Murder victim left note anticipating death 37 years ago

Cold Case: Karen Michalski's family still searching for answers
Karen Michalski's siblings Elaine, David, and Linda. (Source: WOIO)
Karen Michalski's siblings Elaine, David, and Linda. (Source: WOIO)

LAKEWOOD, OH (WOIO) - It's one of the most high-profile murder cases in northeast Ohio that has gone cold. Karen Michalski's was murdered 37 years ago and now her family is desperate for closure.

"She had tons of friends. She was involved in a lot of groups she was active at work, said Karen Michalski's sister Elaine.

Karen, 29, was beautiful and vibrant. One of 14 kids, Karen loved spending time with her younger siblings Elaine, David, and Linda.

"When I was in high school I went to work with her, shadowed her," said her sister Linda Rourkee.

Karen worked at Gilford Instrument Laboratories in Oberlin. On the evening of March 7, 1979 she had gone to meet a friend at a convention in Cleveland.   Later, she would join those same friends at a restaurant in Rocky River called Victoria Station.  Afterward she said she was heading to her home in Lorain.

It was nearing midnight. She headed east through Lakewood on Detroit instead of west towards her home. Off of Clifton she makes a right turn onto Beach and pulled into a driveway.

"The driver's side window glass was blown out -- it was apparent she was shot through the driver's window," said Capt. Gary Sprague.

Shot in the back of the head. The weapon, a shotgun. The news stunned her family.

"What did she do to deserve this, why does anyone deserve anything like this?" questioned David Michalski.

"Witnesses across street say they heard a horn then a bang, heard a loud shot, heard what I thought was backfire. One witness says the saw a light colored station wagon blocking Karen's car," said Sprague, who has been with the Lakewood Police Department for 29 years.

"There were so many theories bouncing around at the time it did seem most likely that it was someone close to her," Sprague said.

Thirty-seven years of an investigation went cold almost immediately. Karen's parents were haunted.

"Driving my mom to the police department every other week because she wanted to know where we were and what was going on. And try and bring closure there is so much that tormented her for so long," said Elaine.

Police did a thorough investigation.

"As we talked to coworkers and friends of hers absolutely everyone says she was a very nice girl, however we did find out she had lots of boyfriends," stated Sprague.

Some from work and some from her ski club.

"At that point, we were focusing in on her boss at the time, Charlie Horn," said Sprague. "We found out she was dating her boss. Her boss was married, at the time."

Police scoured her apartment. They found about a dozen love cards from Charlie.  But the night of the murder he had a solid alibi and he passed a polygraph test. So they moved on.

"She belonged to a ski club and one of the individuals she had been dating and that was probably our primary focus, Patrick Deromedi. The two were set to go to Colorado for a ski trip," explained Sprague. "Patrick never attended the funeral for Karen and within days after he went on a ski trip and took someone else."

Then a year later he sold his automotive business.

"We certainly thought that was odd. From all appearances, it was a thriving business and he sold it and moved out of state," said Sprague.

Deromedi also had a credible alibi and he, too, passed a polygraph.

Jeffrey Destro; police stopped him after someone called in saying they saw him. He was in a traffic accident in Fairview Park, he was in a light-colored wagon the night of the shooting and he had a shotgun.

"Eventually the shotgun and shot shells were sent to the FBI and they came back and told us they were not a match to the shotgun she was killed with," said Sprague.

Another possibility: Karen was in the wrong place at the wrong time. There was robbery on Cleveland's east side. East 55th and Superior Avenue and East 55th and Euclid Avenue the same night Karen was killed. Two people were shot with a shotgun.

A weapons expert retired from the ATF tells me his theory: Karen got lost on her way home and the two Cleveland gunman were in Lakewood. He said Karen may have pulled over to get her barrings and that's when one of the robbers approached her with the gun. She hits the horn, they panic and shoot her.

A retired Cleveland detective agreed. But a Lakewood police officer that worked the case tells me he retraced her steps from the restaurant to where she was killed. And for 9 minutes she cannot be accounted for. He, too, believes Karen was a victim of circumstance but not by the Cleveland shooters.

What Lakewood police are hoping is that there is someone out there that was afraid to talk before and is willing to come forward now that has any new information that can help solve this decades-old murder.

There is one more piece of evidence. Could Karen have predicted her own death?

Inside her apartment. This note to Bill. "If anything happens to me and I mean anything tell Bill I'm sorry and I wish things could have been different." Bill was a former boyfriend who was never a person of interest.

So many questions-- no answers. Karen's family has been mourning for 37 years.

"That person is still carrying it with them. They know what happened. There is no way they could have done this and forgot about it," said Linda Rourkee.

"It's not a question of being able to forgive, it's 37 years ago. I just want to know why you did what you did," pleaded Elaine.

The way she died we don't know why it happened. why would somebody do this," asked David Michalski.

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