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Gruesome Mio murders

Rick Coates - February 1st, 2007
In 1985 when two buddies from the Detroit suburbs ventured north to go deer hunting, their expectations were like many who come to Northern Michigan for a weekend getaway. A chance to enjoy the solitude the area offers and an opportunity to escape the “big city.” When Brian Ognjan and David Tyll didn’t return from their weekend excursion, their family and friends expected foul play.
They were correct, but it would take investigators nearly 18 years to solve this gruesome crime. Writer Tom Henderson – who splits his time between a one-room schoolhouse home east of Traverse City and in the Detroit suburb of St. Clair Shores – captured this spellbinding tale of two senseless and grisly murders near the small Ausable River community of Mio, in his book “Darker Than Night”.
Henderson’s book is part of the popular St. Martin’s True Crime Library Series and was published in the fall
of 2006.
Tom Henderson’s name might be better recognized for his coverage of the state’s running scene for “Michigan Runner” or avid readers of the “Detroit Free Press” sports section in the 1970’s remember Henderson’s columns and coverage of the Red Wings and Michigan Football.
Recently Henderson has been on the banking beat for “Crain’s Detroit Business,” covering the financial and technology scene.
So “True Crime” writing doesn’t seem to fit the Henderson “MO,” but then again Henderson never set out to be a writer. He graduated from Michigan State University in 1970 with a political science degree and returned home to his native Detroit in search of work.
“There just were not a lot of jobs out there for political science majors unless you had a Masters or Ph.D,” said Henderson. “So I landed a job at the “Detroit Free Press” for 80 bucks a week, delivering pencils and making copies. Eventually I worked my way up and became a sports writer.”
Just as he fell into a career as a sports writer, the same can be said for his work as an author for one of the top publishing houses in the world.
“A writer that I worked with several years ago was contacted by a New York literary agent and referred the agent on to me,” said Henderson. “I hadn’t even spoke to this writer in 15 years but saw a piece by her and sent her an e-mail to say hello, and the next thing this agent is calling me.”
That was seven years ago and Henderson signed on and wrote his first book for St. Martin: “A Deadly Affair.” The book sold well and Henderson was signed on for another book: “Blood Justice.” The two books collectively have sold more than 170,000 copies. Based on his previous success, St. Martin released 70,000 copies of “Darker Than Night” for the book’s initial run.
“These True Crime books do very well for them. They are very profitable as these books have a huge following,” said Henderson. “They’re easy reads, beach books or good for long flights. Page turners and nothing real heavy, but people find them intriguing.”
Americans are intrigued by crime. It is often the lead stories in newspapers and the local television news covers even basic break-ins. “Court TV” remains popular and crime shows like “CSI” have strong ratings.
So with the success of his first three books St. Martin has signed him to a contract for three more. His next book will have a Northern Michigan setting to it.
“I have started work on the Florence Unger murder that happened in Benzie,” said Henderson. “I submitted the idea to the publisher during the trial, and of course the book isn’t going to happen unless a guilty verdict is turned in.”
As for the toughest part of writing these books, for Henderson it is that feeling he gets in his stomach when he starts the interview process.
“It is hard to make that initial call to someone who has lost a loved one to a murder, and in the case of my previous books, some pretty gruesome murders, and ask them to talk to you about it when you are going to profit from it,” said Henderson. “What I have found, though, has been a general outpouring of support by the loved ones. They want the stories of the victims told. It is gut wrenching and a lot of tears are shed.”
Henderson, who spends a lot of time at the old one room schoolhouse (between Traverse City and Kalkaska) he bought after he graduated from college, comes north, like many, to escape these sorts of things. He said it is shocking anytime a murder happens, but more so up north, than in Detroit..
“Every so often, in my neighborhood, you hear gunshots and you expect that in Detroit,” said Henderson. “When those of us down here think about Northern Michigan, we just don’t expect things like murder to happen.”
Henderson said that the Mio case “was big news downstate,” and the gruesome details give even the most rugged hunter the chills and a constant look over the shoulder.
“I took an interest in the story right when it happened,” said Henderson.
“There was a lot of speculation, ranging from murder, to these guys splitting to Hawaii. and every so often tidbits would reappear in the paper until the case was finally broken wide open by State Police investigator Bronco Lesneski.”
In the book. Henderson takes readers on a spellbinding trip to what at first seemed to be a case of two guys who vanished, maybe at their own doing, to a tale of wrong turns, too much booze, axes, a wood chipper and pig feed.
So does Henderson think the two Duvall brothers, convicted of the murders in 2003, might have committed other murders in Northern Michigan?
“Probably not. I am not sure they ever set out to commit these,” said Henderson. “I think they just planned to beat the shit out of these two hunters, and when they split the head open of the one and realized that they had killed him, they knew they had to kill the other one to keep it a secret.”
How was their secret revealed, especially since the bodies were never found? The answer is in the book.
When he is not writing about the financial or technology happenings in Detroit or researching his next True Crime book, Henderson spends his time enjoying the Northern Michigan outdoors. He is an avid runner who participates in and writes about several road and trail runs in Northern Michigan. Henderson also kayaks, and in the winter is an avid snowshoer. He and his wife have an antiques and collectibles business, and the two are regulars at the Elk Rapids Antiques Warehouse.

Catch Tom Henderson this Saturday February 3 from 1 to 3 pm at Horizon Books in downtown Traverse City. He will be signing copies of his current book “Darker Than Night,” a must read for crime buffs and anyone who hunts in Northern Michigan.
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