Schock releases film in hope of solving 1970 cold case murder

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By Cynthia Price
Legal News

By all accounts, Shelley Speet Mills was a sweet, kind, quiet girl who never hurt anyone.

That is only part of what makes it so painful that she was brutally murdered at the age of 19 in a Grand Rapids house on College Ave. N.E., in 1970.

Another factor in the emotional response most people experience is that she was newly married to a man she loved, killed just 17 days after her wedding.

Perhaps that is why last Wed-nesday’s screening of a recent film on the murder by David Schock at the Wealthy Theater drew in a nearly-packed house. Heritage Hill Bride goes into detail about what Schock calls “the first of what came to be called The Heritage Hill murders.”

David Schock has not only produced other films resulting in the solution of cold cases, he was also the co-writer of the book about Elizabeth Weaver’s time as justice in the Michigan Supreme Court, Judicial Deceit: Tyranny and Unnecessary Secrecy at the Michigan Supreme Court, and maintains a website, delayedjustice.com, to bring to light other cold cases worth revisiting.

Though it would be unfair to the investigative teams involved to claim that Schock’s other films were solely responsible for the resolution of the high-profile murders he cares so much about, there is surely some degree to which his increased focus on at least two crimes has resulted in convictions.

For the first film, Who Killed Janet Chandler?, students in a Hope College communications class Schock was teaching in 2003 helped him bring to fruition a film about the 1979 murder of a Norton Shores woman. One result was appointment of a special investigation team, eventually leading to convictions of six people in the horrifying rape and killing.

(In the case of Janet Chandler, Schock has not yet given up the fight: he has a list of “Others” on his website he feels should be charged.)

Death of a Phoenix: The Eastown Murder of Joel Bat-taglia concerned the unsolved beating death of a 23-year-old man in 1990. Again, the cold-case team was ultimately responsible for solving the case, which involved witnesses coming forward after decades. As retiring Kent County prosecutor William Forsyth said in a recent interview, court-approved investigative subpoenas provide a new and effective tool for dealing with witnesses who might have been less than forthcoming.

In 2015, Joel Battaglia’s parents were finally able to achieve some degree of closure when Aurelias Marshall was convicted and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

That is the most important reason for Schock’s passion: he wants to see justice done for those who loved the deceased.

His primary purpose for the films and website is to motivate those with knowledge to come forward, whether they be relatives or friends of the perpetrator who might have been intimidated or had misplaced loyalty, or simply people whose memories may need to be jogged.

Schock conducted most of the interviews in Heritage Hill Bride in 2009. It is touching to see the depth of grief evidenced almost 40 years later by  Shelley Speet’s husband, Bill Mills, and her brothers Tom and Kirt, to say nothing of her then-90-year-old mother Vesta Speet (who died in 2012).

On camera, Sgt. Terry McGee of the GRPD, who reviewed the case for Schock’s interview in 2009, says, “Everyone has secrets, everyone, but when we looked into [Speet Mills] there really wasn’t anything we could investigate there.”

So the investigative focus turned to strangers, particularly when very similar murders of women started occurring in Heritage Hill.

Interestingly, the film points out, there have been many different people convicted of these murders since then, so it was not a serial killer situation. One of the convicted, Lamont Marshall, would have been only 15 at the time of  the young bride’s murder, but the film includes an interview with a woman who makes an absolute identification of Marshall in 
an assault on her that took place when he was only 12. 
His grandparents lived near the College Avenue apartment where Speet Mills was killed.
 
John Robinson of GRPD, who was the first on the horrifying scene in 1970 but then off the investigation for years, eventually headed up a major case team, which he says was called an “assault squad,” in the 1980s and 90s. He says multiple persons of interest have been pursued since 1970.

Sgt. McGee said, “This was picked up, reviewed, put down, picked back up on a fairly regular basis in the 1990s from what I’ve seen.”

In related comments from 2016, Eric Payne, captain of the Grand Rapids Police Depart-ment’s Investigative Division, notes that current practice is to review cold cases every once in a while.

Bill Mills, who graduated from Muskegon High School in the early 1960s and was a band director at Lowell schools in 1970, talks in the film about being interested in the lovely, smart young Shelley, his friend Tom’s sister. He courted her while she was at Ferris State University, and asked her to marry him after a year and a half.

He describes being in a “state of shock” after being called home from work to find his wife dead, and tells how little he remembers from that point on, even of the memorial service. Mills says that often he and Tom Speet, who remained friends, would call in tips to the police over the years.

In the movie, current Chief Medical Examiner for Kent County Stephen Cohle also reviews the autopsy done in 1970, indicating that there was evidence of a blow to Shelley Speet Mills’s jaw and face. Sadly, he observes that even with 32 stab wounds, it is likely Speet Mills did not die within a short time frame.

Shelley Speet’s high school boyfriend, Bill Essenburg, had several minutes of on-screen time in Heritage Hill Bride and attended the screening last week. Eric Payne and other law enforcement officials also attended.
 
At the film’s end, Schock called up a representative of Silent Observer, who invited anyone who has information about this crime or any crime to call it in to 616-774-2345.
 
As Schock says on the website, “As always, we believe: somebody knows something.”