UPDATE Dec. 28, 2016: "Person of interest in unsolved murder back in court on unrelated charges": WWMT
Brent Spaulding, a person of interest in an unsolved murder from more than 30 years ago in Kalamazoo County, has been charged with drunk and disorderly conduct and trespassing in an unrelated case, WWMT reports.
Spaulding was sentenced on Nov. 7, 2016, to serve five months in jail on a domestic violence charge stemming from a June incident, MLive.com Michigan reported.
Vicksburg, Michigan, is a quiet village about 130 miles west of Detroit. Erik Cross, 16, was found lying dead on the side of the road outside his home by his father early on the morning of June 26, 1983.
When police can't find the murderer, townsfolk start whispering among themselves and pointing fingers at those suspected of being involved in his death. Those rumors and stories keep coming in for 32 long years. But all the tips and tales lead nowhere.
After all this time, police say an unexpected break in this tragic cold case is about to finally lead to the arrest of Erik's killer.
Erik Cross's family believes he made a fatal decision the night of his death by going to a party thrown by one of his good friends. His last night alive began at a lake house where one of his buddies was throwing a drinking party, a "kegger." Police say he drank beer there for hours.
Kalamazoo County Undersheriff Paul Matyas and Detective Sergeant Rich Mattison say Erik was seen leaving the party around 1 a.m. and stumbling down a road toward home, which was less than a mile from the party house.
A witness told police they saw him walk past a gas station and general store just several hundred yards from his home around 1:30 a.m. Two cars, one yellow, the other a dark color, had also been seen parked there.
Erik's parents say they heard a car with a loud muffler turning around in their driveway at 5 a.m. At 5:30 a.m., Erik's father Ted came out to get his newspaper. Ted Cross saw Erik's body lying on the side of the road.
Initially it was believed that it was a hit-and-run, but Erik's family knew something else had happened, and they pressured the police to keep digging.
Cops believe a group of teenagers in one of those two cars -- the dark-colored one -- parked at the gas station drove past the front of Erik's house and saw him.
One theory was that they had taken Erik "hood-surfing" -- that is, he'd been tied to the hood of their car while it swerved sharply down the road -- and that he fell off and was run over.
But while cops didn't know if hood-surfing was involved, they became certain of something else within weeks of Erik's death: It was not a hit-and-run as they had first believed.
"As we investigated a little bit further, it was determined this was no accident," said Undersheriff Matyas. "This was more of a deliberate act -- hence, murder."
"Erik was badly injured," said Detective Sergeant Mattison. "Contusions, deep abrasions. He had rope burns that were visible, twists or striations on his skin. He had leg fractures. He had a large gaping laceration in the middle of his lower back."
So the rope burns on his body make you think that someone tied him up and pulled him by the back of the car?
"In conjunction with the abrasions, the deep abrasions that he had, yes," said Mattison.
Do you think that's when his body was dumped?
"He was run over at that point to make it look possibly like it was a hit-and-run traffic fatality," Mattison said.
Many of the more than 100 people police interviewed confirmed their theory that a car full of teenagers had dragged Erik by a rope along the road for hundreds of yards, run him over, and dumped his body outside his home.
Are there several prime suspects?
"There is a core group, if you will, of young people who through the rumors, their own admissions since, were together that late night and early morning hours," said Mattison.**
Cops say many pointed the finger at a reputed town bully named Brent Spaulding as the ringleader and driver of the car.
So Brent Spaulding is your prime suspect?
"Yes," said Undersheriff Matyas.
Then there was Brent's girlfriend at the time, Amber Thomas.
"She is a person of interest," said Matyas. "She has very clear firsthand knowledge of what went on that particular time."
"[She] may have been in the car or at least present and knowledgeable of the circumstances," said Mattison.
Police claim Amber was also at that lake house drinking party and was said to have been flirting with Erik, leading police to wonder if Brent's jealousy may have been a motive for the murder.
Brent Spaulding already had a bad rap around town, and a witness told police there was a rumor Brent was seen pushing Erik at the party.
Police reports show one witness saying Brent thought he was the devil, called himself "Lucifer" and was sent to a mental institution after the death of Erik Cross.
Brent's car had mysteriously vanished, and police never located it.
Brent had reason to be concerned that he might be arrested. At least one witness told police he had actually confessed to them that he killed Erik Cross, but police couldn't prove it. And, they say, all the other teenagers in the car with him that night insisted neither he, nor they, had anything to do with Erik's killing.
"They absolutely know something they have not told us," said Matyas. "We are certain of that."
They have now remained silent for 32 years.
Police now say they do have something more, and that they are about to bring it on.
"I'm coming at them," said Matyas. "In no uncertain terms."
And now it seems they might finally be about to get it thanks to a candlelight vigil several months earlier to mark what would have been Erik's 49th birthday.
"There was a lot of media attention to that and from that media attention, we got that phone call that we've probably waited 32 years for," said Matyas. "And it put the whole case into perspective and it hit information that we had always kept quiet, dead center. So we knew we were back on the road again.
"It means we're going to go forward with this and we're going to be presenting it to the prosecutor," said Matyas. "And the prosecutor is very excited about this case, very interested in this case.
"The information we got was fabulous," said Matyas. "It made the difference. This particular source of the information was just dead-on. It solidified a lot of the information we had then and made that crystal ball a lot more clear now, and moved us closer to our target."
The target remains that group of teenagers in a car police believe dragged Erik hundreds of yards along the road, ran over him and dumped his body in front of his home.
"The persons of interest we have today are the same persons of interest we had 32 years ago," said Matyas.
And their prime suspect, the one they believe drove the car, also remains Brent Spaulding.
"Since the incident he's had numerous issues, some substance abuse issues," said Matyas. "He's managed to find his way in and out of the county jail. Recently he was here just a couple of months ago serving a sentence."
Another main person of interest is still Amber Thomas, Brent's high school girlfriend, who cops say was also among the carful of kids that fateful night.
"She has very clear firsthand knowledge of what went on that particular time," said Matyas. "It would be nice to hear from her to get her side of the story before we proceed on our assumptions."
Amber is now married with children. Crime Watch Daily tried to speak with her but she refused an interview.
"There is a light at the end of the tunnel, and we're certain it's not a train coming at us," said Matyas.
But cops won't say reveal new information they have that makes them so confident of an imminent arrest.
"It's something we need to keep close to the vest until we go public with the whole event," said Matyas.
"Anyone who was there and who has spent 32 years refusing to give my mom peace, and refusing to give my dad peace before he died, should be arrested and go to jail for obstructing justice, for conspiracy to commit murder," said Jackie Mitchell, Erik's sister.
"I would like it to be settled and to be over with, so that we can all go back and just live our life peacefully, without revenge and without bitterness," said Marylou Cross, Erik's mother.