Grayling man charged with one count of open murder
Dan Sanderson | Staff Writer
Through the swift collection of evidence, a missing persons case turned into a murder investigation last week, which led to the arrest of a Grayling man for allegedly killing a woman who he had a family with and lived with for several years.
Crawford County Attorney Magistrate Camarin L. Talarico arraigned John Robert O’ Connor, 55, on Thursday, Dec. 14, with one count of open murder.
O’Connor is charged with the death of Michelle Ann Kukulski, 46, who had been missing since Thursday, Dec. 7.
On Monday, Dec. 11, the Crawford County Sheriff’s Office issued an alert, reporting that Kukulski was missing. K9 units from the Michigan State Police searched the area where her cell phone signal was last reported. Deputies from the Crawford County Sheriff’s Office also canvassed the area looking for information regarding Kukulski’s disappearance.
On Wednesday, Dec. 13, Kukulski’s van was discovered in Clarkston in Oakland County in the parking lot of a Big Boy restaurant. The Oakland County Crime Lab processed the vehicle and discovered blood on a seat.
A team of undercover officers set up surveillance on Wednesday around O’Connor’s home, which is located on Chase Bridge Road in Grayling Charter Township.
Police made a traffic stop on O’Connor’s vehicle, when he left his property. He was taken into custody without incident.
The detective and a deputy from the Crawford County Sheriff’s Office talked with O’Connor several times while he remained jailed.
O’Connor allegedly told investigators that Kukulski tripped and fell while walking from the home into a garage. A tall and stocky man, O’Connor said he fell on top of Kukulski, which caused her neck to break.
He later allegedly confessed the two had gotten into an argument, which became physical.
O’Connor and Kukulski lived together for 29 years, and had three children. The couple was estranged when the incident occurred.
“She went back to get some things, a little argument ensued, and it just blew up from there,” Crawford County Sheriff Kirk A. Wakefield said.
Before O’Connor was taken into custody, police were concerned that he would go the Grayling Elementary School, where one of the couple’s children was in classes. Deputy Ryan Swope, the school liaison officer, and Troopers from the Michigan State Police were stationed at the school and in adjoining parking lots to ensure the school remained safe.
“One of the most important things was to protect the school, protect the kids, and make sure nothing bad happened there,” Wakefield said. “That was our main concern, and we took care of that.”
O’Connor told police he drove the van downstate, then called relatives in the area. He claimed that the van had broken down, and he needed a ride home.
K9 handlers and deputies took O’Connor to the area, where he said he left Kukulski’s body. The search went on until 11:30 p.m. on Wednesday. The team reconvened its search on Thursday, and Kukulski’s body was found off a trail road located off of Mapes Road near the Crawford County-Oscoda County line. The body was found just north of the initial search area.
“The Michigan State Police K9 handler did not even get in 50 yards, and the dog hit on the body, so now we have recovered the victim,” Wakefield said.
O’Conner initially planned to take Kukulski’s body downstate, but changed his mind and came back north. Wakefield said it is unclear if O’Connor had previous knowledge of the area where he left the body.
“I’m not sure if he was really that familiar with the area, but typically in cases like this, people are familiar with the area where they do things like that,” Wakefield said.
O’Connor was interviewed again Thursday morning. Wakefield said he stuck to same version of his story, but later allegedly conceded an argument became physical.
“It was still under the issue that she was walking out of the house and tripped and fell in the garage, but he beat her up pretty good,” Wakefield said.
O’Connor faces a maximum sentence of life in prison without parole, if convicted. He was denied bond, and is being held in the Crawford County Jail.
Grayling attorney Don Sommerfeld Jr. was appointed to represent O’Connor. A probable cause conference was scheduled for Wednesday, Dec. 27. A preliminary examination, where prosecutors must present sufficient evidence for O’Connor to face a jury trial, was scheduled for Friday, Jan. 5.
Wakefield praised law enforcement officers, working hundreds of miles apart, as well as Michigan State Police and Department of Natural Resources officers for their work on the case.
“My officers, very professionally, did a fantastic job,” Wakefield said. “I’m very proud of their relentless pursuit in this case.”