Did a mother of three take her life by drowning herself in an icy lake, or could one of her own relatives have wanted her dead?

CASE DETAILS

Church with lake in background at sunset

JoAnn disappears after attending a prayer service at St. Paul’s Catholic Church.

JoAnn Matouk Romain’s family had been feuding over the family’s inheritance for 30 years. Then, during the snowy winter of 2009-2010, it appears the feud may have taken a darker turn. According to Michelle, JoAnn’s daughter, after her mother receives a threatening phone call from one of her family members, she grows increasingly anxious and believes people are following her. JoAnn also thinks her cell phone is tapped, her mail is being searched, and that people are entering her home. She goes so far as to change the locks on all the doors. Then, on the bitter cold night of January 12, 2010, JoAnn disappears after attending a prayer service at St. Paul’s Catholic Church across the street from Lake St. Clair.

At 9:30pm, a police officer arrives at JoAnn’s home to tell her children that her car has been found abandoned in the church parking lot with her purse locked inside. Police say that small footprints led to the lakeshore and they assume that JoAnn climbed down a steep, icy rock embankment in her high-heel boots, and slid over two seawalls into the freezing lake to commit suicide. The Coast Guard searches that night, and for days after, but JoAnn’s body is nowhere to be found.

Aerial of church and lake, snow

Police say they assume JoAnn climbed into the freezing lake to commit suicide.

One witness at the service sees JoAnn leave the church around 7:20pm. Another witness believes she hears JoAnn’s car alarm going off but doesn’t see anyone around the car. Yet another witness, the last to leave the church, says that JoAnn’s car was not in the lot when she left. What happened to JoAnn Romain when she left the church that night remains a mystery.

Mother and two daughters with city lights behind them

JoAnn’s children are passionate that the suicide theory doesn’t make sense.

Then two months later, fishermen find JoAnn’s body in the Detroit River, 30 miles downstream from the church. Cause of death is determined to be drowning. The manner of death is ruled “undetermined.”

JoAnn’s unexplained death has triggered controversy and public intrigue, though no criminal charges have ever been filed. JoAnn’s children hire a team of investigators and are passionate that the suicide theory doesn’t make sense. “It’s absurd,” says her daughter, Michelle, “nobody is going to jump into a shallow lake of freezing water in the dead of winter. Especially not my mom.” Michelle, along with her sister, Kellie, and brother, Michael, have gathered a list of compelling clues and extensive expert testimony to prove their mother was murdered.


31 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Berni

    I dont understand that fact of the key was in her pocket, so i have 3 theorys: 1. The abductor has a copy (that leds us to assume it was someone who knows very well JoAnn) 2. The abductor meets her away from the parking lot, killed her and come back in her car, locked up the car, put the keys in her pocket and have a accomplice to carry her to the river, and the theory that one of the abductor was close to her is matching that the fact of he/she/they zipped up her coat, 3. The police was involved, because, why the assumed after 3 hours of been missing she killed her self? im mean, come on… Someone in the police wants to burry the case, that cuestion matching with the fact thtat no analisis of her purse, they didnt find any fingerprint in her car, they didnt analize if the car has been intervenied in the electric part (if the abductor hasnt the keys, maybe he/she/ they mannipulate the wires) and NO ONE talks about the effective link of her cousin Tim with the police, the didnt mencioned that wasnt a story of corruption in the police, or if Tim didnt get involved in the investigation, i think Tim has a lot to do in here, and no one talks about it, how he could interviened in the investigation… Obviously has something to do with family money and something went wrong, i think that was her cousin Tim and her brother, and for the cameras, they seems to be bothered with each other, why the police or the private investigators didnt search they bank accounts? or the phone record of they?

    Reply

  2. Avatar

    Michelle

    THERE’S SO MUCH MORE TO THE STORY! CHECK OUT THE LOCAL DETROIT INVESTIGATION ON IT!!!

    https://www.clickondetroit.com/news/defenders/2020/10/19/watch-joann-matouk-romain-mystery-series-parts-1-4/

    Reply

  3. Avatar

    Crystal

    I’m just curious. They said that they found her car keys zipped up in her jacket, which was on her, but yet they speculate that the suspects probably drive her to the location and dumped her body and then drove back and parked her car. I’m just curious as how they were able to do that with no keys?? There was apparently no evidence of tampering.

    Reply

  4. Avatar

    Anonymous

    I can’t help but to think there was a boat involved. It also answers the mystery about the keys. Ply it out- two abductors approach and force JoAnn into her car. They move the car until the church’s parking lot is empty. They come back and park the car, then force her down the embankment and into a small/medium boat. At this point they either kill her and shove her keys in her jacket, or do so prior to killing her. Being that the water was so cold, they could have tied and dragged her in the water as they made the trip to Detroit. By the time they got to populated areas she would have passed from drowning or hypothermia and all they would have had to do is cut the rope and keep manning the boat.

    Reply

  5. Avatar

    Lilach

    Hello
    It’s me again …well after reading some news about this case i copy for you the new evidence i just read and this reinforce my opinion that Tim is the one to blame with involvement :
    “Timothy Matouk is JoAnn’s cousin. He holds a high-profile job as an investigator with the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office. An attorney representing JoAnn’s family said he believes the information this new witness has shared could take the case in a new direction.
    “Do the right thing, and that is: question their own. Now, we know that Tim Matouk knows a lot more than he is saying, and that’s all that we want him to do,” said attorney Ari Kresch.
    The witness said he went to police years ago with a description of Timothy Matouk but claimed investigators became aggressive and hostile, accusing him of giving false information to police.”
    P.s is Matouk is family name of JoAnn or her ex-husband’s name???
    maybe the dispute was over money that she thinks she deserves from her ex husband’s family/parents?

    Reply

  6. Avatar

    Lilach Gafni

    I definitely thinks it was a well planned murder !!! and the motive is the money dispuete in her family. Also she told her daughter Michelle that if somehing bad happen to her is Tim to blame because she was always fhoght with him over money..
    Sabo the guy here that commented this remark : “her brother john held a rosary claiming “his sister gave it to him” is it just me or is that an odd coincidence that HER rosary happened to be missing?”
    is also right. this is very suspicious…minimum two persons waited for her to get out of the church kidnapped her in her own car, they had a copy from her car key (cause they are from ther own family and someone maybe her brother duplicated her car key) drove with her for 55 km and murderd her there , beat her until she lost consciousness and throw her into the frozen lake…

    Reply

  7. Avatar

    Dawn

    The brother, John Matouk, mentions he thinks two people took his sister, which I thought was strange as to what led him to that conclusion, but when he then stated “I don’t think they intended to kill her” my radar went off! Now how can he get a feel such as this? How can he know if her killing was unintentional? Unless, maybe he was there! Simple human behaviors can sometimes speak volumes! Secondly, the police officer on the stand was not convincing me he was being forth comíng, as we know it’s too far fetched to be a suicide and his body language was off. For him to look at them and say he believes it was a suicide was uncomfortable to watch especially with him keeping a stoic face the whole time.

    Reply

  8. Avatar

    Erin

    Is there some sort of dam or gate at the border between US and Canada? If there is, then there’s no way her body could’ve gotten through that if she entered the water in Michigan.

    Reply

  9. Avatar

    Barbara

    Did no one notice a fact about her car keys. The car was moved, then brought back…but her keys were in her zipped up pocket. Not one cop or detective could see…. that made no sense.

    Reply

  10. Avatar

    Wim

    I tend to think its an abduction gone wrong.

    probably a very wild guess but here it goes:

    Probably 2 abductors.
    Someone, with the knowlegde that she attends church , could have done the following:
    Rent a small boat. Head to the church and wait until she leaves.
    1 obductor would wait in the boat.
    The plan would be to knock er out and take her on the boat.

    She leaves church, enters her car.
    Someone approaches her, (asking for a ride). She probably would have agreed.
    The person enters the car, points a gun at her. She presses the panic button, the car alarm goes off.
    The kidnapper panics and tells her to start driving.

    After driving for some time, the kidnapper tells her to start driving back to church (the other kidnapper is waiting for them).
    They get on the boat and leave.

    Later, in deaper water, there is a struggle, she goes overboard.
    The freezing cold water makes her drown.

    Reply

  11. Avatar

    Unknown

    I dont get this

    Can some one please explain to me how a criminal/s can take a person put them in the car drive them 30 miles away then drive back but the keys where in her pocket ?? Makes no sence

    Also the said there where prints in the snow and believed the criminals did this ok let’s see how that works out

    They take the lady 30 miles away they put the car back by the church then they have time to put alot of prints in the snow to make it looked like she slipped then they some hope make their way back to the ladys body (30 miles away) put the keys in her pocket and zip it up

    No im not buying it
    This lady killed her self

    Reply

  12. Avatar

    Mo

    Check how much fuel she paid for before going to church. Find the distance from the pump to the church, if there’s a lot more missing, then the car was actually moved. I wouldn’t trust a single eye witness saying there wasn’t a car in view when she left the church- it was dark and cold.

    If the car was moved, then they would need the key to drive it back. Which means wherever they possibly took the mom, they would’ve had to keep her for a while to return the key back into her jacket. I would check the CCTVs around the areas where the river could’ve moved the body to where she was found.

    If it was suicide and she slipped into the water, her shoes or at least her heels would’ve been broken on impact as there was a sort of ledge.

    Reply

  13. Avatar

    Slater

    In the episode, the daughter explains that her moms keys were in her pocket. Then later on explains her theory that her mom was kidnapped in her own car, dumped by the kidnapper, then the kidnapper drove her car back to the church, and ditched it.

    So my question is, how did the kidnapper drive the car back when the keys to the car were in her coat when she was found?
    There would be signs of the car being hot wired.

    Reply

  14. Avatar

    Suzanne

    What I don’t understand and the episode did not explain – why did police turn up at the daughter’s house that evening to tell them she was missing? What prompted that? Her car was sitting, apparently innocently enough, in the parking lot. It was only a couple of hours later, why did anyone even notice?

    Of course, someone needed to “find” the evidence of “suicide” in the snow by the water before it melted – so the police had to be called that evening. But who called them, when, and why?

    Reply

  15. Avatar

    Abbie

    Is there any way of knowing how much gas was used after she went to the gas station to know how far she, or whoever drove from the church and back?

    Reply

  16. Avatar

    dctom

    So the one witness (that they specified) said that the car wasn’t there when she left…maybe she was just mistaken, happens all the time. At one point someone said it was 12 degrees out, when it’s that cold I’m guess people aren’t especially attentive…

    And I’m mystified why the only discussion is suicide or murder? What about accident? Here’s a simple scenario: She’s having family troubles and goes to church. After church, she’s feels better but decides to walk out toward the lake to clear her head a bit more, despite, or perhaps because of, the cold. Once she’s near the shore, she slips on the ice on that concrete slope and either hits her head or simply can’t get back out because of the icy slope. She would have died very quickly in the frigid water. Then–she’s dressed entirely in black, and has dark hair–they just don’t find her. Seems odd that she would drift far enough away not to be found, but seems more likely than suicide or murder, for which no one has really provided a motive other than family bickering.

    Reply

  17. Avatar

    Nashali

    I think that these police didn’t do their job right how could you not know that by grabbing a purse hard it could rib and I felt like someone had access to space car keys also the part about her and the heels makes no sense like she would have fell into the water instead I can’t walk in tall heels imagine trying to walk down a steep sidewalk they didn’t even check the Purse for DNA And considering they didn’t even listen to the mothers children who probably knew her better than anyone and said that she would never do that and she was nervous especially after the phone call I pray they can find some answers soon .

    Reply

  18. Avatar

    The Lou

    Her brother says that something was not right but he himself is definitely not right with him, perhaps he inherited something in her death.
    *****
    VERY IMPORTANT FOR SOMEONE TO READ:

    JOANN ROMAIN WAS NOT MURDERED NOR DID SHE KILL HERSELF.
    She had some type of cardiac arrest, she left and did not feel well and was close to the church. With what energy she could muster she turned around and came back, she was not going into cardiac arrest yet but merely a stroke. She was disoriented as she got out of her vehicle she placed her keys in her pocket out of pure habit and it was then she went into full blown cardiac arrest. She could not retrieve her keys out of the pocket but signalled the alarm in hopes of someone hearing it but unfortunately no one heard it. She stumbled for help what tracks were left showed. She ends up in the water thinking that the cold temperature might actually help her heart.
    She was alive for some time as her body had mass from being alive and that is how her body made it so much further than anticipated. The cold water slowed her heart down.
    Unfortunately she succumbed to death without medical attention.
    I can see that she seen the helicopters and shortly passed during the search and rescue.
    Let her children know she is passed over and okay, to let them know her mother passed without suffering violence and no she did not kill herself!

    Reply

  19. Avatar

    adyel

    My curiosity compels me to ask; can they show us the autopsy report? Toxicology report? Did they take samples of the water inside her shoes? I dont know why, but i cant stop thinking about the shoes. Gravel, soil, fibers, plastic…I am also convinced it was someone she knew. Its sychological profiling 101: the zippers ( sign of guilt, embarrassment, conflict) . Combined with the fact that she dissappeared after church (so they knew her schedules for mass), and her car was used to dump her body (with no suspicious activity or prints?). Someone who could justify having their DNA already in the car. Also the phone records, the killer was smart enough not to lure her into a meeting with a phone call. So many questions, such little evidence, oddly so little evidence…

    Reply

  20. Avatar

    Hannah

    If the car key was found in her jacket pocket, how did the killer drive the car back to the parking lot?

    Reply

  21. Avatar

    C. A. Ziegfeld

    Suicide? Right from the start? ( Suspiciously someone she knows on the force?) She walks sraight out of church and into frozen water? Keys used to drive her car and then back into her pocket? The lights and alarm going off? The officer that was not related… knows something .. he looked away and down throughout the interview. I live in Michigan.. Winter here is extremely cold.. and there are many times we dont like it… I cant imagine the choice for suicide would be a frozen 2 foot river. Grosse Pointe is a tight lipped ,closed community.. they dont want to be associated with trouble…. yes the rosary beads did bring other questions to mind. My love and good energy to this ladys family.. a horrible way to live… Not knowing and suspicious always of those around you.. The pilice were grievously neglegent… Beginning with not getting fingerprints or footprints.

    Reply

  22. Avatar

    Gabriel Sozigan

    For me it was a conspiracy, it’s obviously tha not was a suicide, and the police insisted on it with weak arguments, the fact of the cousin Tim, be a cop, and for me seems a little nervous on the interrogation, point to a big conspiration for homicide, other factor, is no showing alibi for any cop, even the cousin, that was a principal suspicious in the case…

    Reply

  23. Avatar

    Rozanne Anderson

    Did no one notice a fact about her car keys. The car was moved, then brought back…but her keys were in her zipped up pocket. Not one cop or detective could see…. that made no sense.

    Reply

  24. Avatar

    Kim

    If the car left the lot and came back…how did her keys get zipped up in her pocket. Did they ever address that and I missed it?

    Reply

  25. Avatar

    Beth

    If her body was dumped and her car keys were found in her coat pocket (found on her body) how did the murderer drive the car back to the church? Did I miss something! I believe it was a murder but this tidbit confused me!

    Reply

  26. Avatar

    Sabo

    I agree with Dixie Anderson a lot was alarming regarding the brother, if he has financial issues how we’re those resolved how did he get out of debt. And because her rosary was one of the items that was missing how and when did the brother get hold of it? Wasn’t she using it at church on that day?
    The brother should do a polygraph test.

    Reply

  27. Avatar

    Emma Buchanan

    1. I strongly felt that the imprint in the snow was from a body lying down, either watching JoAnn covertly or her corpse bring placed there temporarily. 2. I agree with another poster that the brother is very suspicious. I can’t put my finger on it precisely but my spider sense is definitely tingling with him. He seems insincere. I though it right away, before her daughter mentioned it. I also thought his comment that the person didn’t mean to kill her spoke volumes. This was definitely an inside job and I I strongly feel the brother is involved. If the car keys were found on the body, how could the car have been moved between JoAnn leaving church and the witness leaving? Either the witness is wrong/lying or the assailant had access to spare keys.

    Reply

  28. Avatar

    Dixie Anderson

    This isn’t a tip. But more of an observation and question from Joann Romains episode. Not sure if this is the right place for this. Anyways, I thought it was a bit weird and completely suspicious that at the end of the episode her brother john held a rosary claiming “his sister gave it to him” is it just me or is that an odd coincidence that HER rosary happened to be missing? Also did she have a life insurance policy and if so which family members were included in that? Her brother? If he was included in her insurance policy and had money problems then maybe he was very desperate for money….a lot of people do the unthinkable in times of desperation. Also was her car drivers seat pushed back or was it adjusted for her size?

    Reply

  29. Avatar

    Kelly Shonting

    Since the car was moved, did the black box ever get looked at as evidence?

    Reply

  30. Avatar

    Unknown

    Ask those police officers, the cousin and the lead to take polygraph tests. Was the car ever fingerprinted? If she thought her phone was being followed – who would have the ability to do that – the police – the cousin. This “suicide theory” just doesn’t add up. Are there any video camera’s any where around the church or her trip home? It was that cousin and his officer buddies. Why else would they make an ASSUMPTION that it was suicide so quickly, plus she suspected her phone being tapped, people coming in and out of her house, and going through her mail. Disturbing to say the least!

    Reply

  31. Avatar

    Bev

    That was not suicide

    Reply

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