TAWAS, MI — A 21-year-old Pontiac man is spending up to the next six decades of his life behind bars for stabbing and bludgeoning a man to death and burying him beneath a dog house in an isolated, wooded spot in northern Michigan.
Iosco County Circuit Judge David C. Riffel on Monday, June 11, sentenced Daniel J. Olar to 41 to 60 years in prison. Riffel gave Olar credit for 306 days already served and ordered he pay $1,808 in court fines and costs.
Olar in April pleaded guilty to one count of second-degree murder in the August killing of 72-year-old Roger L. Knickerbocker II. In exchange, the prosecution agreed to dismiss a count of open murder, which includes both first- and second-degree murder.
Olar is the second of three people involved in the killing to be sentenced to prison.
In a December preliminary examination, 25-year-old Bay City resident Christopher R. Grinnell testified for the prosecution and gave details on Knickerbocker’s killing, the events leading up to it, and what he and his cohorts did after the fact.
Grinnell said he had first met Knickerbocker in early August, when Knickerbocker was living in a small house at 5851 Snyder Trail in Hale, located about 1.3 miles from Grinnell’s stepbrother’s home. Olar had been staying at Knickerbocker’s house, records indicate.
Grinnell said he initially agreed to help Olar kill Knickerbocker, even discussing methods on how to accomplish the deed. On or about Aug. 3, the pair went to Knickerbocker’s home, only for Grinnell to get cold feet.
“I said I didn’t want to do it no more,” he testified. “We left and went back to my brother’s house.”
There, Olar asked 21-year-old Kaylee M. Willett — who was in a romantic relationship with Grinnell’s stepbrother — for help instead, but she refused, Grinnell testified. A short time later, Olar and Grinnell returned to Knickerbocker’s house, with Grinnell eventually falling asleep inside, he said.
He was awakened by the sound of Olar killing Knickerbocker, bludgeoning him with a hammer in another room, he said. Iosco County Prosecutor Gary Rapp asked Grinnell if he knew how many times Olar struck Knickerbocker.
“If I had to guess, I’d say probably over 100,” Grinnell replied.
At one point, Olar asked Grinnell to hand him a knife. Grinnell grabbed a blade from a kitchen knife block and gave it to Olar, he said. He then saw Olar stab Knickerbocker as the victim tried getting out of the room he was in. Knickerbocker disappeared back into the room.
The next night, Olar, Grinnell, and Willett wrapped Knickerbocker’s body in plastic and a blanket, dragged it outside with an extension cord, and stuck it in an outhouse, Grinnell said. A week later, they buried the body in a hole in Knickerbocker’s backyard, along with cat litter bags, the hammer, the knife, dishwashing gloves, a blood-stained candleholder, and the extension cord.
They then took a doghouse from Grinnell’s stepbrother’s property and placed it over the shallow grave.
Grinnell said they used Knickerbocker’s credit cards to buy a laptop, a camera, a car, and various items from smoke shops.
Coming to light
The killing came to investigators’ attention the night of Aug. 9. Michigan State Police troopers responded to domestic violence situation at Grinnell’s stepbrother’s home and arrested Willett, who was wanted in Bay County on outstanding warrants. While en route, Willett bemoaned how she was getting locked up while others were getting away with murder. She proceeded to tell troopers a body was buried behind Knickerbocker’s home.
After lodging Willett in jail, troopers went to the home and found evidence that a violent crime had occurred there. Troopers summoned a cadaver dog and Crime Lab technicians to the scene.
The cadaver dog located the grave, prompting Crime Lab personnel to dig. They unearthed Knickerbocker’s body late on the night of Aug. 10.
Both Olar and Knickerbocker hailed from Pontiac and investigators have said they “had known each other for a very long time.”
Once in police custody, Olar reportedly confessed to the killing, saying he had planned to do it if Olar made sexual advances toward him.
Grinnell in December pleaded guilty to second-degree murder. Two months later, Judge Riffel sentenced him to 270 months — or 22.5 years — to 40 years in prison with credit for 179 days already served. His earliest possible release date is Feb. 9, 2040.
Willett in May pleaded guilty to attempted accessory after the fact to a felony, punishable by up to two and a half years’ incarceration. Riffel is to sentence her on June 18.
At the time of his death, Knickerbocker was a registered sex offender.
In October 1999, a 13-year-old girl told Pontiac police officers Knickerbocker had been sexually assaulting her when she was about 4. Knickerbocker had been dating the girl’s mother for about 10 years at that point.
The girl’s mother told police her daughter had told her of the abuse in 1996, but she didn’t do anything about it, according to police reports obtained by The Bay City Times-MLive via a Freedom of Information Act request.
Knickerbocker in June 2000 appeared in Oakland County Circuit Court and pleaded no contest to two counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct with a person 13 or younger. The following month, a judge sentenced Knickerbocker to 10 to 30 years in prison, with credit for 135 days already served.
The Michigan Department of Corrections paroled Knickerbocker in May 2009. The agency discharged him from parole two years later. Knickerbocker still was to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.
At the time, Knickerbocker was residing at 48 S. Merrimac St. in Pontiac, a 0.6-mile walk to a previous residence of Olar’s in the 800 block of Stanley Avenue.
Grinnell is also a sex offender. In 2013, he pleaded guilty to fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct with a victim between the ages of 13 and 15 in Genesee County Circuit Court. The crime occurred Aug. 2, 2013, at which time Grinnell would have been 21. In January 2014, a judge sentenced Grinnell to five years’ probation, which was to last until Jan. 21, 2019. He is required to register as a sex offender until Feb. 4, 2039.