NILES -- Although police still aren't saying much regarding the slaying nearly two years ago of Niles couple John and Carolyn Tarwacki, investigators said Tuesday they have "a person of interest'' in the crime.
In an interview at the Law Enforcement Complex in Niles, Detective 1st Lt. Chuck Christensen, of the Michigan State Police 5th District headquarters in Paw Paw, said the individual, whom he didn't identify, became the focal point of the investigation as a result of "good old-fashioned gum-shoe police work.'' As for criminal charges, however, he said none have been filed.
"The case is being investigated by the (state) Attorney General's office in Detroit,'' he said.
Asked about involvement by the Cass County Prosecutor's office, which has jurisdiction in the case, Christensen said that office is cooperating with investigators from the Attorney General's office.
"The Cass prosecutor (Victor Fitz) .... has been involved. We came to a collective agreement the case is better served with a second set of eyes looking at it,'' he said.
Contacted by The Tribune, Fitz said he met with the Attorney General's office on Friday and will meet with its investigators in the near future in Cassopolis to jointly review the case file. Not only is a "second set of eyes'' important in solving the case, Fitz said, but so, too, is the expertise that comes with those investigators.
"A. G. homicide deals almost exclusively in these kind of cases. We welcome their assistance in this matter,'' Fitz said.
Christensen was unable to provide a time frame for when a decision will be made whether to file criminal charges but said it'll likely be several months. The case file is "voluminous,'' he said.
The office has a good track record, he added, as far as solving cold cases. In the past few years, state police have provided its investigators with information on three such cases, he said, adding that in each case, charges ultimately were filed and convictions were obtained.
'A loose acquaintance'
As for the person of interest, Christensen said he was a "loose acquaintance'' of the couple. As reported initially, there was no sign of forced entry at the couple's home on Carberry Road, where police said the Tarwackis were killed Feb. 5, 2010, by a man armed with two unspecified weapons.
How they were killed has never been disclosed. In a Tribune story a year ago, Detective Sgt. Fabian Suarez, of the Michigan State Police in Niles, described the crime scene as "somewhat sterile.''
"Were their signs of a struggle? It didn't appear so,'' he said. "That's why I say they were definitely surprised by this person. For a double homicide, you'd expect more.''
Carolyn Tarwacki was 39 and her husband 42. Police reported earlier they believed the Tarwackis knew their killer, in part because no human skin was found in the teeth of the couple's 200-pound mastiff, Wrigley, who was known to be protective of Carolyn in particular. The dog was found unharmed in one of the rooms at the house.
Investigators said initially the killer was believed to have parked his car on Yankee Street, close to Carberry and just down the street from the Tarwackis' house. Tracks in the snow indicated he walked to the residence through a wooded area and the back yard, between 6:30 and 8:30 a.m., before committing the crime and retracing his steps.
Investigation 'never stopped'
Some 700 leads and tips were received in the case, all of which were investigated, Christensen and Suarez said Tuesday. The investigation, which also included Trooper/Investigator Jason Bailey of the Michigan State Police in Niles, "never stopped,'' Christensen said, and eventually resulted in developing the person of interest.
Even with the latest development, the investigation is ongoing. Bailey said anyone with information is still urged to contact police at 269- 683-4411.
"People's recollections change over time. We're still open to information,'' he said.
Fitz said it would be premature to discuss a motive or other details of the case but he confirmed the investigation is "focusing on a particular individual.'' He expressed confidence the killer will be brought to justice.
"I'll reiterate what I've said from Day 1: the case will be solved,'' he said. "The proof's the issue.''
Staff writer Lou Mumford:firstname.lastname@example.org