JoAnn Romain’s Cause of Death: How Did She Die?

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JoAnn Matouk Romain’s death was ruled as a drowning with indications of suicide, but her family insists something nefarious was happening and that she even made a revelation before her death about a police officer cousin who may harm her.

Romain went missing January 12, 2010, following an evening church service at St. Paul on the Lake Catholic Church in Grosse Pointe Woods, a suburb of Detroit, Michigan. Her body was found by two fisherman more than two months later March 20, 2010 in Amherstburg, Ontario, about 30 miles southwest of the church, according to court documents filed in her case.

The death is being examined on an episode of Unsolved Mysteries on Netflix in “Lady in the Lake.” The episode is the fifth in season 2, which is released on Netflix at 3 a.m. Eastern time Monday, October 19, 2020.

Here’s what you need to know:


The Manner of Death in Romain’s Case Was Undetermined Following Three Separate Autopsies

JoAnn Romain’s body was autopsied three separate times, and the coroners conducting the autopsies all came to the same conclusion: Her cause of death was drowning, and her manner of death was undetermined, according to court documents filed in the case. There are six manners of death a coroner can report: natural, accidental, homicide, suicide, undetermined and pending.

Because Romain’s body was found in Canada, a Canadian coroner conducted the first autopsy. Her body was found by fisherman in the Detroit River. It had been two months since she went missing. The Canadian coroner’s autopsy found Romain drowned, but he could not determine the manner of her death. Then, the Michigan medical examiner’s office conducted their own autopsy after her body was released. The medical examiner came to the same conclusion, saying Romain drowned but there was no certain determination about her manner of death. Homicide was “less likely” than suicide, the coroner determined, because she did not have significant injuries. An accidental drowning also seemed “quite unlikely” because she did not have a reason to be near the water on a January night, court documents said.

Her daughter, Michelle Romain, requested a third autopsy. A doctor at the University of Michigan said, too, JoAnn Romain drowned but the autopsy did not reveal why. Her daughter contends there was evidence of a struggle. A decorative flap on her purse was missing, which had been in “pristine” condition earlier that night, and she had a bruise on her arm.

The Detroit River, where Romain’s body was found, connects to the lake adjacent to the church where she first went missing.

Here is a map of the church where police found her car and footprints, and the place where her body was found:

JoAnn Romain disappearance map

Google MapsThe locations where JoAnn Romain went missing and the location where her body was found are marked on a map image.

Romain’s body was found about 30 miles southwest of the location where she went missing. Her body was found on the Canadian side of the Detroit River in Amherstburg, Ontario, about six weeks after her disappearance. The Detroit River forms part of the boundary between the United States in Michigan and Ontario in Canada, and connects Lake St. Clair, adjacent to the church, in the north with Lake Erie in the south. The river flows southwest for about 32 miles between Detroit, Michigan and Windsor, Ontario, Canada, according to Britannica.


A Lawsuit Was Filed Which Contends Police Covered Up the Truth in the Case

The estate of JoAnn Matouk Romain filed a lawsuit against the City of Grosse Pointe Farms, Grosse Pointe Woods and public officials, alleging there was a coverup involved in the death of Romain. A three-judge panel in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in Detroit unanimously ruled in favor of the city and its police department in August, 2019, and overturned a lower court’s ruling that the city couldn’t seek to recover its attorney fees related to the lawsuit.

The opinion filed in the suit says:

According to Joann Matouk Romain’s estate, two local police departments and many officers covered up Joann’s murder. The alleged plot required duping other officers, the U.S. Coast Guard, and Canadian authorities. The motive? To help a friend who sold the officers alcohol at prices cheaper than Costco. What at first sounds fanciful is moored by some odd facts. For example, Joann’s daughter swears that an unidentified officer questioned her about Joann before the police suspected Joann was missing. Another officer had Joann’s spare key that allegedly went missing a month before her disappearance. That said, a reasonable jury could not return a verdict for the estate. As a result, we affirm the district court’s decision to grant summary judgment to the defendants.

Two officers spotted Romain’s car at the church, and the second officer was concerned because he saw the car and no one else around, the lawsuit says. He saw no one was in the car and found footprints leading down to the embankment of Lake St. Clair, but no footprints returning in the opposite direction. He also found imprints that indicated someone had been sitting on the breakwall, leading him to believe a person might have fallen into the icy waters. The water was searched by a dive team that night and into the next day, but her body was not found for more than two months, 30 miles away on the Canadian side of the Detroit River.

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