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How Did JoAnn Matouk Romain from ‘Unsolved Mysteries’ Die?
On a cold night in January 2010, JoAnn Matouk Romain, a mother of three from Grosse Point, Michigan, attended an evening service at her church. It would be the last time she was ever seen alive.
Episode five of Unsolved Mysteries Volume 2 details the tragic death of 55-year-old JoAnn Romain, who disappeared on January 12, 2010. Around 9 p.m. that night, police showed up at Romain’s home to inform her children that their mother was missing—they had found her parked Lexus during a routine patrol empty near the Church driveway, with her purse on the seat. There was no sign of a struggle, but police had found shoeprints and buttprints in the snow leading down to nearby Lake St. Clair. However, there was no sign of JoAnn in the water, which was partially frozen and only a few feet deep, with no current. In the following days, diving teams searched the surrounding water, but JoAnn still was nowhere to be found. On March 20, more than two months later, Romain’s body was found on the Canadian side of the Detroit River on Boblo Island, which was 30 miles from where police alleged she walked into the water. Three autopsies were conducted on her recovered body, and there were bruises found on Romain’s upper arm, but police concluded that her death was a suicide. They alleged that she had walked into the ice cold river near her parked car following the service and drowned. However, several details in the case don’t add up, and Romain’s family believe that she was murdered.
The episode explores the oddities in the case that call the suicide ruling into question: Romain had no history of depression or mental health issues, left no suicide note, and was a devout Catholic—her children believe that her religious beliefs would have prevented her from committing suicide. JoAnn was wearing five-inch heeled boots that would have made it exceptionally difficult for her to walk down the steep, icy slope towards the lake the night she disappeared. Witness testimony confirmed that Romain’s car had left the church after the service had ended, meaning that it had been returned, at some point before the police found it, although in a different spot than it had been earlier. Furthermore, Romain’s brand new designer purse that was left on the car seat had a rip, suggesting she may have been grabbed by it. The purse was never examined for DNA evidence, although the Grosse Pointe Times reported that police have said the purse wasn’t new and the damage wasn’t as extensive as the family has alleged.
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Romain’s coat, as well, was found zipped up onto her body when she was recovered from the water. According to Terry Muerer Dunn, the producer of Unsolved Mysteries, this is an important detail: “A couple of key things that I think are interesting are the fact that her coat was zipped up when they found her, and she never, ever zipped up her coat,” Meurer told TheWrap. The episode also recounts that Romain contacted an investigator the week before she disappeared, as she was nervous for her safety and believed she might be in danger, although would not tell her family why.
An interesting point that Netflix’s retelling of the case does not explain is that the Lexus that Romain was driving the night she disappeared was registered in her daughter Michelle’s name, but when police arrived at the Romain home, they alerted the children that their mother was missing. It’s unclear how police could have known it was JoAnn who was missing if they had simply run the plates of the abandoned car. Additionally, the Grosse Pointe Times reported that the family alleges that the plates weren’t run at all until 30 minutes after police had left the Romain home.
In the view of JoAnn Romain’s children, their mother was abducted while leaving church, shoved into her own car, and driven off. They believe the abductors then killed or rendered Joann unconscious and placed her in the water near where her body was found before driving her car back to the church, re-parking it, and manufacturing the scene in the snow.
Unsolved Mysteries raises several possible suspects and motives that have been explored by a private investigator hired by the family. One person the episode discusses is Tim Matouk, an estranged first cousin due to a family inheritance lawsuit. He had allegedly argued with Joann on the phone in the weeks leading up to her disappearance. After the call, Romain allegedly told her eldest daughter, Michelle, “If something happens to me, look to Tim.” The private investigator hired by Romain’s children questioned Matouk, but ultimately no concrete connection was made between him and JoAnn’s death.
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In 2014, JoAnn’s daughter Michelle Romain sued Grosse Point, MI for $100 million dollars for covering up her mother’s murder, “ignor[ing] witness statements,” and “falsifi[ng] their police reports.” The suit named Tim Matouk, who was a police officer himself at the time, as well as specific police officers who had been involved with the case. The lawsuit also claimed that a witness named Paul Hawk saw JoAnn Romain with her cousin Tim Matouk that evening, although police initially declined to interview him. According to the lawsuit, it was two years before police followed up with Hawk about the witness statement he submitted. “There were ignored witnesses who had seen suspicious men, suspicious vehicles,” Michelle Romain said on Detroit Radio Station WWJ in 2014. “There was a connection with the police and the suspects involved in my mother’s disappearance. There are a couple suspects and yes, they are police officers.”
In 2018, the case was dismissed, although the preceding judge admitted there were “disputed facts” that were “very disturbing.” Michelle appealed the dismissal of the case, but a year later, the court upheld its initial ruling. The family—along with the team behind Unsolved Mysteries—is hoping the new exposure Netflix provides can change that.
Lauren Kranc is an editorial assistant at Esquire, where she covers pop culture and television, with entirely too narrow of an expertise on Netflix dating shows.
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