TV Show Looks At Kalamazoo County Murder Conviction
A Kalamazoo County double murder is in the TV spotlight this Sunday, as “The Killer in Question,” looks into the 2002 conviction of former Marine and VA Medical Center Police officer Jeff Titus.
Titus is currently incarcerated at the Lakeland Correctional Facility in Coldwater where he is serving time for the 1990 murders of two hunters in the Fulton State Game Area, about 20 miles southwest of Battle Creek.
Emmy Award-winning producer of true crime television Jacinda Davis stumbled across the case, and now it’s getting a closer look. The new season of the podcast “Undisclosed” covers the Titus case and runs through January. And on Nov. 1, the debut episode of “Killer in Question,” a two-hour documentary, will air on Investigation Discovery.
The 1990 deer hunting season was into its second day when the bodies of Doug Estes and Jim Bennett were found in the woods of the Fulton State Game Area in Kalamazoo County. The men had been hunting, separately. Both were found shot in the back, through their hunting licenses.
Co-workers at the Battle Creek VA said Titus often complained about hunters walking on his property which bordered the preserve just south of Climax. A lot of witnesses and neighbors painted a picture of Titus as an unlikeable guy. The original investigators in the case, Kalamazoo County Sheriff's Office detectives Roy Ballett and Bruce Wiersema liked him for the killings until their investigation uncovered an alibi. Gerald and Eloise Shepard told them Titus had been hunting their property 27 miles away when the crimes were committed. A man hunting with Titus that day also backed up that alibi to a point, saying he was with Titus except for 2-4 pm, which is the time frame the murders occurred.
Meanwhile, two witnesses near the crime scene saw a car stuck in a ditch right after two gunshots were heard. They offered to help and got a look at the driver, and it wasn’t Titus. He was described as sweaty, and nervous, and declined the help. A police sketch of the driver looked a lot like a serial killer wanted in Ohio for killing hunters. Two days after the murders, Titus claimed he found a shotgun gun belonging to one of the victims. It had been wiped clean.
The murders went unsolved until 2000, when cold case detectives took a closer look at Titus. One detective concluded two separate gunmen killed the victims. He was removed from the case and his theory never came to light in the trial. Two others worked with the Prosecutor’s Office and Jeff Titus was charged. During the trial, Titus’ attorney, William Fette, never called the original detectives who cleared him in 1990. He never brought up the alibi at all. Titus was convicted.
The victims in the case, Estes and Bennett, had ties to illegal drugs, including the illegal growing or selling of marijuana. The two apparently did not know each other though and were not hunting together.
Titus hired a private investigator to help him at trial. The PI ended up marrying Titus’ ex-wife after the two divorced in 2002.
The U of M Innocence Clinic took up the case in 2011 after initial investigators reached out to them with concerns about the trial. Two appeals have failed so far. “Killer in Question” will ask whether the man in prison actually committed the crime and if one set of detectives got the story very wrong. Producer Jacinda Davis hopes some new evidence will be brought to light, after the broadcast airs. She'll be a guest on the WBCK Morning Show this Friday at 8:45 am.
WOOD-TV8 did a short documentary on the case a few years ago.