VAN BUREN TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) — Officers tasked with the grim job of
notifying a woman about the death of her husband stumbled onto a grisly
crime scene Thursday when no one responded at the suburban Detroit home,
which had been left unlocked.
Inside, the woman and the couple’s two young children were found dead in
separate bedrooms. Investigators were probing whether the man killed his
family then committed suicide by driving the wrong way on an interstate
highway in neighboring Indiana, instantly killing a stranger too as he
slammed into the man’s car.
Police agencies in Michigan and Indiana spent the day trying to connect the
dots. Authorities said they hadn’t turned up any suicide notes from Michael
VanDerLinden, 39, who was killed in the fiery crash some 200 miles from the
home where his family members were found dead.
“We have no other leads to push us to any other suspects. It’s one of those
puzzles you have to put together,” said Gregory Laurain, the police captain
in Van Buren Township, Mich. “There is a lot of speculation right now that
it could possibly be the father. We want to get a taste of the relationship
of the people who lived here ... were there problems here?”
VanDerLinden and the other driver, 45-year-old Juan Nelson, Jr., of Portage,
Ind., were killed in the pre-dawn crash on Interstate 94 near Michigan City,
not far from the Michigan state line, said John Sullivan, the coroner in
LaPorte County, Ind.
Indiana State Police say VanDerLinden had just left a highway rest area and
was traveling eastbound in the westbound lanes of the freeway when he
collided with Nelson’s car, engulfing both in flames. The crash closed two
westbound lanes of I-94 for several hours.
Police in the semi-rural Van Buren Township, about 25 miles west of Detroit,
were asked by Indiana authorities to notify VanDerLinden’s family about the
crash. But when officers arrived about 8 a.m. no one answered the door at
the two-story home with an attached garage and a children’s swing set in the
Neighbors told authorities that seemed odd.
“She was a stay-at-home mom and the kids are out from school. This time of
morning there should be somebody here,” Laurain said.
Officers went back to the house and found one of the doors unlocked.
Inside they found the bodies of the two boys — identified by neighbors as
7-year-old Julien and 4-year-old Matthew — in beds in their own rooms. Their
mother’s body was found in her bedroom.
“There were no signs of forced entry. No signs of robbery,” Laurain said.
Public records showed VanDerLinden co-owned the house with his wife,
34-year-old Linda VanDerLinden.
Officials weren’t confirming the identities of the bodies in the house.
Laurain said a possible murder weapon was recovered, but he would not say
how they were killed. Autopsies were scheduled for Friday.
Laurain said officials would go over the ripped and burned wreckage from the
Indiana crash “to make sure nothing is there ... no type of notes.”
Computers, answering devices and other items were taken from the home
Officers had not previously responded to the home on any reports of domestic
violence, but firefighters were called out in November after Michael
VanDerLinden took some type of pills in an apparent suicide attempt, Laurain
Laurain said Michael VanDerLinden had ties to Belgium and performed
informational technology work from home.
Rita Jones, who lives next door to the family’s home, said that while Linda
VanDerLinden was friendly and outgoing, Michael VanDerLinden seldom made
conversation with the neighbors.
“He was more, like, to himself,” she said. “He wouldn’t stay out and talk.
He wasn’t as friendly as she was.”
Another neighbor, Litonya Hendricks, said she often saw the VanDerLinden
boys playing outside their home.
“The whole purpose of moving out here is to get away from the crime,” said
the 31-year-old Hendricks who lives across the street. “You want to be
around neighbors who can be trusted.”