Deer Season Double Homicide: How Michigan Killers Escaped Justice for 18 Years

Deer Season Double Homicide: How Michigan Killers Escaped Justice for 18 Years

Two Detroit-area men were likely bullshitting in November 1985 when telling friends and loved ones they were heading north to hunt the second weekend of Michigan’s deer season.

Instead of driving northwest 200 miles to his family’s cabin near White Cloud in west-central Michigan, David Tyll and his friend Brian Ognjan drove Tyll’s Ford Bronco 190 miles more northerly to Mio in Oscoda County. Once arriving Friday night, Tyll and Ognjan, both 27, spent much of the weekend of Nov. 22 drinking, bar-hopping, playing pool, and offending women. Neither bought a deer license, and there’s no indication they went hunting.

Either way, they never returned home. Nearly 18 years later, jurors at the Arenac County courthouse in Standish took only two hours to convict two Oscoda County brothers of the premeditated first-degree murders of Tyll and Ognjan. (The trial was moved from Mio because of extensive publicity.) The killers—Donald “Coco” Duvall and Raymond “J.R.” Duvall, ages 33 and 34 when committing the murders—used an aluminum baseball bat to beat Tyll and Ognjan to death with help from three other men who were never positively identified or charged in the murders.

Evidence or Rumors?

Jurors found the Duvalls guilty of the double homicide even though investigators never found Tyll and Ognjan’s remains. Neither did they find any of their clothing or possessions, which included hunting gear, a .45 revolver, Ognjan’s Marlin lever-action .35-caliber rifle, Tyll’s 12-gauge Ithaca shotgun, and Tyll’s 1980 Ford Bronco.

That lack of physical evidence isn’t surprising, given the Duvall brothers’ criminal skills and their reputations for silencing others. Tom Henderson is the author of “Darker Than Night,” a 2006 book he wrote for the True Crime Library series by St. Martin’s Press. The nearly 400-page book details the grisly murders, what led to them, and how a dogged State Police detective named Robert “Bronco” Lesneski finally cracked the case after finding the only surviving eyewitness and gaining her trust.

“The Duvalls were part of an extended family of felons who were involved in just about any crime you can imagine,” Henderson told MeatEater. “No one wanted to make their life harder by squealing on them.”

Witnesses at the Duvalls’ October 2003 murder trial said the brothers discussed the killings while drinking with family and friends. The witnesses said they overheard the Duvalls say they chopped up the bodies, sent the parts through a tree-chipping machine, and fed the remains to pigs on their backwoods property. The brothers also beat wives, friends, and girlfriends to ensure silence, sometimes reminding them, “pigs have to eat too.”

The Duvall family and their friends dismissed such claims as rumors, and the two brothers proclaimed their innocence when testifying at their trial. The brothers couldn’t deny, however, that they raised pigs; owned and operated chainsaws and tree-removal equipment; and were experts at cutting cars and trucks into untraceable parts for resale.

Backwoods Crime Family

J.R. and Coco Duvall were the oldest of seven brothers known for thievery, poaching, and brawling. Locals knew if you fought one Duvall today, you’d fight all seven tonight. Even law-enforcement officers seldom approached them alone. They found backup first.

In a 2018 interview, Henderson said the Duvall brothers are proof of evolution in crime. “They followed a criminal path and became masters of criminal behavior,” he said. “They were as comfortable stealing cars at night, cutting them up for parts, and selling the parts as they were poaching salmon, poaching deer, or tying into electrical lines to steal electricity for their houses. They were nasty criminals without a conscience. They were killers.”

Henderson recalled a “cinematic-worthy” incident that defines the Duvalls’ dark nature. “They held an annual backyard barbecue with their friends, family, and other ne’er-do-wells,” he said. “One time they worried they’d run low on meat, so they got their chainsaw, drove to a nearby field, shot a neighbor’s cow, and cut it up right there with their chainsaw. I can’t imagine what it’s like to butcher a cow with a chainsaw; all the blood, guts, tendons and viscera; right there on your neighbor’s property. And then to haul it home, drag the body parts into your house, and eat it? It’s so emotionless. It was their neighbor’s cow, but they felt entitled to it. Why go to a store when you can take it from your neighbor?”

Therefore, those who knew the Duvalls stayed alert, wary, and on edge in their presence. During the weekend of Nov. 22, 1985, several locals also noticed two 20-something strangers and pegged them as deer hunters from downstate. After all, hunters surge into Michigan’s Northwoods during deer season, which runs Nov. 15 through 30 every year.

But Tyll and Ognjan only looked the part. “I wouldn’t describe them as serious deer hunters, by any means,” Henderson told MeatEater.

Neither man, in fact, had ever killed a deer. Ognjan told his fiancé he’d let many deer walk by while hunting, and never even aimed at them. And soon after reaching Mio, Ognjan told a bartender they hadn’t gone to Tyll’s family deer camp because, “Who wants to smell farts all weekend?” Tyll, meanwhile, thought sitting in a deer blind was a good cure for hangovers. And rather than hunt deer during the previous weekend’s opener, Tyll took his wife to a party.

Tyll and Ognjan didn’t blend in around Mio. People noticed them, partly because Tyll, at 6-foot-2, towered over his half-pint friend. Plus, they drank too much. “They were loud and obnoxious and getting noticed for all the wrong reasons,” Henderson said. “There’s also the usual animosity that locals have for outsiders. So, it didn’t help that they made asses of themselves. Locals who saw them in the bars thought they were bad apples.”

Where are They?

Tyll, a machinist, and Ognjan, a mechanic, didn’t return home Sunday night or show up for work Monday, Nov. 25. Their families grew worried because both men were too dependable to cause such alarm. In the days and weeks that followed, both men’s families contacted media and prodded law-enforcement officers to help find them. They posted and handed out fliers with photos of the men and Tyll’s Bronco and persuaded TV stations to show their photos and descriptions statewide.

False sightings poured in from the White Cloud area, but Tyll’s father, a brother and others at the cabin knew they never arrived. Soon after, a man northwest of Mio confirmed Tyll and Ognjan had stopped in his driveway to ask directions that Friday, Nov. 22. He identified their photos and Tyll’s black Ford Bronco. He said they were looking for a high-school friend’s home near Luzerne, east of Mio. Their friend, however, said they never arrived and later took a lie-detector test to prove his credibility.

Police soon corroborated Tyll and Ognjan’s presence in bars and diners around Mio the weekend they disappeared. Investigators, however, never learned where they slept at night, or verified if they vanished Saturday night or Sunday night.

One woman who noticed them was Barbara Klimmek, who was playing pool and drinking at Linker’s Lounge, a bar west of Mio. Klimmek was out with her best friend, Ronnie Emery, to celebrate his first legal buck. After she and Emery finished their game and went to a table to drink, Klimmek told him the two “hunters” (Tyll and Ognjan) needed their asses kicked. She said the shorter one had grabbed her butt. She swore at him and told him to keep his hands to himself. Later, when she bent over the pool table to line up a shot, the tall one pressed his crotch against her while sliding by. She swore at him too. Klimmek later said she expected the men to look humiliated and slink away, but they simply put two quarters on the table and asked for the next game.

Klimmek glared as Tyll and Ognjan kept playing while bantering loudly with other patrons. Soon after, Coco and J.R. Duvall showed up with a friend. The Duvalls noticed the obnoxious strangers and confronted them after they antagonized a barmaid. Pushing, shoving, and shouting ensued, and Klimmek assumed a fight was brewing. She said things calmed down when she threatened to call the cops.

In fact, someone did call the Oscoda County Sheriff’s Department to report the disturbance. Unfortunately, the deputy on duty never showed up. Instead, he loitered at a nearby store, content to let the situation resolve itself. Hours later at about 2 a.m., the same deputy, Dick Smith, was driving nearby on State Highway M-72 when a black Ford Bronco suddenly bounced up from the ditch and onto the road ahead. Smith later told investigators he assumed the driver was drunk but didn’t pull him over because his shift was ending and he didn’t want the hassle and paperwork.

When Smith’s derelictions became known, ominous questions arose. Was it Tyll’s Bronco, and was Tyll or Ognjan driving it? Or was one of their killers driving? And what would have happened if Smith had simply entered the bar when summoned earlier? Would his presence have calmed a situation that instead exploded into two murders?

The Brutal Murders

One can only speculate, but Klimmek later testified she overhead one of the Duvalls make two phone calls to friends. After two men showed up, one of the Duvalls or a friend gave Klimmek a six-pack, told her to go to her home, and said, “You didn’t see anything and you don’t know nothing.” She and Emery drove to her house about a mile away, assuming Tyll and Ognjan were about to get their asses kicked.

It’s not known how the Duvalls or their friends got Tyll and Ognjan out of the bar and down the road, willingly or forced. Some speculated the pair was lured outside with offers to sell or share drugs or marijuana. All that’s known is that Tyll and Ognjan soon ended up in a forest clearing off a nearby road and got far more than an old-fashioned whooping.

Klimmek and Emery were watching the movie “Scarface” at her house when they heard screaming, shouting, and metallic pinging sounds in the woods between her house and the bar. She and Emery sneaked out the back and through the woods for a look. They soon saw several men in a snow-covered clearing that was illuminated by a full moon and truck lights.

She later testified that two men held Ognjan while others kicked and punched Tyll as Donald Duvall beat him with an aluminum baseball bat. Tyll was screaming, crawling, kneeling, and begging for his life. Duvall swung the bat repeatedly until Tyll’s head—sounding like a pumpkin striking cement—caved in.

Klimmek said Ognjan broke free and ran, but his captors tackled him and dragged him back while making fun of him for pissing his pants. The men then kicked, beat, and clubbed Ognjan to death. When the men started loading the bodies into a truck, Emery and Klimmek fled back to her house. Soon after, someone knocked on her door. She testified she didn’t know the man, but he warned her: “You didn’t see anything and you don’t know anything. If you ever open your mouth, you’ll be killed. Pigs gotta eat, too.”

Days later, Randy Duvall reportedly drove up to J.R.’s house in a black Bronco. J.R.’s longtime girlfriend, Eileen Bolzman, told authorities that J.R. yelled at his little brother to “get rid of that (expletive) truck before you get us all in trouble.”

Keeping Secrets

In the years that followed, the Duvalls occasionally stopped by Klimmek’s house to repeat their threats. Their visits grew more frequent whenever the investigation heated up. Emery, meanwhile, died in 1995 after stumbling drunk into a passing car. Klimmek mostly kept her secrets, only sharing what she knew with Smith, the shirking sheriff’s deputy, while having an affair with him. Smith ignored her story, and reminded her she had been a hard-drinking party girl. (Smith eventually lost his job for unrelated infractions.)

But while drinking with her friend Ruth Fawcett in early 1999, Klimmek shared her story. She said she couldn’t cooperate with police because it would get her killed. Fawcett tipped investigators and Detective Lesneski. She didn’t know Klimmek’s address, however, only her general location. Lesneski started knocking on doors, and on March 5, 1999, drove down Klimmek’s driveway in the woods.

More than 13 years had passed since the murders when Lesneski knocked and asked for Barbara Klimmek. Lesneski was the first person to find and question her, even though the investigation had involved psychics, airplanes, scuba divers, cadaver dogs, TV shows like “Unsolved Mysteries,” three generations of special investigators, helicopters with ground-penetrating radar, and dozens of law-enforcement agencies ranging from 15-officer sheriff’s departments to the 181-country Interpol consortium.

When Klimmek realized why Lesneski was on her doorstep, she convulsed in fear, and started shaking so violently the detective feared she was having an epileptic seizure. Klimmek—who had since married and taken her husband’s name, Boudro—told Lesneski, “You’re going to get me killed!” and tried slamming the door. The detective blocked it with his foot—the only time in his career he did so—and eased his way inside while talking reassuringly. Boudro kept shaking and crying, and said again that Lesneski would get her killed. He begged her to help, and said he would solve the murders if it took the rest of his life.

Boudro later said she knew instantly he meant it. Still, she only told him what happened in the bar, and that she heard screams later that night back in the woods. Lesneski knew she wasn’t sharing all she knew, and spent nearly two and a half years gaining her trust by fixing her roof, cutting firewood, replacing a fence, and other favors.

Meanwhile, Lesneski often visited the Duvalls alone. He’s a tall, strong man who competed in triathlons, and he wasn’t afraid of them. He treated the Duvalls politely and respectfully, but each visit reminded them he wasn’t going away. Eventually, the State Police and attorney general thought they could convict J.R. and Coco Duvall and subpoenaed Boudro’s testimony. During that interrogation, she paused, turned off Lesneski’s tape recorder, and asked him: “You knew I was there, don’t you? You know I saw everything.” She then described the brutal killing she and Emery witnessed.


Boudro’s account, along with six others who testified against the Duvall brothers at their October 2003 trial, convicted and sent them to prison for life. Henderson said the passage of time since the murders eliminated some evidence and several people’s testimony, but age improved Boudro’s credibility. She was a 57-year-old grandmother during the 2003 trial and no longer the wild, hard-drinking party girl of 20 years earlier. She died at age 61 in December 2007 at the Grayling, Michigan, hospital.

Besides Emery, three others linked to the case died in the decade before the trial. The Duvalls appealed their convictions but got nowhere. They’ll die in prison without the possibility of parole.

Police investigated other tips about missing evidence in subsequent years without success. While searching for new evidence in the Mentor Township (near Mio) in September 2009, Lesneski told the Ogemaw County Herald he had received 800 to 900 tips on the case and felt duty-bound to follow up on them.

“It’s important for the investigation to continue to bring closure to the victims’ family and friends,” Lesneski said. “What if it was somebody you love?”

Feature art via Dave Burgess.

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