HOLLAND, Mich. – For more than a quarter century, the brutal sex slaying of Hope College student Janet Chandler baffled law enforcement officials.
As the case grew colder with each passing year, it was becoming less likely that whoever was responsible would be brought to justice.
Then, a few years ago, a film class at Hope produced a documentary about the unsolved mystery that sparked new interest in the case. After the film aired on a Grand Rapids television station in January 2004, investigators started getting tips again.
Following up on the new information, they arrested Robert Lynch, 66, of Three Oaks, in February of this year and charged him in connection with the 1979 homicide. At the time, authorities said other arrests were possible.
Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox announced Wednesday that five more arrests had been made, including four men and a woman who was the victim's roommate and boss. They were taken into custody Monday and Tuesday in Michigan, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Wisconsin.
"It has always been the mission of all parties involved in this investigation to ensure that the family of Janet Chandler sees justice. That day is now coming closer," Cox said during a news conference at the Holland Police Department.
The victim's parents, James and Glenna Chandler, of Muskegon, attended the news conference but declined to speak to reporters.
Authorities said Janet Chandler was working her job as a clerk at the Blue Mill Inn on Jan. 31, 1979, when she was kidnapped by the six suspects and taken to a house where she was beaten, raped and strangled.
A snowplow driver discovered her body a day later about 35 miles south of Holland in a wooded turnaround on Interstate 196.
Cox identified those arrested this week as:
— James Cleophas "Bubba" Nelson, 59, of Rand, W.Va.
— Arthur Carlton "Carl" Paiva, 54, of Muskegon
— Freddie Bass Parker, 49, of Powellton, W.Va.
— Laurie Ann Swank, 48, of Nescopeck, Pa.
— Anthony Eugene Williams, 55, of Boscobel, Wis.
All were jailed after their arrests.
Parker's sister Annette Bennett said her brother had left Michigan a day or two before Chandler was killed and was in West Virginia when it happened.
"My brother is innocent. My brother would not hurt a flea," said Bennett, 41, of Belle, W.Va.
Parker's brother Eddie Parker said he didn't believe investigators had any evidence against his brother other than Lynch's word.
"It would really surprise me if he really did this," said Parker, 51, of Powellton, W.Va. "After 27 years, I don't think he could keep it in. ... I don't think he could hold something like that in all these years."
A telephone message seeking comment was left for Freddie Parker's attorney, Tim Lafon.
Ronni Sheets, a Kanawha County, W.Va., public defender representing Nelson, said she had not yet met with him and had no comment.
Attempts to reach the other suspects' attorneys or relatives for comment were unsuccessful.
Holland police Chief John A. Kruithoff said all five were taken into custody in their hometowns. Like Lynch, the five new suspects were arrested on warrants charging each of them with three counts of first-degree murder.
Each person is charged with premeditated murder and committing a murder during the commission of two other felonies, which in this case included kidnapping and criminal sexual conduct.
If convicted, each faces a mandatory life prison sentence with no possibility of parole.
While authorities declined to rule out the possibility of more arrests, Kruithoff said they were "confident we have identified those responsible for Janet's death."
The five men, including Lynch, were working as security guards for the same company at the time of the killing and were in Holland because they were on assignment at a local labor strike. Lynch, Nelson, Parker and Williams were temporarily residing at the Blue Mill Inn, while Paiva lived in a corporate guest house near the site of the strike.
Swank worked as a night-shift supervisor at the hotel and is accused of "enticing and encouraging the men to do what they did," Cox said.
Chandler was assaulted and slain at the guest house, then her body was dumped near the highway, police said.
Cox's Office of Special Investigations, created in 2003 to investigate and prosecute public corruption and cold-case homicides, is handling the case and jointly filed charges with the Ottawa County prosecutor's office.
The arrests stemmed largely from evidence uncovered by a cold-case investigative team made up of detectives from Michigan State Police and the Holland police.
Asked whether Lynch, who goes on trial in January, implicated the others after his arrest, Kruithoff said, "He was talking to us."
As for a motive, Ottawa County Prosecutor Ron Frantz would say only that each suspect had "a common drive to brutalize Janet Chandler."