Suspect Arrested As More Details Emerge In House Fire Murder
The Battle Creek Police Department released more information regarding the discovery of a body inside of a burning home early New Years Day, and announced the arrest of a suspect.
During a press conference Thursday morning, BCPD Sgt. Case said that further evidence uncovered during their investigation on January 2 into the death of 58-year-old Howard Gillette shed more light on the chain of events involved in this incident.
The initial investigation began shortly after midnight January 1, where a house fire was reported at 250 Graves Ave in Battle Creek. Firefighters called police after Howard Gillette's body was discovered inside, and investigators determined that he had been shot several times. A later autopsy revealed that Gillette died from the gunshot wounds, not the fire.
Accelerant was believed to have been found at the scene of the fire, but further information surrounding the incident was scant. That changed, Sgt. Case says, when the BCPD reviewed dispatch data, made interviews, and reviewed Silent Observer tips and made some connections.
Authorities say that early morning December 31, the Michigan State Police carried out a traffic stop on Emmett St. near Orchard and arrested the driver of that vehicle for Operating While Intoxicated; they also found a "large caliber handgun" inside, along with other "suspicious" items. That person was booked and bonded out of jail.
Around the same time as that traffic stop, a call for a wandering dog was received by police and they picked up that animal; Sgt. Case says this is of note because Howard Gillette was known to always have a dog with him, but that dog wasn't found at the scene of the house fire.
Based on this evidence, the BCPD says they believe Gillette had actually been shot and killed about 24 hours before the fire started, with the shooting possibly being connected to a robbery.
These clues led police to execute a search warrant on the car the OWI suspect had been driving, and they say evidence uncovered during that search tied the suspect to the victim; at this time, the exact nature of the relationship between the victim and suspect remains undisclosed.
The BCPD reached out to their suspect in a "knock and talk" at a residence on Maple Terrace Wednesday evening, and they were arrested with police seeking a charge of open murder. Authorities continue to investigate to determine how exactly the house fire is connected to this case.
The suspect's identity is being withheld pending arraignment, which is expected to take place January 4.
Sgt. Case says that this investigation and subsequent arrest was the result of coordination between multiple law enforcement agencies, and that "everything fell into place" to bring the suspect into custody.