Show Notes: Murder of Stephen McAfee, Boblo Island Amusement Park

This show, “Michigan and other Mayhem”, is a sort of factual, slightly comical, always earnest podcast about interesting stuff in Michigan and around the world. It is done by two sisters-in-law (Ali and Jenn) that like to talk about random interesting stories.  Expect cults, mysteries, murder, fast-talking, and a couple of mental palate cleansers… and cuss words.  Those happen on this show, a lot.

Episode 24: Stephen McAfee, Boblo Island Amusement Park

Alerts:

  • Pretend podcast music because Jenn likes it.
  • Ali has a weird laugh. It is often loud.

We have a guest!  Ali’s cousin J! J. has come back to talk about the times he went to Boblo Island Amusement Park with Ali.

Stephen McAfee

Stephen McAfee was reported missing on March 13, 2016 by his parents. He hadn’t come home in three days. He was in his late teens. The police investigate but aren’t able to find any leads.  The case goes cold for about a year.

During that time, a friend named Andrew Fiacco, was questioned a few times. Andrew repeatedly claimed to have no knowledge of Stephen’s disappearance.  This was unusual as the two boys were best friends.  They often spent all of their free time together.

A year later a witness came forward.  The witness is a friend of Andrew’s ex-girlfriend Yvette, who was dating Andrew around the time of the murder. Yvette’s friend told the police that Andrew shot Stephen and later dismembered his body with the help of Yvette.

Andrew, throughout the trial, never said why he did it.  Andrew claimed that Stephen attacked him and he had to shoot him in defense. Stephen was shot once in the stomach and twice in the back. (Ali and J. think that the first shot was in the stomach and the rest was unnecessary as the victim was either running away or curled up in pain.)

April 2017, the Macomb County police arrested Andrew Fiacco and charged him with killing Stephen.  Andrew had shown Yvette where Stephen’s body was, a week after killing him.  Yvette was arrested as an accessory after the fact, for helping dismember the body two months after Stephen was first killed in the field. After Stephen had been dead, Andrew brought Yvette to the field to cut up the body.  They cut Stephen’s torso in half with an ax and worked to remove his limbs. (Ali and J. are grossed out by the stench the body had to be giving off.)

Yvette plead guilty and was sentenced.

Jenn thinks that there is time after someone is convicted to make a deal before being sentenced.  There is something they can try to reduce their time. It was brought up by J. that some people stay out of jail for a long time, on appeals, like Bill Cosby.

Boblo Island Amusement Park

Boblo Island Amusement Park operated for nearly 100 years, from 1898 until late 1993.  I (Ali) visited Boblo through the 1980’s and early 1990’s with my mom, sisters, and various cousins (like J.).  I last went in the 90’s with my mom and Dave, the man who was to become my stepdad, and at least two of my future stepbrothers. (Ali thought she was so clever the last time she went.  It is always hot in the summer on the way there, but you freeze your butt off at night on the way back.  Ali’s future stepbrothers teased her about bringing a coat to the park, but she is the only one to not freeze on the way home.)

Island History:  The park was located on Bois Blanc Island, (bowa-blanch) Ontario, Canada.  Bois Blanc Island is where Chief Tecumseh, a Shawnee Native American, held his headquarters during the War of 1812. In 1838, during the Upper Canadian Rebellion, attackers were locked into blockhouses that had been built on the island. One of those blockhouses is still standing, once serving as a souvenir shop for the amusement park. The island was an important stop on the Underground Railroad to Canada. An estimated 30,000 people came through the island as an escape system.

Bois Blanc is a French name and locals had a hard time pronouncing the name.  They called it Boblo Island, which wasn’t officially accepted until 1949.  However, the legal name of the island is still Bois Blanc.  The island itself is about ½ mile wide and three miles long.

At one point, Boblo Island was considered Detroit’s answer to New York’s Coney Island.  The amusement park had two ferries that launched from Detroit, MI. The boat ride would last 60-80 minutes to reach the island. The park became famous for their ferry steamers, which could hold about 2,500 passengers each. There were smaller ferries that brought people in from Amherstberg, Ontario and Gibraltar, Michigan.

The two steamers in Detroit were the S.S. Ste. Claire, built in 1902, and the S.S. Columbia, built in 1910.  It was the S.S. Ste. Claire that burned in an accidental fire in July of 2018. The 109-year-old mahogany woodwork and upper decks were destroyed.  The owners have the boat down to its steel skeleton and are rebuilding it in New York. After restoration, the ship will mostly likely be employed on the Hudson river, in New York.

https://www.mlive.com/news/index.ssf/2018/11/the_boblo_boat_is_being_restor.html

Riding on the boats was always one of my favorite parts to going to Boblo.  I loved walking around the different levels of the boats and watching people feed the seagulls popcorn. I think there was a bar on the boat, if I remember correctly. There were areas in which you could look down and see giant portions of the engine turning. Late in the day, on the way back, there would be music bumping on the boat and everyone would dance. Ali loved it.

Some of the amusement attractions on the island were The Nightmare, the scariest roller coaster on the island, and the Falling Star, which was my favorite.  The Falling Star was like the pirate boat ride in other amusement parks, but on the Falling Star passengers were seated facing out, instead of looking at each other across the ride.  The Sky Streak, The Screamer, and Wild Mouse were similarly large roller coasters.

The island had the classic Ferris wheel and carousel.  I’m not a big fan of zoos, but the island had one of those also. The only animal I can remember at the zoo was one sad and skinny wolf. However, when management was selling off parts of the park, they sold 44 horses, two goats and two deer. Boblo Island had the classic amusement park small railroad used to move people from attraction to attraction.

I remember, a school friend losing something on the Sky Streak roller coaster ride.  The attendants said that the only thing we could do was walk the chain link fence line surrounding the coaster to look for it.  That friend found about 100 dollars from different bills stuck up against the fence by the wind.  I wanted to check all of the fences after that.

There was also a Boblo Space Needle.  It was tall enough that it could be seen from Amherstburg, Ontario.  It has angled ramps leading up to the needle, and for some reason, just going up and down on the needle scared me more than any ride they had. It is still standing today.  Boblo also had the swing ride that made Ali think she was going to fly off into the crowd.

The famous Henry Ford financed the amusement park’s dance hall.  When the dance hall was built, it was the second largest in the world.  It could hold up to 5,000 people when at full capacity. It had a 16-foot-tall, 14-foot wide self-playing orchestrion (oh-kest-rian).  An orchestrion is a large mechanical musical instrument that sounds like an entire orchestra is playing. The Boblo orchestrion had 419 pipes and a percussion section. The large dancehall also invited big bands to play.  They didn’t rely on just the orchestrion for music.  When the big bands played, they were known to draw multiracial crowds during the 1920’s.

I saw picture in which Boblo had Scootaboats, which is like bumper car boats.  They were even moved by electrical impulses through the ceiling like a bumper car.  Water and electricity seems like a dangerous mix. I LOVED Boblo’s bumper cars. My cousins and I (especially J.) would often get in trouble for ramming each other in head-on collisions.

The State of Michigan brought a discrimination case against the amusement park in 1948, which went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.  Sarah Ray, in June 1945, went with 12 other female workers from the war effort, on a trip to Boblo Island. (In the legal proceedings, they were continuously referred to as ‘girls’ despite being grown women working in factories.) The Bob-lo company had a policy in place that excluded people who were rough, rowdy, boisterous, or colored.  They used the policy to remove Sarah Ray from the steamboat. The company stated that they were able to remove her because it was a private business concern.  Since they were going from Michigan to a foreign country, Canada, the Boblo company believed they weren’t able to be regulated by Michigan laws. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Michigan Supreme Court decision that the company was violating the state’s anti-discrimination provisions.

It has been hypothesized that Boblo lost customers and had to be shut down in the 1990’s as it could not keep up with the larger amusement parks, like Cedar Point in nearby Ohio. It also had very high maintenance costs, especially for the older buildings.  Unfortunately, poor management of resources was also an issue.

It was estimated that 400,000 people had visited Boblo the year before it closed.

The Sky Streak was taken down and moved to a theme park in Mexico.  The Nightmare was originally moved to Six Flags in Houston, Texas.  It was renamed there as the Mayan Mindbender.  Later, it was moved again to a park in Amarillo, Texas.

After closing the amusement park, the island was renovated and became a neighborhood for luxury homes.  It is now referred to as the Marina Resort Community.

Ali is thinking about doing different amusement parks in Michigan as a podcast.

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