By PATRICK BUCHNOWSKI
WINDBER — In January, investigators in Macomb County, Mich., opened a cold-case file in the brutal shooting of 32-year-old Barbara Marie George.
They spent seven months poring over old evidence and interviewing 85 possible witnesses who might know what happened inside Comics World, a shop she co-owned with her husband, Michael Ralph George.
Now, police believe they have solved the mystery: They contend Michael George killed his wife with a semiautomatic handgun owned by someone else.
After George’s arrest in Windber last weekend on a bench warrant out of Michigan, Clinton Township police and Macomb County prosecutors released further details about the crime Tuesday.
“He was never ruled out as a suspect,” Clinton Township police Capt. Richard Maierle said in a telephone interview. “There is no smoking gun per se. Things happen, people talk and information develops.”
George, 46, owner of Comics World in Windber, is charged with first-degree murder and possession of a firearm to commit a felony.
He and his wife had co-owned the store in suburban Detroit for about two years when her body was found in the back of the store, shot execution-style.
An extradition hearing for George is scheduled for Thursday in Somerset County Court.
He is being held in the county jail without bond.
Barbara Marie George’s brother, Joe Kowynia, 44, told the Detroit Free Press that the family never lost hope the case would be solved.
“You go through your stages – angry at first,” he said. “You want to go after him, but you can’t prove it.”
Authorities said they have found no motive, but they said the couple had been having marital problems.
The shooting originally was thought to be a robbery, because $30,000 in comic books was found missing. Investigators discounted that theory when money and jewelry were found on the body, authorities said.
Maierle said a gun once in the possession of George was recovered in Pennsylvania, but he wouldn’t say where it was found.
Prosecutors are waiting for the results of ballistic tests, he said.
George applied for a marriage license in 1992 to marry Jeanette Rene Kotula, according to the Macomb County Clerk’s Office. Kotula was raising five children at the time.
The couple live in a modest, neatly trimmed home along Ninth Street in Windber. An American flag flies from the front porch.
Neighbors were jolted by the news, saying George was an unassuming man who gave no indication of a troubled past.
“He kept pretty much to himself,” one man said.
George refereed youth basketball and was known to let children hang out at his store, neighbors said.
In an interview with The Tribune-Democrat five years ago, George said he opened his first store in Michigan when he was 23, and that he eventually operated four stores around Sterling Heights, Mich.
After he and his current wife inherited property in Windber, he said, they decided to move here and opened Comics World in 1992.
“I’ve been collecting comic books since I was 8 years old,” he said. “I had my first show when I was 12 at a hotel in Detroit.”
Clinton Township has about two murders a year, and the killing of a shop owner is uncommon, Maierle said.
It is the fourth cold-case murder investigated by Clinton Township police. Maierle said the other three resulted in convictions.
“This was high profile,” he said, crediting the arrest to “pounding on doors and doing a lot of old-fashioned police work.”