by | May 15, 1994 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

I came home the other day to find my garage strangely empty. The bicycles were gone, the golf clubs and tennis rackets were missing. It took a few hazy moments before it hit me: I’d been robbed.

This has happened before. And the initial reaction is always the same: anger. How could someone do this? How could someone have the gall to think that what I owned, what I’d worked for, was theirs for the taking?

This column is about that question — but not about that crime. I will get over the missing items.

Stella Sproule is not so lucky.

Sproule, by all accounts, was the most important currency of our city, a young black woman who put herself through college, found work, and didn’t feel the world owed her anything. She went to church regularly, had a spotless record, and was well-liked by her colleagues.

It is the reason she is gone today, the reason her body was put in the ground with dressed-up bullet holes. People die for all kinds of wrong things in this town.

Stella Sproule died for her name.
‘Then I shot her again’

The woman who allegedly had Sproule killed is Annie Cole, 32, a through-the-looking-glass version of the victim. Unlike Sproule, Cole had a criminal record — forged checks, fraud. She was wanted for violating parole.

Rather than pay for what she’d done, Cole allegedly came up with an idea: kill herself. Not by taking her own life. No. True to a forger’s ways, she wanted someone else to pay her freight.

Enter Stella Sproule. For a brief period of time, at an auto supply company in Sterling Heights, Cole and Sproule had worked together. Cole noticed Sproule’s spotless record and solid reputation, and allegedly decided to become Stella, take her name, her identification, as if someone else’s life is something you can just pull on like a sweater.

One problem: The real Stella was still around. So Cole allegedly called some teens, including her 16-year-old nephew, and offered them $5,000 apiece to kill Sproule and leave the body where it could be found. Without even asking for the money up front, the nephew and his friend did this crime. They did it by forcing Sproule into a car and driving to an abandoned building. This comes from the police report.

So does this, in the nephew’s own words:

“I told her to face the wall. I then put the gun to her head. . . . I then shot. I then shot her again. Then I shot her again. Then we left.

“The next day, I went over to Ann’s house. She asked if I thought Stella was dead. I told her that I didn’t know. She told me that if Stella isn’t dead leave her there a few days and she will be.”

They waited. Meanwhile, Cole allegedly got a jump on her new identity by using Stella’s credit cards on a little shopping spree. After a few days, the impatient nephew called police and said he’d found a body, come quick.

When police arrived, Annie Cole was already at the building, claiming to be
“Betty” Cole, a sister of Annie, whom she said she heard was dead. Believing her, police showed her the corpse, and asked her to identify it.

What a moment. There was Cole, looking at the bullet-ridden body of a woman she had known, a good person, and someone she may well have had killed. This, apparently, was the sum of her guilt. She told the officers: “That’s Annie.” More than a slaying

Police turned the corpse over to Cole, who made arrangements for cremation.

The thought that Cole may not only have had Stella Sproule murdered but then was given her body is too disturbing to think about.

Fortunately, police smelled something rotten. They dug deeper, got confessions, and a few days later, made arrests, including Cole, who had already fled to Mississippi. Stella Sproule’s body was returned to her real family. She was buried Saturday, 11 days after she was shot. Her loved ones still can’t figure out what she did wrong.

The answer is nothing. All she did wrong was be everything right.

And another victim goes in the ground. We are reaching new lows in human behavior in our city, from children killed for sneakers to a war hero welcomed home with a murder for his insurance money. This is more than crime. It’s an astounding decay in respect for life.

And please. Don’t tell me about tough economic conditions. There have been tough economic conditions throughout history, and people still didn’t kill their neighbors and slip into their skin. The unthinkable is now thinkable, and the only crimes not committed are the ones that haven’t been thought up.

And meanwhile, someone must explain to Sproule’s family how being good got her shot in the head.

You try to be wise. Understanding. But the anger boils. I look around an empty garage and feel fortunate to be robbed. It’s out of control. Beyond belief. They can take anything now, your body, your name, anything they want.


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