Farwell murderer linked to Midland strangulation

November 25, 2015

By Gus Burns
Reprinted from M-Live.com

Five years before Robert Lee Haggart gained infamy for the shotgun shootings of his estranged wife and six of her relatives in Farwell, he raped and strangled a Midland mother of two, police say.
But it took almost 32 years to conclusively tie the crimes to the same man.

Haggart was free on parole in a previous sexual assault for two months before the 1977 death of Doris A. Arndt, 29.

Midland cold case Detective Brent Benzing, with other detectives and law enforcement officers, uncovered the truth about who discarded her body in woods six miles south of West Branch, just off Interstate 75.

DNA evidence and a freelance journalist’s account of Haggart’s confession clinched him as the culprit in Midland County’s oldest cold case. Haggart died in prison in 2003.

Arndt’s husband, John Arndt; daughter, Teresa A. Loose, 45, of Midland; their spouses and a friend sat in the Midland Law Enforcement Center while officials shared their findings with the public Thursday. Loose thanked the detective for his dedication to solving her mother’s murder. She said Benzing took the “memories of a 13-year-old child and doggedly pursued them.”

“Thank you for the many hours and sleepless nights,” she said. “I have the details, but I will never have the answers to why.”

Said Midland County Sheriff Jerry Nielsen: “To the living we owe respect; to the dead, we owe the truth.”

A bar dispute
Arndt, who Nielsen said was “dependable” and worked as a union steward for Tri-City Plastics in Midland, went missing Sept. 24, 1977.

Her husband reported her absence two days later. Within two weeks, a hunter found the 29-year-old, 5-foot-2, 130-pound woman’s body in a forest.

Arndt’s brother-in-law told police the night she went missing he saw her have an argument with an unknown man at the Western Bar, shortly before it closed.

Police identified the man as Robert Lee Haggart, their prime suspect. By 1993, police told media they had the murderer pegged, but they lacked forensic evidence to prove it in court.

Born in 1950, Haggart led a violent life. He spent much of it behind bars. Prior to Arndt’s murder, Haggart committed a sexual assault against a 14-year-old, Benzing said.

He was sentenced to prison May 21, 1975, after he was charged in a second sexual assault while on probation for the first offense. He pleaded guilty to a probation violation.

The court paroled Haggart July 11, 1977, just over two months before Arndt was killed.
Haggart committed his most infamous and grisly crime Feb. 16, 1982, the day before his wife, Garnetta Haggart, then 23, was to finalize their divorce. He waited with a shotgun at his father-in-law’s Farwell farmhouse for his wife, her sister and parents, three nieces and a nephew to return home.

When they arrived, he opened fire, killing his father-in-law, George W. Post, first. He then gunned down the remaining family members. There was one survivor. Helen Gaffney’s body shielded her daughter, Amanda, 1.

Haggart would spend the rest of his life in prison.
Benzing said based on evidence he reviewed, there are “indications” Haggart may be responsible for “multiple” other unsolved murders. He declined to elaborate.

Tracking Arndt’s killer
Arndt, found in the woods, was clothed but missing her purse, shoes and a “distinctive” leather hat with a floppy brim, police said. They found the missing items on M-20, just over the Karl B. Robertson Bridge on M-20 over the Tittabawassee River in Midland.

She was last seen with co-workers and friends leaving the Midland-area tavern. Her husband said he didn’t call police immediately because he thought his wife was staying with friends. He passed a polygraph test asserting he did not kill her. Police administered polygraph tests to four other individuals, and the trail went cold.

“We’ve tracked every lead,” Capt. William H. Dehn of the Midland Sheriff’s Department told the press in January 1978.

In 2000, the cold case file, then about a half-inch thick, was handed off to Benzing.
Benzing worked the case until the file was about 15 times larger. Thursday, with the prosecutor’s office, the file was officially closed. Police say they have sufficient evidence to prove Haggart committed the murder.

“I’d put this case in front of a jury of 100 people,” Nielsen said.
He said DNA from the Farwell murder matched the DNA in the semen samples collected from the Arndt crime.

Because the accused is dead, neither judge nor jury will ever see the results of Benzing’s work — the overtime, skipped lunches and unpaid weekends perusing the facts of the case in his office.

“It’s unfortunate we’re not able to bring Mr. Haggart to justice … the science just wasn’t there” when he was alive, said Midland County Prosecutor Michael Carpenter.

Of all the evidence police compiled, a call from Arizona helped solve the murder.
Two years ago, Benzing said the caller said he was a journalist who interviewed Haggart in 1982 and 1983, and Haggart admitted that he killed Arndt.

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