Remembering Michelle Rougeau

A few months ago my friend Kathleen told me a story of a women in Detroit.
Well actually she led me on a quest to find a story that ran in the Detroit News.=
She told me that; “It may, or may not resonate. The similarities are striking to me, so please bear with me in my desire to share this with you, Dox.” ( my nick name) and she wanted me to also “Understand too that though many years have passed, the wound is still raw.”
The paper article she wanted me to read was the cover story of the Detroit News MICHIGAN weekend magazine for June 25, 1989.
Intrigued I got out the microfiche at work and looked up that day. Mind you I did this knowing Kathleen was concerned about what I do on the streets and I was not a bit annoyed by her concern though I have never felt unsafe or put in harms way.
She wanted me to know this story and now that I do I understand her concern on a deeper level.
Her name was Michelle Rougeau and she was murdered in her apartment near the Messiah Church near East Grand Blvd and Lafayette. That is right near Belle Isle, my favorite place in the city.

She was murdered April 7, 1988.….21 years ago today. I do not bring this up to be morbid….oh no ..on the contrary I bring this up to remember her especially on this day.

To bring a piece of her to me ..and to you. I do not want her memory to stay in a rusty drawer full of faded newspaper clippings to never see the light of day. Instead I delicately unfold them so as not to crack the creases in the pages and deem them unreadable to a future researcher. I read them again as I type there words out to breathe life to her story. I do this to share her story, the story of a woman who was 100 times more trusting than me.. who had faith that led her to places inside of your heart that I wonder if I am capable of and sincerely doubt I am.

She believed in and helped create a co-op living environment with Income pooling, believed in unlocked doors, she gave of herself to such levels that I can only admire of her. Mind you I believe in the power of community but I am ashamed to admit I do not think I could ever give of myself as she did. I am greedy where she was not …I have a need for my own space and privacy..and no wish to be that open..as much as I hate to admit that as I too try to be a catalyst for change in my community.

From her story I see where my limits are …as well as where my mortality exists. I have never thought of myself as someone young and invincible even though my mother insists that I did. And now I understand that I am only scratching the surface of what real altruism really is. She gave everything, more open than I can ever wish to.

Though her life ended in such a horrible way. I still find her life very moving and encouraging. The Mission of the community she was involved in is one that sounds so wonderful…one I resonate with very deeply;

“To show, by doing, that people of all races and backgrounds could (can) worship together and live together in peace and harmony and maybe lift a whole neighborhood at the same time”

My friends message in bringing this story to me is loud and clear. I will keep her spirit near me on my travels around the city, especially today. I am touched to have her story with me, to honor her spirit and try to continue her work on a small level. I am also encourage by her life’s work and hopeful that I will also use her story as a way to expand what I do ..as well as check myself to follow my instincts more and be keenly aware of my surroundings.

Thank you Kathleen…and Michelle


Detroit News reports from the days after her murder;

April 9, 1988-
Detroit nurse found slain in apartment.
A Detroit nurse was found fatally stabbed in her east side apartment Thursday by a 9-year old neighborhood boy whom she befriended, police said.

The body of Michelle Rougeau, 36, a nurse at Harper Hospital in Detroit was found at about 7pm in her apartment in St. Paul’s Manor Apartment, 356 East Grand Blvd. She was seen about four hours earlier in the hallway, neighbors said.

Polices suspect that Rougeau may have been killed by someone who knew her. Although there was signs of a struggle, there was no indication that her killer forced his way into the apartment, police said.

April 9, 1988
Murdered nurse ‘was always the one thinking of others’
Written by Chris Singer and Ann Sweeny Detroit News Staff writers

Taped near the front door of Apartment 203, St Paul’s Manor Apartments on Detroit’s East Grand Boulevard, is a child’s drawing of a teddy bear.

It bears the inscription, “I love you, Michelle”

One of Michelle Rougeau’s young friends came to visit her early Thursday night. Through the open door of the apartment, the 9-year-old saw her body lying on a bare wood floor.

Police Think someone attacked Rougeau around 2pm Thursday slashing her throat, cutting her wrists and stabbing her repeatedly.

She died on the floor near on open Bible. Children’s coloring books were scattered on the kitchen table.

The apartment door had not been forced open. The building’s front door was locked. Police said Friday they have no motive or suspects.

Rougeau would have been 36 years old in June.

She was to have begun her last shift as a nurse in neurosurgery at Harper Hospital at midnight Thursday. She had planned to picnic with a church group on Belle Isle Friday afternoon, then start a new nursing job Monday at Children’s Hospital.

“She was always reaching,” said her father Vernon Rougeau, of Southfield.
Michelle Rougeau graduated in 1970 from Mercy High School in Farmington Hills. She then attended Western Michigan University, where she majored in French.

“I think she started getting a little restless when she went away to Western,” her father said. During her second year, Rougeau went to France for an eight-week trip. She didn’t return for more than a year.

When she came back, said her mother Jane Rougeau, she had changed direction. She got a job as a nurse’s aide and studied to be a licensed practical nurse. She began work as an LPN at Harper in 1976, then entered St. Joseph Hospital’s School of Nursing to become a registered nurse. She graduated in1980, with the school’s last class.

More recently, she was seeking her bachelor of science degree in nursing at Wayne State University and was a clinical nursing instructor in neurosurgery at Harper.

Vernon and Jane Rougeau last saw their daughter Monday night. The Rougeaus have 16 grandchildren; Michelle had divided them up into the “A”, “B” and “C” teams, and Monday she took the five members of the “A” team to tour downtown Detroit.

Vernon Rougeau recalls with a laugh that his daughter had joked about the quiet of surburban Southfield.

“When she was out here,” he says, “she said, ‘Gee, it’s spooky out here. It’s dark.’ She liked all the lights in the city.”

So for a decade, Michelle Rougeau lived in the East Grand Blvd-East Jefferson neighborhood. She moved into St. Paul’s Manor when it opening in 1986 and was president of the co-op. The rehabilitated apartment building is owned by Church of the Messiah Housing Corp.

“I don’t know what she was seeking,” said her father. “We had several talks and we never put our finger on it. I think she found it in the fellowship.”

The fellowship is at the Church of the Messiah, an Episcopal parish at East Grand Blvd and East Lafayette. About 120 adults and children belong to the Church of the Messiah, said the rector, the Rev. Ronald Spann. He said almost all of them live within four blocks of the church, many in co-op housing owned by the parish.

The Rev. Lloyd Thiel of the Capuchin Soup Kitchen, where Rougeau was a volunteer, said, “She worked on the serving line…a real spirited gal, kind of a happy-go-lucky person, almost.”

That’s what mother said too. “Bubbly” is the way Jane Rougeau puts it. “Michelle was always and active.”

The Rougeaus had 11 children and Vernon said of Michelle, “She was always the one thing of others.”

An obituary for Michelle Rougeau ran on April 10, 1988;

Nurse stabbed in her apartment
Services for Michelle Rougeau, a 35-year old Harper Hospital nurse who was stabbed to death Thursday in her Detroit apartment, will be held at 11 a.m. Monday in the Church of the Messiah, Detroit.

Surviving are her parents, Vernon B. and Jane C. Rougeau; three brothers and six sisters; an grandmothers, Rose Ulrich and Leanora Rougeau Jacobs.

Visitation will be noon -9pm today in the Haley Funeral Home, Southfield.
Burial will be in Elmwood Cemetary, Detroit.

April 21, 1988

Reward offered: Residents of the St Paul’s Manor Aparments on East Grand Blvd in Detroit have raised more than $2,200 as a reward for information leading to the arrest of the killer of Michelle Rougeau. The 35 year old nurse, president of the cooperative that operates St Paul’s Manor, was found stabbed to death inside her apartment April 7. Anyone with information should call the Detroit Police

I found one reference to her on the internet…it called her a Nigerian Princess of Ilesa;
Michelle Rougeau, member of the Church of Messiah, Detroit, served as a nurse in Nigeria for six months in 1983. Even 20 years later—and 15 years after she was murdered in her Detroit apartment—Rougeau was remembered in the villages of Nigeria as the princess of Ilesa. http://www.the-record.org/versicle200806.html

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