Sunday, May 11, 2008
Dateline's Comic Book Murder Story
The other day we watched the NBC Dateline episode where the told the story of the murder of Barbara George, owner of Comics World in Clinton Township Michigan with her husband Michael George.
Did you see it? You can read the transcript at the link above, or watch an abbreviated version here.
It is an interesting story about a cold case, from 18 years ago, that took place in a comic book store in Michigan. I was not familiar with the case until last year when Michael George was arrested for the murder of his first wife, a murder that had taken place 17 years earlier. At that time I did a bit of reading and found that Barbara and Michael had a rocky relationship and children. Michael had been having an affair with a female store employee while Barbara tried and tried to keep the marriage alive, even planning a birthday party and romantic weekend for the two of them. But that all fell apart when Barbara was shot and killed in the back room of the comic book shop.
I suspected that there must have been a big break in the case that lead to Michael's arrest - a new piece of evidence that led the police to come back and arrest him after all that time had gone by. Maybe the murder weapon had finally been found, or some forensic bit that couldn't be processed then could now, and lead them to arrest the killer.
Since the murder Michael had married that employee he was having an affair with, Renee, and they had moved to Pennsylvania to start a new life, and a new comic book store, out there. They seemed to have gotten on with their lives, never looking back in wonder at what had happened to poor Barbara. They even had a large part in sponsoring the Pittsburgh ComicCon, a popular comic book convention.
One thing the show did was make me wonder how the jury managed to find Michael guilty. There wasn't much evidence. There were a lot of holes in testimony and gaps in time that were unaccounted for. There was he said/he said and fingers pointing every where. Yes, Michael was a strong suspect, but was there really enough evidence to convince an entire jury beyond a reasonable doubt that he was her killer?
Some people saw a person outside the store during the time the murder took place - a person who could have been a man or a woman with a fake beard. Was this person involved in the murder? A watcher? Or just one of many unusual people who wander in and around comic book stores and/or strip malls?
At first Michael had said that there were $30,000 in golden age comic books stolen, and that the robbery went bad and lead to the murder of Barbara. Why would the store owners leave these comics in the back room instead of having them either locked in a safe, in with the other back issues, or on display? Who else knew these comics were there? Why were those taken while those on display in the store and visible to anyone looking to rob the place left as they were? Why was the cash in the register not taken? Or other non-valuable comics? How would a robber not familiar with comics know which ones to take in a store clearly FULL of boxes filled with comics? Michael was usually the one working - what are the chances a thief would happen by at one of the rare moments he was gone and Barbara was there alone? No one saw someone running out of the back or front of the store with a couple of boxes of comics? No other stores in the area reported a valuable collection being brought in that matched what Michael had reported to the police and insurance company as being stolen?
The store was in a strip mall, just like Neptune is. We hear all kinds of noise from both of the businesses on either side of us, and I am sure they hear us as well. One of the store owners next to Comics World was interviewed and said she'd often heard Michael and Barbara arguing, and on the day of the murder they'd had a rather loud argument earlier. Didn't anyone hear the gun be fired? It was fired twice, after all. No one heard the robber demanding goods or Barbara asking for help? Things being knocked over - a struggle and then silence?
And how about the husband, Michael George. The police said he knew his wife had been injured in the head before they told him. How did he come to that conclusion? Several people reported that he never cried - was he just in shock? After the murder Barbara's family searched to find the killer, but Michael did not. Why wasn't he interested in who killed his wife? Then he left town with Renee and started a mirror life in a new town. Why did he leave so quickly, never looking back? Was Michael just too sad to look back on that time and place in his life? Or was he running away from the scene of the crime? Renee seemed more than willing to run away with Michael and begin their lives together. Did Renee, the new wife then girlfriend and store employee, know the truth about the murder? When the police came to question Michael before they arrested him in Pennsylvania Michael had said that the murderer was probably someone who had vendetta against him, not Barbara, and that Barbara was just an innocent victim of someone's hatred against him. If that was the case, why wasn't Michael afraid for his life after the murder? Or his children? Or his girlfriend/employee Renee? For that matter why wasn't Renee afraid to work in the store? If there was an armed robbery at my store I'd be afraid to be there or have anyone else close to me there - and that would be if there wasn't a murder. I would move the store or if that wasn't possible increase security in the store - none of which Michael did right away. If someone was killed there I would be even more worried and would probably close the store for good.
The story is a curious one. Michael and Renee both strike me as behaving rather oddly considering what happened. Yet there exists no real evidence to prove either of them guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, in my mind. At least not from what was presented on TV and in the news reports. Barbara is dead, has been for 18 years. Is her killer now in jail, or is the guilty party still roaming free? Did Michael need to start a new life so badly that he would be willing to kill to do so? Or was this really a robbery that went bad, resulting in the death of a woman who most people adored? Clearly, while Michael is now in jail, there are still plenty of questions surrounding this case.