emu murder case takes another twist

I don’t see how the University is going to spin their way out of this one… It’s just come to light that suffocation was suspected from the moment that Laura Dickinson was found dead in her EMU dorm room. According to an article just published in the “Ann Arbor News,” not only was Dickinson found in an unnatural position, half-dressed, and showing signs of having been raped, as had been reported previously, but a pillow was found over her head. Here’s a clip from the article by Amalie Nash:

When police discovered the partially clothed body of a Hastings woman on the floor of her Eastern Michigan University dorm room, they found a pillow over her face and evidence she was sexually assaulted, newly released court documents show.

The documents add to suspicion that university officials misled students, faculty and the public in the days after the body of 22-year-old Laura Dickinson was discovered in December. At the time, the college issued statements saying foul play was not suspected…

I’ve been pretty careful in my word choice up until now. I’ve always tried to give EMU the benefit of the doubt. As we’d been told, until just now, that the cause of death wasn’t known, I gave EUM officials the benefit of the doubt. I thought, apparently wrongly, that the University just took advantage of the fact that there was no readily apparent sign of murder to downplay the incident. “Sure, her keys were missing from her room, and it looked as though she’d been raped,” I thought, “but, since the police still can’t definitively say how she died, I suppose there’s a slight chance that it was heart failure after consensual sex. After all, her parents had reported that she had a weak heart, right?” But, now, it looks as though the University’s initial press release about there being “no indication of foul play” was just a straight out lie intended to keep the lid on a possibly explosive situation. Laura Dickinson was found “with a pillow over her head,” for Christ’s sake! Yes, it’s true, the police couldn’t confirm that she was suffocated until the necessary tests were done, but they knew, without a question, that foul play was involved, and yet they told everyone not to worry.

I don’t see how the University can explain its way out of this. EMU officials knew that they had a murderer on campus with the keys to this dormitory and yet they did not change the locks (according to what I’ve heard from students with knowledge of the situation), and, even worse, they led students to believe that Dickinson died of natural causes. What’s more, in the following days, they came to know that the primary suspect was a student on their campus, and yet, from what I can tell, they did not take the necessary preventative measures to insure that he couldn’t strike again. I understand that the police didn’t want to arrest him until they had solid DNA evidence, but that doesn’t mean the University couldn’t have demanded that he be put under constant surveillance. (I could be wrong about this last point, but my contacts at EMU tell me that Orange Taylor was not being watched around the clock between the time he was identified as the probable killer and the time of his arrest.) This is clearly a bigger, uglier case than any of us thought it was a few days ago, and EMU is going to pay a big price for it. With declining admissions, a recent scandal in its wake, and poor faculty relations, this is the last thing they needed, but the administration clearly brought it on itself. And no amount of blaming the “Ann Arbor News” for biased coverage can change that fact. Lives were put at risk. Period.

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27 Comments

  1. ol' e cross
    Posted March 8, 2007 at 11:20 pm | Permalink

    No, EMU can’t spin their way out but that’s because spin is never about the complexity of reality.

    This wasn’t a cover-up. A cover-up would be letting Taylor go and faking a cause of death. It was delaying, not erasing, truth. Once EMU had the evidence to arrest Taylor, they did and announced the murder to the world.

    I find it hard to believe, cynical as I am, that parents-themselves Fallon and/or Vick sat down and said, “Looks like one of our students was murdered, better keep this hush-hush or it’ll hurt enrollment.”

    I find it more plausible that police cautioned the administration that Taylor may flee and they should keep the news generic until the evidence came in to collar him.

    What is “constant survelliance”? I understand that Taylor was being watched closely but probably not as he shat and jacked. He seems to be an opportunist rather than a serial killer so what were the odds he’d strike again? Reasonably, not in the realm of anything’s possibilty speculation, does anyone think Taylor would have entered another student’s dorm a month after this crime and repeated?

    He didn’t. They kept him around. They caught him. No one else was harmed and he’s less likely to do harm in prison than if he’d evaded capture. It worked.

    It’s a PR nightmare. But if I was Fallon/Vick, I would’ve been kept up at night, but, based on what I know today, may have made similar choices. They caught him. It worked.

    Isn’t it, in an alternate reality of, say U of M, possible to imagine media congratulating the police and administration for their cunning in capturing a campus rapist/murderer and setting the world right again?

    So where’s the scandal? That’s right. As always, it’s in Ypsilanti. Ellipsis…

  2. mike_1630
    Posted March 9, 2007 at 1:24 am | Permalink

    Wow. That’s f’ed up. What’s wrong with them? Why would they do that? What the hell were they thinking?

  3. mark
    Posted March 9, 2007 at 2:42 am | Permalink

    With all due respect to my friend on East Cross… you have to be kidding me. We have a dead girl, raped, and suffocated, and we have the University saying that there was “no sign of foul play.” No matter how you try to spin that, students were at risk.

  4. Kate
    Posted March 9, 2007 at 8:14 am | Permalink

    I agree with you, Mark. And there was no need to either to “full disclosure” as the university says it could not do (and I agree, it shouldn’t have), or do as it did and lie. They could have released a generic cautionary statement saying the death was being looked into and students should take common sense precautions to ensure unauthorized people did not get into the dorms.

    Instead, by lying, EMU administrators are facing a PR nightmare all right — but one they created themselves. You can’t blame that on the A2 News targeting Ypsilanti. If administrators had followed the law, there wouldn’t be a mess to report. Now, the feds have been asked to do a review for violations of the Clery Act and I sincerely hope the state gives a hard look at what’s going on here, too.

    The truth is there is no such thing as “constant surveillance.” Talk to any police detective and they will tell you it’s very hard to keep someone under constant watch.

  5. edweird
    Posted March 9, 2007 at 10:35 am | Permalink

    I was willing to give them the benefit of the doubt as well, Mark. Not anymore. This was handled in the most monumentally of wrong ways. I agree with Kate as well, that a cautionary tale could’ve been told without tipping off any suspects. This is gonna hurt ’em.

  6. robr
    Posted March 9, 2007 at 11:54 am | Permalink

    All I can think of, is that this incident comes too close on the heels of that attack in that science lab, not so long ago. I feel that this was a clumsy attempt to “hush-up” the gory details ( a wrong move) in a back-handed manner to assuage the student body insofar as how they perceive campus security. Pre-damage control? Not sure what the powers that be were thinking– The students should have been warned.

  7. cleo love-paste
    Posted March 9, 2007 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

    Has anyone confirmed whether the locks were changed at that dorm?

  8. johnnyaction
    Posted March 9, 2007 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

    A blogger I read all the time, one of THE top crime and crime related bloggers, a guy calling himself the Witch King of Angmar is all over this story. Said he even went to EMU which is why he’s so mad about it.

    http://witchkingofangmar.blogspot.com/

    Said he wants the EMU president to resign

  9. mark
    Posted March 9, 2007 at 6:20 pm | Permalink

    The “Chronicle of Higher Ed” is covering the case now.

  10. egpenet
    Posted March 9, 2007 at 6:54 pm | Permalink

    Looks to me as if Fallon is gonna “Libbey” Jim Vick’s “Scooter”. Jim is a friend of mine, and I’ll hate to see that happen.

    As I follow the continuing saga, however, I have formed the opinion that the EMU Regents should ask for Mr. Fallon’s resignation, name an interim chief, and begin the task of cleaning house, in order to help rescue its recent failures and to begin to rebuild EMU as a college of excellence … which it once was.

    To wit:
    1 – Form “Distinguished Alumni” committees for every department to review and recommend whether or not to continue, then, if so, how to build/rebuild the program.

    All departments, undergrad and grad … everything. Buyout the tenured faculty contracts from those programs/departments, especially those who have not excelled in the classroom, research or publication in the last five years. Move freed-up support staff to areas that are thriving for the university.

    Use the funds to recruit new faculty who are distinguished in their fields, and give thenm the mandate to mentor new blood and relevant, new programs.

    2 – Cut all athletic scholarships and use that money to fund academic scholarships. If students still want to play sports, fine. But the sports programs must be self-sustaining.

    3 – Bring the Arts back to campus by partnering with WEMU, UMS and Riverside Art Center to create a year-around calendar of theater, concerts, dance, etc. with Pease as the central jewel in the crown. That means working more seriously with the City to solve the traffic and parking problems on campus and in the neighborhoods around campus.

    4 – Toughen tenure eligibility on new contracts … incorporating greater classroom/lecturing/mentoring responsibilities.

    5 – Maintain a Distinguished Alumni council to meet yearly to advise the regents and student leadership on building EMU now and for the future.

    6 – Obviously, campus security and PR/Marketing each require a total rebuild, especially in the areas of staff and student safety, and communication with students, parents and the Ypsi area public. Despite what Ol’East Cross thinks, there was no reason for EMU to do or say what it did and said. Time to unplug the fan and clean off the poop.

  11. mark h
    Posted March 9, 2007 at 10:36 pm | Permalink

    At the Wednesday night forum, a student who lives in the Tower dorm where Laura Dickinson was murdered, asked, “Why weren’t the keys changed when it was discovered her keys were gone? Why are they still not changed?” I cannot confirm that the keys there were not changed, but none of the many EMU officials there disputed this student’s assertion.

    And yes, it seems mighty dumb to leave the keys to a dorm unchanged when the officials in charge know that a murder victim’s keys were most likely stolen from her room…..

    Some of the students who knew Laura were told by EMU officials that it appeared to be a suicide, or an OD.

    President Fallon should resign or be fired.

  12. ol' e cross
    Posted March 9, 2007 at 11:55 pm | Permalink

    I’m not trying to be compative but would like to hear suggestions on why folks think EMU leadership misled students on the cause of death. Was it:

    a) To prevent folks from knowing there was a murder on campus,
    b) So they could catch the killer, or
    c) Something that hasn’t occured to me.

    As a father, I’ve been unable to help but imagine my daughter going through this and it’s horrible to imagine. If catching the offender meant deceiving myself and the public for a couple months, I would be entirely for deception, providing it didn’t put other daughters at risk. Apparently, it did not. It would seem DPS assessed and was able to keep close enough watch on Taylor so that no was else was harmed and he was captured, despite a WDIV reporter walking across campus on camera and glacing side-to-side as if a killer was about to pounce out of any snowbank.

    Tonight, as I picked up my daughter’s birthday pizza, I saw a pickup with tandem “I support EMU faculty” and “Fire Fallon” bumper stickers.

    For those who only read A2 News, from Monday’s (3/5) Eastern Echo:

    Joe Ohren, professor of political science and director of the masters degree program in public administration, said he has worked with local government for more than 20 years and understands the balance between an investigation and releasing information.

    “There are occasions where you can’t release all information. Our administration and DPS had to make tough calls,” he said.

    Ohren also said he does not agree with some members of the American Association of University Professors who claim the administration is corrupt. Ohren said he disagrees with the way the administration has handled the faculty strike but said a student death has nothing to do with the strike.

    “I don’t think there is any connection at all,” he said. “I think some people just want to make the argument that the administration is incompetent,” he said.

    The Eastern Echo article leave more questions than accusations (and the Echo has, proudly, never been a mouthpiece for the U).

    As I’m sure egpenet can attest, Vick is a good guy but no pushover. Whatever decision was made, it’s hard for me to imagine Vick and Fallon weren’t in agreement.

    As more is revealed, I may be proved naive. I fully admit that. But, at this point, I, like the Echo, have more questions than accusations.

    Again, someone please acribe impeachable motive to Fallon and Vick for hiding what they hid.

    (I should also say all of egpenet’s points for fixing EMU hold water with me.)

  13. egpenet
    Posted March 10, 2007 at 8:58 am | Permalink

    In interviews, Mr. Fallon has said that he did not have all of the details, but that “whatever” he knew had come from Jim Vick. In the immediate aftermath, I am making the assumption that crime scene details were available to Jim Vick, but were NOT passed on to Mr. Fallon.

    Who KNOWS what they were thinking. Their thought processes don’t interest me.

    Union issues, which are another campus scandal do not interest me, either.

    What interests me is going forward with a plan to regain EMU’s world-wide reeputation in education, political science, the arts (forensics, theater, etc.), geography/ cartography, and on.

    My rough idea, stated above, is to create small panels of “distinguished” EMU grads, who have “made it” in the real world … have them come back to campus … under a mandate from the regents to take a hard look at their former departments/programs/staff … and make recommendations for change/no change/new directions.

    In my opinion, EMU is out of step at the administrative level and in some cases in the classroom with what it really takes to be a pre-eminent educational institution. No one on the faculty should be asked to point fingers. Where society, business, industry, the arts and the sciences are going today should help re-direct the regents.

    Following the hard-hitting review … clean house … buy out the contracts of the dead weight … establish new and more challenging criteria for the faculty and students … and get EMU back on track.

  14. mark h
    Posted March 10, 2007 at 9:30 am | Permalink

    Ol E Cross —

    Another theory for why the upper elements of the EMU administration lied or tolerated lying about this being a likely murder case is that in the EMU administrative culture, everything is calculated only on the basis of a short-term horizon: bad news avoided today is all they can think about, not the inevitablity of the truth coming out in a case like this. Further, there is no underestimating the degree of outright incompetence at the upper levels of administration, in terms of its insularity (for instance, disclosure of violent crime details at other universities is far more rapid and complete than at EMU — but the relevant EMU officials have been here for ages and don’t know much about practices at other universities).

    No doubt the tellers of this lie also to some degree thought it would help in catching the killer, as you put it. But the killer knew a murder had been done. Keeping that fact secret hardly could help the investigation, and it clearly undermined the community’s ability to take appropriate precautions, and it likely violated the Clery Act.

  15. Kate
    Posted March 10, 2007 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

    Egpenet, I think before we can go forward with improving EMU in the ways you list, we have to get rid of the miasma of secrecy and distrust that now hangs over the campus. This needs to be investigated by a reputable, trusted agency without ties to EMU and the chips have to fall where they may. ALL parties to the deception have to be rooted out, held accountable and dismissed from the premises. Only then can we turn our thoughts and actions toward improving things in other areas with any faith that those ideas will reach fruition. Right now, I and others have very little faith in EMU at all.

  16. ol' e cross
    Posted March 10, 2007 at 11:43 pm | Permalink

    My hope in the possible violation of the Clery Act is that it brings some outside source, beyond Fallon’s appointee, to investigate and weigh in.

    I’m just not ready to cast judgement based on headlines. Otherwise, the level of complete incompetance and/or callous disregard for student’s safety is beyond my comprehension. Like I said before, I may be proved naive. If so, I’ll feel disgust and another little part of me will die. (That will make 181 out of 217 parts of me. Nine of the remaining 36 parts are attached to my wife and daughter, please God, don’t let them die, as well.)

    Mark H, am I right in assuming “relevant EMU officials have been here for ages” refers to Vick?

  17. egpenet
    Posted March 12, 2007 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

    Had to comment on the confluence of ETHOS WEEK on EMU’s campus … a Greek word, meaning: the character, or characteristic attitudes, habits, etc. of an individual or a group.

    Perhaps, if the festivities’ sponsors had gone further in their dictionaries, they might have settled on something more appropriate to the central ethical issues on campus, for which the Greeks would have used the word … PATHOS.

    Yasoo!

  18. Anonymous
    Posted March 14, 2007 at 11:45 am | Permalink

    I wonder what is the ethos of putting up two signs in the Historic District that perhaps violates the City’s sign ordinance?

    Num me vexo?

    – Steve

  19. egpenet
    Posted March 14, 2007 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

    Is there no justice?

    I trust that they are not celebrating “Ethos Year” and the quirky (pun intended) theme will disappear from the landscape very soon.

    I also assume, if pressed, they would either claim ignorance of the codes and ordinances of the City … or they would claim sovereignty (there’s a word our President cannot define) over signage on state property.

    Yasoo, Steve!

  20. mark
    Posted March 17, 2007 at 9:46 pm | Permalink

    I guess it was inevitable, but the local white power set has apparently found the Dickinson case. (N-word alert)

  21. detroitiscrap
    Posted March 30, 2007 at 1:53 am | Permalink

    Hey thanks for linking to my blog!

  22. Dr. Cherry
    Posted March 30, 2007 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

    Who knew there was an entire blog about scrapping in Detroit?

  23. cleo love-paste
    Posted March 30, 2007 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

    My mother does scrapbooking. It’s very popular among older ladies.

  24. UBU
    Posted March 30, 2007 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

    damn, I thought it was CRAPBOOKING — no wonder the neighbors are complaining!

  25. egpenet
    Posted March 30, 2007 at 8:47 pm | Permalink

    O-MA-GAWD! Where did you find THAT link. (Wait.) OK, cleaned up the toilet seat. MAN!

    That was awful!!!

    And we’re STILL waiting for Chief Matt’s report. I’m emailing him right now. Let you know what he says.

  26. egpenet
    Posted March 30, 2007 at 8:51 pm | Permalink

    Also waiting for the Cheif to report on the KEG parking lot incident.

  27. egpenet
    Posted March 30, 2007 at 8:52 pm | Permalink

    i before e … except after c … c-h is ok

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