Few answers in man’s ‘suspicious’ death at mall

By MATT TROUTMAN

The Record-Eagle

TRAVERSE CITY (MCT) — Silence and crime scene tape supplanted the usual bustle of shoppers at Grand Traverse Mall and left authorities trying to figure out what caused a man’s death in the Garfield Township retail facility.

Ricky Alan Billings, 64, of Traverse City, worked as a night shift housekeeper at the mall where his body was found Tuesday morning.

Grand Traverse County sheriff’s investigators don’t yet know Billings’ cause of death, and provided few answers to questions during a daylong closure that kept shoppers and employees alike outside the mall’s nearly 80 stores.

Garfield Township Supervisor Chuck Korn said he didn’t receive much information when he spoke with investigators early Tuesday, other than that Billings had an obvious injury.

“What I did learn was there was a laceration to the head,” Korn said.

An autopsy is expected to be conducted Wednesday in Grand Rapids.

Sheriff’s officials didn’t return calls for more information through the day, even after they released Billings’ name about nine hours after the investigation began with a report about a body in the mall. They termed the death “suspicious,” but didn’t elaborate. Sheriff Tom Bensley didn’t respond to a request for comment, nor did Undersheriff Nathan Alger.

Grand Traverse County Prosecutor Bob Cooney said Tuesday he hadn’t been contacted by any law enforcement officers. He declined to say whether he thought authorities should release more information.

“Without knowing any of the facts here, I don’t know how to respond to that,” he said.

Billings’ family couldn’t be reached for comment.

Investigators could be seen milling around the mall’s otherwise empty food court through the day. State police crime lab technicians continued work at the scene as the mall closure dragged into the afternoon hours.

Grand Traverse County Commission President Herb Lemcool said he’d only heard “bits and pieces” about the incident. He didn’t question sheriff’s officials’ delay in releasing information.

“I’m sure there’s a valid reason for the sheriff to do that,” he said.

Korn said he hadn’t received any calls from mall management or employees other than his daughter, who works in the mall and didn’t know if she had to work Tuesday evening. He said sheriff’s officials probably should have released more information.

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Posted by Tribune News Services

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