August 8, 2020

Doubt: Anne Avery Miller

Nov. 1, 2009
Anne Avery Miller says she’s guilty of
a mental meltdown… but not murder

By Anne Stanton 11/2/09

The fate of Anne Avery Miller—an attractive barber from Elk Rapids who was suspected of killing her troubled 16-year-old son two years ago—depends on the outcome of an ongoing closed court proceeding.
The decision on whether to charge Miller, 39, will likely be made within a month, said Antrim County Prosecutor Charlie Koop.
It’s a decision long in coming. On November 7, 2007, Sam was found with a gunshot wound to his head. Police initially thought Sam committed suicide because he was devastated by the death of two friends and his boss. Shortly after his death, Miller turned in a suicide note that she found in one of Sam’s notebooks.
By then Anne Miller became an unofficial suspect, in part, because an autopsy on the day of Sam’s death revealed that he had pointed the gun at the back of his head at a downward angle—deemed unusual for a suicide (usually a person shoots at his mouth or temple). Police also discovered that Miller had written an ominous suicide note, and obituaries for herself, Sam and her five-year-old daughter a few weeks prior to Sam’s death.
After Sam’s death, Anne fled town on January 22, 2008, returning on February 25, leaving friends to fear she was murdered;
in fact, she drove to a Las Vegas women’s shelter, where she cleaned and painted houses.

Anne contacted the Express last spring to give her side of the story.
“I was pushed over the edge of being scared. My daughter had been taken from me. There were threats. ‘I’m going to kill you threats’ because everyone believed I was a child killer. That’s why I left,” she said. “…I am the monster of the year and it’s awful. I am the Britney Spears of Northern Michigan.”
In August of this year, Sam’s death was deemed a homicide by David Start, a forensic pathologist in Grand Rapids, but prosecutor Koop offered few details.
Anne has hired Clinton Township attorney Carl Marlinga, a former Macomb County prosecutor. Marlinga is working with Werner Spitz, a forensic pathologist who worked on the Jon Bonet/Ramsey case and the O.J. Simpson civil trial.
Anne believes Sam killed himself, in part, for several reasons – he stole a gun from her stepfather’s house a few weeks before his death; a classmate committed suicide; and then his close friend, Nichole Ridgeway, and another friend died in a car accident. He also dropped out of school and spoke to her often of suicide.
“I have no motive. Why would I ever kill my own son? I loved my children with all my heart. There was certainly a motive for Sam to kill himself. It was common knowledge he was going through some really, really tough times.”
Koop has made little comment on the case, except to caution against the Express doing a story: “Here is a woman who found her son dead and waited for four hours to call 9-11. What kind of mother does that?”
He also said that Anne Avery Miller can’t be trusted with the truth.
The following account will represent Miller’s interpretation of the events, as well as the viewpoint of Koop. His views are derived from a thick file of previously sealed 86th District Court documents that were used to justify search warrants.

Anne is a pretty, willowy woman, living with her dog in a tidy Williamsburg condo decorated with Christian plaques. At the time of the interview, she had changed her last name and was working in an upscale Traverse City hair salon.
Anne explained that the year before Sam died was extremely stressful, leading her to thoughts of suicide. Her story is a convoluted tale, involving revenge, lies, and a couple’s immaturity at the expense of their daughter, whose name Express is not using in this story. In fact—long before Sam’s death—the Elk Rapids police department had several dealings with Anne, her ex-husband, and her ex-boyfriend.
Anne’s story began with her ex-husband Lance Miller, who she divorced in 2005 when their daughter was three and Sam was 14. The Millers’ custody agreement – originally amicable – had dissolved into a fierce tug-of-war over their daughter, who was three at the time. “War of the Roses has nothing on us,” said Anne.
The police were occasionally called to sort things out. A recurring issue was over who was allowed to drive the daughter around town since Lance’s license had been pulled due to drunk driving convictions.
Police were also involved in December of 2004, when Avery’s barbershop was set on fire. Lance was pursued as a primary suspect, but never charged.
In April of 2005, the insurance company wrote to Avery and asked about three tanning beds that were supposedly destroyed in the fire. She wrote back and said they had been put in a dumpster. In October of 2005, She wrote again that the beds were destroyed shortly after the fire. In fact, two of the beds were at a Traverse City tanning company, and one was at the home of Anne’s mother.
Anne said that Lance helped load them onto the truck to their new destinations.
“I didn’t move the beds. That was Lance’s thing. But I was guilty of saying the beds went to the landfill. That was where Lance was supposed to have taken them to. It was my fault, my insurance, my life. What I denied is that I did it all by myself. Plus, he called the Michigan State Police and told them where they were,” Anne said. (Lance declined to be interviewed for this story.)

In the fall of 2005, Anne began dating a long-time barbershop customer, Gerald Baker. Over the next year, Baker showered her with gifts, including an Envoy Denali and diamonds from Tiffany’s. Baker’s estimate of the gifts and paid bills was around $165,000, according to an Elk Rapids Police transcript, including thousands to pay Anne’s divorce attorney and hospital bills,
Baker told police that his wife had filed for divorce in June of 2006, and that he planned to marry Anne. But on an August 12, 2006 dinner date, Anne told Baker that she had used his credit card number to buy some items at He was infuriated that she hadn’t asked his permission. She thought it was okay, saying that Baker had told her “what’s mine is yours” in regards to the credit card numbers.
On September 11, 2006, Baker took his first legal action against Miller, filing a complaint with the Antrim County Sheriff’s Department for credit card fraud, saying she used the card 24 times.

Pressures escalated in late 2006 and Anne felt herself begin to slide. At Christmastime, one of Anne’s closest relatives—her grandma’s partner—was dying of cancer, and her sister-in-law’s premature baby was battling organ failure.
Then on Christmas day, she called her daughter at Lance’s home, but only reached voice mail. When he called her back on December 26, Anne said that he refused to say where they were adding that, “It doesn’t matter if we’re in California or Timbuktu. She’s with me and I’m not bringing her back.”
In the next few days, Anne called the Traverse City and Elk Rapids police and virtually everyone she knew.
“Oh I was hysterical. I had moments of just losing it. I screamed, I yelled, I cried, I swore, I did everything I could to find out where the heck they were. And to stop him if he was going to try to go any further.”
Police informed Anne on December 26 that Lance’s attorney had made contact with them, said they were at Disneyland, and would return on January 1, 2007. Not willing to believe it, she made more phone calls and posted missing child posters all over Elk Rapids, with a picture of her daughter, “last seen with Lance Miller.”
Lance was enraged, according to custody file documents.
Just after Lance returned from Disney, he bumped into her former boyfriend Jerry Baker at a hardware store. A couple of weeks later, they met for lunch at Chili’s and talked about their experiences with Anne, according to the Elk Rapids police transcript.
Their friendship sealed, Baker agreed to testify in March in the Millers’ custody over parenting time. Lance’s new wife, Pam (Hubbell) Miller, an attorney in Florida was assisting with the case.

When Anne learned that Baker would testify in a custody hearing over her daughter, she initially told him she was sorry he’d been “drug into this.” But on June 5, 2007, when she felt there was an organized effort to bring her down, she sent Baker an email that read in part: “The fact that you are still hanging on to this is disturbing.”
On June 12, she sent a letter that asked Baker if he was “having fun” researching her life history. The two-page letter also included withering comments about his male anatomy.
Two weeks after the letter, Baker accused Anne of swerving at him with her mini-van as he was about to get in his Porsche in front of the Elk Rapids post office. Anne later testified that she didn’t remember seeing Baker as she drove by. She explained that the narrow lane makes it physically impossible to do what he claimed.
Baker told police that if he had opened his door, it would have been taken off. The only witness, Eva Mae Diaz, said that Baker was actually getting into the car with his door completely open. Despite the discrepancies, Anne was formally charged with felonious assault with a deadly weapon.

Scared by her depression, thoughts of suicide, and her desire to kill Lance, Anne admitted herself to Center One, the mental health unit of Munson Medical Center, on August 10, 2007.
“The major stressor was repeated harassment by her ex-husband by way of filing false charges against her for a variety of alleged offenses,” said a Munson Medical report. “ … She had to respond to 16 different legal charges and she believes he hired a private investigator to follow her.”
Anne was now living with a boyfriend and his three children (ages 9, 12 and 16). The couple agreed to remove all firearms from her house.
Sam was also sinking into depression, said Anne, adding that she had inappropriately confided in him about her legal and money problems. She later told police that Sam and another friend had thought of killing Lance.
“A person from Third Level came in on Thursdays to Sam’s school. Sam had been seeing her on his own at school and at some point she called to let me know that she had to leave and she really felt Sam still needed someone else to talk to. …. He was very much aware of our money situation and said it was too expensive and didn’t want to go.”
Sam’s life was never easy, Anne said. At 6’5 and 270 lbs., Sam thought of himself as a misfit, and disliked by Lance. Yet he also had friends who shared his love of drama, air soft wars, Halo 3, and talk of the world being taken over by zombies. On the evening of October 26, Sam spent the night camping and playing air-soft wars with friends. Nichole “Choley” Ridgeway, his friend. She was supposed to go home that night, but Sam took away her keys, feeling she wasn’t fit to drive. The next morning, Sam had to go to work at the McDonald’s in Acme, and planned to get a ride to his mom’s house (to pick up a car) with Ridgeway. But Ridgeway was taking too long to get ready so he hopped in a different car, Anne said.

Shortly after Sam left, Ridgeway got into her car with Andrew Bussa and Jonathon Hosner as passengers. On her drive north on Elk Lake Road, she took a curve too fast and crashed into a telephone pole. Ridgeway died in the accident and Bussa was taken to Munson Medical Center.
As soon as Sam arrived at his McDonald’s job, he learned that his boss had died the night before. When he turned his cell phone on at lunch, he learned of the car crash.
Sam was the pallbearer for Ridgeway at a school funeral, where he hyperventilated and collapsed. “Sam was a mess,” said Anne, who was called to the school to help her son. “He died when Choley (Ridgeway) hit the telephone pole. I was not in a stable enough mind to be the help he needed. The week before he died he said, ‘Mom I’m going to kill myself.’ I didn’t handle it well at all. I said, ‘How do you think you’re going to do that? If you hold the gun in front of your face you could blow off your nose. If you swallow pills, you’ll have to get your stomach pumped and you’ll throw up for days. It was my feeble attempt to say, ‘It never works.’ It was a horrible awful thing to say and looking back, it was a challenge to do it right.”

Sam never went back to school; he made plans to attend an alternative school. Anne said he was sleeping upstairs in his bedroom, when she and her daughter left the house at 7:45 a.m. for a doctor’s appointment and errands.
When they returned at noon, Anne said she had put her daughter down for a nap and was checking the house for garbage. That’s when she found Sam, lying dead in bed.
Anne told police that she walked out of the room, shut the door, and stood there. Then she went back in the bedroom and took the gun downstairs.
“I thought Lance was now going to get (our daughter) for good, and I quit. He can have her, and I’ll go with Sam. I was thinking stupid things. That this proved I was a terrible mother, and I needed to hide him. But what would I do with a 270-pound kid? What was I going to tell people? I didn’t want anybody to know. I walked in there; it was my fault. I let my kid do this. I was the biggest failure as a mother in the world, and I just proved it to Lance.”
Anne said after she carried the gun downstairs, she went to the breadbox where she kept her Xanax, a prescription anti-anxiety drug. She also took Temazepam (a sleep agent) and drank two glasses of Smirnoff vodka. Anne told police that if the Smirnoff and pills didn’t work, the gun would.
She then lay down in her bed with her daughter, who in a later interview, said she felt a gun at the foot of her bed. She picked it up and moved it “somewhere where it’s really soft and where I won’t feel it anymore when I’m taking a nap at Mom’s house.”

Hours passed. Anne and her daughter slept until her boyfriend’s two children, a girl age 9, and her brother, age 13, came home after school. The boy, who shared a room with Sam, opened the bedroom door and saw the gruesome scene, and eventually all three children did. Anne’s daughter later told the police that “blood was coming out of his nose and brain was coming out of his head.”
Anne, who was heavily sedated, couldn’t walk or respond to her 5-year-old daughter, who was sobbing on the couch, according to police reports.
Documents in the police and court files contain conflicting reports of where the .22 caliber revolver was found—in Sam’s bedroom, in Anne’s bedroom, and that Anne’s daughter brought a gun from Sam’s room.
The gun belonged to Anne’s mother, Joann Szymkawiak, and Merrill, her husband (now ex) who kept it in the basement, and that Anne and Sam were last in their home on October 13.

On the day of Sam’s death, Ashley Secord, Sam’s friend, told Detective James Janisse of the Antrim County Sheriff’s Department that “she had a conversation with Sam Avery” that suggested that Anne may have been considering murder/suicide.
Sam Avery had told Ashley Secord that he and his mother were not doing so well—that his mother asked him ‘If this was it, are you going to do it?’ and that she suggested they ‘do it together.’ Sam further told Ashley Secord that ‘she had been planning at one point to shoot me and then kill herself’ and that Sam wanted to get a lock on his bedroom door. Sam reported that this ‘really freaked me out.’”
“Secord told the deputy that she asked Sam if he or his mom were getting any help. Sam told her, ‘Well, she has got an appointment with a shrink set up, but I don’t really wanna go, cuz he’ll want to talk about it, and I don’t want to, I think I’m fine.’”
Sam told Secord that Anne had given him some of her drugs to help him. He also said, “My Mom’s pretty much done. She’s gonna do it. I am just worried that I’m going to end up in Detroit.”
Court documents said that Joy Albright, a coworker, arrived at Anne’s home. On the kitchen table, she saw handwritten notes that appeared to be written by Anne. In one part of the note was written: “Tonight I will sleep at the next level. I will hold my children with no more fear and pain. … We will be together in peace.”
Later, police found a computer printed document with the obituaries for Anne, Sam and Anne’s daughter, written so that it’s reported that none of them survive the other.
Also found was a Word document, Psalms 55, with a handwritten note that said “Pastor Dan Please Read” at the top and “Take me home Jehovah” on the bottom. Another, titled Psalms 54, had a note: “Sam wants open casket. I want cremation thrown into Lake Michigan. [Name of daughter] wants a princess dress.” The notes appeared to be in Anne’s handwriting.
Anne said she wrote the obituaries after Ridgeway died; she imagined what it was like to be a parent and try to write about your child’s life in the throes of grief.
“There were three other kids who died that month, and it was weighing on my mind, not that my mind was rational. But my thoughts were, ‘If I died today, who would take care of this? If my kids died, who would do this?’ And I wrote it (in case) it ever happened.”
In terms of the suicide note, Anne said she doesn’t remember anything after taking the pills.
“I don’t know what to tell you. I was venting all kinds of crazy, drunken thoughts over a period of months before Sam died. I haven’t read the journal in two years, and I’m sure it doesn’t look good. I can’t really explain it. If I were to write a journal today, I think you’d be horrified. It really stinks when someone is so depressed.”

While Anne was in the hospital, her uncle had cleaned up Sam’s room, stacking about 20 of Sam’s journals on his desk. Anne said she went through them and came across a drawing Sam had made, writing his words in the shape of a spiral. He wrote:
“I’m sorry … .but it’s the only way to stop the pain. I couldn’t help it. Piss me off and I’ll come back as a ghost to rape you! There is no other way. Don’t touch my stuff when I’m … I will not feel anymore. I love you, good bye. I’m a sore, tortured soul. It has to be Done. I hope you’re happy with him. My life can’t go on like this, I will love you forever. I will never forget you. I was never happy. It’s ok. It’s not your fault. I couldn’t help … “
Anne thinks the note might have been directed at a girl, who Sam liked.
Did Anne ever suggest to Sam that they die together, as Secord told police?
“No, Sam told me about being suicidal and I sure as hell wasn’t very good about what I said. I told him, life sucks, you’re right. But I never said, ‘Let’s do this together. I never encouraged him to do it.’”
Immediately after Sam’s death, Lance asked for and was granted sole custody of their five-year-old daughter. Since then, Anne said she’s only been able to see her daughter for one hour a week under supervision.
“On the day Sam died, I lost both of my children,” Anne said, but added that the court took proper action when they took her daughter away from her after Sam’s death.
“I didn’t protect her from the trauma one bit that unveiled afterwards. She said to me, ‘Mommy I was crying and crying, and you just sat there by Sam and you didn’t even help me.’ I deserve to have (my daughter) go to her dad. She needed to be with him; I will not deny that one bit after what happened to my daughter and the other kids. I wasn’t there. There was nobody there to help these poor kids.
“It was a horrible tragedy, that I was supposed to be an adult there, and I wasn’t. I wasn’t capable of helping anybody. If I had to do it all over again, I would think logically and call 911, and, of course, I would have done things differently. I’m not defending anything. I lost it. But it doesn’t mean I killed my son.”

And That’s Not All...

Here are other events of the last two years in Anne Avery Miller’s case:
• The investigation has included a handwriting analysis of Sam’s suicide note, but the results have not been publicized.

• Here’s what happened to the charges related to the tanning beds and Gerald Baker’s accusation that Anne Miller tried to hit him with her van (felonious assault with a weapon): Just before Anne fled town in January of 2008, prosecutor Koop decided to allow Anne to plea to a reduced charge of a careless driving ticket. But Koop rescinded the plea bargain (long story); Anne didn’t know it because she had left town and Koop notified her by letter. When she didn’t show up for a February hearing, she was then charged with an absconding bond. On March 27, a hearing was held by 13th Circuit Judge Phil Rodgers. Anne pled guilty to larceny by conversion and a careless driving ticket. She also agreed to be interviewed by police about Sam’s death. The charges for absconding were dropped.

• Anne’s mother, Joanne Szymkawiak took bullets out of a tote bag in Anne’s closet on January 16, 2008 despite police orders, and then lied about it (the lie was caught on police tape). She said she took the bullets out of the house for Anne’s safety.

• Gun powder was not found on Anne’s hands after Sam’s death, according to a search warrant document.

• No fingerprints were found on the gun used in Sam’s death, but that was “not a conclusive finding due to the fact that it is possible for a person to touch an object and not leave fingerprints behind,” reported Detective Sergeant Richard Simpson in a Michigan State Police interview transcript.

• After Lance divorced Anne, he married Pam Hubbell, an attractive and successful Florida attorney. She committed suicide in Florida on January 10, 2008, a fact much discussed in the blogosphere.

• Carol Chenolt Blue, an Elk Rapids hairdresser, pled guilty on May 29, 2008 of malicious use of telecommunication, for making 156 prank calls to Anne shortly after Sam was found dead. Anne said that only until she went to the Michigan State Police was the case pursued in earnest. Blue’s statement to the court as to why she did this? “I didn’t know it was illegal.”

• Copies of Anne’s suicide note and her psychiatric evaluation were passed around town, as well as Elk Rapids School.


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