The fifth episode of the newest installment of true crime series Unsolved Mysteries introduces viewers (and amateur detectives) to the cold case of JoAnn Romain, a Michigan woman who disappeared after a church service and was found dead two months later. The police declared the case a death by suicide, but Romain’s children are convinced otherwise. And new details that weren’t discussed in the episode might actually support their suspicions of foul play.
On January 2, 2010, Grosse Point police showed up to the Romain family home to report that their matriarch was missing; they'd located her parked car near the church, empty except for her purse sitting in the driver's seat. The subsequent investigation found footprints in the snow leading to the icy waters of Lake St. Clair, which prompted a dive team to scour the shallow lake for a body to no avail.
Two months later, Romain's body was identified, found over 30 miles away near the Canadian side of the Detroit River. Though her body was found bruised, the authorities told Romain's family that her death was a suicide.
Her children, Kellie and Michelle, weren't buying it. Too many things didn't add up. Not only did the autopsies show that their mother's body had been bruised, but she was also a devoted Catholic with no previous history of depression or other mental illness — it was highly unlikely that she would take her own life. Additionally, claim the siblings, their mother's heeled boots would have made it impossible for her to walk safely and steadily into Lake St. Clair as the footprints suggested. Making the hasty investigation even sketchier was the fact that the Lexus that the police discovered was registered in Michelle's name, not her mother's. So how exactly did the officers instinctively know who was missing?
If you ask the Romaine daughters, there are many other possible causes for their mother's tragic death, and the police wouldn't have to look very far to come up with plausible suspects. Their father, David, had motive to harm JoAnn; her decision to divorce David after 25 long years of marriage (reportedly because of his infidelity with her best friend) left their relationship fractured and on bad terms. But JoAnn's blood relatives were more likely suspects, specifically her cousin Tim Matouk. Michelle believes that Tim should be investigated because he and JoAnn were in direct conflict after an argument over the Woods Wholesale Wine Store, a family business that their parents left behind for them to split amongst themselves. The inheritance added more stress to an already estranged family, Michelle recalls, but there was one argument at the store between JoAnn and Tim that left her mother particular shaken up.
“If something happens to me, look to Tim," JoAnn allegedly told her daughter after the fight.
Tim was a former police officer in the area, leading his second cousins to conclude that if he in fact had been involved in JoAnn's murder, the Grosse Point police had orchestrated a serious cover-up to protect one of their own. Both Tim and the local police have since denied the accusations.
John and Bill Matouk are also possible suspects in their sister's disappearance and death. John, the younger of the two, was known to have business dealings with shady people — he's since admitted that those shadowy individuals might have kidnapped and killed JoAnn to send him a warning. As for Bill, he might have been covering up for his brother or his cousin's misdeeds. General suspicion towards the Matouks is pretty high; five months ago, someone in Grosse Point flew a plane towed message with a dark message for the brothers: "Tim & Bill Matouk. Wait until the public finds out who you are."
All of these factors led to Kellie and Michelle filing a massive $100 million suit against the city in 2014 for mishandling their mother's case. Unfortunately, even though the judge was troubled by the details of the investigation, the case was eventually dismissed in 2014 and once again in 2019 when Michelle tried to appeal.
Nonetheless, the Romaine sisters aren't giving up just yet. They may not be able to bring their mother back, but they're hopeful that by going on Unsolved Mysteries, they can find out what actually happened to her and bring the people involved in her death to justice — even if that means putting their family behind bars. If you have any tips that could be helpful to this case or any others mentioned on the true crime series, you can submit them on at unsolved.com/tips.
Unsolved Mysteries is now streaming on Netflix.