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Man charged with rape and murder in 45-hour crime spree

The police manhunt ended late Monday/early Tuesday for a suspect wanted in the rape of two women and the killing of a teenage girl in Isabella County.          

The suspect, Isaiah Gary (Zeek) Gardenhire, 40, was arraigned on a dozen felony charges for what occurred during a 45-hour period, beginning Sunday, about 3:15 a.m., when Gardenhire sexually assaulted his girlfriend at a residence they shared on South Isabella County Road in Union Township.

“At some point during that altercation, Mr. Gardenhire’s attention turned to her daughter, who was in the home as well,” said Isabella County Prosecutor David Barberi, in a news conference Monday. “Mr.  Gardenhire went to retrieve her daughter. It’s our understanding that the mother escaped the home, went to make contact with police, and when police arrived, they found that the mother’s daughter had been stabbed.”

Officers initiated life-saving measures, but the girl died of her stab wounds. Gardenhire had already fled the scene.

According to Barberi, Gardenhire reportedly hid in an empty nearby apartment. Several hours later, he approached a couple he did not know. He hit the man and entered the apartment and held the man and woman hostage. Barberi said he repeatedly sexually assaulted the woman. He then stole money from the couple, along with their 2014 Ford Fusion, and drove to Flint Township. 

Late Monday, Gardenhire surrendered to Flint Township police officers, who turned him over to the Michigan State Police, who brought him back to Isabella County.

Gardenhire was arraigned Tuesday, June 8, in Isabella County on charges of open murder, armed robbery, carjacking, first-degree home invasion, first-degree criminal sexual conduct using a weapon, three counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct with multiple variables, and two counts each of unlawful imprisonment and assault with a dangerous weapon.

Bond was set at $3 million.

“This is certainly a horrific tragedy and a completely senseless loss of life,” Barberi said. “We know that these events caused the entire community to be on edge. We’re confident that any harm or fear that was caused by Mr. Gardenhire is now over, as he is in custody. Our focus now is on the healing of the victims involved in this case and providing any services we can and the opportunity to deliver justice for them and ensure the justice system will operate properly, as we know it will.”

MSP Mount Pleasant Post Commander Lt. Josh Lator expressed his gratitude to the community during the press conference for providing tips to police during manhunt.

“We cannot do our job without a community who works with us, and you have defined teamwork in the way you rose to this challenge, and I just want to thank you sincerely,” Lator said.

At the time of the rapes and murder, Gardenhire was free on bond after a May 27 arrest on a charge of second-degree criminal sexual conduct with a victim 13 or younger. The date of the alleged crime is listed as May 1, 2015. His bond had been set at $7,500 surety or 10 percent.

Gardenhire has also served time in prison for home invasion and firearms possession. 

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Ray Winnie
Intandem Credit Union


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