of JoAnn’s children that their mother was indeed killed that night.
They even opened up a case against the Grosse Pointe police for allegedly “covering up” JoAnn’s murder.
But, while the appeal may have been dismissed, the District Judge who oversaw the case acknowledged that there were “disputed facts in this matter that are very disturbing and to this day remain unresolved.”
As it happens, those very facts were also what kept the JoAnn Romain case controversial for a decade and more.
Theories About What Happened to JoAnn
Because of the air of mystery surrounding the case of JoAnn Romain 一 as well as the recent surge of public interest, after the disappearance was featured in one episode of Netflix’s Unsolved Mysteries 一 many theories have come out, attempting to cast light on what possibly really happened the night JoAnn went missing.
One of the speculations revolves around JoAnn’s ex-husband, David Romain.
It was noted that the two separated after 25 years of marriage 一 for the most part because JoAnn became “fed up” with how toxic their relationship was getting.
JoAnn’s daughter, Michelle, even stated, at one point, that her father did not take the separation very well 一 a reason why he could be a suspect.
But Michelle also believed that he may not actually be involved in the crime 一 a judgment that was echoed by the investigator assigned to the case, who found no evidence that would link David to either JoAnn’s disappearance or death.
On the other end, another supposition is centered on one of JoAnn Romain’s brothers, John Matouk.
The Lady in the Lake episode of Unsolved Mysteries hints at the good relationship between siblings, JoAnn and John. And that was despite the latter, being described by some sources as a “failed entrepreneur” who had massive financial problems.
But it seems as though these money troubles could have had something to do with JoAnn’s disappearance.
Some suggest that since John “owed a lot of money to certain people,” it is possible that they may have resorted to killing JoAnn in order to send him a message.
Still, there are a few who does not buy the idea that John was responsible for the crime.
Instead, they turn their gazes to JoAnn Romain’s less-talked-about brother, Bill Matouk, whom JoAnn had quite a difficult relationship with.
They point out that, at one time, JoAnn even sued Bill for some unrelated and mostly undisclosed reason.
Not to mention Bill’s close relations with their cousin Tim Matouk!
Tim was considered the “number one suspect” in the death of JoAnn Romain.
The reasons for that range from:
- The cousins’ estranged relationship after “a lawsuit among the Matouk family over inheritance”;
- The “heated phone call” between Tim and JoAnn, which Michelle recalled to have taken place a fair few weeks before JoAnn went missing;
- JoAnn’s forewarning to her eldest daughter that if anything happened to her, they should look to Tim;
- To a witness’s claim about having seen Tim with JoAnn and another 一 albeit, unidentified 一 man, on the night of January 12th.
In spite of all this, Tim was never arrested nor charged for the death of his cousin.
According to investigators, there is a lack of solid evidence to prosecute Tim or 一 at the very least 一 link him to the decade-old crime 一 especially after he claimed to have phone records that would prove that he was actually in Warren, Ohio, the night of the disappearance.
So, to this day, the death of JoAnn Romain holds out to be a conundrum, open to interpretation.
And whether it was a tragic case of suicide or an insidious killing incident 一 as long as the details do not fit, every guess will remain as good as mine.
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