Monday, August 11, 2008

Sea's Life Sees Death

by Donna Pendergast

Lana Stempien had it all.
Blonde and beautiful, the 35-year-old former model had realized her lifelong dream—to become a lawyer. The life of every party, she was employed by the City of Detroit Law Department and living the good life in the summer of 2005, along with her 34-year-old attorney boyfriend, Charles "Chuck" Rutherford (couple pictured below).

Lana was the pride of her family, the first to go through law school. Rutherford, a former Wayne County assistant prosecutor who'd recently begun his own practice, was the son of a wealthy, prominent attorney. Despite any differences, their relationship seemed perfect, on the surface, at least. They were young, attractive, and on the road to success. They shared a modest home in Grosse Pointe Farms Michigan, a chichi Detroit suburb, where affluence is the norm and violent crime is rare. Yet no one really knows what happens with any couple behind closed doors. Later, Lana and Chuck's pairing would appear to have been anything but perfect. And to this day, their fates remain shrouded in conjecture.

From the start, I had an exceptional interest in this case. A friend of mine lived next door to the couple and knew them on a casual but friendly basis. My previous employment with the Wayne County Prosecutor's office began shortly after Chuck Rutherford left that office, so many of my former colleagues knew and worked with him.

At the heart of the matter is the mystery of what happened to the couple three years ago today, on August 11, 2005.

The Beginning of the End

The previous day, August 10, Chuck and Lana left her parents' house in Belle River Canada, across the river from Detroit. Lana was at the helm of her 27-foot boat, Sea's Life.

They were headed to Mackinac Island, a vacation paradise located just east of the Mackinac Bridge, which connects Michigan's lower and upper peninsulas. Although the journey to Mackinac was an ambitious undertaking, Lana's father, a former Coast Guard officer, was not overly concerned with the couple's plans. He knew his daughter to be an experienced and extremely safety-conscious boater.

The boat followed the eastern coast of the Michigan shoreline that first day,
making its way up Lake Huron as far as Oscoda. That night, Lana and Chuck docked at a marina and shared dinner and cocktails with a couple they'd met. Afterward, they returned to the boat where they spent the night.

The next morning, Chuck and Lana put the boat in gear and left the marina. A little after noon, they stopped for gas at
Presque Isle State Harbor, a few hours from their planned destination. Both Lana and Chuck were seen wearing sweatshirts to ward off the coolness of the day. Once they were back en route, at approximately 1:30 p.m., Lana spoke by cell phone to a favorite aunt. In her statement to police, Lana's aunt recalled that her niece gave no indication that anything might be amiss.

Cell phone records indicate that call was the last Lana ever made.

A Frightening Observation

The next morning when the couple didn't arrive as scheduled on Mackinac Island, Lana's parents reported them missing. A few hours later, nearly 24 hours after Lana and Chuck were last seen, a couple out boating discovered Sea's Life adrift in the turbulent Lake Huron waters. The boat was near Marquette Island, ten miles from Lana and Chuck's planned Mackinac Island destination.

When the Coast Guard arrived, they found the boat abandoned with the engine idling. The radio was tuned to a Christian station, not the missing couple's usual musical fare.

There were other unusual things that puzzled authorities. For instance, Lana's torn running shoe was discovered on the deck. Embedded in its sole, as if implanted with great force, was a knob from the boat's GPS system. And that wasn't all. The
Coast Guard also found the boat's swim ladder in a pulled-up position, which seemed to contradict the likelihood that an impulsive swim had turned into a tragic accident. The previous day's cool air and water temperatures also made investigators question that theory.

Two other issues were of interest to police investigating the bizarre circumstances. First: the couple who notified authorities of the abandoned boat described blue bumpers, the sort used when boats hook together, floating on a line off the boat's back. The Sea's Life was not known to have had such equipment aboard, and when the Coast Guard arrived the bumpers were nowhere to be found. Second: it appeared that the boat's GPS system was activated around 1:20 a.m. on August 12, many hours after the couple was scheduled to arrive at Mackinac Island.

Where were Lana and Chuck?The first part of that question was answered two weeks after the couple disappeared, on August 23, 2005, when Lana's body washed ashore north of Hammond Bay, miles from where the boat was found. She was nude, wearing only a gold chain necklace and her treasured Omega watch. Close friends and family say that Lana never swam with the expensive watch, which was only water resistant, not waterproof.

An autopsy showed a negligible amount of alcohol in Lana's system. An unusual finding was an elevated level of carbon monoxide in her blood. The medical examiner's determination was that Lana's death had been caused by drowning.

Many Unanswered Questions

As the police investigation progressed, many questions remained unanswered. Where was Charles Rutherford? If Lana's body had washed up, why hadn't his? What was the significance of the blue bumpers? Had another boat hooked up to hers? If so, was that the source of the elevated level of carbon monoxide in Lana's blood?

The police had other questions as well. Why was the GPS knob embedded in Lana's shoe? Did her body enter the water nude or were her clothes washed away in the water? Did one person fall into the water accidentally and the other jump in to save the first? And why was the GPS turned on at 1:30 a.m. on August 12th? None of it made sense.

Meanwhile, relations between Lana's and Chuck's families became increasingly strained, as members of her family wondered if Chuck (pictured right) could be alive and responsible for their loved one's death. At the root were reports from friends who described the couple's relationship not at all as idyllic as it appeared from the outside. One even said Lana had once commented that if anything happened to her, Chuck should be the suspect.

After a
news story aired on the couple's disappearance, more reports of trouble between Lana and Chuck surfaced when someone came forward saying he'd witnessed a physical altercation between Lana and Chuck outside of a Detroit bar. A segment about the case on Dateline further fueled speculation that Chuck could be alive and on the run.

Yet there were other indications that suggested such reasoning could be wrong. For instance, from the time of his disappearance, Chuck's credit cards and bank accounts remained unused. His parents filed a petition, and on August 3, 2006, a week short of the one-year anniversary of his disappearance, a Circuit Court Judge declared Charles Rutherford legally dead.

Only recently have discoveries washed up on the rocky Lake Huron shoreline that may finally end at least some of the speculation.

Secrets of the Deep

On May 28th of this year, human remains were found near Cheboygan, MI, roughly three miles from the location where Lana Stempien's body was found. DNA results are expected in late August. Only then will authorities know if the body belongs to Charles Rutherford. The Michigan State Police have cautioned that the torso could be unrelated to the Stempien/Rutherford case. Several persons are missing from that general area, including a man who jumped off the Mackinac Bridge. If DNA tests peg the corpse as Chuck's, they will put an end to rumors that he's alive and on the run.

If that torso belongs to another missing person, perhaps still another body part found less than two weeks ago will be identified as Chuck's—a foot that belongs to a man Rutherford's age.

Yet even DNA will not answer a number of other questions revolving around this case, including what happened to or between Rutherford and Lana Stempien on that fateful day three years ago today.

Those are secrets that Lake Huron may never reveal.

But Lana's family isn't giving up. "I'm gonna find out the truth," her father told Dateline. "And believe me, trust me—I'm gonna do it." For the past few years, the family's search has continued unabated, as has their faith that someday they will know what happened to their daughter. In the Detroit Free Press just yesterday, this memorial appeared:

Our Loving Daughter and Sister LANA ANN STEMPIEN September 22, 1969 - August 11, 2005 It's three years tomorrow Lana, we will forever keep praying and searching for the answer. Love, Mom, Dad and Lori

Statements made in this post are my own and not intended to reflect the views, opinions, or position of the Michigan Attorney General or the Michigan Department of Attorney General.

19 comments:

Leah said...

Very intriguing. I remember seeing this on Dateline. I felt bad for Lana's father who was grief stricken. I can't imagine that Rutherford is still alive and has managed to get by this long without being detected. Do you have any ideas or inside info Donna??

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Anonymous said...

Hindsight in this case, may be 20/20, relative to the fact that Lana was the attorney for the City of Detroit who handled FOIA requests. Wouldn't it have been around this time (August 2005) that Kilpatrick and company were doing their level best to "bury" any information related to the Manoogian party, Carlita's assault on Tammy, Internal Affair investigation, etc.? It would be interesting, to say the least, to find out if there were any outstanding/pending FOIA requests (submitted by the Free Press, among others) that she was processing or working on. If so, this would be a huge coincidence, if not, circumstantial evidence that KK may have been involved in her (and Chuck's?) death.

FleaStiff said...

It takes great courage for an investigator to remain professional when encountering a case involving a beautiful young woman who was in the process of ending a mildly abusive relationship and had a history of boating safety. I applaud the State Police investigator who had the courage to avoid tabloid-oriented speculation and conclude accidental death after carbon monoxide exposure. I would doubt there was any swimming involved; not all CO exposure takes place immediately abaft the exhaust outlet. Open air CO exposure is an under-rated safety threat particularly in marine environments.
It would be extremely unlikely for Attorney Rutherford whose wealth consisted solely of his law firm interest to start over again as a pauper under an assumed name somewhere.

Debbie said...

From what I understand, Chuck comes from "old money". He absolutely could be living anywhere under assumed name and appearance. I wouldn't be so quick to write off his demise. There's a lot of information that hasn't been made public to date. My thoughts are he is breathing. I pray the truth comes out to give the Stempiens closure.

Anonymous said...

It's been almost a year (Memorial Day, 2008) since the partial remains were found adjacent to the Lake Huron shoreline. Does anyone know the status of the DNA testing?

Anonymous said...

The remains have not been identified.

Anonymous said...

Does not the US Government have satellites that can view a quarter from "high in the sky"? Would they be able to look back and see if they could provide an answer?

Anonymous said...

Three things make me suspicious that this was not a simple accident. The knob embedded in the shoe sole, the GPS failure, and the rush by the R family to have their son declared "dead".
I hope that if the S family has not already done so, they will contact a psychic or psychics about this case. It seems there may be political reasons that the investigation is being blocked.

Anonymous said...

I believe he killed her and is now living somewhere - i pray that if he is alive he is living in pain and suffering and his family also - what a horrible pair of liars they are - if there was nothing to hide why would they not let her parents into the house to get her stuff - why..... because they were cleaning it out - I hope they suffer illness and i only wish them pain and suffering .... sorry but it is time and enough we stop coddling these murders and their families

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Anonymous said...

Thank you for providing this forum. On 13APR10 I saw the Chris Hansen report on the disappearance of Lana Stempien and her friend. Has anyone undercover gone to the place where they fueled up and asked around about people following the Sea's Life? Perhaps the couple got into a fight with the locals or someone saw Ms. Stempien and decided to molest her. It could have occurred on the shore with the boat towed out to make it look like the two went overboard. That knob in the shoe. Did they remove the knob from the GPS device to check to see if the shoe was predrilled and then the knob screwed in? It could have been done to throw off the investigation. Was the knob pressed into the shoe through human weight alone? Was the GPS device dried and then dusted for prints (if any)? Did they track down the two orange fenders to see where they were bought and by whom? It might have been productive to hire someone to break into that house they lived in. A search of papers, walls and rugs may have been productive.

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Anonymous said...

This mystery has always caught my interest mostly because I grew up in Grosse Point. I am a little older than Lana and Chuck but not by much. I saw the Dateline story years ago and have occasionally looked up on the internet if any further details have come forward but it appears this case is essentially closed. I visit Detroit and Grosse Point one or two times a year and can clearly see that neither city has any budget and probably has no intent to look into old cases. Last night, watching the winter olympics, I just poked around on the internet and found some curious things (that anyone else could find as well)...


1. Chuck and Lana lived at 111 Muir Street in Grosse Point Farms. At that time a business named Weight Loss Solutions, LLC also had the same address listing. I looked up the business records for this company and found that Chuck registered it in 2002. The odd par is that the business is still active but the mailing address is now his fathers, Chuck Sr., located at 1002 Berkshire, Grosse Pointe Park. Its business ID is B4147D. It is listed as a domestic limited liability company. It seems odd that this company has not been closed unless there is money or investments in the business account. I wouldn't say this is entirely unusual but if I were an investigator I would look at the financial records of the company.


2. Chuck's brother, John. I found that he has a younger brother who is a musician and he can be easily found on LinkedIn. His LinkedIn resume is extensive and lists him as having jobs mainly in the Detroit area as a music teacher, performer with orchestras with the typical amount of detail... except for the years 2005 - 2008 where he is in Hong Kong as a "substitute" in the Symphony Orchestra. He lists their web site as www.hkpo.com but nothing shows up for him on searches within that site. Again, I wouldn't say this is unusual but maybe John's whereabouts and who he had contact with should be looked at?


3. John's latest line of work. John is the "Music/Entertainment Vendor at Infinity and Ovation Yacht Charters". This is a charter yacht that takes parties on tours from St. Claire Shores (right next to Grosse Pointe for those unfamiliar) to Windsor, Canada and back. So to recap, John's resume is filled with orchestras and teaching gigs then goes to Hong Kong now works on a yacht? WTF?


4. One of the Infinity / Ovation yacht's destinations is the Windsor Casino... now its up to you to put the rest of it together.

Anonymous said...

and a few more points I dug up:

5. Bio of Chuck's dad... Charles Rutherford ... Of Counsel with Dykema Gossett PLLC, ... He is recognized for his professional achievement and experience in all phases of intellectual property law practice, including data security and E-commerce. For more than 40 years, he has utilized his expertise in preparing, filing and prosecuting U.S. and foreign patents related to the mechanical, hydraulic, basic electrical, medical and general engineering fields... an active member of numerous engineering and law professional associations. He also has 32 years of active and reserve military service, retiring in 1984 as a Colonel in the U.S. Air Force, Judge Advocate Department Reserves.

FEB 24, 2014 11:39 AM POSTED BY RANGER
6. Chuck's parents are unreachable according to coast guard report:

D9: Overdue 27-foot Wellcraft – Rogers City to Mackinac Island, Mich.
Air Station Traverse City, Air Facility Muskegon, Station St. Ignace, USCGC Biscayne Bay, and a Canadian C-130 completed 14 sorties (missions) for a 35-year-old female and 34-year-old male with negative results. After their 27 ft vessel was located, Station St. Ignace was able to determine the GPS route of vessel and last cell phone calls made by the female. Sector Sault Ste. Marie put a timeline together which placed the couple close to Mackinaw Island on Thursday at 6:00 p.m. with the intent to moor at Mackinac Island marina around 7:00 p.m. Four pfd’s were missing from the boat and a 40 ft line was in the water. Next of kin for the 35-year-old female has been notified, but next of kin for the 34-year-old male has been unreachable so far. Continued diligence to notify the 34-year-old male’s family will be D9’s responsibility. Case suspended

Anonymous said...


FEB 24, 2014 01:54 PM POSTED BY RANGER
7. I just found a few more businesses started by Chuck and some still remain active today at http://businessprofiles.com:

X*HIBIT WHERE?, LLC Charles R Rutherford Jr 645 Griswold Ste 3270, Detroit, MI 48226, formed on 2004-01-29 Still Active

PRESCRIBED WEIGHT LOSS, LLC Charles R Rutherford Jr 645 Griswold Ste 3270, Detroit, MI 48226, formed on 2003-12-22. It has been dissolved and is no longer a legal entity.

CYBER COURT, LLC Charles R Rutherford Jr 645 Griswold Ste 3270, Detroit, MI 48226, formed on 2002-01-14 Still Active

DEBT SOLUTIONS, LLC Charles R Rutherford Jr 645 Griswold Ste 3270, Detroit, MI 48226, formed on 2002-01-14 Still Active

and the previously mentioned WEIGHT LOSS SOLUTIONS, LLC Charles R Rutherford Jr 645 Griswold Ste 3270, Detroit, MI 48226, formed on 2002-01-14 Still Active

FEB 24, 2014 03:22 PM POSTED BY RANGER
8. This guy took over Chucks office address:
Kenneth M. Davies, an Attorney, has 34 years experience practicing civil litigation in the areas of insurance law, condemnation, real estate, domestic relations, and personal injury. He is an Arbitrator for the American Arbitration Association in commercial disputes and a lecturer at State Bar seminars on real estate condemnation. He is a member of the Wayne County Circuit Court and 36th District Court Mediation Tribunal panels. He was admitted to practice in all Michigan courts and Federal Court in January, 1964 and he was admitted to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court in January, 1971.

Davies graduated from the Wayne State University with a Bachelor of Arts and Juris Doctorate degrees in June, 1963. He is a native Detroiter graduating from Redford High School in June, 1957. He represents the Mayor of Detroit on the Board of Directors for the Detroit/Wayne County Port Authority. His other public and social affiliations include...

FEB 24, 2014 03:52 PM POSTED BY RANGER
9. What is so interesting about Kenneth M Davies you ask?

Kenneth M Davies sat on the board for the Detroit Port Authority. What is the Detroit/Wayne County Port Authority?

The Detroit/Wayne County Port Authority is a special-purpose authority created in 1978 by the Michigan State Legislature to plan, develop and promote the greater Detroit area as a freight transportation and distribution hub for the Great Lakes. The Port Authority oversees and promotes commercial and recreation activities along 32-miles of the Detroit River from Lake St. Clair to the Wayne/Monroe County border.

Anonymous said...

This case stinks to high hell. Look what I just found today:

10. Charles Rutherford Jr was pronounced legally dead by Presque Isle County Probate Judge Kenneth Radzibon. Kenneth is a part time judge for Presque Isle and was suspended for pocketing the money of two clients ... you can't make this shit up. (A question for retired Detective Sexton: How far is your head up your ass?).


Presque Isle Judge Accepts Suspension

By: Michigan Lawyers Weekly Staff in Uncategorized May 11, 1998

A northern Michigan judge who admitted pocketing the money of two clients and lying to one of them has accepted a 90-day unpaid suspension, according to the Judicial Tenure Commission. Presque Isle County Probate Judge Kenneth Radzibon admitted to violating the judicial code while he was working as a part-time judge and as a private attorney, ...


Read more: http://milawyersweekly.com/news/1998/05/11/presque-isle-judge-accepts-suspension/#ixzz2uMdurKhR

Anonymous said...

I posted this same info at HourDetroit.com and it all just got pulled down. Just a matter of time before they get to this web site too.

I also found on the Michigan Treasury web site that some money from AMERICAN GENERAL LIFE & ACCIDENT INS CO is being held for a John Rutherford of Detroit. Hmmmm.

Kenneth Radzibon has money to claim too:

http://www.michigan.gov/treasury/0,1607,7-121-44435-7924--,00.html