A Hope documentary class's investigation of the unsolved abduction and murder of a student a quarter century before has played a role in prompting law enforcement to take a new look at the crime.
During a press conference at Holland City Hall on Wednesday, April 28, the Holland Police Department, Michigan State Police and Ottawa County sheriff and prosecutor's office announced the formation of a "cold case" team to investigate the 1979 murder and abduction of Hope senior Janet Chandler of Muskegon, Mich.Chandler was abducted on January 31, 1979, after 1 a.m. while working the night desk at the former Blue Mill Inn near U.S. 31 and 16th Street in Holland. Her body was found almost 24 hours later by a snowplow driver in a wooded turn-around on Interstate 196 seven miles south of South Haven. Local, state and federal law enforcement agencies all became involved in the investigation, but the crime was never solved. It is the city of Holland's only unsolved homicide.
During the fall and early spring of the past school year, the college's documentary class, taught by Dr. David Schock, associate professor of communication, prepared an 80-minute program about the crime, its investigation and its aftermath. Who Killed Janet Chandler? debuted in January at the college's Knickerbocker Theatre and showed subsequently on local public television. Local and regional media also published accounts of the student program and the crime it examines.
Law enforcement officials credited the documentary with building public awareness, which they called a key component in a cold case investigation. "The more we show this case in the media, the more optimistic I am that we can solve it," said Lt. John Slenk of the Michigan State Police.
Janet Chandler's father James thanked the Hope film makers for bringing the crime to the fore.
"I really feel that nothing would have been done without somebody like David Schock and his class taking this on as a project," he said. "I'm very thankful that they did this."
The multijurisdictional team will be working full-time on the case. Slenk described such investigations as slow-moving, anticipating that the work will take at least half a year.
Based on the state team's success since 2000--solving eight out of eight cases--he is confident of success. "Every case we've investigated we've solved, so I'm pretty optimistic we can make this work," he said.
The cold case team has announced two numbers that can be called by those with information relevant to the case, a "tip line" at (877) 443-8477 and Silent Observer at (616) 392-8477.
The Hope communication students, all juniors, who participated in the documentary project included: Olim Alimov of Tajikistan; Tyler Basler of Auburn, Mich.; Sarah Hartman of Richmond, Ind.; Wes Hollendonner of Akron, Ohio; Jonathan Johnson of Fremont, Mich.; Amber Ross of Schiller Park, Ill.; Amy Schlusler of Lapeer, Mich.; and Kyle Shepherd of Oak Forest, Ill. Lead videographer for the project was Phil Blauw of the Hope staff.
Several of the students were able to attend the press conference. They noted that they appreciated seeing their work have an impact, especially given the impact of the project on themselves.
"It's very powerful--a student investigating a student's murder, it's very moving," Shepherd said.
"I'm not likely to forget this," he said. "I know something I did mattered while I was here at school."