ID Show, Podcast Help Free Farmer Convicted Of Deer Hunters’ 1990 Double Murder
Jeff Titus was released from a Michigan prison after evidence showed a serial killer who preyed on outdoorsmen may be responsible for the fatal shootings.
Michigan Department of Corrections via AP
A true crime series and associated podcast dug up evidence that helped free a man convicted of murdering two deer hunters in Michigan who are now suspected of being the victims of a serial killer.
On Nov. 17, 1990, Doug Estes and Jim Bennett were deer hunting separately in the Fulton State Game Area in Kalamazoo next to a farm belonging to Jeff Titus when each suffered a fatal gunshot wound to the back.
According to reports, the two victims didn’t know each other, and investigators cleared Titus in the case after determining he was nearly 30 miles away from home at the time of the slayings.
Police were unable to identify any suspects in Estes and Bennett’s murders and the case went cold. Around 10 years later, however, a new cold case unit reopened the investigation and arrested Titus for murder in 2001.
At trial, prosecutors claimed Titus’ alibi didn’t stand up to scrutiny and claimed he would have had enough time to drive from where he said he was at the time of the homicides to the crime scenes and back.
In the summer of 2002, Titus, then 50, was convicted of the two murders and a judge sentenced him to life behind bars without parole.
In 2012, the Michigan Innocence Clinic and 35 law students began looking into Titus’ case. “The system failed when you had a new [cold case] team 10 years later coming on board and trying to fit a square peg in a round hole,” David Moran, an attorney with the group, recently told WOOD-TV.
Seven years later, in 2019, two executive producers at Red Marble Media, Jacinda Davis and Kevin Fitzpatrick, became interested in Titus’ case, and their findings became the focus of two episodes of the Investigation Discovery program Killer In Question. The murders were also covered on Susan Simpson’s podcast "Undisclosed".
After taking up the case, Davis and Fitzpatrick learned a pair of witnesses heard tires screeching after two shots came from around the area where the victims were killed. The witnesses then encountered a man whose car had gone into a ditch, and he turned down their offer to call for help, Deadline reported.
Davis and Fitzpatrick also found out that around two years after the shooting incidents, the witnesses came forward and identified the man they saw in the ditch with the car as serial killer Thomas Dillon, who was convicted in 1993 of killing five people in Ohio. That critical information was never relayed to investigators in Kalamazoo.
Dillon, whose victims included hunters and fisherman, was serving a life sentence when he died at age 61 in October 2011.
Davis, Fitzpatrick, and Simpson reported on discovering a file on Dillon during their investigation on Titus that contained potentially exculpatory evidence and was never turned over to the correct authorities.
“It changed everything for my whole case,” Titus said of the Killer In Question and “Undisclosed” findings. “The police had that file and they didn’t do nothing with it!”
Podcaster Simpson, who trained as a lawyer, said it was obvious from the beginning that “something had gone wrong here.”
“But what we couldn’t have known when we began our investigation was that there was a serial killer who targeted hunters living just a few hours away — and who looked exactly like a man that was seen speeding away from the crime scene in a car that was exactly like the one the serial killer owned,” she noted, adding, “And who, our investigation learned, had confessed 25 years ago that he was the one who had killed the hunters in Michigan.”
On Feb. 24, 2023, Titus, 71, was released from the Lakeland Correctional Facility near Coldwater after a judge vacated his convictions and granted him a new trial.
“It’s been 22 years waiting for this day and it should never have happened in the first place,” Titus told WOOD-TV immediately after his release. “I’m just ecstatic and overjoyed to finally be out. … I want to see my grandkids. I haven’t seen them.”
For more on Titus’s case, stream Killer In Question: “The Hunted” on discovery+.