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Detroit-area mystery: Wrong-way crash, wife strangled, sons stabbed

August 17, 2012|By Amy Hubbard
  • Police suspect a Michigan man murdered his wife and two sons at this home and then killed himself by driving the wrong way on a freeway.
Police suspect a Michigan man murdered his wife and two sons at this home… (Corey Williams / Associated…)

Police are sorting out the mystery of a possible murder-suicide that crossed state lines -- and included a deadly wrong-way driver collision and a grisly crime scene miles away that shook police officers.

Michael Vanderlinden, 38, is dead, the wrong-way driver in a crash in Indiana that also killed another man and burned their vehicles to ruins.

As The Times reported earlier Friday, Vanderlinden died when his car, traveling the wrong way on Interstate 94, collided with another vehicle. The driver of the second car, Juan Nelson Jr. of Portage, Ind., was also killed in the fiery crash early Thursday.

"The medical examining officer said Michael's body was burned beyond recognition," Capt. Gregory Laurain of Michigan's Van Buren Township told the Los Angeles Times in an interview Friday morning.

Local police, informed of the crash, were sent to the Vanderlinden home to notify his wife about her husband's death. What they found at the suburban Detroit house, however, was a possible triple homicide -- the first in the history of Van Buren Township, Laurain said.

Police confirmed to The Times that the cause of death for Linda Vanderlinden, 34,  was strangulation and a secondary stab wound to the chest. The Vanderlinden children -- 9-year-old Julien and 4-year-old Matthew -- died of multiple stab wounds to the chest and arms.

"Obviously, it had a huge effect on our police officers," Laurain said. "We're a small community."  Also, the police call had begun as a death notification -- which is already a very difficult call for officers to make, Laurain noted.

"The scene was pretty gruesome with the kids," and counselors have been on hand to help the officers.

Autopsies were performed Friday morning on the woman and her boys, Laurain said.  It was determined that an 8 1/2-inch butcher knife  recovered at the house "was consistent with causing the stab wounds."

"Unfortunately," Laurain said, "the coroner was not able to determine time of death."

That complicates the investigation.  Police were trying to establish a timeline, he said, showing when the murders could have occurred in relation to Vanderlinden's deadly out-of-state drive.  Witnesses saw Vanderlinden leave the home about 9:30 p.m. Wednesday. The crash occurred in Indiana about 1:30 a.m. Thursday.

"There is nothing left of evidentiary value at that scene that will assist in our homicide investigation here," Laurain said. "Both cars were engulfed in flame."

Sources have told the Van Buren Township police that there was a "strain" in the Vanderlinden marriage, and he was in the process of moving out, the police captain said.

In November, emergency personnel visited the home because of an overdose, Laurain said.  Vanderlinden "supposedly had taken sleeping pills with alcohol."  Police were then called in because of the possibility of an earlier incidence of domestic violence. 

Before any emergency personnel arrived, Michael and Linda Vanderlinden had had a verbal argument, the captain said -- "he wanted her to stay, he's crying, he's grabbing her by the arms, saying, 'Please don't leave, please don't leave.'  That's the extent of the assault."

For now, police suspect Vanderlinden may have killed his wife and children before committing suicide in a wrong-way crash. But they haven't reached any conclusions, Laurain said, as the investigation is continuing.

"Right now we're still pursuing leads," he said.

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