TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) — A northwestern Ohio man says he’s relieved he can stop living under a shadow of doubt in his girlfriend’s murder 30 years ago.
Harold Estep of Whitehouse has been questioned repeatedly over the years by investigators in the November 1983 killing of Janean Brown, whose body was found in a ditch the day after she and Estep had a date; she had been bludgeoned and nearly decapitated.
While Brown’s family said they always believed Estep had no part in her death, Estep told The Toledo Blade that he’s been carrying a heavy weight for 30 years.
“That’s a tough thing to carry all these years,” Estep said. “Somebody died that didn’t need to die. It was senseless.”
Estep said he feels as if a veil of suspicion over his involvement lifted when another man was indicted earlier this month on murder charges in Brown’s killing.
Andrew Gustafson, 56, who had been a suspect at the time of the killing, is set to enter a plea to the charges in court this week. It’s unclear if he yet has an attorney.
The arrest and indictment “hit me right in the face,” Estep said.
“We couldn’t wait for it to come to an end,” said Joyce Graber, Estep’s partner of eight years. When he got the news “he was a basket case. It was like it was 30 years ago and someone had just told him that she had passed away.”
Estep’s sister, Debbie Gingrich, said the whole family feels relieved.
“My mom and dad were alive then and they looked right at him — we all did — and said if he did it he needs to come clean,” Gingrich recalled, adding that they didn’t doubt him when he said he had nothing to do with it.
Michael Grosjean, Brown’s brother, said he remembers seeing Estep at his grandparents’ house just after his sister’s death. His grandparents, Edward and Marjorie Brown, had adopted and raised Brown from birth.
“I remember him coming over to my grandpa’s house after Janean was found,” Grosjean said. “I remember him just sobbing the whole time he was there. I don’t think anyone in the family ever thought he was a suspect.”
Rob Miller, chief of the special units division of the Lucas County Prosecutor’s Office, said that Estep always has been cooperative with investigators, including providing a DNA sample and speaking at length with cold-case investigators, and have ruled him out as a suspect.
Miller said “a fresh set of eyes and science” led to Gustafson’s arrest, declining to elaborate.
Back in 1983, investigators had searched Gustafson’s van, which matched the description of one that Brown was reportedly seen getting into in the early morning hours after she left a bar where she had been having a drink with Estep before the couple got into a spat.
Police also searched Gustafson’s home at the time, which was on property next to where her body was found.
When Gustafson, of Birch Run, Mich., made his first appearance in Lucas County Common Pleas Court a week ago, Estep was there. When Gustafson returns to court Wednesday for arraignment, Estep said he will be there again.
“I won’t miss a day of it,” Estep said. “I’ve had this for 30 years.”