Police see no trend after two murder-suicides this year
ALPENA — For the first time since 2010, police in Alpena County opened multiple murder investigations this year.
In a community where such crime is exceedingly rare — there were none in Northeast Michigan in four of the last 10 years, including last year — this year’s acts of violence follow a national trend of unexpected violence as the world faced increased stress on many fronts.
While she hasn’t noticed the people she helps becoming dramatically more afraid of being the victims of crime, they are more leery than usual, said Victims Advocate Julie Jackson, of the Alpena County Prosecutor’s Office.
Mostly, they’re afraid of a virus. But the people she aids are also worried about violence in homes, Jackson said.
“People are stressed,” Jackson said. “There’s going to be domestic violence.”
In Alpena County, fewer criminal cases than usual have been prosecuted this year, Jackson reported, but violence is still on the docket.
Increased stress — such as that experienced with major life changes or a lack of control — can lead to irritability and anger, said Cami Misiak, nurse manager of behavioral health services at MidMichigan Medical Center-Alpena.
“And the end result can be violence,” she said.
Domestic violence incidents have surged this year, according to the National Institutes of Health.
At last twice this year, such violence has resulted in death.
In August, the bodies of James Polluch, from the Big Rapids area, and former Alpena Municipal Council member Michael Polluch were found at the scene of a barn fire at Michael Polluch’s Alpena Township home.
On Oct. 15, according to police, a 21-year-old Alpena woman was shot by her boyfriend before he shot himself in a home on Ford Avenue in Alpena.
Statistically, those two violent events do not indicate an increase in serious violence, according to Lt. John Grimshaw, commander of the Michigan State Police-Alpena Post.
“It goes in waves,” Grimshaw said. “I wouldn’t say we’re excessive or that we’re seeing a large increase.”
While violence in a smaller community like Alpena takes residents by surprise, crime of all kinds comes in waves, increasing in some years and happening rarely in others as part of a natural progression, Grimshaw said.
From 2010 through last year, police investigated three murders in Alpena County and 15 in the four-county area, according to Michigan State Police data.
Montmorency County witnessed the most murders, with at least one each year from 2015 to 2018.
Alcona County police have not investigated a murder since 2010, the region’s most violent year in recent history, when each of the four counties was the scene of at least one violent death.
Still, national murder rates have risen dramatically in 2020, even as non-violent crime has diminished, according to the Council on Criminal Justice
And Alpena has contributed to that trend.
The interactive graphic below shows the number of murder investigations in Alpena, Presque Isle, Montmorency, and Alcona counties each year. Story continues below graphic.
FOUR DEATHS, ONE YEAR
Spent bullet casings and gun parts found in the debris of the fire at the Polluch home, along with autopsy reports, indicated James Polluch shot his brother several times in the torso and then himself in August, according to police reports.
Though the brothers had a history of arguments, the two were getting along on the day of the fire, when James Polluch came to pick up some of his belongings, witnesses told police.
A Michigan State Police fire investigator said he couldn’t determine what started the fire, or whether it was ignited intentionally or unintentionally. Autopsies showed both men died before the fire engulfed the barn.
In October, Elifonso “Eli” Mata II and Meagan Soik had been arguing when what sounded like five or six gunshots were heard by another person in the house, according to the recording of a 911 call obtained by The News through a Freedom of Information Act request.
The two had had arguments before, the caller told dispatchers. This time, Mata, 26 — who owned two guns, according to the caller — shot Soik and then himself, based on a news release from the Alpena Police Department.
Mata was still alive when police arrived and was taken to MidMichigan Medical Center-Alpena and later transferred by helicopter to another facility. He died two days later from his injuries.
The incident is still being investigated by police, according to the Alpena Police Department.
Alpena Police Chief Joel Jett did not respond to repeated requests for comment on this story.
A murder-suicide is usually prompted by a unique underlying reason — a relationship gone sour or an argument over custody of a child, for example, Grimshaw said. Such situations are unpredictable and don’t necessarily reflect an overall increase in violent crime, he said.
Brandy Connon has lived on Alpena’s north side for 10 years. Her home is only a short distance from the home on Ford Avenue where Soik was killed in October.
Connon said she knows her neighbors’ names and her kids are safe playing outside in the neighborhood.
The recent murder-suicides are isolated incidents, she thinks, more connected to individual stresses and personalities than to a concerning trend in violent crime.
“People are going to go wonky,” Connon said. “It’s going to happen in every population.”
She’s not afraid that violence is creeping closer.
“Not here,” Connon said. “Maybe elsewhere, but it’s Alpena. I still get that small-town, safe feeling here.”
Julie Riddle can be reached at 989-358-5693, email@example.com or on Twitter @jriddleX.