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32-year-old cold case murder solved by Battle Creek Police

Posted at 10:34 PM, Jan 31, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-31 22:34:37-05

BATTLE CREEK, Mich. — A Battle Creek Homicide turned cold case is now solved, as Battle Creek police say they know who killed Gayle Barrus back in 1988 thanks to a blood sample tested by state police.

James Barrus was only 13 years old when tragedy stuck the family after his mother, Gayle, disappeared from Battle Creek in early October of 1988.

“Right now I’m just still trying to catch my breath and exhale at the same time," Barrus said after the case was solved.

Two weeks after she was last seen at Speed's Koffee shop, investigators discovered her body, and James' father immediately picked them up from school.

“He didn’t mention anything there in the office," Barrus said. "So, he took us out to the truck and broke the news to us that her body had been found.”

Police located the 30-year-old's remains on river road in Emmett Township, where they learned she had been raped and stabbed.

“It was a lot of sitting around waiting and hoping that she’ll turn up," Barrus said. “It was unlike her to do that, so, we just hoped for the best but obviously it didn’t work out that way.”

Investigators looked into two friends who may have been involved.

One of them, Roger Plato, was shot and killed during a confrontation with police officers just three days before they found Gayle's remains.

Even though his body was cremated, police kept a blood sample.

More than 30 years later, it was found during an evidence audit in Calhoun County and tested by state police.

On January 25th, James got the call he's been waiting years for.

“Sgt. Marshall called and informed me that he just received a call from Michigan State Police labs indicating that it had come through," Barrus said. “In fact some of the early tests actually ruled Plato out DNA was still in its infancy and I have documents that indicated he had been ruled out. However, there were subsequent tests that were conducted on other pieces of evidence including blood that came back inconclusive.”

James has dug into his mother's case since 2013, filing records for police documents.

He's gathered hundreds of pages of evidence, never giving up hope that one he'd find an answer.

“I think it’s a relief for most of us and a weight off our shoulder just having an answer and that to me was the biggest thing," James said.

James doesn't think there will ever be "closure", as the traumatic experience changed him and his siblings as both kids and adults.

“I think if somebody was around today, now we’ve got to endure a trial, which then creates a lot of other issues and then we potentially don’t get a conviction and then what? Even with a DNA match because there’s so much time has elapsed, eyewitnesses, have either passed away or they can’t be relied upon for their statements 32 years later so I’m kinda glad it wound up the way it is," Barrus said.