October 31, 2020 — Back in the summer, I was approached by Google News (in conjunction with The Grosse Pointe News) to write an investigative piece on the JoAnn Matouk Romain case from 2010, a disturbing murder mystery out of my hometown of Detroit that was being featured on Netflix’s reboot of Unsolved Mysteries. I didn’t know anything about the case at the time, but I soon would become an expert on a real-time tragedy with earmarks of a possible widespread police and governmental conspiracy and a senseless slaying with potential mob ties.

I’ve reported on quite a bit of criminal activity in my 15-year career and this case and the circumstances that surround it stand out for several reasons. The clear wrongdoing and utter disregard by many in positions of power to seek justice or to even show a remote interest in asking what really happened to an innocent 55-year old suburban housewife in one of America’s most exclusive bedroom communities is downright stunning. The root of this disregard and what it could signal is even scarier to fathom.

Below is my in-depth investigation that shows what was sold to the public by the police as a suicide by drowning was probably in actuality a lurid homicide that has been covered up for the last decade:

THE POINTES OF CONTENTION: MICHIGAN HOUSEWIFE JOANNE MATOUK ROMAIN WAS FOUND FLOATING IN THE DETROIT RIVER IN 2010. POLICE RULED IT A SUICIDE. IT MOST LIKELY WASN’T.

AND HERE’S WHY:

The skyborne messages began appearing seven years ago and haven’t stopped since.

As soon as Metro Detroit shakes off winter and descends into spring, planes start appearing in and around Grosse Pointe, the affluent suburb right next to Detroit, towing banners with questions posed to a local businessman and his police officer cousin regarding a suspicious death in their family circle.

Many believe it was a coldblooded murder, but officially, it’s considered a suicide. Those crying foul play have made certain their feelings are widely known and have let the lurid accusations fly, both by way of the inflammatory air-flown messages and through the federal court system. 

“Did you think you could get away with it,” one message read.

“Bill and Tim, why won’t you take a polygraph test?” read another.

“Your time is up #handcuffs,” read the most recent message that flew over Labor Day weekend.

The story of JoAnn Matouk Romain’s Jan. 12, 2010, death appears much like an episode of the Jerry Springer Show mixed with the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills with a dash of The Sopranos.

“Your head spins looking at all the facts here, it’s hard to tell who the good guys are and who the bad guys are,” said retired FBI agent Bill Randall, a private investigator who was retained by the Matouk Romain family. “Things are as muddy as I’ve ever seen. It can drive you insane.”

The following — based on thousands of pages of court records, deposition testimony and private investigation reports dozens of interviews and a collection of exclusive sources in government, law enforcement and the underworld — is an in-depth look at the Matouk Romain case, which though declared a suicidal drowning remains open to this day.

A troubled timeline

On a late, freezing-cold January night in 2010, Michelle Romain was at her mother’s home in Grosse Pointe Woods when, she recalls, there was a knock at the door from the police. An officer from the Grosse Pointe Farms Public Safety Department was there to inform her that her mother, JoAnn, had gone missing from their family’s church parking lot off Lakeshore Road.

It was 9:25 p.m., she says.

The police officer told the daughter that the 2008-model Lexus SUV her mother, Joann Matouk Romain, was driving was found abandoned in the St. Paul’s Church parking lot. He ran her license plate and ended up at her doorstep.

To Michelle Romain, something immediately felt amiss in the explanation. The Lexus was registered in Michelle Romain’s name, not her mother’s; so why weren’t they asking about her safety and whereabouts?

The official police report asserts an officer didn’t come across the car until 9:53 p.m., more than a half-hour after an officer, according to Michelle Romain, came looking for the wrong person. The license plate wasn’t put through the Michigan Department of Motor Vehicles database until 9:58 p.m., so the police wouldn’t have had an address to check out until a half-hour after the officer had arrived at Michelle Romain’s door, if the daughter’s timeline is correct.

Yet, according to time-stamped records Michelle Matouk obtained via the Freedom of information Act, the Coast Guard received a call at 9:30 p.m. requesting a water search for Matouk Romain. Coast Guard helicopters, divers and boats arrived on the scene before 10 p.m. and engaged in an all-hands-on-deck type search.

JoAnn Matouk Romain wasn’t found for another two months and eight days. Her body was finally discovered floating in another country in late March 2010.

The conflicting timeline was the first in a long line of factors in the circumstances surrounding the suspicious death of the 55-year-old devout Catholic and homemaker and mother that don’t make sense and have resulted in allegations of a wide-reaching conspiracy to cover up a crime that remains, dubiously yet officially, ruled a suicide.

“Things don’t add up and that hits anybody looking into this with an objective mind right off the bat, you don’t have to scratch deep here to see the injustice,” says Matouk Romain estate attorney Keith Altman. “It’s like the old Occam’s Razor theory, when faced with a situation, the simplest explanation is usually the correct one. Knowing everything we know about JoAnn and the situation that night, there’s no reason to believe she went into the water, that she ever would want to kill herself, but that’s the immediate conclusion that is made by police. That doesn’t pass the smell test; that’s not the logical conclusion to come to, and they came to it in the bat of an eyelid, the snap of a finger.”

U.S. District Court Judge Linda Parker called the disputed facts in the Matouk Romain case “very disturbing” and certain aspects of the investigation “somewhat suspicious” in her 2018 opinion dismissing the family’s wrongful death lawsuit brought against a number of individuals, including officials at the highest levels of two Grosse Pointe public safety departments and a decorated detective for the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office under Kym Worthy.

Despite Parker’s reservations, she tossed the case. The higher court would go on to back her up. Still, Matouk Romain’s immediate family continues to fight for and demand answers.

Grosse Pointe Farms police declared Matouk Romain dead of a suicide the very same night she vanished by the water 10 1/2 years ago. Actually, according to the department itself, the case was determined a suicide within minutes of arriving on the scene, with nothing to go on but a car that was left parked at St. Paul’s.

Detectives theorized that Matouk Romain entered the icy water and drowned herself. They claim there were women’s shoe footprints leading from the parking lot to the water embankment; however the crime scene photos showed no such indentations in the snow. Her daughters and the private investigators retained to work the case for the family doubt 4-foot-10, 165-pound mother of three would have been able to navigate herself into the water on the jagged, rocky terrain, let alone wade or swim the approximately 400 yards of frigid Lake St. Clair to where the water would be over her head in order to drown.

There was no body for going on to three months, but the police in Grosse Pointe Farms insisted she killed herself by going into the water due to a mental illness she had no history of. Family members hounded the police to look for their mother throughout January, February and most of March 2010, but they were continually rebuffed. The case became a game of hot potato and moved from the Farms, where she went missing from, to Grosse Pointe Woods where she lived, to the Michigan State Police. The FBI took a cursory look at the case by interviewing Joann Matouk Romain’s daughters and an eyewitness. 

On March 20, 2010, Matouk Romain’s frozen body was found by Canadian fishermen. It was floating in the Detroit River on the Boblo Island side of the Detroit River. A Canadian autopsy found no evidence of foul play.

The story stood: It was a suicide. But was it?

A private autopsy conducted by a pathologist at the University of Michigan said otherwise and showed her death to be a “dry drowning,” a condition that occurs in 1-2 percent of drownings, according to WebMD, where vocal cords spasm,  close up and shut off the airways. There was no water in her lungs, which could also mean she was dead before she even hit the water.

Crime-scene expert Sal Rastrelli, hired by Matouk Romain’s family to analyze the case, disputes the notion that the currents in Lake St. Clair that winter at the location police claim she entered the water would have been strong enough to push her to Canada (where she was eventually found almost 11 weeks later). He also questions how her body was in such good condition.

“The water in that area was much shallower than usual that year, and there was no current at the time she’s alleged to have entered the water,” he said. “JoAnn could not have been on the bottom of the lake for three miles, traversed the Detroit River for another 23 miles, without damage to her clothes or body. There would have certainly been damage; her body would have been tumbling and bouncing off submerged objects.

“The fact that her body was frozen would have meant she stayed on the water’s bottom until the weather got much warmer. The lack of damage to the body indicates she didn’t travel very far, certainly not 30 miles. And it’s very unlikely that her body would have ended up near Boblo Island, considering the currents and the fact that she would have most likely gotten trapped on one of the aforementioned objects. I believe her body got into the water at a completely different site.”

Haunting questions

Who would want to do harm to the docile and devout JoAnn Matouk Romain, a housemaker known for mothering the whole neighborhood and frequently attending church services? According to some, it was members of her own family.

Members about whom she had voiced concerns to several people in the weeks leading up to her going missing. One family member who, if you believe an eyewitness account from the night Matouk Romain vanished, was spotted at the scene of her disappearance.

And what did her estranged husband, David Romain, who is currently married to his ex-wife’s best friend, know?

Why did the cops close the investigation, for all intents and purposes, before even opening it, declaring it a suicide immediately with no sign of a body or reason to think she was suicidal? Why didn’t the feds get involved, considering the circumstances or when the body wound up in a different country?  

These are the haunting and disturbing questions that still remain unanswered a decade later. And, from a law enforcement perspective, it doesn’t appear that there is any sense of urgency in finally getting to the bottom of things.

No search warrants were sought. No grand juries were convened. The frustration is palpable.

“The fact that we’re more than 10 years removed from JoAnn’s death and that its still officially ruled a suicide and there hasn’t been a full-blown local and federal investigations into what should have been viewed as a kidnapping and murder all along, is inconceivable to me,” Solomon Radner, another Matouk Romain estate attorney said. “I literally can’t believe it. It’s outrageous.”

Family feud

Woods Fine Wine & Spirits in Grosse Pointe Woods has been a staple for residents in the Pointes for more than a half-century. Located on Mack Avenue just north of Vernier, the quaint-looking liquor store was opened by William and Louise Matouk, in 1954 and became known as a friendly stop for any Pointers planning a party or hosting a family dinner.

The Matouks were Syrian and settled in Grosse Pointe Woods to raise a family. The couple produced five children: Bill, Rosemary, JoAnn, John and Kathy. The eldest siblings, Bill and Rosemary, followed their parents into the family business and went to work at the wine shop. The Matouks built a fortune in rare wine, selling and trading vintage bottles of cabernets, muscat and pinot noir to and with the Pointes’ elite — and purchasing real estate.

JoAnn Matouk married David Romain in 1980 after meeting him through her sister Rosemary Matouk-Hage’s husband. Romain co-owns Empire Foods, a wholesale food distributor company. His family was from Lebanon. The newlywed couple nested near JoAnn Matouk Romain’s parents in the Woods and had three children (two girls and a boy): Michelle, Kellie and Michael.

By all accounts, Matouk Romain looked after a calm, happy home. Trouble began brewing immediately following their parents being out of the picture.

William Matouk died in 1988. Louise Matouk passed away in 1994, leaving the store and an estimated $20 million estate to be divided amongst her five children, according to court documents.

Problems arose almost instantly.

A battle over the estate erupted. The early seeds of a nuclear meltdown in peace and civility were firmly planted within days, possibly even hours, after Louise Matouk’s death 26 years ago, per court records and interviews with the family. Distributing the assets from the will devolved into an all-out war, rife with animosity, allegations of theft, deceit, signs of sabotage and piles of contentious litigation.

Bill Matouk and Rosemary Matouk-Hage were given Woods Fine Wine & Spirits, and the eldest son, Bill, was made executor of the estate. According to civil court filings, JoAnn and John Matouk never received their fair share of the estate and accused Bill Matouk and Rosemary Matouk-Hage of stealing millions. JoAnn and John Matouk filed a 1998 lawsuit, and by the beginning of the 2000s had settled for $600,000 apiece in back payment.

Court records in the civil suit allege Bill Matouk and Rosemary Matouk-Hage forged JoAnn Matouk Romain’s signature on documents allowing her inheritance to be put into the stock market. Bill Matouk was removed as executor of the estate and replaced with attorney George Haddad, a family friend of William and Louise Matouk. JoAnn Matouk Romain declined to pursue criminal charges against her siblings.

The bitterness of the dispute lingered through the next decade, with icy tension marking relations between the siblings, some of which had been bubbling under the surface since childhood, according to people familiar with the Matouk family dynamics. John and Bill Matouk had been bickering rivals since their days as kids.

Some point to jealousy. 

“They never had a good relationship,” said one family friend. “The resentment that exists there was there long before their parents passed away and their sister ended up dead. It was jealousy and resentment from Day One.”

John Matouk’s attorney, Robert Davis, puts it more bluntly.

“John was a football star and Bill was shaped like a football, that’s about the only thing those two have ever had in common,” he said.

What is known for certain is that while Bill Matouk took over the store from his parents; John Matouk set off to make his own mark as an entrepreneur. And he encountered a tremendous amount success.

At least, early on.  

In the 1990s, John Matouk founded Remtech, an environmental clean-up company, and made a small fortune of his own from the contracts he secured as the nation’s economic welfare boomed. He was named to Crain’s Detroit Business magazine’s prestigious “40 under 40” list in 1995. But John Matouk had demons of his own that arose in the years after his initial successes.

A series of bad, ill-timed financial investments, several fallouts with business partners and friends and a severe downturn in the U.S. economy of the late 2000s, put him on the ropes. Rumors of unpaid gambling debts surfaced. He was indicted and convicted of a $25,000 check-kiting scam out of Wayne County Circuit Court.

“The tide turned quickly against John,” claims one mutual acquaintance of the brothers. “He was riding high for a bit, then a lot of dirty laundry got aired and bridges were burned.”

John Matouk blames his brother, Bill, and his cousin Tim Matouk, a longtime police officer in the area who has worked for multiple departments through the years, for his misfortune.

“All of my business problems have come by way of Bill and Tim Matouk,” he says today. “They poisoned the well, told lies, pulled strings and turned people against me.”

The spite continued to grow and manifest well after the dispute over the will had been settled.

JoAnn Matouk Romain and John Matouk claimed in their lawsuit related to the will and estate that Bill Matouk and Rosemary Matouk-Hage went to the family house and took bundles of cash their mother had kept hidden and put it in their pockets, neglecting to share the loose currency with the other three siblings. The fingers never stopped pointing after that.

Besides a trip to Florida, where the Romain and Matouk families vacationed separately, but met for a few meals in the winter of 2006, communications were, for all intents and purposes, broken off. Between 2007 and the end of 2009, Matouk Romain didn’t speak a single word to Bill Matouk or Rosemary Matouk-Hage.

That all changed approaching the end of 2009 when Matouk Romain called Bill Matouk and told him she wanted to speak to him about their cousin Tim Matouk. They met at the store on Dec. 30. Matouk Romain drove herself.

Bill and Tim Matouk, the latter at the time a Harper Woods police officer assigned to the COMET drug task force, were close. Tim Matouk and JoAnne Matouk Romain were not.

And it was pretty clear, at least by the conclusion of 2009, why. Maybe not the exact reason, but the distaste Matouk Romain held for Tim Matouk was intense and becoming more and more public. She was terrified of him and let people know. A line in the sand had been drawn and the cousins were on opposite sides.

Cousin the cop

As Christmas approached in 2009, JoAnn Matouk Romain told her children and closest friends that she was in fear of her first cousin, Tim Matouk.

Matouk Romain’s children say that when they were growing up, their mom did her best to keep them away from Tim Matouk, calling him “sick” and “depraved.” In her deposition testimony, Tim Matouk’s, ex-wife Barbara admitted Tim Matouk had once threatened to kill her, and she believed he could.

According to interviews with a dozen people in Matouk Romain’s life, Matouk Romain informed them in the weeks leading up to her going missing that Tim Matouk had threatened her in a phone call that occurred in the latter part of 2009 where he allegedly told her he would “make her disappear” if she didn’t “stop accusing and asking questions.” What exact questions JoAnn was asking remains a mystery to this day.

However, what is certain is the fact that she worried about her personal safety. She expressed concerns to more than 10 different people and vocalizing the belief that she was being followed, her mail was being tampered with and her phone calls monitored.

Tim Matouk admits in deposition testimony to having a phone conversation with Matouk Romain in October 2009, but denies threatening her. He claims he confronted her about a rumor going around town in which he heard she was telling people that “all of John’s problems were because of him.” In that same deposition, he denied any role in trying to harm Matouk Romain. JoAnn’s daughter, Michelle Romain, who was present when the call took place, says the call occurred after Thanksgiving, “in the first part of December.”

Bill Matouk says in his deposition testimony that the phone call and subsequent meeting he had with his sister Matouk Romain on Dec. 30, 2009 — after having not spoken in two years — was related to his sister’s misgivings with their cousin. Matouk Romain told her brother to “stay away from Tim, he’s no good,” according to Bill Matouk’s recounting of the two conversations he had with JoAnn on the day before New Year’s Eve.

In the days right after New Year’s 2010, Matouk Romain felt compelled to go see her brother Bill Matouk at the store again. This time she was driven to the store by her daughter, Michelle, and popped in unannounced. Bill Matouk admits in his deposition to meeting his sister a second time, saying it was uneventful and merely a rehash of their previous in-person discussion regarding Tim Matouk days earlier.

Michelle says her mom returned to the car from the second meeting in a state of fear.

“She came out of that store looking like she had seen a ghost,” recollected Michelle Romain more than a decade later. “Whatever she saw, whatever she heard, whatever she was told in there, it spooked her to the core and, in her mind, confirmed her belief that she was in danger. When she got back in the car, she wanted me to take her immediately to church. She thought she could pray it away.”

That is one of the many reasons, Matouk Romain’s three children and brother John Matouk scoff at the notion she would ever even contemplate committing suicide, let alone actually kill herself.

“Whenever the subject of suicide came up with her, she’d always say, ‘Nothing’s ever that bad,’” her youngest daughter, Kelli Romain, recalled. “And as a devout Catholic, she believed if you committed suicide, you’d be condemned to hell.”

John Matouk and JoAnn Matouk Romain discussed Matouk Romain’s impromptu meeting with Bill and her phone call with Tim.

“My sister was scared to death; she wanted to protect her loved ones so she didn’t tell anyone exactly what she knew, but she saw or she knew something that made her think her life was in jeopardy,” John Matouk said. “She told me she had to go the cops, but she couldn’t go to the local cops because of Tim’s connections in law enforcement. JoAnn wanted to go to the FBI. She thought the federal government was her only refuge.”

A highly placed source inside the Patrick V. McNamara Federal Building in Detroit, says Matouk Romain met with “federal authorities” at a restaurant in the days prior to her disappearance. That source said he fears that news of that meeting might have leaked.

The FBI will neither confirm or deny a meeting with JoAnn Matouk Romain took place. JoAnn’s phone records show her calling private security firms in the first week of January 2010. Co-workers at the Dawood clothing boutique she worked at part time on Kerchival described a series of hushed phone calls JoAnn took in private at the boutique on January 7 and 8. They said the phone calls seemed to put her “out of sorts.” 

Tim Matouk began his law enforcement career in the 1980s with the Detroit Police Department, working as a young beat cop amid the crack epidemic and “Wild West” type violence in the drug world that were tearing apart the city. He was assigned to the Homicide Division from 1986-1990 and eventually went on to join the Harper Woods Police Department as a detective. While working in Harper Woods, he joined the COMET task force, an elite narcotics unit out of Macomb County operated in conjunction with the Michigan State Police with multiple jurisdictions in Metro Detroit under its purview.

At the end of 2009 and in the early months of 2010, Tim Matouk was readying to leave the Harper Woods P.D. and join the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office as a lead investigator. His career in Wayne County has been noteworthy, playing a big role in breaking several high-profile cases, including the 2012 Jane Bashara slaying in which her husband, Bob, and his hired hit man, Joe Gentz, were found guilty.

A retired member of law enforcement who worked in the same department with Tim Matouk depicts a police officer with a reputation for pushing boundaries.

“You ever see the movie “Training Day”? That’s what its like sometimes in police departments,” he said. “Tim is slick. He’s a wheeler dealer.”

(“Training Day” is a crime-thriller starring Denzel Washington as a rogue undercover police officer.)

The ‘eyewitness’

One lifelong Grosse Pointer says he saw Tim Matouk at the scene of Matouk Romain’s disappearance on Jan. 12, 2010. His name is Paul Hawk. He is a businessman in Grosse Pointe Woods and was a high school football star in the 1980s who went on to play in the backfield at Central Michigan University.

The 54-year old Hawk grew up in the same social circle as the Matouk boys and played sports with and against John Matouk all through his youth. He hadn’t seen the Matouks in quite some time and admits to originally identifying one of the men at the scene as resembling John Matouk, not Tim. He believed it was John who he saw that night for more than two years.

Hawk contends the police in Grosse Pointe, the Michigan State Police and the FBI have never taken him seriously. Both Hawk and Matouk Romain’s children believe the police investigating JoAnn Matouk Romain’s death buried his statement.

The existence of Hawk’s eyewitness account wasn’t discovered by the family until 2012 via a Freedom of Information Act request for investigative documents tied to the case that a Grosse Pointe Farms police report of Hawk’s account finally emerged amid a sea of paper.

Hawk says he was driving southbound on Lakeshore Road at around 7:30 p.m. on Jan. 12, 2010, returning home from the grocery store, when he saw a woman matching Matouk Romain’s description sitting on the breakwall by the water across from St. Paul Catholic Church accompanied by two men. He saw two cars, one was the Lexus Matouk Romain was driving, the other a dark-blue or black-colored Crown Victoria that he assumed was an unmarked police vehicle.

One of the men “waved him through” as he pulled over to the side of the road to ask if he could be of help, he says. The encounter, he estimates, lasted 10 to 15 seconds.

“The two men walk in front of my car; one of them motions his hand like ‘keep on moving, nothing to see here,’ and then gives me a look that says, ‘Just so you know I’m packing.’ I thought they were cops,” Hawk said.

On the morning of Jan. 19, 2010, exactly a week after JoAnn vanished, Hawk filed a report at the Grosse Pointe Farms Public Safety Department. The night before he had seen a television news report on a missing woman by the water and felt compelled to come forward. At the police station, he met with Detective Mike McCarthy and Grosse Pointe Farms police chief Dan Jensen and told them what he witnessed.

“Their jaws dropped to the floor,” Hawk remembers. “They weren’t expecting me to walk in the door. I could tell right off the bat something is not right. And they’re like, ‘Well, this isn’t even our case; she lived in the Woods; we’re the Farms.’ And, ‘If you see these guys again, let us know.’ That kind of stuff. Very dismissive.”

Hawk got visibly angry when recollecting the interaction.

“The last time I checked, she disappeared from the Farms; so it is their case. I don’t care what they say. If I went missing in New York and lived in Grosse Pointe Farms, who’s case is it? Come on, be real here. They just didn’t care and wanted me to go away. So at that point, my antennas are up, my intuition kicks in. I leave the police station that morning, and I don’t here boo from them ever again. I’m trying to give these people information on a murder case, and they’re treating it like it’s a parking ticket. Everything is upside down here.”

Hawk insisted he had seen a Matouk at the scene, those brothers and cousins he knew from back when he was a kid. At first, he believed one of the men he saw resembled John Matouk, the starting wide receiver for the Grosse Pointe North football team at the same time Hawk was playing for Grosse Pointe South in the early 1980s. However, after bumping into John Matouk at a bar in Birmingham in 2012, he realized he was confused.

Hawk’s visit to a sketch artist, at the request of the victim’s family resulted in an image more resembling John’s cousin, Tim Matouk, as one of the men he saw. He also identified Tim Matouk from a photo line-up presented to him by a private investigator and attorneys for Matouk Romain’s family. (Matouk Romain family attorneys would later be sanctioned in federal court for failing to preserve the lineup in connection with their wrongful death lawsuit for appeal purposes.)

From that point on, Paul Hawk was shuffled between law enforcement agencies while trying to get them to follow up on his tip. The Michigan State Police sent him to the FBI. The FBI interviewed him and then sent him to file a report at the Grosse Pointe Woods Police Department.

Detectives dismissed Hawk’s timeline because he said it was light or dusk, not dark, at the time of the identification and deemed him unreliable. The sun set at 5:22 on Jan. 12, 2010, as JoAnne Matouk Romain was in transit between the Wayne County courthouse and her lawyer’s office on Griswold and a good two hours prior to her disappearing. Hawk claims harassment from police and others, filing a police report for property damage in June 2012 when his car mirror was tarred in the shape of a hawk.

“Nobody wanted responsibility for the information I was providing; nobody wanted the truth, the truth is too messy,” a clearly exacerbated Hawk said. “I’ve been through the meat grinder for what I know and because I won’t shut up about it. People have told me I should keep my mouth closed, stop making waves. I’ve been harassed by the police. People call me crazy. I know what I saw, and I know what’s right. This is not right. This ambivalence, the apathy of duty, for whatever the reasons, isn’t right. This is a human life. Where’s the outrage?”

On the night of Jan. 12, 2010, at the time Matouk Romain disappeared from St. Paul’s Church, Tim Matouk was on a surveillance assignment for his COMET squad in Warren and assigned to drive a silver-color Dodge Caravan. The assignment ended at 9:30 p.m.

Although his fellow members of the COMET squad that day can verify his presence in the “rolling” surveillance — different members alternating on the subject throughout the surveillance period — none of them can account for Tim Matouk’s precise whereabouts in the timeframe surrounding Matouk Romain going missing, only that they were in radio contact with him. Tim Matouk has refused to take a polygraph. Retired FBI agent Bill Randall, hired by JoAnn’s family as a private investigator, says he deems Tim Matouk’s denial of wrongdoing credible and that his investigation into the case doesn’t lead him to believe that Tim has any responsibility for JoAnn’s death.

John Matouk volunteered to take a polygraph exam shortly after his sister vanished and passed. He was in financial debt and in a number of business and personal squabbles at the time of JoAnn’s death.

The scene of the crime

On the day she went missing, JoAnn Matouk Romain attended a civil trial in Wayne County Circuit Court that she was a plaintiff in. She was suing the builders of a home her family once lived in that was discovered to have black mold growing inside. After court ended for the day and she met with her attorneys at the offices of Blake Kirchner P.C. on Griswold Street in downtown Detroit, she dropped her son then 20-year old Michael off at their new home on Morningside Drive in Grosse Pointe Woods and then went to fill up her gas tank at a nearby Shell station on Mack Ave. Once she was done at the gas station, JoAnn headed to a quick church service at St. Paul’s that started at 7 p.m. It was part of her normal routine.

People present at the law firm that night describe Matouk Romain as being in good spirits as the case appeared to be shifting in the plaintiffs’ favor with over a million dollars in damages at stake. She was scheduled to testify the next day.

At around 7:20 p.m., at least three people, including the pastor who conducted the service, saw Matouk Romain leave toward the parking lot and the silver-colored 2008 model Lexus SUV she drove to the Tuesday night mass. Less than two minutes later, one eyewitness heard the panic alarm on the vehicle go off.

JoAnn Matouk Romain was never seen alive again.

Cobbling together the rest of the timeline from police and Coast Guard reports, court records and deposition testimony, it becomes abundantly clear that virtually nothing is clear about the near three-hour timeframe from when Matouk Romain left church to when the U.S. Coast Guard was deployed to the scene to look for a missing woman in the water.

“The timeline is totally out of whack,” said former television investigative reporter Scott Lewis, now a private investigator hired by the Romains, of those three hours.

Per an incident report and his own deposition testimony, Grosse Pointe Farms police officer Keith Colombo came across JoAnn’s Lexus SUV parked in the front space of the St. Paul’s Church at 9:53 p.m. and ran her license plate at 9:58. Matouk Romain’s daughters Michelle and Kelli Romain testified under oath at their depositions that the police arrived at their home informing them that their mother was missing at 9:25 p.m., five minutes before the Coast Guard received a call to search for a woman in the water and more than a half-hour before Colombo’s plate search was confirmed to be entered into the department’s database.

A Grosse Pointe Farms Police Department “Follow Up” report put into the case file the following day officially listed the start of the investigation at 9:30:53 p.m. Colombo testified to the investigation start-time being 23 minutes later at 9:53 when he noticed the Lexus SUV sitting all alone in the St. Paul’s parking lot. The officer who arrived at JoAnn’s house and encountered Michelle and Kelli Romain places the time at closer to 10:30.

The car’s license plate was in Michelle Romain’s name, not Matouk Romain’s, so Michelle Romain wondered why the police weren’t there looking for her instead.

“Nothing makes sense about anything that happened that night,” Michelle Romain says. “It would have been impossible to know what person you were looking for or what location you would have been looking for them at and this is according to their own timeline. There was no reason to presume she was missing at that point, and there was no reason to presume she jumped into the lake. It was like this narrative was created and then people set out to make things fit that narrative.”   

Grosse Pointe Woods policeman Darrell Fisher testified he arrived at the Matouk Romain home at 10:29, more than a hour after Michelle and Kelli Romain say they were visited by police and alerted something was amiss. John Matouk says his car’s clock read 10:07 when he and his two nieces showed up at the crime scene.

Colombo testified that he called his dispatcher at 10:49 to inform the police on the scene that the family was coming over to St. Paul’s despite him telling them to stay put at home. Giving credence to the Romain sisters’ timeline, cell phone records show 13 calls from Matouk Romain’s childrens’ phones made to their mother’s phone between 9:29 p.m. and 10:32 p.m., making it appear as if they were frantically trying to contact their mom well before Fisher says he arrived to tell them she was missing. Eight of those calls were made before 10 p.m.

Officer Fisher said in his deposition testimony he came to the Romain residence that night looking only for the owner of the Lexus registered to someone who lived at that particular address, not JoAnn Matouk Romain specifically. Fisher further claims JoAnn Matouk Romain’s name wasn’t mentioned in the conversation until Michelle Romain said her mom had possession of the vehicle.

Michelle Romain claims Fisher wasn’t the officer who arrived at her family home that evening, saying he doesn’t match the physical description of the officer she interacted with.

“The police officer who testified at the deposition that he came to our house that night wasn’t the officer who came with the news (of her mom’s disappearance) and asked about the car,” Michelle Romain says. “Two totally different people. The officer I spoke to was “taller, skinnier and had darker hair. It wasn’t Darrell Fisher.”

The incident report filed by Officer Colombo states he saw high-heeled women’s shoe footprints going from near the abandoned vehicle across Lakeshore Road and toward the water embankment leading into Lake St. Clair, an estimated distance of 75-to-100 feet. He changed his account in his deposition testimony saying the footprints began on the other side of Lakeshore Road, not near the car. The crime scene photos don’t show any woman’s footprints at all, just men’s boot tracks.

Another responding police officer recovered a scarf from the middle of the road, resting near the median. JoAnne’s children say the scarf didn’t belong to their mother, but a female churchgoer that night told private investigators that she saw a man wearing a scarf walking near the water around the time she left the St. Paul’s parking lot. Grosse Pointe Farms Police never did any DNA testing of the scarf or the Lexus SUV, eventually giving the scarf away to Goodwill in 2015, per police records.

One churchgoer at St. Paul’s says when she left the parking lot at 7:35, there were no cars remaining on the property. This account has had the Romain sisters and John Matouk speculate that JoAnn might have been kidnapped in her own car and the vehicle was returned to the parking lot after the crime was committed, in time for the police to come across it sometime in the 9:00 hour.

Despite the seemingly strong case to be made for foul play in this case, it became the belief of the Grosse Pointe Farms police that night and remains its belief to this day that JoAnn Matouk Romain decided to commit suicide by leaving St. Paul’s, walking across the road and jumping into Lake St. Clair to drown herself. Crime-scene experts like Sal Rastrelli and the Romain’s private investigator, Scott Lewis, believe it would have been nearly impossible for her to navigate the slippery, jagged pre-aquatic terrain from the breakwall to the water in order to get herself in the water, not to mention her having to wade or swim 400 yards of an ice-chipped lake before she would have reached a watermark of more than three feet deep to be submerged. All this while wearing 4-foot high black-leather lady-heeled boots.

Grosse Pointe Farms police officer Andy Rogers had been the first member of law enforcement to notice the Lexus SUV in the St. Paul’s parking lot and ran the plates originally at 9 p.m. before deciding to leave the situation alone. He was the officer that placed a call to the Coast Guard requesting help finding a missing woman in the water.

Like almost everything else in the timeline, when exactly that call was made is in heavy dispute.

Rogers says he placed the call around 10:30 p.m. Bruce Czako, the Coast Guard petty officer that received his call that night, backs Rogers’ account and wrote down the time as 10:33 p.m. in his notes.

The official Coast Guard timestamping device tells a different story though.

The call to the Coast Guard was logged at 9:30 p.m. in the USCG mainframe (known as “SITREP”: Coast Guard Situation Report). At 9:38, first responders were dispatched and at 9:51 p.m., a calvary of Coast Guard helicopters, boats and divers came roaring into the area of water near St. Paul’s, per SITREP timestamps.

While JoAnn’s three kids and brother John say they arrived on the scene at St. Paul’s between 10:00 and 10:10 p.m., the Grosse Pointe Farms Police say the family got to the church parking lot closer to 11 p.m. Two handwritten notes, a half-dozen pages of the Coast Guard Search and Rescue file and affidavits signed by a pair of Coast Guard officers taking calls that night support the latter timeline.

Petty officer Czako testified in a deposition that he believed the times were entered incorrectly into the SITREP system manually. David Smith, a former high-ranking member of the Coast Guard, testified in his deposition that the SITREP system is computer-generated and not manually operated.

Whenever they arrived at St. Paul’s, JoAnn’s family came upon a dramatic scene. Something straight out of the Fox television action drama “9.1.1.” or an old episode of “Law & Order.”

Only, Matouk Romain’s children and brother John Matouk theorize that it was all a giant, highly choreographed act.

“The whole thing felt staged,” John Matouk recalls. “You would have thought the Queen of England went missing. Helicopters are crisscrossing over the church like in the movie ‘The Fugitive.’ The Coast Guard boats are blaring. For what? My sister had left her car in that parking lot dozens of times after church and went to go get something to eat; why would you assume she was missing? Why would you assume she jumped in the water? Last time I checked, footprints don’t make indentations in the pavement on Lakeshore Drive. She never went in the water by St. Paul’s; someone or a group of someones wanted to make it look like that though.”

When police opened the Lexus in the St. Paul’s parking lot, they found Matouk Romain’s purse and wallet containing $1,500 dollars in cash. Her keys, cellphone and rosary beads were missing. Grosse Pointe Woods police told one of the family’s private investigators, ex G-man, Bill Randall, that the only fingerprints found in the Lexus were of close family members; yet members of her family were never printed, and none of them had a government job which would have required fingerprints on file.  

Quizzically, the call Andy Rogers placed to the Coast Guard (at either 9:30 or 10:30 depending on who you ask) was actually the second call regarding a missing woman in the water the Coast Guard logged that evening. Another identical call came in at 6 p.m., reporting a woman going into Lake St. Clair by St. Paul’s an hour earlier and her family in a frantic state looking for her.

This was 80 minutes before Matouk Romain went missing and while she was still in a meeting at the Blake Kirchner law office in downtown Detroit with her family’s attorney regarding the black mold civil suit she was involved in. There were no other reports of a missing woman or anybody else going into the water in that vicinity made to any of the Grosse Pointe police or St. Clair Shores police departments that night.

The Romains feel the first call is another sign of a cover-up.

“Someone jumped the gun, they called the Coast Guard too early, timestamps don’t lie,” Michelle Romain said.

The Body

Grosse Pointe Farms police took a hardline stance from the very first minutes of the investigation that JoAnn Matouk Romain committed suicide. In deposition testimony, Farms police chief Dan Jensen admitted that the timespan in which the department went from viewing it as a missing person’s case to officially declaring it suicide was “five minutes.” JoAnn Matouk Romain went into the water under her own volition, the responding officers concluded.

There was no body though. Not that night. And not for months.

During that time, Matouk Romain’s brother John Matouk and kids wanted the police to handle the situation as a missing person case, but were repeatedly rebuffed and shuffled from one police department to the other.

“We would go into the Farms and tell them we wanted them to do something, keep looking for her,” Michelle Romain says. “They basically told us we were crazy and pushed us off on to the Grosse Pointe Woods police department. Nobody wanted to do anything; nobody was listening to us.”

In early February 2010, Grosse Pointe Farms police returned Matouk Romain’s keychain, carrying a key to the Lexus SUV she was driving the night she went missing. According to the Matouk Romain family, it was the wrong one – her mom had a completely different set on her possession at the time of her disappearance. JoAnn’s kids say the keychain given to them by Grosse Pointe Farms police officer Frank Zielinski had been stolen during a real-estate showing of their family home around Thanksgiving, and the keys she was driving with that night were the spare set.

A second keychain would be found with Matouk Romain’s body. Zielinski’s report says he retrieved the set of keys the morning after the disappearance, January 13, 2010. However, he did not remember who had sent him retrieve them, where he retrieved them from or who he interacted with while retrieving them, per his deposition testimony six years later.

On March 20, 2010, two fishermen in Amherstburg, Ontario, came upon JoAnn Matouk Romain’s body floating in the waters of the Detroit River, some 30 miles away from where she had last been seen nine weeks previous. The body was identified by dental records two days later. Despite damage to her fingers from crab bites, her body was in practically pristine condition.

Even though the case at that point was officially assigned to the Grosse Pointe Woods Police, Grosse Pointe Farms Police Detectives Mike McCarthy and Richard Rosati went to see the body in Ontario. McCarthy told Canadian authorities, per the incident report made out police in Ontario, that Matouk Romain “suffered from mental health issues” and no foul play was suspected in her death. Per medical records her family retained from her doctors after her death, Matouk Romain was never treated for any mental fitness or emotional distress issues. At his 2016 deposition testimony, McCarthy denied telling detectives in Ontario that Matouk Romain had any mental health problems.

She did however express anxiety and unrest regarding her personal safety to many of those closest to her in the month preceding her death. Matouk Romain’s two daughters and brother John Matouk told Detective McCarthy that Matouk Romain was in fear for her life.

Beginning in December 2009, she confided in her daughters that she felt like her phone conversations were being listened in on, her mail was being tampered with and that people were following her. If anything happened to her, she told her family, to look at their cousin the cop, Tim Matouk, as the culprit.  

Eleven separate friends, confidants and family members told private investigators hired by the Matouks that Matouk Romain had expressed to them that she felt she was in imminent danger. Tim Matouk, currently a lead investigator for the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office, denied playing any role in his cousin JoAnn’s disappearance or death in his deposition testimony.

An autopsy performed in Canada stated Matouk Romain had drowned, but could not determine when, how or where the body ended up in the water. Another autopsy was conducted by the coroner in Macomb County and determined it was a drowning, noting suicide was more likely than homicide due to lack of significant physical trauma to the body.

Matouk Romain’s family paid for a private autopsy done by pathologist Dr. Jeff Jentzen at the University of Michigan and Jentzen’s review of the body tells a different story. He determined it was a fresh water “dry drowning,” meaning there was no water in her lungs when she was found.

The body had a contusion on the left arm. That, along with Matouk Romain’s purse, which she would carry over her left shoulder, being ripped, led Matouk Romain’s family to believe there was a struggle before she was either subdued or killed.

“It’s blatantly obvious she didn’t commit suicide, and all the evidence you find points to murder,” private investigator Scott Lewis says. “The overreaction by police that night she vanished reeks of corrupt intent. They made a huge deal of everything, the helicopters, the boats, the dogs, the divers and then they just dropped it. After all that commotion, they had no interest in looking into anything anymore. There appeared no interest in doing any digging at all. That’s curious and begs examination.”

The Debt

In the hours and days after Matouk Romain went missing, the Matouk family gathered at Matouk Romain’s home on Morningside to try and make some sense of her disappearance and brainstorm possible circumstances that may have contributed to it. Friends and neighbors stopped by to show support and saw a family shaken to its core and ready to start pointing fingers.

And it wasn’t just at her cousin Tim Matouk.

According to people present at the Matouk Romain home during these gatherings, at first, all eyes turned to John Matouk, JoAnn’s baby brother who had fallen on tough times in recent years.

“They took out a legal pad and literally made a list of all the people who John Matouk owed money to and may have upset enough to want to do him harm by hurting someone close to him,” one attendee says. “Everybody was on edge. It was a very tense environment. The finger pointing started immediately.”

John Matouk admits to thinking early on that he might have had something indirectly to do with his sister’s disappearance.

“I just knew that the situation had gotten out of control,” he says. “I considered the possibility that someone took her to hurt me; there was nobody closer to me than my sister; losing her has brought me more pain than I could ever imagine.”

One of the names that made it on to the list was Anthony Pipia, a 52-year old Birmingham resident who grew up on the Eastside and at one time lived in Grosse Pointe. Pipia owns an MRI center and has no criminal record.

Per multiple sources, Pipia was a bookmaker at the time of Matouk Romain’s disappearance, and John Matouk owed him a substantial gambling debt. John puts the number at close to $100,000. Other sources place it at more than $200,000.

At least three sources paint Pipia’s bookmaking business back then as an offshoot of the one-time Allen “The General” Hilf gambling empire. A convicted felon and, per court records, a high-level adviser to Detroit mafia figures, Hilf was the most prolific bookie in Michigan for almost 40 years before he succumbed to a kidney disorder in January 2014. Hilf, a West Bloomfield resident and non-practicing Jew, was a longtime member of the notorious Giacalone brothers crew.

While Bill Matouk admitted to be friends with Pipia in his deposition testimony, Tim Matouk said he knew Pipia from a few meetings via his cousin in testimony given in his deposition. Pipia was present at some of the gatherings at the Matouk Romain residence in the days after Matouk Romain missing, according to people in attendance.

John Matouk claims he saw Bill, Tim Matouk and Anthony Pipia’s cars parked behind the wine store and the light on the second floor of the building the night after JoAnne Matouk Romain disappeared. In one of Michelle Romain’s interviews with police in Grosse Pointe Woods, she told detectives that Pipia told her that he met with her dad, Dave Romain and her uncle, Bill, at the wine store on Jan. 16, 2010, four days after her mom went missing, but didn’t tell her what they discussed.

Bill and Tim Matouk pointed the finger at John Matouk, if there was indeed foul play in JoAnn Matouk Romain’s disappearance and death, when interviewed by police and private investigators. Tim Matouk admitted to a private investigator that he called a tip line set up for intelligence gathering purposes and told authorities to look at John Matouk in the Matouk Romain case.

John Matouk took and passed a lie detector test. Tim Matouk has refused to take one. Bill Matouk and Anthony Pipia have never been asked to undergo a polygraph examination by law enforcement in relation to the Matouk Romain case.

John Matouk admits to once being close friends with Pipia and says he loaned him a half-million dollars on one occasion. When his gambling debt began mounting, John wanted leeway, per those familiar with the situation, and Pipia wouldn’t give it.

There was property damage to John’s house in 2012 that John suspects might have come from someone sent by Pipia because of his anger about the debt. The animosity grew. Things eventually got physical.

On security camera video footage recorded in 2013 and posted on YouTube, Anthony Pipia is seen pushing John Matouk and sending him tumbling to the pavement in an Oakland County car wash. John and Tim Matouk scuffled at a furniture store in St. Clair Shores in 2015, resulting in Tim taking out a personal protection order on John.

Pipia was interviewed by Grosse Pointe Woods police in relation to JoAnn Matouk Romain’s disappearance on Feb 8, 2010. The detectives conducting the interview determined he had nothing of value to share, per their report.

Contacted at his office, Pipia declined to comment for this story.

“They should have killed me instead,” a somber John Matouk said in the summer of 2020. “I’ve basically been dead for the last 10 years,” John Matouk says. “It’s been a living hell, and all its done is sewn and hardened my resolve to find the truth.”

Grosse Pointe was Ground Zero for the Detroit mafia’s Tocco-Zerilli crime family for nearly a century. Most Motor City mob chiefs planted roots in the Pointes in the years following Prohibition, creating what was dubbed “The Compound,” on Middlesex and Balfour, where several opulent-built estates lined together across two blocks and connected underground through a series of tunnels. The city’s mob brass has moved out of the Pointes to suburbs north and further west in recent years.

Dating back decades, the Detroit mafia has become famous for veiling murders as suicides, per FBI records. John Matouk gave start-up cash to a mob-owned restaurant chain in the 1990s and was visited by the FBI sometime in 1996 and informed he almost certainly wouldn’t be getting his investment back and to not complain about it for his own well being.

Passing the buck

Desperate for answers in their mother’s death, Matouk Romain’s loved ones hit roadblock after roadblock with law enforcement, encountering, at the very least, apathy, and if one believes her children, an illicit coverup to protect the killers. As her family pushed for action, Matouk Romain’s case pinballed between agencies.

Grosse Pointe Farms police gave the case to Grosse Pointe Woods police two days after her disappearance. Grosse Pointe Woods tried giving part of the investigation to the Michigan State Police. The Michigan State Police would pass people on to the FBI. The FBI did little.

Michelle Romain says she has met with the FBI’s organized crime and public corruption units on several occasions in the past decade. She’s come away with the feeling that agents were more concerned about pumping her for information on other mob-related items she might have knowledge of through childhood friendships rather than wanting to find out what really happened to her mother.

FBI agents placed picture books of reputed mobsters and mob associates in front of Romain and asked her for identifications, Romain says.

Pipia’s photo was in the picture books, she says.

“They’d take me in there, ask me about this guy, or that guy, people that I grew up with or I grew up around their kids in Grosse Pointe, what did I know about their businesses, their restaurants. It had very little, if anything, to do with figuring out who killed my mom and why,” Romain says. 

The Grosse Pointe Woods detective assigned to the case, Andrew Pazuchowski, reached out to the Michigan State Police early in his department’s inquiry because he saw potential conflicts of interest in the handling of Tim and Bill Matouk. Most in the Grosse Pointe Woods and Grosse Pointe Farms police departments knew Tim and Bill Matouk on a personal basis.

Michigan State Police investigator Twana Powell said she met with Pazuchowski, and Pazuchowski asked for help from MSP in “clearing” Tim and Bill Matouk. The way the request was phrased caught her off guard and raised a red flag in her mind.

Powell told Pazuchowski that she doesn’t “clear” suspects, she “investigates them,” and reported the exchange to her superior. The MSP declined to get involved in that aspect of the probe, and Grosse Pointe Woods PD lists the case’s status as “open, but inactive.”

Pazuchowski questioned Michelle Romain regarding a large sum of cash ($250,000) she and her great aunt transferred into an account at a St. Clair Shores bank in February 2010, less than a month following JoAnn’s disappearance. The bank notified police of the money transfer.

Romain told Pazuchowski that the money was for a ransom demand if one was ever made and for a cash reward she was offering to the public for information leading to finding her then-missing mom. Pazuchowski declined comment for this story when reached by phone at his new job as Police Chief of Huntington Woods in Oakland County.

Attention naturally turned to Matouk Romain’s husband as well. Things had been soured for some time, per their children.

Dave Romain would go on to raise eyebrows when in 2012 he married Sandy Boehm, his widow’s best friend.

An employee of the Blake Kirchner law firm handling JoAnn’s civil case for the black mold outbreak at her former home, told Grosse Pointe Farms Police that Matouk Romain “feared trouble from her husband.”

Matouk Romain had been separated from Dave Romain for almost five years at the time. She suspected him of being unfaithful. Dave Romain was also a plaintiff in the black mold case and was in court with her and their children the day she went missing. The case had dragged on for seven years and was finally in front of a jury.

JoAnn and Dave Romain began having trouble in their marriage in the 1980s, according to their children. Dave Romain traveled for work and was gone for days at a time during the week. When he would return home on the weekends, he and Joann Matouk Romain fought frequently, their kids say, jokingly calling the three-day family reunions, “psycho Saturday and Sunday.”

Private investigators hired by Matouk Romain’s children have looked closely at Dave Romain as a person who might have either been involved or known about what they consider a conspiracy to kidnap and murder Matouk Romain. At the time, she disappeared, Dave Romain was at dinner with his two daughters at Andiamo Trattoria on Mack.

Romain’s polygraph results were “inconclusive” and “showed signs of deception,” but the examiner wrote on his report that he believed the signs of deception was related to his infidelity, not his playing any part in her death. Nonetheless, his shaky polygraph results combined with his relationship with Boehm and the fact that with JoAnn suddenly out of the picture he would be relieved of the financial stress that had been coming his way from what was certainly going to be a costly divorce, had investigators unwilling to eliminate him.

“Dave doesn’t look good in this,” private investigator Bill Randall said. 

Romain hung up when asked to comment on the case.

Dave Romain’s results were inconclusive and showed signs of deception, but related to his infidelity not her disappearance.

The Lawsuit

In June 2014, the JoAnn Matouk Romain estate filed a $100,000,000 wrongful death lawsuit in federal court in Detroit against the Grosse Pointe Farms and Grosse Pointe Woods Public Safety Departments, 16 different police officers spanning both police forces and Tim Matouk. The suit alleged the police departments knew Tim Matouk was going to kill JoAnn Matouk Romain and helped him cover it up.

The year before the suit was filed, John Matouk began hiring the planes to fly around Grosse Pointe with messages aimed at swaying public opinion and embarrassing his brother and cousin. The year before that, John was evicted from his own house when his brother, Bill, bought it. Planes with messages attacking Tim and Bill Matouk were flown in May and September of this year, continuing what is now a seven-year tradition of airing the family’s dirty laundry whenever the weather gets warm and people are outside.

U.S. District Judge Linda Parker dismissed the JoAnn Matouk Romain estate’s wrongful death lawsuit in March 2018. Despite rejecting the plaintiff’s argument, Parker appeared to be uncomfortable with the facts surrounding JoAnn Matouk Romain’s death and the investigation into. Her comments at the court hearing where she dismissed the case and granted defendants’ motion for summary judgment made that clear:

“There is no evidence that someone who wanted to kill Ms. Romain knew the police would cover it up. This court, however, acknowledges there are disputed facts in this matter that are very disturbing and remain unresolved. While the circumstances surrounding Ms. Romain’s disappearance and death remain a mystery, and in fact are somewhat suspicious, the fact is that the plaintiff fails to create a genuine issue of material fact to hold the police liable.”

Parker dismissed the case against Tim Matouk without prejudice, allowing the plaintiff an opportunity to refile the case if more evidence becomes available down the road. The U.S. Court of Appeals upheld Parker’s ruling in August 2019.

“The case ended the way it should have ended, it was dismissed, end of story,” Grosse Pointe Farms Police Lt. Richard Rosati, who was named in the lawsuit told the Detroit Free Press at the time. “They couldn’t present any evidence of police collusion because it didn’t happen.”

Tim Matouk refused to talk on the record for this story.

He released the following statement:

“On a very tragic night, the night JoAnn went missing in January 2010, I was on duty working for a Michigan State Police narcotics task force in Warren. My location that night has been verified and confirmed by testimony of Michigan State police troopers and corroborated by cell phone records. After a lengthy 5-year lawsuit, not one, but two federal courts dismissed the case against me. Any allegations connecting me to the death of JoAnne are false.”  

Tie to Widlak case?

According to multiple sources, when Grosse Pointe banker David Widlak died of an “execution style” gunshot to the neck eight months after Matouk Romain’s disappearance, some in law enforcement came to the belief that Widlak’s murder was connected to the death of JoAnn Matouk Romain. Private investigators hired by the Widlak family came to the same conclusion. 

Widlak was found floating in Lake St. Clair, a bullet lodged in the back of his neck. The bullet was initially missed in the autopsy performed by Macomb County Coroner Daniel Spitz and originally ruled it a suicide. Spitz also performed Matouk Romain’s Macomb County autopsy and, according to the family’s University of Michigan Hospital pathology report, missed the fact that her death was a dry drowning.

Widlak, 62, president of the floundering Community Central Bank, disappeared in September 2010 from his office in Mount Clemens. Community Central was in financial peril. Widlak was calling back $40,000,000 in loan markers and floated worries about potential investors he was meeting with to loved ones.

Community Central Bank’s Grosse Pointe Woods branch was located across Mack Avenue, not far from Woods Fine Wine & Spirits. According to Community Central records, the store had done some banking there. Per those close to Widlak, he was asking questions about what happened to Matouk Romain in the months leading up to his own death. 

“These two cases are actually the same case,” said one Widlak relative. “Powerful people on both sides of the law keeping a lid on things; you start realizing that more and more as the years go on, and it’s a bitter pill to swallow.”

Lack of closure

Michelle Romain is disheartened by the lack of empathy and motivation by authorities in Metro Detroit in regards to her mother’s death and wanting to uncover the truth.

“I can understand what the Widlak family is going through because we’re going through the same exact thing,” she says. “People who are supposed to care, don’t care, and in our cases, a lot of those people are probably guilty themselves.”

Her attorney, Solomon Radner, views the whole situation as a modern day tragedy of epic proportions.

“This is tragic in so many ways: The victims are dumped like a bag of trash; nobody cares in the police or prosecutor’s office; silence is power; people intentionally turn blind eyes to grave injustice and loss of human life, and it’s accepted as par for the course,” he says. “That very fact that we’re here a decade later and nobody has made an effort to find out anything, it should chill people to the bone, scare them to the core. The good guys are the bad guys now. Everything is upside down, and people are OK with it.”

Michelle Romain finds herself today more firm in her belief that there was a coverup involved in her mom’s death than ever before.

“This is an inside job, we can’t trust law enforcement anymore,” she said. “They’ve let us down. The legal system is flawed.”

Grosse Pointe Farms and Grosse Pointe Woods Public Safety Departments did not return phone calls to comment on the case.

A Metro Detroit native, Scott M. Burnstein is an author, investigative reporter and historian who has published six books on the subject of organized crime. He has his law degree from University of Illinois-Chicago and does frequent talks and national media appearances related to mob activity in North America.

Tips on the Matouk Romain case can be sent to burnsteinscott@gmail

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