Investigation Discovery’s ‘Homicide Hunter: Lt. Joe Kenda: Standoff’ features the unfortunate murder of 29-year-old Rowan Monteith in his Colorado Springs, Colorado, workplace in July 1988. While the investigators were initially perplexed by the homicide, they subsequently solved it to discover a tragic and heartwrenching twist. If you’re intrigued to know more about the case, including how Rowan died and the alleged killer’s identity, we’ve you covered. Let’s begin then, shall we?
How Did Rowan Monteith Die?
On July 22, 1988, Alan Brick arrived at his workplace — Pioneer Industrial Enterprises and Meets — in Colorado Springs, Colorado, at 7:45 am. He was getting ready to start his everyday routine when a distressed female colleague asked him to check the men’s restroom. He rushed to the washroom to find an individual on the floor with blood everywhere. Alan immediately identified him as one of his workers, Rowan Monteith, and dialed 911. By the time the officers arrived, the victim had been removed to the hospital in an unresponsive and critical state.
According to the episode, 29-year-old Rowan was a cute and mellow guy passionate about Special Olympics. However, he had Down Syndrome, and the investigators initially thought he had a seizure, which was not uncommon in people with developmental disabilities. Rowan was discovered with severe head trauma, and the detectives initially hypothesized he fell and hit his head on the wash basin due to a seizure episode. Due to his health condition, he was more prone to seizures. He, unfortunately, succumbed to his injuries at the hospital.
Who Killed Rowan Monteith?
The episode noted Pioneer Industrial Enterprises and Meets factory was a sheltered workshop created to help people with developmental disabilities — both physical and intellectual. Rowan worked at the factory and was described as someone who had no enmity or bad blood with anyone. The detectives interviewed Alan, one of the nine supervisors at the facility, to learn he had found Rowan in the blood after one of his colleagues, Toni Patterson, informed him about it while rushing to her class.
However, the detectives were perturbed when they discovered the factory janitor had scrubbed all the blood in the bathroom, eliminating valuable evidence. But they found some blood spatter under the sink, which made them think it might not have been an accident. According to the investigators, if Rowan fell while suffering from a seizure and hit the basin, the blood would flow down under gravity. However, the blood spots under the basin sink meant the spatter tended upwards, indicating blunt-force trauma bleeding.
The officers also found spots — fingerprints and head impression — on the bathroom mirror, signifying Rowan had attempted to break his fall. All the evidence inside the washroom pointed toward a possible murder attempt, and the detectives decided to interview Toni Patterson. The supervisor worked as a life enrichment teacher at the facility, and she informed the investigators she had rushed to the women’s washroom bathroom to grab some tissues after one of her students had a nosebleed right before her class.
While at the toilet, Toni heard strange noises from the male washroom — separated by a thin wall — and hurried there to find someone kicking the victim on the bathroom floor. However, she could not identify the perpetrator but was confident he was not one of the nine supervisors in the facility. Toni described the alleged murderer as thin, around six feet tall, in his late 20s, with blonde hair. The officers talked with the head supervisor of the factory, Jane Champion, who was familiar with all 140 workers at the establishment.
She identified the possible perpetrator from the description as Michael Zirilinka — Rowan’s former roommate of two years. However, Jane could not recall any bad blood between the two. She also informed the police he was on the autistic spectrum and had impulse control issues. When the detectives met with Michael at his workstation, they found blood all over his shoes, thus giving them enough evidence to take him into custody. However, he had Ataxia, which involves difficulty in forming words and the ability to speak them.
Where is Michael Zirilinka Now?
While the authorities filed second-degree murder charges against Michael, he was sent to the Colorado Mental Health Institute at Pueblo. A psychiatrist examined him to give an expert opinion on whether Michael could understand the proceedings against him. The officers also visited his mother, Barbara Zirilinka, to gain further insights into his behavior. She informed the detectives her son always had a problem with aggression because of his condition. His impulse control issues also resulted in his inability to tolerate very little displeasure.
Barbara recounted how Michael controlled his anger with medication. But the doctors stopped the dosage when they discovered it could be fatal in the long run. After his medicines stopped, Michael became more and more aggressive, and his mother recalled one incident where he physically attacked his former caretaker over a trivial issue. Barbara informed the officers her son’s condition resulted in him being unable to communicate with strangers. Michael would not talk with anyone he did not trust, and the officers faced an ethical dilemma.
The authorities refused to use Barbara to make Michael confess to his crime and enlisted the help of his former primary supervisor, Elizabeth Miller. In broken speech and sign language, Michael told her he got angry with Rowan and remembered kicking him four times. Though he could not recall things for long, he undoubtedly confessed to the murder. While they could not extract a full confession, the investigators offered a probable hypothesis of what might have happened in the bathroom in late July 1988.
According to the episode, Rowan’s medication made him idle, and his specificity for personal hygiene meant he took a long time to wash his hands. The detectives hypothesized Michael might have also wanted to wash hands and lost patience with his former roommate. Instigated by his health condition that made him aggressive, he fatally attacked Rowan and kicked him to death. A court ruled Michael incompetent to stand for trial, and the second-degree murder charges were dropped. His family put him in a protective facility for treatment.