Normally this blog is for fun and entertaining material. However, 50 years ago tonight, March 1, 1973, I became a key witness in a murder case. Part of trying to mute that demon a bit more is to write the story. Here it is... like it or not.
Copyright 2004 and 2023 Wes Oleszewski
All rights reserved- this text is not for reproduction or publication in any form. Your viewing of the text does not waive the above reservation.
NOTE: This is a completely true story. The name for Mr. “Brud” has been changed for the purpose of this publication. The word “brud” is Polish and basically means “filth.” Anyone wishing to find the individual’s real name can reference mid-Michigan news items for the first days of March, 1973.
Go Get the Kid; The “Brud Murder”
It was the first evening of March of 1973 and I was 15 years old and outdoors doing what most guys my age in mid-Michigan would be doing… having a snowball fight with my buddies. There were four of us, Jimmy Brink, Ken Wolff, Bill Hoffman and myself, all of whom had grown up together in the tiny suburb of Saginaw known as Sheridan Park. We had been out since the end of the school day gathering snow and flinging it at… well… everything. For a while we had peppered passing cars, but then, fearing that we may get into “trouble,” we switched to plastering one another.
For a short time, we had been in the side yard of the Brud house, which was across the street from my house. Jim’s dad, who was a detective sergeant on the Saginaw Police Department, had warned us to stay away from Brud who was a convicted felon and child molester. Thus, we soon moved up the block and continued horsing around. It was about then that I saw a man coming out of the Brud house. He had an odd walk, like a gorilla Bill quipped. So, we threw snowballs at him. He was about 200 feet away when we first saw him and 260 feet away as he passed directly under the streetlight in front of my house, so we never came close to hitting the guy. Yet, he never looked up, he just kept walking until he passed out of sight up the street and behind the houses.
Eventually we decided it was time to call it a night and we all headed home. I was supposed to be watching my younger brother Craig, who was nine and my sister Jeanine, who was 13, but they were easily old enough to survive without me in the house. My mom and dad were working at the Saginaw Civic Center where a Saginaw Gears hockey game was taking place in the arena. Mom worked in the concession stands and dad was the Zamboni driver for the hockey games. This was dad’s part-time gig; career-wise he was a railroad engineer for the C&O. I came in through the front door and my sister and brother were relaxing and watching TV; everything was quiet and normal- for the moment.
About 45 minutes after I came home there was a sharp knock at the front door. I went to answer the door and there stood a uniformed Saginaw Police officer!
“OH CRAP!” I thought, “Someone reported us for throwin’ snowballs at cars!”
“Are your parents’ home?” the officer asked stoically.
“No,” I replied meekly, “they’re workin’ down at the Civic Center.”
“How old are you?” He asked as he looked past me toward my brother and sister.
“15.” I replied with a bit of a dry swallow.
“Have you seen anything unusual tonight?” the officer furthered his questioning.
“No.” I replied with a bit of curiosity. If the cop was here to take me away for throwin’ snowballs at cars, he was sure being indirect about it.
“Okay,” he ordered, “lock your doors and don’t let anyone in until your parents get back.”
“Okay.” I agreed.
With that the police officer turned and simply left. Over his shoulder I saw red and blue lights flashing EVERYWHERE!
Dutifully closing and locking the doors, I ran to my bedroom, which was at the front of the house, and peeked out through the window. Police cars and fire department vehicles were everywhere with their lights going and officers and detectives were going in and out of the Brud house. What really got my attention was all of the detectives! I had never seen so many, and more were arriving every second.
For a moment I pondered the lightshow… then my creative AD/HD brain began to take over. What if someone died in there? Or… what if someone was murdered! Suddenly, it went through me like ice water… that guy we saw leaving that house! I ran to the phone and dialed Jimmy’s number. He answered the phone, and I asked if he saw all of those cops?
“Yeah,” he said with a gasp, “two of ‘em are sittin’ here now talkin’ with my dad.”
“Jim!” I urged, “do you remember that guy we saw leaving the Brud house?”
“Oh yeah,” he exclaimed in a whisper.
Jim put the phone down to his side and I could hear him in the background calling out to his dad.
“Dad! Wes is on the phone, and he just reminded me, there was this guy we saw leaving the Brud house tonight…”
In about three seconds Mr. Brink snapped up the phone.
“Don’t go anywhere,” he ordered. “don’t talk to anyone, I’m sending two officers over,” and he hung up!
I stood there in silence holding the phone in my hand.
Mr. Brink, who I’d grown up with and was like an uncle to me, only talked like that when things were really- really bad! It seemed like only seconds passed, yet it must have been four or five minutes and there was another sharp knock at the door. I dashed to the front door and opening it I saw two detectives.
“Are you Wes?” the one in front asked.
“Yeah.” I replied, still a little stunned.
“Do you mind if we come in?”
“Heck no,” I replied in my best Midwestern breeding, “come on in!”
We took seats at our family dinner table and the detectives began to interview me. I described the man that I had witnessed leaving the Brud home that night. To this day I can still describe him from head to toe. He was a white man about six foot tall, no facial hair and a fairly short haircut (by 1973 standards) a little longer than my regulation Civil Air Patrol haircut. He had on a navy-blue bomber jacket with a blue fur collar. It was un-zipped and under the jacket he had on a red “lumberjack” shirt. Under that he had on a white T-shirt with a blue collar. He was wearing dark brown corduroy pants with a wide brown leather belt that had a round gold ring buckle. His shoes were light brown half-boots with a strap across the front. And his walk was very distinctive- like a gorilla.
The murderer had been unlucky enough to leave the scene of the crime in front of four boys ages 12, 13, 14 and 15. And the 15-year-old, me, was an AD/HD who was also equipped with 20/15 vision. I scoped him out and stored every detail. This was not for any other reason than the fact that it’s the way my brain is hard-wired. People who are AD/HD may be a pain it the ass to schoolteachers, but we make really good police witnesses.
Following my description, the detectives began asking me a series of questions that many years later I would learn were “test questions” to see just how good my memory of events happened to be and what sort of personality I happened to have. That night, however, they just seemed to be odd to me.
“What’d you have for breakfast yesterday?” the lead dective asked.
“Peanut butter and strawberry jam on toast.” I replied reflexively.
“How do you know that?”
“That’s what I have every day.”
“Do you eat lunch at school?”
“What’d you have for lunch on Monday?”
“A sloppy Joe, a bag of Doritos and a chocolate milk.”
“How do you know that?”
“Because that’s what I have every day except for Friday when they’re serving fish sandwiches, then I have one of those. When I’m done with it, I wad-up the paper and stuff it into the pipe at the end of the table.”
“Why do you do that?”
“Just for fun.”
“If I open your locker at school tonight, what exactly will I find on the top shelf?”
“Why is that?”
“Because I never keep anything on that shelf.”
Then the detectives switched questioning a bit.
“What time did you come back indoors tonight?”
“How do you know that?”
“Because “Flipper” was just ending on the TV and “I Dream of Jeannie” hadn’t started yet.”
Up until that point I actually had no idea what had happened across the street, but I knew instinctively that it was something bad. When I asked the detectives just what happened over there, I was told flatly that “Two people were murdered there.”
Following that part of the interview the detectives asked if I would be willing to go outside with them and show them where I was at different times during the evening. I agreed and we headed outdoors as soon as I put my jacket and boots on. Kensington Street, where the Brud house was located, ran west to east and “T’ed” at my front yard and Lexington Drive. We crossed Lexington and walked up to the Brud’s side yard.
“Were you guys playing here?” one of the detectives asked as he pointed toward the footprints in the snow.
“Yep.” I replied.
“Are these your footprints?” He asked.
“Yeah,” I responded pointing to my own marks in the snow, “right there and here.”
“Are these the same boots you were wearing?” the detective asked while pointing at my boots.
“Make a footprint right there,” the detective directed me by shining the beam of his flashlight right next to one of my boot-prints.
Doing exactly as I was directed, I made a boot-print. The detectives closely examined the two prints and then asked me to take them to where I was standing when I saw the man leaving the house. We walked up Kensington to the front yard of the Smith’s home and again I was directed to do the boot-print next to my own track. I showed the detectives exactly where I was standing and told them that I actually saw the man come out of the Brud house and explained where he walked. Next, we went to the street in front of my house, and I showed the two detectives the route over which the man had walked. Additionally, I showed them that he had passed directly under the streetlight and that was how I was able to see so clearly what he was wearing. Next the detectives and I went back inside my house and back to my family’s kitchen table for a full repeat of my previous questioning.
While I was busy with the detectives, another aspect to the story was taking place a few miles away at the Saginaw Civic Center. The Saginaw Police Department’s officers did security at the Civic Center and one of the officers sought out my dad.
“Walt,” the officer asked quietly, “don’t you live in Sheridan Park?”
“Yeaht,” my dad replied in his mid-Michigan accent.
“Do you know the Brud family?”
“They live right across the street,” Dad responded.
“Well, you’d better get home,” the officer directed sternly, “Bob Brud just came home and found his wife and daughter murdered.”
My dad hustled to the arena’s commissary where my mom was working.
“Get yer’ jacket,” he ordered, “we’re goin’ home.”
Mom protested that she had a lot of work to finish.
“Come on,” Dad insisted, “we’re goin’ right now!”
About then Civic Center manager and our family friend Bill Fifer came in and told Mom not to worry about the work and “Just go.” Of course, now Mom insisted on knowing what’s wrong. When Dad told her, mom dropped her work and my parents headed home.
I cannot imagine the atmosphere in that 1972 Ford LTD station wagon as my Mom and Dad raced home, because I was not in the car with them. Yet anyone who is a parent can imagine what it was like as my dad tooled that car through the streets only to reach Sheridan Park and get stopped at the entrance to the subdivision by a police officer. After explaining briefly who they were and where they lived and that their kids were home alone the officer waved them through. My folks sped to our driveway. Then they dashed to front door and burst into the living room only to find their oldest son at the kitchen table being questioned by two detectives!
To say they were surprised would be an understatement. Crapping a solid gold terd would be much close to the truth.
As my folks arrived the detectives were just leaving- so mom and dad didn’t hear any of the questions and answers. That was good because my mom was a perpetual gossip, and she would have been on the phone the following day telling everyone every word of what had been said. Before they left, the detectives warned me not to discuss what had happened with anyone; friends, teachers, or parents and especially not the news media. I would have my chance to tell everything to the prosecutor and in court, but until then I was to not discuss the events that I had witnessed. Of course, as soon as they departed, everyone wanted to hear everything… I told them nothing.
After the detectives departed, we spent the night peeking out through our bedroom windows toward the drama across the street. Most of my aunts, uncles and most of my cousins lived either in Sheridan Park or within five miles, so we had people coming in and out all night long. At about 11:00 that night, my kooky cousin Bobby came bursting in through our back door carrying a loaded hunting rifle! He said he was there to protect us while my dad was at work on the railroad. Later my cousin Stevie dropped by and told us not to worry, because he had already ordered a pizza for delivery to our house. The delivery guy got quite a surprise when he drove into our normally peaceful Sheridan Park neighborhood only to find it packed with police investigating a murder scene. Nothing like that had EVER happened in Sheridan Park prior to this.
We stayed up through the night watching the events through our bedroom windows. We saw the state police crime lab arrive and later watched as camera flashes illuminated the windows of the Brud house. None of us knew what was going on inside that house and none of us wanted to know. In fact, it was a scene that would keep even the most hardened police officer awake at night. There was one thing that everyone knew for sure and that was the fact that there was a murderer on the loose; I knew for sure that I had seen him leave the scene of the crime and I had just described him, head-to-toe to the police. I felt somewhat comforted that the killer could not describe me in the same manner.
Dawn broke and with it an early spring fog settled over Sheridan Park. We watched as the coroner wheeled out two stretchers with bodies wrapped in white sheets; one the size of an adult and one the size of a child. The police cars eventually left one by one and with them went everyone’s desire to watch through the windows. Mom said we did not have to go to school that day and I crashed for a few hours of sleep.
When I woke up it was clear that the story was huge in the news media. Local TV stations took turns standing in front of the Brud house and reporting on the murders. I had the thought that I could give them a scoop that would blow their doors off, but that thought was tempered with the fact that the person I saw may not be the killer at all- he could just be another witness; only the police would know for sure. The one detail of my story that did get out was the part that my sister remembered me telling the detectives were finishing my interview- it was the way that the guy walked; “like a gorilla.” I was somewhat astonished at just how fast that little tidbit got around. Apparently, Mom got that out of her and then was quite busy on the gossip lines while I was sleeping. Of course, everyone wanted me to talk about what caused the detectives to take such an interest in my story. Cousins prodded as did aunts, uncles, and neighbors… I told them nothing.
My mom likes to tell the story of my parents taking me to a small, local amusement park when I was four years old. One of the park’s main attractions was a miniature train ride. Supposedly the engineer of the train was carrying the payroll in a large canvas bag that he proudly displayed before the trip began. The ride took passengers into the local woods where eye-catching items had been set up. One of those was actually a fake alligator; yeah, an alligator in mid-Michigan. Climax of the ride was a staged train robbery with masked, old-west bad guys on horse-back who came out of the woods firing six-shooters into the air, shouting, and circling the train. The punchline was that the robbers made so much commotion, when the rode off, they forgot the money. We boarded the train, which was no big thrill considering that I had been climbing aboard real railroad engines since I learned to walk. As we went through the woods out came the robbers! They circled and shot their guns and hooted and hollered- then they left. As the bad guys started to leave, I turned to my mom and said, “They forgot the money.” A few seconds later the engineer laughingly held up the money bag and shouted, Hey! You forgot somethin’…” and the rest of the train laughed. The point of this little back-story being that I have always been a person who happens to notice things that other people miss. This time, that little trait would pay off in a very big way.
A few days after the murders we were all at the Civic Center for public skating when one of the police officers came up to my dad and said simply, “We got him,” then he added, “and he walks just like Wes said.” That night on the local news we saw the police perp-walking Robert Walton into the jail and people started calling our house saying that he walked just way I said.
Once an arrest in the case had been made, life in quiet Sheridan Park went back to normal. Yet about a month or so after the murder, all four of us snowball throwers were ordered to come to the courthouse to speak to the assistant district attorney. Once there we had some fun playing the stairwell of the new courthouse building and one-by-one we were asked to come into the office- I was the last one in. The other three guys were in there for about 15 minutes each, not so with me.
Assistant prosecutor Ray Kasmeric, a sharply dressed man with red hair and beard did the questioning and was aided by a lady clerk. He asked me almost the exact questions that the detectives had asked me on the night of the murder, and he got exactly the same answers. Then he asked me to describe the man’s clothing again, and again, which I dutifully did. Next, he briefed me on what court would be like. He made it very clear that real court is nothing like what you see on TV. The defense attorney cannot get up and strut in front of you and cannot get “in your face” and badger you. He said that if the defense attorney tried something like that, “There are things we can do to stop him.” He also made it clear that Walton would be in the courtroom and will likely be looking right at me, but he is not allowed to say anything. Then he told me something that would puzzle me for the next three decades.
“When you are asked to describe the clothing,” he instructed me, “you are to describe everything just as you did today- except for the shoes. If you are asked about the shoes, you are to say “I don’t recall.”
“But,” I mildly protested, “I do recall the shoes, they were light brown half-boots with a strap across the front.”
“And we’re telling you now,” he replied firmly, “that you do not recall the shoes.”
It dawned on me that perhaps I had not gotten the shoes right, even though to this day (more than a half century later) I can close my eyes and see those shoes. Thus, I agreed that if asked about the shoes I would say that I did not recall them.
In mid-summer of 1973 all four of us were called over to Jimmy Brink’s house. His dad was home for lunch and had brought with him four subpoenas- one for each of us. Being a natural born smart ass I asked if we could “dodge” the subpoenas like we see on TV.
“You can’t dodge a subpoena,” Mr. Brink smirked a bit and then said, “I’ll show ya’ how you get served.” He tossed my subpoena at my feet and said, “There… yer’ served.”
My subpoena was for the 17th day of September, 1973 to appear in front of Judge Fred J. Borchard and the defendant was Robert Walton on trial for “two counts of open murder.”
By September, my family was in the process of moving from our beloved Sheridan Park to the tiny farm town of Freeland. This was necessary to get me into a high school where I would not get knifed considering that the school to which I had been headed was not a pillar of education and a smart ass like me would have been sliced up within a week. On the morning of my enrollment at Freeland High School I was sitting in the principal’s office as my Mom made out my paperwork. Mr. Vittito, the principal, knew that I had come from the east side of Saginaw, and was probably wondering what sort of kid he was adding to his school’s population.
As we finished the paperwork, Mom added, “Oh! By the way, he will be absent one day a week until further notice.”
“Why is that?” the principal raised his eyebrows.
“He’s a witness in a murder trial,” Mom stated matter-of-fact.
Vittito’s eyes got big! Then mom quickly added that I was a witness for the prosecution, and I was not involved in the actual murder. For the next two years while Mr. Vittito was principal, he seemed to really keep an eye on me… just in case.
Mom drove me to court on the appointed day and we were all told to wait in the hall. Meanwhile, our parents were allowed to sit in the courtroom and watch the trial, but they were not allowed to tell us what they saw and heard until after we had testified. One-by-one the other three guys were called into the courtroom, testified and left; I simply sat there- all day. Except for the fact that my day at the courthouse was changed to Tuesdays, it was the same for the next week and the next and the next and the next. Mom, however, was able to sit and watch the trial- what she saw was shocking.
Walton, as it turned out, was the homosexual lover of Bob Brud who had conspired to have his wife raped and murdered. Brud’ four-year-old little daughter was also raped and murdered by Walton, but his two-year-old son was untouched. This was an effort to draw attention away from the fact that the murder was done by a homosexual. Additionally, it came out that Brud was making pornographic home movies of his wife and other men and selling them. Also, it came to light that Brud had systematically lured little boys in Sheridan Park into his home, molested them and then gave each one a model ship or airplane kit to keep them quiet. When that information got out, suddenly mothers all through the subdivision realized that their sons had brought home model kits that someone had given them. Confessions led to a flurry of complaints filed with the police department. To make matters worse, it was revealed that Brud and some fellow child molesters had infiltrated the local chapter of Big Brothers and molested boys there. After the trial, when I learned all of that I thought back to that day when Mr. Brink called us all in and warned us about Brud. His blunt, firm warning probably saved us from that monster.
As the trial went on and the weeks passed, I thought that the prosecutors had forgotten about me. My Mom even asked if they knew I was waiting and they said that they were fully aware that I was there, waiting, and I would be called. Finally, as the prosecution was about to close their case, Mom heard Brady Denton, the prosecutor, turn to Kasmeric and say, “Go get the kid.”
As the courtroom door swung open, Mr. Kasmeric stuck his head out and motioned to me to come in. Walking up the aisle I could feel that every eye was on me. The bailiff walked me up to the witness seat- it was black leather and over-stuffed. I gushed into it and was thankful that it was too comfortable. There was no swearing in, Judge Borchard simply asked me if I knew the difference between right and wrong and the truth and a lie- I said that I did. There was a long pause as the prosecutor shuffled some papers. Looking over at the defense’s table, there sat Walton. He had a yellow legal pad in front of him with nothing written on it and three sharpened yellow pencils neatly placed to the right of it. His eyes were locked on me, and he appeared not to move or blink- he simply stared at me.
Denton started by asking for my full name and my age- I answered. Then he asked what I was doing on the evening in question. Soon he led into asking what I saw at the Brud house. Then he pointed to a chalkboard that was standing at the front of the courtroom just to the left of where I was seated. It had tape lines on it that drew a map of the area where we had been playing that night. I was asked to go to the board and show exactly where I was standing. Next, he asked for me to draw the path of travel of the man that I had witnessed leaving the Brud house- I drew a dashed chalk line. I was asked to show the location of the streetlight and draw a circle showing the area that it illuminated. Then I was told to take my seat. As I sat down, Walton was still staring at me. Immediately it struck me that he was the bad guy, a murderer, and I was the good guy, on the side of the law and justice. I thought, “Alright you bastard, you want a stare-down, you got it.” And for the rest of the time, I looked directly into his eyes as I answered questions from Denton.
Finally, Denton asked me to describe Walton’s clothing. He asked about the jacket, the shirt, the belt, the pants- but he didn’t ask about the shoes. Then he ended the prosecution’s questioning. Judge Borchard asked if the defense had any questions for this witness? Walton’s defense attorney was busy writing and never even looked up- “No your honor,” he quipped. I was excused by the judge and told to step down. Walking from the witness chair Walton kept his eyes locked on me and I stared right back at that monster all the way past the defense table. Then I looked for my mom. She was smiling proudly, but mom’s will do that.
Mom went back and watched the rest of the trial after my testimony while I went back to a normal school schedule- with Mr. Vittito watching me. On sentencing day mom and I went to the courtroom together to see the murderer get his just deserts. Walton was convicted on both counts of murder and sentenced to 30 years in the State Prison. Brud was never indicted on any charge much to the dismay of the jury foreman, who I heard tell the prosecutor point-blank, that they would have convicted Brud too.
Spin the clock ahead 31 years. I was hanging out at Tri-City (now MBS International) Airport’s firehouse with a friend of mine who was an airport fire fighter. In these days just after 9-11 security was really tight at MBS, but I got in through the gate that evening by ringing the buzzer and when someone answered through the speaker asking who it was I said Osama Bin Polack… and they let me in. I had brought in a radio-controlled model boat that I had built for my buddy in order to swap it for some cool lake freighter photos that he had. As we sat at the firehouse’s dinner table haggling and I demonstrated how the boat’s controls functioned, one of the airport police officers strolled in. The gray-haired officer stood there for a while watching the model boat work and then he said,
“You don’t know a guy named Bob Brud, do ya’?”
That question pushed my button in a big way, I stood up, pointed my finger at the officer and half shouted,
“Bob Brud is a felon and a child molester, he belongs in jail, and if I had the chance I’d put him there myself!”
“WHOA! WHOA!” the startled officer exclaimed as he waved his hands out as if telling me to stay back. Then he squinted and asked, “Did you used to live in Sheridan Park?”
“Yeah,” I snarled.
“Were you the…?” he began to ask as he squinted more.
“No,” I growled, “I was one of the ones he didn’t get.”
“Where’d you live?” he asked.
“3324 Lexington, cattycorner across the street.”
His eyes got huge and he reached out toward me.
“Yer’ the clothes kid!” he exclaimed with a wide smile, “I did your interview that night!”
Meanwhile the airport firefighters were a bit startled by my little outburst, but now the officer and I began to laugh a bit. He told me that Walton was out of prison having served his full 30 years. I asked if I was at risk, and he told me that I was not. He had done Walton’s release interview- it was his final assignment before he retired from the Saginaw Police Department. Walton, he said, had totally lost his mind. The killer has no memory at all of the murders or the trial and the only thing that he asked was if the officers could have a traffic ticket taken off of his record. A Canadian citizen, Walton was deported and driven into Canada by the RCMP- he can never return to the United States.
Then, I asked the officer a question that had been bugging me for more than three decades- why would they not allow me to talk about the shoes?
“Oh! Oh!” the officer nearly jumped from his seat, “Yer’ gonna love this! You are responsible for probably the most overtime paid to Saginaw police officers in history!” he half joked.
As it turned out the circumstances of the murders quickly led the detectives to Walton. When they arrested him, they executed a search warrant on his home. In his bedroom closet they found every stitch of the clothing that I had described- except the shoes.
“My partner and I laid those clothes out on the guy’s bed and it was all there,” the retired detective said, “but the shoes. We looked at one another and both said “We gotta find those f$%kin’ shoes!”
There was something incriminating about the shoes, so there began a city-wide search for the shoes. Trash cans, sewers, dumpsters, mailboxes, pools- even the banks of the Saginaw River were searched; nothing! Then they drove to Canada and with the RCMP questioned Walton’s mother and searched her residence; nothing! The best that they could figure was that he gave them to his mother immediately after the murders and while driving back to Canada she tossed them out through the car window while crossing the Blue Water Bridge and into the swift current of the St. Clair River.
He also explained that I was the “bow witness.” In other words, they had Walton all gift wrapped, and I was the bow on top.
As the years went past since 1973 I’ve done a lot of jobs- some of which involved catching bad guys- in some cases really bad guys. I’ve been asked by people, including police officers that I have worked with, why it is that little five foot ten 176 pounds of me seems to have little or no fear of the bad guys. The answer is simple, I have stared into the eyes of the worst of them, and I helped put the bastard away. I only wish we would have gotten Brud too. According to the Internet, he died in 2011. My hope is that he is currently rotating on a spit in hell.