Did A Cover-up Let The 'Oakland County Child Killer' Walk Free?

The two-part documentary explores the unsolved murder of four Detroit-area kids in the 1970s — and the possible cover-up that has kept justice at bay.

February 15, 2019
By: Mike McPadden

OAKLAND COUNTY, MI — One of the most baffling and heartbreaking unsolved criminal cases of the 1970s gets an up-close and very personal exploration in the new special from Investigation Discovery, Children of the Snow.

For 13 months between 1976 and 1977, a still unknown culprit referred to as the Oakland County Child Killer murdered at least two boys and two girls in communities surrounding Detroit. Then, as abruptly as the deaths seem to start, they just stopped — and no one has ever been prosecuted for the crimes.

Children of the Snow revisits this tragedy through the eyes of J. Reuben Appelman, a writer who grew up in the area at the time and who has long wondered if he actually escaped the Oakland County Child Killer.

Appelman has long been haunted by a childhood memory of a man following him out of a store and ordering him into a car. Fortunately, the future journalist managed to run away, and, since 2005, he has been digging deeper into this horrific real-life mystery.

In exploring old files and documents, Appelman has come to believe that the police may have had the killer in the grip, but that a coalition of wealthy, powerful figures made sure he walked free. It’s a conspiracy that points to a child-sex network and severe mistakes — accidental, or perhaps not — on the part of the original investigators.

Through interviews with Detective Cory Williams and family members of the victims, Children of the Snow examines a potential connection between the Oakland County Child Killer murders and a sick pedophile ring that produced child pornography and operated out of Brother Paul’s Children’s Mission on North Fox Island at the same time.

After a boy escaped that circle of abusers, he pointed authorities in the direction of Francis Sheldon, the multimillionaire philanthropist who owned North Fox Island. Sheldon fled overseas and was never caught, but investigators uncovered the nightmarish underground connected to Brother Paul’s — a web of child rape and exploitation with outposts that reached across Michigan and the United States.

In the course of Children of the Snow, DNA discoveries, fresh leads, new looks at old evidence, and the relentless passion of surviving loved ones fuel a search that may, at long last, lead to justice for the victims of the Oakland County Child Killer.

Children of the Snow premieres Monday, February 18 at 9/8c on Investigation Discovery. Part two will air February 19.

Read more: Popucrime

Next Up

Inside The 27-Year Investigation Of JonBenét Ramsey’s Murder

On Dec. 26, 1996, the pageant princess was found strangled to death in her family’s home in Boulder, Colorado.

The Twists And Turns Of The Infamous Susan Smith Case

On October 25, 1994, the 23-year-old South Carolina mother drowned her two young children.

The 1993 Unsolved Murder Of Holly Piirainen

On Aug. 5, 1993, Holly Piirainen, 10, and her brother went to a neighbor's house to play with puppies. Her brother returned home but she never did.

Navajo Nation Girl Assaulted, Killed After Man Kidnapped Her While She Was Playing

Tom Begaye Jr. left the 11-year-old child to die in the desert after “repeatedly hitting her on the head and face with a tire iron.”

Police Continue Search For Relisha Rudd, Who Was 8 When She Vanished In 2014

‘I have days when I think she's alive. I have days when I think she's no longer with us,’ says Henderson Long of D.C.’s Missing Voices.

5 Things To Know About Lori Vallow And The Investigation Into The Death Of Her Children

The Idaho mom’s son and daughter disappeared without a trace in September 2019. Their remains were found buried in shallow graves in June 2020.

Mohave County Sheriff Searching For Suspect And Victim’s Two Young Children From 1989 Case

If you know anything about this case, the Mohave County Sheriff would like for you to contact them directly: 928-753-0753 ext. 4408.

How The Abduction And Murder Of A 9-Year-Old Led To The AMBER Alert System

The AMBER alert system first debuted in 1996 as a collaboration between news media and police in Arlington, Texas. Named for Amber Hagerman, the alerts have helped find more than 1,000 abducted children.

Michigan Police Search For Killer Of Transgender Woman Who Recently Graduated Nursing School

Ashia Davis was a “beautiful soul with a heart of gold,” a friend says.

Beloved Detroit Neurosurgeon Found Murdered In His Home

Detroit neurosurgeon Devon Hoover, 53, was discovered fatally shot and wrapped in a blanket in the crawl space of his attic on April 23, 2023. Police are now searching for answers about his murder.