ALBION, MI — On December 7, 1993, 18-year-old Rose Larner took off in the night with Billy Brown, her close pal since grade school, and John Ortiz-Kehoe, her on-again/off-again boyfriend.
The trio, who were no strangers to trouble, headed out to the empty home of Ortiz-Kehoe’s grandparents. Once there, the teens indulged, as they often did, in drugs and sex. The impromptu party culminated with the three of them taking a shower together — followed by murder, dismemberment, body burning, and even cannibalism.
According to police, as Rose Larner sat brushing her hair, John Ortiz-Kehoe snuck behind her with a cord and drew it tight around her neck. Ortiz-Kehoe then dragged Larner back into the shower and slit her throat with a fillet knife.
Afterward, Billy Brown said he saw Ortiz-Kehoe chop Larner’s body up with a hatchet, and burn the pieces in a basement fireplace. Rather than call the cops, Brown helped dispose of the remains of the girl with whom he’d been close friends since they met at age eight.
From there Brown and Ortiz-Kehoe stuffed the rest of Larner’s remains into trash bags and drove to a woodland property owned by the Brown family. They built a fire pit and spent the next 10 hours cremating Larner’s body parts into nothingness.
Brown would later testify that Ortiz-Kehoe also pulled a hunk of flesh from the flames and disposed of it in another way, stating:
“He put it on a piece of bread with some mustard on it and ate it. Just for the experience. Just to know.”
From there, the duo packed Larner’s ashes into a bag and spread them from their car windows as they drove home.
For the next three years, as Larner’s family and other investigators worked tirelessly for answers, Brown and Ortiz-Kehoe denied any knowledge of where she might be.
After Larner’s family had reported Rose missing, searchers scoured fields and highways for years. Divers explored the depths of all local bodies of water. Gravel pits got dug up, houses were torn apart.
Tips came in — many of them cranks — but a pattern emerged that indicated Brown and Ortiz-Kehoe were involved. What did not emerge, though, was solid evidence.
The hunt went on for years. In late 1995, Michigan State Police Detective Donald Brooks took over the case. He added up the claims about Brown and Ortiz-Kehoe and used them to reconstruct Rose Larner’s final hours. Finally, someone was on the right trail.
As Detective Brooks drew closer to the truth — particularly after interviewing a driver who had picked up Brown and Ortiz-Kehoe at a bus station — the rumored perpetrators felt the heat. In 1996, Billy Brown called Brooks. He wanted to talk.
Brown turned himself in on April 14 and immediately fingered Ortiz-Kehoe as the killer. While Brown cut a plea deal in exchange for his testimony, Ortiz-Kehoe hightailed it out of Michigan and made it all the way to Mexico.
Investigators stormed the Kehoe grandparents’ home for evidence. They turned up one single drop of Rose Larner’s blood in the bathroom where she died. It was enough, at last, to draw up charges.
While police searched for Ortiz-Kehoe, a literally explosive offshoot to the saga emerged: Robert Michael Wood, a friend of the accused killer, stockpiled combustible materials in order to blow up Billy Brown’s home.
Authorities seized bomb-making materials from Wood’s residence and charged him with an array of violations, stating that his intention was “to get rid of witnesses or intimidate … there was going to be a firebombing at the minimum.”
In August 1996, investigators put a tail on Tim Kehoe, the brother of John Ortiz-Kehoe. They followed Tim all the way south of the U.S. border, where they witnessed him reunite with his sibling. Working with local cops, the searchers finally got their man.
In exchange for testifying against Ortiz-Kehoe, Billy Brown got a year in jail for being an accessory after a murder. Rose Markey, Larner’s mother, eventually forgave Billy Brown — who she’d known since he was a kid — and even visited her daughter’s grave with him.
Ortiz-Kehoe also took the stand at his own trial, swearing repeatedly that he did not kill Rose Larner. Now 45 years old and serving life without the possibility of parole, Ortiz-Kehoe still claims innocence.
The convicted killer also maintains an active social-media presence to that effect — including a podcast called Creating a Cannibal. Fans can even buy cartoon-logo-emblazoned tie-in merchandise. The loaded term “distasteful” does come to mind.
Learn more about Rose Larner’s case in the “Night Angel” episode of Investigation Discovery’s Stolen Voices, Buried Secrets on ID GO now!
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Main photo: Rose Larner [Lansing Police handout]