By Kyle Swenson | The Washington Post
Last summer, a Michigan felon then living in Southern California powered up a Facebook account and let rip.
“I am no angel. If I get pissed I kill,” Michael Leon Curry wrote on Facebook on June 28, 2018. “I have never killed anyone who did not — who didn’t deserve it.”
Around 2,000 miles away, investigators with the Michigan State Police were carefully noting Curry’s online statements. Rather than the usual social media bombast, these investigators believed the comments were a hatchway into the mind of an alleged killer. They knew they were dealing with a longtime suspect in a cold case who was shockingly open about his alleged crime.
Earlier this month, Michigan authorities traveled to California with an arrest warrant for Curry. On March 17, the 51-year-old suspect was transported back to Bangor, Mich., about 28 miles west of Kalamazoo, and charged in the 1986 slaying of a nurse’s aide, West Michigan’s WWMT reported.
According to information provided at a probable cause hearing held earlier this month and recently made public, not only had Curry been a suspect during the early days of the 1986 investigation, but he also had confessed to the crime — at least four times.
Curry allegedly confessed to a cellmate; confessed in interviews with investigators; and even confessed in writing. Before heading into custody in 1989 for a lengthy prison sentence for an unrelated crime, Curry again allegedly tried to communicate his guilt. But despite all his efforts, the suspect was never charged.
“A lot of people didn’t believe [his confession] at the time,” Tim Wydick, the original police investigator on the case, told WOOD. “People thought he was trying to get attention.”
Authorities have not detailed what has changed to lead investigators to now file charges. Curry remains in custody, charged with first-degree homicide. His attorney did not immediately return a request for comment.
Wilda Wilkinson’s grown daughter Rhonda realized something was wrong when she learned her mother had not shown up for work. It was July 29, 1986, and Wilkinson’s co-workers at a hospital had called Rhonda about the nurse’s aide’s no-show.
According to testimony given this month in a probable cause hearing, Rhonda drove to her mother’s house in Bangor, a single-story bungalow shaded by a hulking tree in the front yard and wrapped with a waist-high chain-link fence.
All the doors and windows were locked, according to testimony at the hearing. Wilkinson’s car was in the driveway. Rhonda forced the screen off a back window and crawled inside. She found her mother dead on the bedroom floor.
Wilkinson, 59, had bruising around her neck. The dead woman’s nightgown had also been tampered with, police would later determine. The top of the gown was pulled down, and the bottom was lifted above her waist. The victim’s underwear were also missing from the body. An autopsy ruled Wilkinson’s death a homicide.
Investigators questioned a number of possible suspects in the case, including Curry, who lived near the victim. On Aug. 21, 1986, Curry was arrested on an unrelated unarmed robbery charge, according to testimony at the hearing. While he was in custody, his cellmate in the jail, Robert Pritchard, told investigators in January 1987 that Curry had confessed to the Wilkinson killing.
Pritchard also showed detectives a letter allegedly written by Curry admitting to the crime.
When investigators interviewed Curry, he “confessed to committing the crime by strangling Wilda Wilkinson with his hands in her house,” Michigan State Police Sgt. Kyle Gorham testified at the probable cause hearing. “Michael Curry provided detailed information of the crime.”
According to Curry, he had been planning to rob the house when he knocked on the front door to see if anyone was home. “[H]e was startled when a female surprised him by answering the door,” Gorham said. “Upon her answering the door he pushed the female victim . . . inside the residence.” Curry then said “he strangled the victim with his hands.”
Curry also told detectives how he arranged Wilkinson’s clothing and took her underwear to make the scene look like a sex crime.
“Michael Curry confessed twice verbally” about the crime to investigators, Gorham told the court. But still he was not charged.
Despite knowing the details of the crime — including the color of the underwear taken from the victim — the police were suspicious of Curry’s confession, an investigator told WOOD. Curry’s account lacked other specific details.
“We put him on a polygraph and at first he said, ‘I’ll tell you all about it,’ then we put him on a polygraph, he reneged everything,” a detective told the television station. “We thought that he was just screwing with us basically, because he was that kind of a guy.”
Wydick, another original detective on the case, told WOOD that his team presented their evidence to prosecutors, who decided against issuing an arrest warrant in the case because of a lack of physical evidence backing up Curry’s confession.
But the suspect was not done taking credit for the crime.
In December 1989, Curry was arrested after nearly beating his roommate to death. He was eventually convicted by a jury of assault with intent to kill. But a day after Curry’s arrest in 1989, an anonymous letter was sent to Wydick.
According to the probable cause hearing, the letter again referred to the Wilkinson attack: “almost 41 months have passed, 1,233 days since that fatal hot and humid July night,” the note stated, correctly referring to the amount of time that had passed since the killing. The note also again referenced how Wilkinson had been found without her underwear in an attempt to make the crime look sexually motivated.
Although the letter was unsigned, forensic analysis showed Curry’s fingerprints were on the note. But again, he was not charged.
Curry served nearly 27 years for his assault conviction until his release in 2017, WWMT reported.
The Wilkerson investigation went cold for decades until a renewed push from the victim’s family prompted the Michigan State Police to reopen the case in 2010.
“Her daughters were really pushing to get this solved because they wanted to find out who was responsible while they were still alive,” Michigan State Police Lt. Shane Criger told WWMT.
According to testimony at the probable cause hearing, investigators began monitoring Curry’s Facebook account by at least last summer. Detectives also revealed they exhumed Wilkinson’s body in October 2018 for further forensic tests, more than three decades after her death.
Prosecutors have yet to reveal what other new information led them to charging the man who has been so open in claiming his guilt in the 1986 crime.
“I have no idea what they’ve done over the last year,” an investigator who worked on the case told WOOD. “I have no idea what new information or anything they have.”