La PORTE COUNTY — A triple homicide in Michigan has been linked to a double fatal car crash in La Porte County.
A mother and her two children were found murdered yesterday at 8:30 a.m. (Eastern time) in Belleville, Michigan, according to police reports. Earlier that morning her husband was involved in a head on collision in La Porte County on I-94 by Michigan City, resulting in the death of him and the other driver.
Both bodies were burned beyond recognition in the crash.
“Total skin charring,” said La Porte County Coroner John Sullivan. “They were burnt beyond what you and I would call visible recognition.”
This means dental records and tattoos have to be used for identification.
“That was one of the worse wrecks I’ve ever covered as far as the condition of the bodies and the cars,” he continued.
The bodies were identified as Michael VanDerLinden, 38, of Belleville, and Juan Nelson, Jr., 45, of Portage.
Events unfolded at 1:05 a.m. on Thursday when the Springfield Township Fire Department, county EMS and state police responded to two fiery wrecks on I-94 by the 43 mile marker and Indiana/Michigan border.
According to a report from the Indiana State Police, VanDerLinden’s vehicle, a 2005 Chrysler 300, was traveling eastbound on the westbound lane when it struck Nelson’s 2002 Chevrolet Monte Carlo head on.
State Police Master Trooper Erick Gilliam said VanDerLinden apparently turned around at the rest park there to get on the interstate in the wrong direction. He was westbound originally.
Firefighters put out the flames then extricated the bodies, which were pronounced dead at the scene by Sullivan, who cited fourth degree burns and blunt force trauma as the cause.
When the Van Buren Township Police Department, located in Wayne County, Michigan, later assisted in the death notification of the Belleville man, its officers found his 34-year-old wife dead on her bedroom floor, and her two sons, one 7 and the other 4 years old, dead on the bed at their Belleville home.
Belleville is located about 25 miles from Detroit and 15 miles from Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Van Buren Township Police Capt. Gregory Laurain said a murder weapon was found in the home, but wouldn’t identify the weapon or how the family members were killed.
Officers found the front door unlocked. Laurain said there were no signs of forced entry, robbery or any evidence of a struggle. The house was reportedly very neat and clean.
Laurain said neighbors saw VanDerLinden leaving his home after 9:30 p.m. (Eastern time) Wednesday, so the murders are believed to have happened before then.
“Obviously we don’t have a suspect,” he said. “The husband is the focal point of the investigation right now.”
He would not confirm earlier reports of stabbing deaths.
It is believed VanDerLinden took I-94 West from Belleville to La Porte. His reasons for traveling to La Porte are unknown at this time.
When asked about the possibility of VanDerLinden’s death being a suicide, Sullivan said he had no hard evidence yet, so he was classifying the crash as an accident right now. He pointed out that suicides of this nature are hard to prove since most of the evidence is burned up.
He noted that tissue samples from the victims are going to be analyzed to find out if drugs or alcohol were a factor in the crash.
Sullivan commended firefighters for their work at the crash in extricating the bodies as quickly as they did, explaining that it was a very traumatic experience for them and the other rescue workers.