Hunt to Kill

Hunt to Kill

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by Dave Distel, Lynn Distel

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Innocent Prey

On November 29, 1992, Judy Blake Moilanen, 35, took her dogs for a walk in the north Michigan woods. It was the last time she would be seen alive. She was found shot through the chest, a seeming hunting accident victim. But state police Sergeant Bob Ball remained skeptical...

Naked Greed

Judy's husband, Bruce, 37


Innocent Prey

On November 29, 1992, Judy Blake Moilanen, 35, took her dogs for a walk in the north Michigan woods. It was the last time she would be seen alive. She was found shot through the chest, a seeming hunting accident victim. But state police Sergeant Bob Ball remained skeptical...

Naked Greed

Judy's husband, Bruce, 37, was the beneficiary of insurance policies with "accidental death" clauses that would pay off $330,000 in claims. Disturbing facts soon surfaced about a prior incident in which Judy had narrowly escaped being killed by a concrete block that had fallen from the roof where her husband was working. On a separate occasion, a fire had broken out as she and her 3-year-old daughter slept alone in the house.

Final Justice

Bruce Moilanen was a debt-dodger and chiseler, obsessed with a happily married woman who regarded him only as a "pest." For months, Sergeant Ball painstakingly gathered evidence against Moilanen, yet there was still no sign of a murder weapon as the trial date approached. Would a youthful prosecutor be able to overcome a tenacious defense and the specter of reasonable doubt to prove that Judy Moilanan's death was anything but accidental—and every bit an act of cold-blooded murder?

"Destined to be a classic...a spell-binding tale." —Green Bay Press-Gazette

"A riveting true story of murder." —Minneapolis Star-Tribune

16 Pages Of Shocking Photos

Dave Distel was a writer, editor, and columnist for the Los Angeles Times for over twenty years before moving to the Upper Peninsula, where he now resides with his wife and collaborator, Lynn.Their work has drawn attention from national media, including Court TV's Forensic Files.

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By DAVE DISTEL Lynn Distel


Copyright © 2005 Dave Distel and Lynn Distel
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-7860-1725-2

Chapter One

A Walk in the Woods

Streak, a happy-go-lucky Springer spaniel, had returned alone to the Blake home after going for a walk in the woods along Cherry Lane. However, he had not gone by himself. He had gone with four other Springer spaniels.

And he had gone with Judy Blake Moilanen.

None of the other dogs returned. Nor did Judy Moilanen.

Mary Ann Blake, Judy's mother, was not alarmed when she saw the dog loping across the clearing. Judy, after all, had to handle all five dogs on their walk in the woods. And this was not one of those citified places where owners had to have their pets on a leash and clean up after them. The dogs cavorted freely when they walked in the woods along Cherry Lane. So what if Streak was back early with his tail wagging in search of approval?

Judy had gone down a wooded trail behind the Blake house on Highway 38, a mile east of Ontonagon, Michigan. The date was November 29, 1992, the Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend, and the ground was only sparsely covered with snow. The trail was familiar because these woods had been a playground to Judy when she was a child.

People also hunted there ... and November 30 was the final day in Michigan's firearms deer season.

Mary Ann did not know exactly when her daughter had headed for the woods. She had some bookwork to do after a lunch of turkey casserole, a typical fare for the Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend. Judy, typically for any weekend, volunteered to clean up after lunch.

"You just go to work on your books," Judy told her mother. "I'll wash dishes and then take the dogs for a walk. I'll do some mending for you when I get back."

It was now, finally, relatively quiet in the house.

Judy's younger brother Jerry had been late for lunch. He had hunted until noon before returning to the family home. By the time he got there, the others were finished eating. He put his hunting gear away, grabbed a plate of casserole, visited briefly with Judy and then went down to the basement to take a sauna. He got into the sauna at 1:15 and came back upstairs at 1:30. He did not realize that time would later become important.

Mary Ann came out of the office a little later and Jerry's family was packing for their trip home to Shawano, Wisconsin, three-and-one-half hours almost directly south.

Ontonagon is located in a part of Michigan's Upper Peninsula that, geographically speaking, should almost be part of Wisconsin. It is on Lake Superior, where U.S. 45 dead-ends after a journey from the Gulf of Mexico. U.S. 45 runs through the heart of Wisconsin and Jerry and his family would take that highway most of the way home.

Mary Ann could see that her son was ready to hit the road.

"Where's Judy?" she asked.

"Walking the dogs, I guess," Jerry said. "She was here when I got into the sauna and gone when I got out."

"She probably wanted to go so she could get back in time to say good-bye," Mary Ann said.

Jerry and his family were getting into the car when Streak came home.

"Here comes one of the dogs," Jerry said.

"Maybe Judy's right behind him," said Anna, Jerry's wife.

She was not ... nor were any of the other dogs.

"Well," Mary Ann sighed, "Streak's here and Judy's not. I suppose she's going to be looking all over for him."

Mary Ann later remembered very clearly that it was 2:15 P.M. Mothers remember these things. They remember when children leave because they set their mental clocks forward to when the call should be coming to tell them everyone was home safely. Jerry was anxious to leave for home because he had to teach the next morning.

Mary Ann's mental clock was not set on when Judy should return. Streak's presence did not disturb her because Streak belonged to her and Dale, her husband and Judy's father. Streak was not as disciplined as the four other Moilanen dogs. The Moilanens ran Big Creek Kennels near Marquette, and Bruce, Judy's husband, was a domineering taskmaster when it came to the dogs. He would snap and they would bark ... or sit or heel or roll over.

Streak was lucky. He had the run of the woods around Ontonagon rather than the discipline of Bruce Moilanen's kennels two hours east in Harvey, a community near Marquette.

Bruce Moilanen, unfortunately, was not as disciplined as his dogs. He could not handle financial affairs, he could not handle jobs and he could not handle personal affairs. He could handle guns, and hunting was his agenda for the day.

Jerry Blake had been gone two hours, which was too early for his mother to be worrying about the telephone not ringing. However, she was worried about Judy, who had not returned from walking the dogs. The weather was not harsh, not nearly as harsh as it gets in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, but it was a little cold to be out comfortably for so long. There was no way Judy would leave with the dogs before 1:30 and still be gone at four.

Mary Ann had been busying herself putting up the Nativity set with Elise, Judy's toddler daughter. Grandma Niemi was watching her daughter and great-granddaughter and also glancing nervously at her watch. Her granddaughter seemed a bit overdue, to say the least.

"Mary Ann," she said, "don't you think Judy's been gone an awful long time?"

"When she trains her dogs," Mary Ann said, "sometimes it takes a long time."

"Did she say anything about training the dogs?" Grandma Niemi asked.

Mary Ann did not answer the question. She looked out the back window to see if she could see her daughter coming. No, she thought, Judy had not said anything about training the dogs, just going for a walk with them. Her principal fear was that Judy was out somewhere in the woods looking for Streak. She did not think her daughter was lost, because Judy was so familiar with the snowmobile tracks and hiking trails in the woods along Cherry Lane toward the old Nieminen farm. However, she knew Judy would be very reluctant to return without all of the dogs in tow.

Only one person could search for Judy and tell her Streak was safe. That one person was Mary Ann. She did not know those woods and trails as well as the younger generation, but she made up for that with a hardy and tenacious resolve. She set out, taking her short, choppy steps, to do what she had to do.

Bill Dorvinen, a neighbor who lived across a clearing from the Blakes on Cherry Lane, had just returned from spending the day with his daughter. He noticed Mary Ann Blake and thought she was a little out of her element. He glanced at his watch and it was 4:20. Dusk was gathering and she was headed away from her home toward the woods.

"Isn't it a little late for a walk?" he asked good-naturedly.

"I have to try to find Judy," she said. "She went to walk the dogs a long time ago. Streak came home but Judy didn't and I'm afraid she's looking for him."

"You want me to come with you?" Dorvinen asked.

"No, I'll be fine," Mary Ann said. "I'll come back and get you if I need you."

Mary Ann continued into the woods behind a row of widely spaced houses along Cherry Lane, which intersects with M-38 and runs south through the woods to an eventual dead end. She knew of a snowmobile trail that began just beyond Dale Brookins' place. She entered the deeper woods past the Brookins' and followed the trail until it hit a depression where an old sandpit had been. It was half puddle and half pond.

When she blew the dog whistle she had brought, all the dogs came running. She went in the direction they had come from and called Judy's name. No answer. She backtracked and called some more. Still no answer.

With the gathering darkness, Mary Ann started to get confused. It was time to ask for Bill Dorvinen's help. She returned to her house, put the dogs in the kennel and then walked across the clearing.

It was 4:50.

"Bill, I'd appreciate it if you would come with me," she said. "I'm afraid maybe she's fallen and broken her leg or something. Maybe she can't get home."

"Let me get my boots on and grab a flashlight," he said. "Maybe we should take one of the dogs with us. Maybe he can help."

Mary Ann did not even know which dog she took. It was one of the Moilanen dogs and they all looked alike to her. She could tell Streak, but only by his collar.

Once again they walked to the pond, the trail soggy from late rain and early snow. They were calling, but they were getting no response. Visibility, Dorvinen recalled later, was down to maybe seventy-five feet.

"She has to be around here," Mary Ann said. "This is about where I blew the whistle and the dogs all came quickly."

"Which direction you think?" Dorvinen asked.

"I angled to the right and she's not there," Mary Ann said, her soft voice shattered by nerves stretched like violin strings. "We've got to go the other way."

Together, Mary Ann Blake and Bill Dorvinen found Judy Blake Moilanen.

"Ohhhh," Dorvinen groaned. "There she is."

Judy was lying across the trail on her left side, her head on a little rise and her feet in an icy puddle of water. She was faced in their direction and she was not moving.

Dorvinen raced toward her with Mary Ann right behind him. He gently rolled Judy over onto her back, her arms flopping to the side. Blood covered her chest. Mary Ann screamed. Dorvinen moved the body to get her feet out of the water, a gesture far more considerate and thoughtful than comforting.

Judy Moilanen, wife, mother, daughter, and sister, had been shot to death in the woods she loved.

Bill Dorvinen, like so many others in the U.P., had his roots in Finland. He was used to hard work and hard weather. He had never encountered what he was now encountering or feeling what he now felt. His thick lips were pursed in anger and anguish. His big, reassuring hands could not reassure the woman at his side as he moved with her away from that horrifying scene.

Mary Ann Blake was hysterical. Her body was wracked with sobs and her soft voice was wailing. The short walk would take forever and it would be over so quickly. She would hardly remember it and she would never forget it. She was a loving, sensitive woman who would have been upset had she come across an injured animal, but that was her only daughter she had found on that trail.

Dorvinen would have to be the one to call authorities. Alvah and Dale Brookins, father and son, lived in the first houses they would encounter on Cherry Lane as they came off the snowmobile trail. Dorvinen ducked into Alvah Brookins' house and called the sheriff's office.

"Yes," he trembled, "I'm sure she's dead."

And then he hastily called his daughter Susan at his house.

"Susan," he said, "Judy's been shot out in the woods."

What he heard at the other end of the line could hardly be described as words.

"She's dead, Susan," he said. "Get out in back and get Mary Ann into our house before she gets home."

Mary Ann was not going home. She had slowed down as she passed the Brookins houses, realizing that her mother and her granddaughter were the only people home. She knew she could not confront them. Susan found her both hysterical and bewildered. Wordlessly, Susan embraced her.

"I can't go home," Mary Ann cried. "I can't tell Mother and Elise. I can't go in. I can't."

Susan could not settle her down, nor could she comfort her. All she could give her were her arms and her heart. She did that.

Susan's father had a chore that was no less heart-wrenching. He had to lead authorities to the body of Judy Blake Moilanen.

Dorvinen's call arrived at the Ontonagon County sheriff's office at 5:12 P.M. Deputy Tom Cousineau, who had worked the nine-to-five shift, was on his way out the door to go home for supper. His evening was about to change very dramatically. A woman had been shot out near Cherry Lane.

Tom Cousineau was the only officer available.

The Ontonagon County sheriff's department was not exactly overstaffed. Twelve officers, including the sheriff himself, had to cover 1,321 square miles of what is essentially forested wilderness. The main highways, to use the description loosely, are lightly traveled two-lane roads on which automobiles are much more likely to run into deer than each other. The woods are also laced with gravel roads, plus 130 miles of groomed snowmobile trails.

Tom Cousineau would not be dealing with a groomed snowmobile trail.

Judy Moilanen's body had been found on what would best be described as a homemade trail. The neighbors had gathered to carve it out of the underbrush to give the children a place to play and a way to access the fields at the old Nieminen farm. It was hardly maintained, much less groomed.

Dorvinen and Dale Brookins met Cousineau and the three of them set out in what was now darkness. The ground was damp and covered with leaves and pine needles. Saplings and scraggly scrubs crowded the trail. Sometimes they could walk two or three abreast, but more often than not they walked single-file with Dorvinen in the lead. They passed the pond and went around a curve in the path and their flashlights caught the body as it sprawled across their path.

Brookins was sent back to await the arrival of the ambulance and Cousineau went to work shooting pictures and assessing the crime scene, which was a difficult chore given the pitch-blackness of the November night. Cousineau could not simply secure the scene and await the imminent arrival of homicide detectives, because the Ontonagon sheriff's department had no such specialists. Circumstances dictated that he do the investigation and, from the standpoint of police work, he would be on his own ... at least until the state police were able to get an investigator to Ontonagon.

In these woods at this time of year, a homicide investigation might be nothing more than mere formality anyway. This was hunting season.

What could Cousineau do at this scene? He could not ascertain the direction of the bullet, much less determine the exact location of its origin. It could have come from anywhere in those woods and Judy might have been struck on her way out or on her way in and he could not have known when either of those times might have been. The notion that he might apprehend the person who pulled the trigger was absurd. This person was long gone ... and might not even be aware of what his or her bullet had done.

"Do people hunt back here?" Cousineau asked.

"Hardly anybody hunts back here that I know of," Dorvinen said. "I never have."

"Why's that?" Cousineau said. "Too populous?"

"Not really too populous," Dorvinen said, "but eight or nine families live along Cherry Lane. It's a little too close to hunt safely."

Cousineau could only take his pictures and check the immediate area for clues. All he found were tracks. Lots of tracks congregated in the area around the body.

Dog tracks.

Bill Burgess was not on duty. He was simply on call. He had retired from the paper mill after thirty-five years in May 1992, but he was always on call for one thing or another. He was on call for injured souls as a deacon with the Episcopalian Church. He was on call as the medical examiner's investigator. He was on call as an emergency medical technician for Beacon Ambulance. He was on call as a district court officer. He was on call as a special deputy sheriff. A garrulous sort who had been in Ontonagon for forty years, he was perfect for a village which did not have a need for experts in specific fields but rather enthusiasts with an interest in many fields.

On the evening of November 29, 1992, the gray-haired Burgess and partner Jack Miles were on call to drive the ambulance in the unlikely event that such transportation would be needed.

He had just finished dinner when his beeper told him he was needed ... for something. It was 5:20.

"You have to get to Dale Brookins' house," he was told. "There's been a hunting accident."

Burgess, being almost fanatically sincere, did not ask questions. He would simply do as he was told and get to the Brookins' house. He did not need the address. He knew Dale lived on Cherry Lane. Addresses were almost redundant in Ontonagon, at least to long time residents.


Excerpted from HUNT TO KILL by DAVE DISTEL Lynn Distel Copyright © 2005 by Dave Distel and Lynn Distel. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Hunt to Kill 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I could not put it down and would like to read more by Mr. Distel but have't seen any except The Sweater Letter which I think was an earlier edition of this book.
Wildwaves More than 1 year ago
I could hardly put it down. A must read I'd you like a good mystery.