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?
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.
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.
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.