Family seeks answers after Dexter man's apartment is burglarized shortly after he's found dead
Carolyn Armbruster was concerned on Wednesday about her son Norman Wilson. He always promptly returned her phone calls, but she hadn’t heard from him in more than two days.
Wilson, 42, was disabled after being seriously injured in a car accident 6 years ago, so Armbruster kept a close eye on him and had spare keys to his apartment in downtown Dexter.
About 1 p.m. Wednesday, Armbruster and her daughter stopped by the Main Street apartment to check on Wilson. Armbruster unlocked the door, finding him dead in the living room.
“He was on the loveseat,” she said. “The TV was on. The fan was blowing on him and he had been eating yogurt and he was just slumped right over to the side.”
Her daughter called 911. As her daughter was on the phone, Armbruster said one of Wilson's friends, "Andrew," called her.
“Is Norm there?” he asked. Armbruster said, “No.”
“What do you mean?” he asked. Armbruster said, “He’s dead.”
Washtenaw County sheriff’s deputies said they found no signs of foul play. About 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, shortly after deputies left the apartment, Armbruster said several of her family members returned to collect some of Wilson's valuables.
Armbruster said her family members saw a woman climbing out of a window to the second-floor apartment and onto a fire escape. Deputies responded and said they arrested 26-year-old Rachel Schomaker and 27-year-old Andrew Vannortwick at the scene, recovering some prescription medication that was allegedly stolen from Wilson. Investigators were not more specific about what type of medication was taken.
The pair were arraigned Friday on charges of home invasion and conspiracy to commit home invasion.
Armbruster said the man arrested was the same man who called her shortly after she found the body and also called her Monday night, asking for her son. Schomaker and Vannortwick have known her son for more than a year and Armbruster had seen Vannortwick at least 15 times, she said.
Armbruster, who lives in Ann Arbor, said she last spoke to her son Sunday afternoon. The last known record of him making contact with anyone was voicemails he left for his landlord and his landlord's wife at 8:50 p.m. Sunday night, she said. He called them to confirm they'd received his rent money, she said.
Officials at the Washtenaw County Medical Examiner's Office did not return phone calls today and Thursday seeking information on the preliminary autopsy results on Wilson.
Wilson's brother, Woodrow Wilson, 48, of Saginaw, said medical examiner's officials told him this afternoon that there were no signs of traumatic injuries and investigators are waiting for toxicology results, which could take two to three weeks. He said he thinks what Schomaker and Vannortwick are accused of doing is wrong.
“You think if my brother would have been a true friend to them, they would have been mourning his death, not scheming,” he said. “So, that just shows their true colors.”
Wilson said his brother, a father of four, was prescribed oxycontin, methadone and other medications because of permanent injuries he suffered when he was ejected during a car accident in 2005 in Idaho. He had undergone at least 23 surgeries, Wilson said, including one in the past month. Sometimes, he had difficulty remembering things because of brain damage, Wilson said. But his health was not failing, Wilson said.
Norman Wilson began hanging out with the couple after being introduced to them by a relative, Armbruster said. He sometimes went out to dinner with the couple and shot pool with them, she said.
Woodrow Wilson said his brother enjoyed the couple's company. His brother had a new girlfriend, who he had been dating several weeks, but often was by himself, he said.
"He was lonely," Wilson said. "When he met somebody, he just wanted to hang out and make some friends."
Schomaker and Vannortwick, who live in Brighton, were arraigned Friday at the Washtenaw County Jail. Magistrate Thomas Truesdell said he would appoint public defenders to represent them and released both on promises to appear in court.
Vannortwick said in court that he is engaged and expecting to become a father in January. He works at Sky Archery in Brighton, making about $520 a week, he said. He's never been convicted of felony and doesn't have any charges pending, he said.
Schomaker said in court that she works at a salon in Howell, making $300 every two weeks. She has never been convicted of a felony, she said, and has no charges pending.
Jim Belcher, who owns Sky Archery, said Vannortwick is a dedicated worker and is tough on himself if he makes mistakes.
"He's a hard-working kid," Belcher said. " I'm just blown away...I have not one suspicion he's on drugs."
The couple is scheduled to return to court June 21 for a preliminary hearing.
Family seeks answers
Armbruster has questions about the case. When Armbruster found her son dead, a window to his apartment was open, she said.
When she unlocked the door, she had to unlock two locks, she said. Wilson never uses one of the locks, she said. Also, she said Wilson was missing about half of his medication a month ago and considered calling police, but didn't.
Investigators have released few details. Sheriff's department spokesman Derrick Jackson did not return a phone call seeking comment Friday.
Woodrow Wilson said his brother had been living at the apartment since January, enjoying living on his own and the convenience of being downtown. Prior to that, he had been staying with his mother. He said his brother was an avid fisherman and member of St. Andrews United Church of Christ in Dexter.
“He was a great guy," he said. "He had a tough life. He loved his kids and he loved fishing and he’s been going to church for the past year-and-a-half and he really enjoyed that.”