Compact Novas

When people think of police cars, they think of souped up engines and large cars, not compact ones. In 1976, due in part to the gasoline shortage, the department decided to buy compact Chevy Novas for patrol. It was thought that these new cars would be economical and still meet the needs of the officers. Major Howard Zeck called it a bold experiment. The officers would call it a bold experiment that failed miserably. The cars were found to be very impractical and the larger police models were eventually purchased to replace them.

Man Murdered in Gas Filled Apartment

Ann Arbor Officers were called to the scene of a murder on June 25, 1976, and discovered the killer tried to set the victim's apartment on fire. The victim was found by his roommate, who had returned early that morning after being out all night.

As he entered the apartment he was overcome by the smell of gas coming from the oven as all the pilot lights had been extinguished. This caused the back up of gas and the fire department later determined that the build up of the gas was enough to demolish the entire building if it had ignited.

The victim, Robert Mennell, had sub-leased the apartment at 518 Monroe Street, and was stabbed twice in his chest. He was found on his bed, with a blanket thrown over him.

A motive for the murder could not be determined and there was no signs of forced entry. To this day the murder remains unsolved, one of the few in the history of the department that is. I spoke to retired Sgt. Norm Olmstead about the murder, as he was one of the investigators on the scene. He stated they had a suspect in the murder, but were never able to obtain enough evidence to obtain a warrant. This suspect was eventually sent to prison on an unrelated charge.

Close Call for Officer

In July of 1976, undercover Detective Paul Bunten was chasing a larceny suspect and caught him near the Main Street Party Store. A struggle ensued and Detective's Bunten's .357 magnum revolver flew from his holster and fell upon the ground. The suspect grabbed it, pointed it at Bunten's head screaming, “I'll kill you.”

Bunten struck him, knocking the gun from his hand and it flew across the parking lot. The suspect broke free and ran into a parking lot where he was captured by Ann Arbor Officers.

During part of the confrontation, a citizen was standing in the parking lot as Detective Bunten's gun skidded towards him. He was not sure who was the bad guy and who was the police officer as Bunten was in street clothes. As he was not sure who was who, he walked over to the weapon and stepped on it, so no one could pick it up.

When Bunten came back to retrieve his weapon he had to convince the citizen that he was in fact a police officer and the gun was his. The citizen later stated, “I didn't know whether to lift my foot or not. As I said you sure wouldn't pick Officer Bunten out as an officer. He kept saying he was and the way he said it I believed him, so I moved my foot.”

Baby Abandoned by Mother

On November 21, 1976, two citizens walked into the laundry room in their U of M apartment building on Cram Circle and made a most unusual discovery. Crying, wrapped in a pink towel, sitting atop some clothing and rags, was a new born baby, abandoned hours after his birth.

The citizens called the police department and the baby was taken to St. Joseph's Hospital and given a clean bill of health. The doctors estimated the child was a day old and found it's umbilical cord had been tied off with a piece of string.

The officers immediately began a search to find the mother and the reasons she abandoned the baby. Every apartment in the building was searched but the mother of the baby could not be found.

Detectives continued the search for the mother and hoped citizens could assist in the case. The baby had been wrapped in a very distinctive homemade blanket with circular designs. A photo of the blanket was published in the newspaper in the hopes a citizen would recognize it and call with a tip. The baby was placed in foster care and I do not know if the identity of the child was ever discovered.