Dateline   |  April 04, 2014

Graduation Night, part 1

A Detroit woman's Facebook post jogs the memory of a man with knowledge of a long-ago murder.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> in the suburbs outside detroit , michigan, in the summer of 2009 , a divorced mother of three named mary evans was poking around in one of her favorite places, facebook .

>> you can look up what everyone is up to, where are they at today, are they successful, did they take the wrong path?

>> dear mary , no idea that innocent poking into her past would drudge up a shocking truth, long buried.

>> i was stunned. it was unbelievable.

>> and a nightmare's worth ofter roars.

>> i could have been killed that day.

>> to bring together an unlikely band of friends to right a terrible wrong.

>> and then a miracle happened.

>> in 2009 , it was just an ordinary summer day. no sign of providence anywhere. just mary reminiscing about the old days and friends long since gone away and well, you know how it is. a person wonders. not such an uncommon thing among people who grew up as mary did in northeast detroit .

>> it was actually a nice neighborhood when i moved in. you could walk around the streets, 1:00 in the morning in the summer. never had to worry about anything.

>> yes.

>> and then --

>> this changed?

>> it definitely changed. later '80s, early '90s it started going downhill.

>> mary was in a mood to remember the good times, good friends and on facebook there was something called the northeast detroit alumni group. so what did you do in this group on facebook ?

>> what that was all about is being in touch with long lost friends, people from the neighborhood.

>> including a couple of brothers, old friends from the neighborhood who she remembered were the twins did not turn out so well. tommy and ray highers went to prison, in fact, for murder. mary followed the case way back then in 1987 , remembers just how she felt when they were found guilty.

>> i was shocked. you know, i was shocked to hear that. i thought, no way.

>> didn't sound like them to you?

>> no.

>> anyway, there she was thinking about them again fondly. so she wrote a line about missing them whenever she hears a certain song on the radio and then she sighed and pushed the send button and look out.

>> people might have trouble believing that such a simple thing as a posting on facebook could make whole worlds change.

>> a lot of people ask, well, what was it? what did you do? what happened?

>> i said all i did was put one sentence. just one sentence.

>> so she did. and 500 miles away in the suburbs of washington, d.c.

>> what were you doing on facebook ?

>> just wasting time , like a lot of people do.

>> kevin zieleniewski grew up in detroit too, but was now an international trade attorney in d.c. he and mary didn't know each other, weren't even facebook friend for that matter. but both belonged to that northeast detroit group, which is why that very same summer day in 2009 , he happened to see mary 's post about those boys in prison for murder.

>> said something to the effect that tommy and raymond highers are in prison for life. every time i hear miss you by the stones, i think of those guys.

>> did you know those two guys?

>> no, i didn't know them.

>> which, by all rights, should have been the end of it. but something in that post tripped a wire deep in the crater of kevin 's memory. that name, highers. he had heard it before. he was sure of it. in connection with a murder case. way back in the late '80s. and that memory lit up another one clear as day. the indelible memory of a bizarre story a college roommate told him in '93 or so. he could hardly believe it then. but now when he saw mary 's post, no, couldn't be. were those old stories somehow connected? maybe mary could tell him.

>> i sent back to her, they wouldn't have to be in prison for killing old man bob and she got back and said, yes, they are in prison for killing old man bob.

>> old man bob was robert karey, well-known fence, loan shark , drug dealer , murdered at the back door of his east detroit home in the summer of 1987 . kevin was already on the computer in 2009 so he pulled up the michigan department of corrections website, saw pictures of tommy and ray highers. confirmed they were in prison doing life without parole for the murder of old man bob. it was then it hit him. like a brick in the face. something about those pictures was very, very wrong.

>> only one thing to do. kevin picked up the phone and called that old college roommate. a man he hadn't seen for at least a decade. this man. john hielscher.

>> i said it was about old man bob. i started freaking out. i'm not doing it. i'm not doing any of this.

>> how come?

>> scared. felt scared.

>> but if he was scared now, oh, just wait. mary 's little post and the connections it pulled up in kevin 's brain had just made john hielscher part of a team he wasn't sure he wanted to belong to and the next move was his.