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The Independent UK
The Independent UK
Rachel Sharp

Key piece of evidence that led to suspect in Samantha Woll’s murder

AFP via Getty Images/AP

Chilling details have emerged around how police finally caught the suspect accused of killing Detroit synagogue leader Samantha Woll.

Michael Jackson-Bolanos, 28, was charged with felony murder, home invasion and lying to police on Wednesday – almost two months after Woll was found dead from multiple stab wounds outside her home in Lafayette Park.

Mr Jackson-Bolanos – who has no connection to the victim – had been on the radar of law enforcement for some time before his arrest over the weekend.

He appeared in court for his arraignment on Wednesday, where prosecutors revealed what evidence allegedly ties him to the murder.

Prosecutors said that Woll’s blood was found on a jacket that the suspect was wearing on the night of the murder.

The jacket was recovered from the apartment of Mr Jackson-Bolanos’ girlfriend, prosecutors said.

“On a jacket that appears to be consistent with the very same jacket he was wearing that night when she was killed,” said assistant prosecutor Ryan Elsey, according toThe Detroit News.

“And when given an opportunity to explain why that blood was there, he couldn’t explain it.”

Mr Elsey described the wealth of evidence against Mr Jackson-Bolanos as “astonishing in its scale and astonishing in the horrific clarity that it brings to us to show what the last moments of Samantha Woll’s life were like”.

Michael Jackson-Bolanos is charged with murder of Samantha Woll
— (Michigan DOC)

Woll, 40, spent her last night on 20 October at a wedding, before returning to her home in the Lafayette Park neighbourhood at around 12.30am the next morning.

Prosecutors said that she mistakenly left her front door open before falling asleep in her living room.

Around the same time, Mr Jackson-Bolanos was allegedly “prowling” the Lafayette neighbourhood stealing things from cars and came across her unlocked door.

Woll’s home security system picked up movement in her living room at around 4.20am that morning, Mr Elsey said.

The attack then began inside Woll’s home, before she stumbled outside and collapsed.

Her body was found at around 6am that morning, with a trail of blood leading back into the living room of the home.

She had been stabbed eight times around the head and neck.

Mr Elsey described the wounds as “designed to kill her”.

At the time of the murder – coming just days after Hamas launched an attack on Israel on 7 October – fears instantly arose that the killing could have been a hate crime.

Woll was the president of the Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue in Detroit and was well-known in the community for working to build bridges between the Jewish and Muslim communities.

Detroit police insisted early on in the investigation that there was no evidence of her murder being an antisemitic attack, pointing out that an Israeli flag hanging on the wall of her home had been left untouched.

There was no sign of forced entry at her home, prompting investigators to previously tell CNN that the attack was believed to have arisen from a domestic dispute.

Samantha Woll was found dead on 21 October
— (AP)

Now, authorities have revealed that there is no known connection between Mr Jackson-Bolanos and Woll.

Instead, prosecutors described the murder as a “crime of opportunity”.

Detroit Police Chief James White said at a press conference on Wednesday that Mr Jackson-Bolanos had been on the radar of law enforcement for some time.

The suspect had been arrested a few weeks ago on suspicion of a number of burglaries – quickly becoming a person of interest in Woll’s murder.

He was released but police placed him under surveillance.

“We were able to link him to a number of larcenies,” Chief White said. “And then when we brought him for questioning, some concerns came up. We released him but we knew his whereabouts, we knew his movements. At no time was anyone in our community in danger.”

After enough evidence had been gathered to obtain an arrest warrant, Mr Jackson-Bolanos was taken into custody at the weekend.

He was ordered to be held without bond at his arraignment.

Mr Jackson-Bolanos previously served four years in prison after being convicted of receiving and concealing stolen property, according to the Michigan Department of Corrections.

During his time behind bars, he was hit with 40 misconduct violations, including some for violent assaults in prison, The Detroit News reported.

Now, he faces life in prison for murder.

The charges mark a major breakthrough in the case that has rumbled on unsolved since October and coming after a different man was arrested and released without charge last month.

Police tape blocks access near the scene where Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue president Samantha Woll was murdered
— (AFP via Getty Images)

That first person of interest was taken into custody in Kalamazoo, Michigan on 8 November. The man – who has never been identified by authorities – was released three days later without charge, as the 72-hour charging window closed.

This individual has now been fully cleared from the case, authorities said.

At Wednesday’s press conference, Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy defended the length of time the investigation has taken.

“Investigations don’t usually happen in the 44-minute [timeframe of a] TV show,” she said.

“They take time, they take effort, they take passion, they take experience. We look at everything. police look at every angle. There was an incredible amount of work that was done.”

Woll’s family released a statement on Wednesday thanking investigators for their “tireless efforts” to solve the case.

“Our family is sincerely grateful to the hard-working women and men of the DPD Homicide Task Force who worked around the clock for weeks to thoroughly investigate this tragic crime. Through their dedication and tireless efforts, we firmly believe that they have successfully solved this senseless crime. We cannot thank them enough,” they said.

“We would also like to thank everyone for their support and prayers. Samantha’s death is an unspeakable tragedy that has affected not only her family and friends but also those who knew her as a devoted community activist, leader and bridge builder. She was loved deeply and her light spread far and wide. We ask that the media respect our privacy at this difficult time.”

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