Flint Police Chief identifies Cierra Nelson murder suspect, now - ABC 12 – WJRT – Flint, MI

Flint Police Chief identifies Cierra Nelson murder suspect, now deceased

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  • Flint Police Chief identifies Cierra Nelson murder suspect, now deceasedMore>>

  • Suspected bank robber hangs himself in deer blind

    Suspected bank robber hangs himself in deer blind

    Wednesday, March 5 2014 12:02 PM EST2014-03-05 17:02:34 GMT
    It appears police are finished negotiating with a man accused robbing a bank - who barricaded himself in a Shiawassee County deer blind.
    Shiawassee County Sheriff's Investigators say the man, who killed himself after a seven hour standoff with police, is 43-year-old Michael Willingham of Flint.

(03/26/214) - More than a dozen years after her death, and the case now closed without any charges issued, Flint Police are naming the man they believe murdered 10-year-old Cierra Nelson.     

Flint Police Chief James Tolbert identified him as Michael Willingham - the same man found dead, in a Shiawassee County deer blind, March 3, as authorities pursued him in another crime. Willingham was suspected in a bank robbery in Meridian Township, near Lansing, earlier that afternoon.

Police said he led them on a chase, into Shiawassee County, and fled into the woods on foot. Nearly seven hours later, members of the Michigan State Police Emergency Services Team found his body inside the blind. The Shiawassee County Sheriff's Office said he had hanged himself. 

Willingham was 43. He would have been 30 when Cierra disappeared.

In the years since Cierra was reported missing, in November of 2000, there were searches and suspicions.

The child's body was found almost five months later, in a Mt. Morris Township drainage ditch, less than 10 miles from the Flint neighborhood where she vanished.

The story was she walked with friends almost all the way home, but Cierra went the last few blocks on her own never to be seen alive again.

"We absolutely believe, at this point, that we can no longer look to anyone else but Mr. Willingham," Tolbert said.

Online, 68th District Court records confirm Willingham, at least, used the same address as Cierra and right around the same time.

ABC12 was unable to reach Cierra's mother, Dorothy Nelson, for comment.

Flint Police say hundreds of tips were followed up and several suspects eliminated, but Willingham never could be and statements made backed up their beliefs.

"It left him on an island by himself," Tolbert said.

Because of the condition of Cierra's body, there was no DNA evidence available and
her cause of death is undetermined, according to Flint Police Sgt. Greg Hosmer, with the Flint Police Violent Crime Task Force. It is a homicide.

Willingham's father declined comment, but said he is aware police suspect his son killed Cierra.

Flint Police believe Cierra may have been sexually assaulted and said allegations were made.

Online 68th District Court records show prosecutors attempted to get a warrant for Willingham in January of 2001, but the judge denied the request. The offense date is listed as Nov. 16, 2000 - 10 days before Cierra was reported missing.

Court Administrator Paula McGlown said paper records, which may show why the warrant request was denied or who the victim was, would have been destroyed after six years, as is their practice. No other information was immediately available.

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