Van Buren County Deputy tracks fugitive thousands of miles away

Posted at 11:10 PM, Feb 06, 2015
and last updated 2015-02-06 23:10:59-05

VAN BUREN COUNTY, Mich.—Van Buren County deputies were searching for a 65-year-old from West Michigan who is accused of sexually assaulting a 9-year-old girl.  After months on the run, deputies were able to catch him even though he was thousands of miles away.

Michael Gwilliams is charged with criminal sexual conduct in the first degree.  He’s held on a 5 million dollar bond, and could face life in prison.

“The hard part for me is to have to communicate with the victim, and the victim's family, and say ‘nope we still haven't caught him.’ That’s the hard part,” said lead investigator on the Michael Gwilliams case, Deputy Todd Oliver.

A responsibility that's been weighing on deputy Todd Oliver's shoulders since he got the complaint on Oct. 16, that 65-year-old Michael Gwilliams had repeatedly sexually assaulted a 9-year-old girl.

“Initial suspect interview occurred on a Thursday, after I interviewed the suspect, by Sunday the suspect had fled the state,” said Deputy Oliver.

Gwilliams may have fled the state, but not Deputy Oliver's watch.

“The long arm of the law reaches way outside Van Buren County.”

Deputy Oliver searched for any signs of where Gwilliams could have gone. Also receiving anonymous tips saying he might have fled to Florida.

“I knew the suspect had left with a pickup truck and a travel trailer, but we all know Florida is a retirement community. There are lots of campgrounds, and a lot of travel trailer parks, so it's a needle in a hay stack,” said Oliver.

Deputy Oliver dug deeper. He refused to give up.

“I did discover that he was on medication that he was required to take. His medication was forwarded to him via mail,” said Deputy Oliver.

The medication was sent to an address in Astor, Florida. When he contacted authorities to arrest Gwilliams, he met another dead end.

“It grows quickly sometimes and it feels like it can snowball, and feel like it is out of control.”

Deputy Oliver got discouraged that Gwilliams could get away, but he also knew Gwilliams needed his medication, so there had to be a trail.

“I talked to the United States Postal Service and told them the importance of the situation  and that we had a nationwide extradition warrant.”

The postal service said Gwilliams had another forwarding address in Silver Springs, Florida. At about the same time, Oliver received a tip that Gwilliams was getting ready to run again. This time he would be fleeing to Colorado, so Oliver had to do something quick before Gwilliams made his move.

“It doesn't matter if you are in Florida, Colorado or California, we're going to find you,” said Oliver.

They arrested Gwilliams in Silver Springs on January 14th.

“I can tell you personally I spent over 100 hours in this case alone of phone calls, interviews, tracking down people all over the United States.”

Closure Oliver could finally bring home to the victim's family.

“The mother of the victim ran out of the house and off her porch to give me a big hug when I told her the news.”

Van Buren County Sheriff’s Department says anonymous tips are their best chance of solving cases. They urge everyone who knows even the most minor detail of a case to call them with information.