Investigation Discovery’s ‘On the Case With Paula Zahn: Shadowy Figures’ delves deep into a 3-decade old case that essentially emphasizes the importance of both hope as well as family. After all, it explores the heart-wrenching 1988 homicide of Gayle Barrus, with a specific focus on how a simple effort by her children eventually helped bring the case to a satisfactory close. So now, if you wish to learn the details about the same, including the victim’s background, the evidence available, the assailant’s motives, and its overall aftermath, we’ve got you covered.
How Did Gayle Barrus Die?
At the age of 30, Gayle Barrus was not only a kind and devoted single mother to three children, but she was also social, enthusiastic, and virtually unflagging in her professional endeavors. She served as a waitress in at least two establishments, sometimes even working double shifts to make ends meet, yet she still managed to find time for herself — a fact well-known in the community. That’s why her spending roughly an hour at Speed’s Koffee Shop following her shift at a nearby bar in the early morning hours of October 9, 1988, was not really a surprising deal.
However, as per sources, Gayle wearing a distinctive sweater and sharing a booth with two men until she left at around 3:30 am did make her memorable that night, which proved crucial since she never made it back home. It truly wasn’t like her to not be there for her children on the weekends. Therefore, soon as the minors spoke to neighbors on Sunday evening, they didn’t hesitate to call 911 and file a missing person’s report.
For the next 16 days, there was an extensive search for Gayle in Battle Creek, Michigan. Alas, it was just her cold remains that were recovered from River Road in Emmett Township. She was found with her sweater pulled up, her trousers pulled down, and a total of 12 stab wounds (some fatal) across her stomach and upper back. As if that’s not enough, Gayle also had defensive injuries to indicate she’d fought for her life until the end, according to her autopsy report.
Who Killed Gayle Barrus?
Once investigations began, it came to light that Gayle Barrus’ vehicle had been outside Speed’s Koffee Shop until someone called to have it impounded, believing it had simply broken down. The connection to her having gone missing had not been made until this point, meaning the eventual unfruitful forensic analysis was also crucial — it practically indicated that Gayle hadn’t even made it to her car on October 9, 1988.
A significant focus of the inquiries was placed upon the two men Gayle was last seen dining with, especially as a waitress revealed they had left right after her. No concrete leads came to light concerning them back then, but someone had called in to divulge that they’d seen the victim possibly arguing with a man next to a green pick-up truck mere yards away from the crime scene. What’s more important is that their description of the man matched one of the men in question; yet again, owing to a lack of clear identification, the case went cold.
Around Gayle’s 30th death anniversary, one of her sons called the Battle Creek Police Department to request her case be reopened, only to learn that people were already working towards it. There was a lot of biological evidence since Gayle had been sexually assaulted, but it turned out that it had never actually been tested against the most likely suspect, then-24-year-old Roger Plato. The reason for this was DNA samples from him weren’t available, that is, until a routine audit in another county yielded one.
The ensuing testing resulted in an almost perfect match in 2021. “There is more than enough evidence to charge and take to trial Roger Plato for the kidnapping, rape, and murder of Gayle Barrus,” Calhoun County Prosecutor David Gilbert penned in his official ruling. “There is no indication they knew each other prior to her death and no explanation as to why his DNA would be in her underwear except due to criminality.”
Is Roger Plato Dead or Alive?
Unfortunately for Gayle Barrus’ family, Roger Allan Plato can not ever be charged in connection to Gayle’s death because he died on October 23, 1988, two days before her body was even found. Owing to his green pick-up truck, he’d been identified as a suspect in another sexual assault case altogether, but when officers approached him for questioning, he refused to cooperate. A struggle ensued, and a detective ended up shooting and killing Roger Plato on the spot. We should mention that this case had transpired two weeks before Gayle’s disappearance.