All was quiet as Margarette Eby approached the entrance to Applewood Estate. She stopped her vehicle but left the engine running as she got out to open the gate leading to the gatehouse where she lived for a blissful and industrious five years in Flint working as provost and music professor at the University of Michigan-Flint. She shivered as she opened her car door and stepped out. The day had become increasingly cold as it waned and the temperature at that time of night hovered just above freezing. The light jacket that provided more than enough warmth during a day spent with friends downtown was no longer adequate. She quickly felt in her pocket for the key but realized she needn’t have bothered; the gate was standing ajar. She opened it fully, stepped back into her car and continued up the drive. It was a long day but a good one and after enjoying dinner with friends, she wanted nothing more than to relax in the warmth of her home for a few hours before officially retiring for the night, readying herself for another full day at the University. She turned off the car and stepped once again into the cold night. The sky was overcast, obscuring all moonlight and threatening to cover the ground in the year’s first blanket of snow. She fumbled with her keys, straining her eyes in the darkness to find the right one as she approached the front door but found, again, that a key wasn’t needed. The door opened with a simple click. Did she leave it unlocked when she left earlier? She stepped inside, switched on the light, then closed and locked the door securing her inside. She removed her jacket, hung it up and moved into the kitchen. As she opened the cabinet to get a cup for tea, she heard a thump from the next room and then another. She froze, afraid to turn and look. She heard footsteps and then, a shadow moved into the corner of her eyesight. Margarette Eby wasn’t alone …
On November 9, 1986 the City of Flint woke up in shock and horrified. Margarette Eby, the beloved music professor and founder of the city-wide Basically Bach Music Festival was found dead, murdered in her home at Applewood Estate. The crime scene was grisly; police determined that Eby had been raped and stabbed to death the night before. There were no signs of forced entry and the only evidence the killer left behind was a single fingerprint found on a faucet knob in the bathroom where the killer cleaned up after the deed. In the months and years that followed, detectives exhausted all leads while a city and family mourned. Margarette Eby was beloved both at the University and in the city she had adopted. In the investigation, all paths led to dead ends and the case was forgotten by everyone except those who clung fast to Eby’s memory.
On February 18, 1991 Nancy Ludwig arrived in Romulus, MI and checked into the Hilton Hotel. A flight attendant with Northwest Airlines, Ludwig was no stranger to the city or her accommodations. Around 9pm, she opened the door to a room where she had stayed countless times. It felt so routine, she had no reason to be wary. Suddenly, a man emerged from a nearby stairwell, grabbed her from behind and forced her into the room at knifepoint. Just after noon the next day, a member of the housekeeping staff found Ludwig’s body lying on the floor, hands bound behind her back. Her throat was slit ear-to-ear. The coroner determined that Ludwig had been stabbed multiple times, including wounds on her hands she sustained while fighting her attacker. Examiners also determined that she had been raped multiple times. Police found little evidence of her killer with the exception of fluid DNA and a bloodsoaked washcloth left in the sink. As with the Eby case in Flint five years prior, detectives were facing an uphill battle. Besides the scant physical evidence at the crime scene, they also were able to get a sketch of a possible suspect from witnesses in the hotel parking lot who saw a suspicious man loading baggage into a Monte Carlo nearly an hour after Ludwig was murdered. All roads went nowhere and the case went cold until five years later, when Ludwig’s husband Art received a phone call from the son of Margarette Eby. After reviewing details of Nancy’s death, Eby’s son told Art he believed both Nancy and Margarette were killed by the same person. They reviewed notes and, convinced, Art called Romulus Police, who told him that they would look into it further. In 2002, detectives reprocessed the fingerprint found in Margarette’s bathroom and this time, they got a hit from the database. The fingerprint belonged to Genesee County resident, Jeffrey Wayne Gorton.
Jeffrey Wayne Gorton came to Michigan from Florida in 1985. While serving in the Navy in Florida, he was arrested for attacking women on the base. His method of operation was to follow them, bash them in the back of the head, and steal their undergarments as they struggled to gain their senses. He posted bond for release from jail but was quickly arrested again for breaking and entering. He was tried, convicted and sentenced to four years behind bars, but released after serving two years.
Once out of prison, Gorton moved to Genesee County and began working for the Buckler Automatic Sprinkler Company owned by his parents. The company provided service to the Applewood Estate in Flint and Gorton frequently worked there. At work, he gained a reputation for having misogynistic and extremely perverse views toward women. Despite being dubbed “Uncle Perv” by his coworkers, Gorton eventually married and fathered two children. In fact, it was at an outing with his family where investigators obtained the evidence that had eluded them for so long.
After reopening the case, investigators finally had a name to go along with the fingerprint left at the scene of the Eby murder; but, being an employee on the grounds at Applewood Estate at the time the crime was committed, it was possible that Gorton could have been in that bathroom during his workday. It was determined that more evidence was needed for a conviction.
Convinced that Gorton had committed both murders, investigators began to track him in an attempt to obtain DNA to match the sample found at the Ludwig crime scene. They followed him to a skating rink where he spent the night with his family, skating and eating dinner. There, investigators were able to retrieve his drinking cup and get a sample of saliva from the rim. The saliva was found to contain two different DNA sources, meaning the cup was shared. However, one source matched the DNA from the Ludwig evidence.
With this new evidence in hand, a warrant was obtained to search Gorton’s home. There, investigators found strange items including hundreds of pairs of women’s underwear and lingerie, some tagged with the original owner’s name and description. It seemed Gorton had been continuing the criminal activity he started in Florida years earlier.
When questioned by police, Gorton refused any wrongdoing and even denied ever having been in Eby’s bathroom, thereby eliminating any legitimate reason for his fingerprint to be found there which helped to solidify the prosecutor’s case against him. Even when confronted with all the evidence, Gorton maintained his innocence and refused to confess.
The matter of The People of the State of Michigan vs Jeffrey Wayne Gorton was tried by jury in 2004. Charged with the rape and murder of both Margarette Eby and Nancy Ludwig, the 39-year-old was convicted of criminal sexual misconduct and first-degree murder in the death of Nancy Ludwig. Rather than go through another trial, he later pled guilty to killing Margarette Eby. Wayne Circuit Court Judge Maggie Drake sentenced Gorton to life in prison without possibility of parole. He continues to serve his sentence today in Ionia, MI.
The monster who took the lives of Nancy Ludwig and Margarette Eby is behind bars and he may never have been caught if it weren’t for the gut feeling of Eby’s son who grieved the loss of one of Flint’s finest citizens, Margarette Eby.