Cold case: Trooper to tell how he solved double homicide
May 16, 2007
By Barb Pert Templeton
It's been 33 years since Robert "Bronco" Lesneski graduated from Richmond High School, but he recalls his childhood in the city quite warmly. He says Richmond was a place where everybody knew each other and everyone looked forward to the Good Old Days Festival
"It's a beautiful area; I loved the small town atmosphere," said Lesneski, now the first lieutenant post commander for the Michigan State Police in East Tawas. "If I did something bad, my parents knew it by the end of the day. They'd also find out the good things."
Finding things out has actually become a focal point for Lesneski during his long career in law enforcement. In fact, he played a key role in solving a notorious double homicide in northern Michigan. The 18-year quest to bring a pair of killers to justice for the murders of two hunters who went missing in Oscoda County in 1985 received national media attention.
When former Detroit Free Press sports writer Tom Henderson chronicled the case in the book "Darker than Night" in 2006, the very first pages give credit to Lesneski for finally solving the murders.
Lesneski was a detective with the Michigan State Police in West Branch and inherited the case when he was transferred to Oscoda County in 1998. He believes that's where the murders of the two hunters, David Tyll and Brian Ognjan, both 27, took place in 1985.
The case was still marked "open" when he arrived in East Tawas.
"If it's a homicide investigation, we don't close it," Lesneski said. "I was familiar with it ... I was a trooper at the Northville Post when the incident occurred."
A large box at the East Tawas Post contained all the investigative work done on the case over the years. Lesneski turned to it when he had free time from his regular duties and methodically put all the paperwork in a large alphabetical index.
"Case management is monumental. It's a long process, and you have to follow through and take it on confidence in your mind that you're not spinning your wheels. There's got to be a light at the end of the tunnel," he said.
Tips were logged, but they came in at a slower pace as the years passed. The annual surge of hunters to the north woods always brought the case back to the public eye - usually through media stories still wondering what happened to the two best friends who never came home.
Then, there were the families of the two missing men. Lesneski said he became quite close to them. They would work together and saturate the area with flyers about their sons while seeking any information from the community. The reward for information eventually soared from $5,000 when the men first went missing to $100,000 in 2002.
"There was a lot of notoriety with this case over the years; several major television programs were done on it, and the case was viewed by several million people just here in this state," Lesneski said.
In the meantime, he kept working the case, using dogs, divers and old-fashioned legwork that included plenty of knocking on doors across the rural community. At times he was known to carry a shovel in his car to do some digging of his own if tips on possible evidence locations came in.
"It just really grew and grew; we had tentacles all over the place but, still, lots of the tips were just ... people talking about rumors in bars," Lesneski said. "But I still felt like shame on me if I didn't track them all down."
One of the keys to solving the mystery and eventually getting a conviction of brothers Raymond Duvall Jr., then 52, and Donald Duvall, then 51, for first degree murder was a witness Lesneski stumbled upon. Not mentioned in any of the initial investigative reports, Lesneski was given her name and literally knocked on doors in rural Mio for weeks, on his own time, until he found Barb Bourdo.
The woman became the star witness for the prosecution after spending nearly two decades reluctant to talk about the crime.
"It literally took me years to get her as a witness; she thought I was going to get her killed," he said. "Anyone who knew anything was afraid to come forward. Two witnesses had already been killed. I had to nurture the relationship for a long time until she really trusted me."
Bourdo eventually testified to having snuck through the woods behind her home one night in November1985 where she witnessed the Duvall brothers murdering the young hunters. She told her story as a courtroom of family and friends for both the victims and the defendants sat, spellbound, at the trial in 2003.
She recalled how Tyll and Ognjan were mercilessly beaten to death in a clearing in the wooded area as they begged for their lives.
Dozens of other witnesses came forward at the trial, only willing to testify now that the Duvalls were in custody. Many stated how the brothers bragged about the murders over the years including claims that they fed the hunters' bodies to their pet pigs.
Deliberations lasted less than three hours before the jury found the Duvalls guilty of first degree murder; and they were sentenced to life in prison, according to Henderson' account in "Darker than Night."
To say Lesneski was jubilant about the trial's outcome would almost lessen the years he put into the case. He said he was determined to find justice for the men's families, no matter how long it took.
"There was no venue, never any physical evidence, no causes of death; but there were volumes and volumes of circumstantial evidence," Lesneski said. "I really wanted this for the families and to not have these two get away with this crime."
In fact, Lesneski was so determined to get something - a wallet, some identification or the victims' weapons - for the families that he paid a visit to the elder Duvall brother in prison.
"If looks could kill, I'd have been dead when I walked in there to see him," Lesneski recalled.
Despite his displeasure about the visit, Raymond Duvall Jr. did speak with Lesneski, still proclaiming his innocence for the murders. And, ironically, according to Lesneski, hinted that his brother "might" have been involved.
Lesneski has agreed to visit Richmond this week to do a fund-raiser for the Richmond Community Theatre. He will be at Richmond High School for a book signing on Thursday, May 17, at 7:30 p.m. Lesneski will also give a behind-the-scenes lecture on the case. Admission is $10, or $20 with a book, which Lesneski will sign. The author won't be there.
Proceeds from the event benefit the Richmond Community Theatre, which wants to add a handicapped accessible lavatory and an elevator.