A Hope College class's documentary on an unsolved area homicide in which even the identity of the victim is a mystery will be featured on WGVU-TV 35 of Grand Rapids and WGVK-TV 52 of Kalamazoo on Sunday, Sept. 25, at 11:30 p.m.
The 52-minute program, "Jack in the Box," focuses on a murder in the spring of 2002, when the badly burned body of a male victim was found in a footlocker near a blueberry field between Holland and Grand Haven. More than three years later, the identity of the victim remains unknown.
With the cooperation of Ottawa County Sheriff Gary Rosema and his office, the Hope film makers had the chance to tour the site where the body was burned, look over all the evidence in the case, and see the crime-scene photographs and video. They also talked with the officers involved with the case and even the pathologist who conducted the autopsy, Dr. Steven Cohle of Spectrum Health's Blodgett Campus.
"There was no question off limits in our pursuit of this story," said Dr. David Schock, an associate professor of communication, who taught the fall 2004 class that created the documentary. "There was no question that wasn't answered. In my career relating stories I've never encountered this level of access; it's unprecedented. But the sheriff's goal is very clear: to identify the victim. He was willing to take some risks to do that. We are extremely grateful to have had this opportunity."
The resulting documentary chronicles almost every step of the investigation. It's also extremely graphic, according to Schock.
"You don't want to watch this if you have a sensitive stomach. Certainly this is not appropriate for young viewers, but it's likely not appropriate for some adult viewers, too," said Schock, noting that the worst of it is the charred body of the victim. "People see stuff like this every week on 'CSI' or 'Law and Order'... but this is real."
The class members worked along with Schock and videographer Phil Blauw of the Hope staff. The students included Tessa Beukema, Jeremy Cox, Erin Briggs, Lacey Gaubatz, Kate Grambau, Amber Hauptman, Emma Irvine, Mark Johnson, Tamika Lee, Stephanie Ross and Adam Witt.