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Shadow of Innocence: The Brutal Murder of Janet Chandler

Janet Chandler’s Journey: A Life Devoted to Music and Faith.

Janet Chandler was a 22-year-old music student in Holland, Michigan. Her parents, Jim and Glenna Chandler, were devout churchgoers, and Janet actively participated in evangelical missions from an early age. Despite growing up in a home with strict rules, Janet, known for her warmth, and extroversion, pursued her dream of singing, taking music and piano lessons. Due to her dedication, Janet had very few friends.

The Job at Blue Mill In: Deviation from Paths and Friendship with Laurie

Upon starting college, Janet had to move to campus and find a job. She met Laurie Ann Swang, a 21-year-old roommate and manager of Blue Mill In, a local motel. Janet and Laurie became friends, and Janet secured a job as a night clerk. Working at a motel wasn’t supported by Janet’s parents, but they understood her needs and trusted her commitment to the church.

The Crime: The Fateful Night that Changed Everything in Holland, Michigan.

On January 31, 1979, the police received a call about an incident at Blue Mill In. A guard was on the phone with Janet when he heard an intruder entering the office. Witnesses saw a man taking Janet into a jeep-like car. Initially treated as a robbery followed by a kidnapping, the case turned into a homicide when Janet’s body was found buried in the snow, about 60 km from the motel.

During that time, the police questioned guests, friends, and even local criminals. It was revealed that Janet had relationships with various individuals at Blue Mill In. Dennis, Janet’s younger brother, admitted that she changed after starting to work there, experiencing aspects of adult life, like drinking and different encounters.

At the time, there was a strike at the local Chametron paint factory, leading to the hiring of guards to pursue the strikers. After hours, scabs and guards frequented Blue Mill In, making the motel busy with men, some of whom Janet also got involved with. Despite having some suspects, there wasn’t enough evidence to accuse anyone, and the case had to be closed.

Documentary “Who Killed Janet“: The Resurgence of the Investigation after Two Decades.

In September 2003, over two decades later, a cinema professor named David Schock interviewed a retired guard haunted by a case—Janet’s. This inspired the documentary “Who Killed Janet.” Students at Hope College were tasked with creating it, interviewing family, friends, and police involved in the case. Despite efforts, Laurie, Janet’s former boss and roommate, couldn’t be interviewed as she had moved away after the murder.

The documentary, screened on January 30, 2004, at the local theater, reignited memories in the town, prompting the police to reopen the case.

Reopening the Case: The Quest for Truth and David VanLopik’s Role.

David VanLopik, assigned as the new detective, collaborated with three other detectives from April to June. They discussed the case with clues from that time and identified potential witnesses.

The police sought Laurie, who, now in her 40s, remembered Janet as a musical and fun girl. However, seeing a photo of Janet with guards changed Laurie’s expression. She described the group as “wild” and party-loving, revealing that both she and Janet had relationships with them.

The investigators had several leads and people to interview, with a particular guard grabbing their attention—Robert Michael Lynch. Aged 39 at the time, Robert worked inside the factory and drew attention due to his excessive drinking even at 65. After finding him, they discovered he had moved and opened a beauty school with his wife, raising two children. During interviews, Robert, intimately involved with Janet, shared details of a failed party during the investigation.

The investigators, aware of more information from Robert, patiently continued conversations. In one interview, David asked Robert how he would feel if what happened to Janet occurred to his daughter, prompting Robert to reveal more details from his guard days.

Confessions and Convictions: Shocking Revelations and Justice’s Resolution.

On January 30, 1979, just before midnight, Janet arrived at Blue Mill In for her shift. An employee discovered Janet was dating a guard, causing Laurie’s fury as she had found out Janet went out with the guards’ leader, Arthur Paiva. Instead of yelling at Janet, Laurie confronted Paiva, making him, Laurie, and the guards plan a surprise party to teach Janet a lesson.

On January 31, Robert was in his room when, around 2 a.m., a guard called for help to lure Janet out of the office and take her to the inn where Paiva stayed.

Robert met Janet in the lobby, claiming a party was being thrown in her honor. They put her in a car, but Robert didn’t join the other guards as he had to wake up early for work. Before the other guard left with Janet, he took money from the motel to simulate a robbery and went to sleep.

The next day, after finishing his shift, he went to where Paiva stayed to see what had happened. There, he found Janet sitting naked with tape on her mouth and arms tied. She seemed drugged, though the autopsy found no drugs in her body hours later. One guard danced in his underwear while other women drank in the house.

During Robert’s stay, he witnessed a guard tying a belt around Janet’s neck and shaking her. She was then taken to a room followed by a trail of men who collectively assaulted her. Laurie, present in the house, entered the room just to insult Janet. Robert admitted to assaulting Janet.

In February 2006, Robert was arrested and charged with first-degree murder. Investigations continued, and with Robert’s confession, others, including Laurie, admitted their involvement. In September of the same year, there was enough evidence to accuse Laurie, Paiva, and three soldiers—Freddie Parker, James Nelson, and Anthony Willians—who were present.

In December, the prosecution allowed Robert to plead guilty to second-degree murder, including confessing to burying Janet’s body in the snow. He was sentenced to 25 to 40 years in prison. As Laurie confessed the rest of the story, she was sentenced to 20 years. Freddie, James, and Anthony were sentenced to life imprisonment. Several others present that night couldn’t be charged due to lack of evidence.

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