CASS COUNTY Neighbors across southwest Michigan remain on edge as police continue to hunt for a suspect in a double homicide. Police say that person killed John Tarwacki, 40 and his wife Carolyn, 39, inside their Cass County home Friday morning.
Michigan State Police said a relative found the couple's bodies inside their home in the 900 block of Carberry Street near the Jerry Tyler Airport in Niles just before 12:45 p.m. Friday.
Officers arrived shortly after and began a manhunt for the suspect.
Some nearby neighbors were told to stay inside their homes as officers and K-9 units from three area departments fanned out, searching for anything that might shed light on what led up to the double homicide.
"We do know someone got into the house on foot. Whether they parked close, we don't know. We are looking between Carberry and Yankee for any suspicious activity," said Michigan State Police Niles Post Lt. Michael Brown.
Police aren't sure yet how the couple died, and have not released circumstances surrounding their death or their manner of death.
Autopsy results are expected back by Monday.
Even so, police say their investigation so-far leads them to believe the crime wasn't a coincidence.
"We don't think it was random, by the nature of that house. So, certainly, lock your door and be cautious. But, we don't think it was a random crime," said Brown.
Brown said police found no evidence to either support or deny the theory the suspect forced entry into the home. He also said it's possible the couple knew their killer, or killers.
Brown said officers were sent to nearby Ring Lardner Middle School as a precaution.
"We had a relative that was at the school. And so, we had officers from Niles City Police go to that school," Brown said.
As night fell, the search expanded to an alley-way behind the Tarwackis' home, where police believe the suspect may have fled on foot or by car early Friday morning. Investigators are now asking anyone who passed by the alley to contact them.
"If you've seen anything between 6:30 a.m. and about 8:30 a.m., at Carberry and Yankee, please contact us," Brown said.
It's that intersection at Carberry and Yankee that first drew James Anderson to his kitchen window Friday afternoon.
"I saw the cop car right here, blocking off the road," Anderson said, pointing at Yankee Street from his front porch. "I thought it was another accident. There's a lot of accidents there. When I found out what it really was, I went and checked all my doors to make sure the guy's not in my house."
Anderson wasn't alone.
Many of his neighbors remained on edge Friday night, too.
"I was very apprehensive as it progressed," said Darren Mackey, who lives a few doors down. "I got more and more concerned as I saw what was going on. They had dogs out back. They had men out back looking around. They were obviously looking for tracks."
Asked if that made him double check his own door locks, Mackey didn't hesitate.
"Oh, yeah. Yeah. Definitely," he said.
The sense of safety in what many described as a "quiet" rural neighborhood was suddenly shattered.
"Around here, it just doesn't happen," said Bruce Anderson. "I told my daughter's babysitter, you better lock the doors, because they haven't caught this fellow yet."
A Happy Couple
According to a check of South Bend Tribune archives, John Tarwacki served as a nuclear operator aboard a U.S. Navy submarine. He injured his leg during service and was confined to a wheelchair until 2007.
He was hired in early 2008 as Operations Manager for Downtown South Bend, also known as DTSB managing the organization's ambassador program.
"One of my primary responsibilities, and a big component, is providing hospitality," Tarwacki told the Tribune's Jennifer Ochstein in a profile story written in June 2008.
"That includes visits to merchants to find out if they're doing all right and see if they need anything. We also distribute information to them about events in the city, and we meet and greet visitors and help them out with directions and events and just be an ambassador to them for Downtown South Bend," Tarwacki was quoted as saying.
According to the profile, Tarwacki's education in nuclear propulsion helped prepare him for a diverse career outside of military service.He also worked as a shopping mall manager and apartment complex manager after severely injuring his leg and returning to his hometown of South Bend.
"All I've been through has really prepared me for anything that comes my way," he told the Tribune. "I don't shake easy."
Neither did Carolyn Tarwacki, whose maiden name was McKnight.
According to a South Bend Tribune archive story from 2002, she was a music lover.
"Music has always been my path of life," she told the Tribune's Sherry Van Arsdall in profile of Ring Lardner Middle School music teacher Ken Working. "[Ken] was my teacher, my motivator."
According to the Tribune's archives, Carolyn McKnight-Tarwacki worked at the time as credit manager and Michigan representative for Blessings Music Co. She also helped Working teach music at Ring Lardner.
Tributes to the couple were already growing online Friday night on both of their Facebook pages.
Search For A Suspect
Late Friday night, police released a description of a "suspicious person" seen near the Tarwacki's home early Friday morning.
Between 20 and 30 years old
Police are asking anyone who might have seen him to call them at (269) 683-4411.
"Call it in, and we'll evaluate it," said Brown. "We'll work on (tips) as quick as we can."
Carolyn M. Tarwacki and John F. Tarwacki
Carolyn M. Tarwacki, 39 / Dec. 16, 1970 Feb. 5, 2010
John F. Tarwacki Jr., 42 / April 26, 1967 Feb. 5, 2010
Carolyn M. Tarwacki, 39, and her husband, John F. Tarwacki Jr., 42, of Carberry Road, Niles died at their home Friday, Feb. 5, 2010.
John was born April 26, 1967 in South Bend to John Francis and Dolores Else (Wolffram) Tarwacki Sr. He graduated from John Adams High School, South Bend, and lived in this area most of his life.
Carolyn was born Dec. 16, 1970 in Niles to Jackie Lee and Sharon Ann (Fretz) McKnight. She graduated from Niles High School, and lived in Niles all of her life.
They were both employed by Quinlan & Fabish Music Co. (formerly Blessing Music Co.), where Carolyn was the regional representative to southwest Michigan. John has previously been employed by Memorial Hospital, South Bend, and by the City of South Bend in a position which was featured in an article by the South Bend Tribune in 2007.
John served in the United States Navy as a nuclear-powered submarine engineer from 1987 to 1990. He had a great sense of humor, and loved to have fun, especially with his family. He was skilled in karaoke, and was an avid sports fan, especially of Notre Dame, the Chicago Bears and the Chicago Cubs.
Carolyn enjoyed performing music, and was a talented player of the euphonium. She participated in several area music organizations including the Southwestern Michigan Brass Band, The Elkhart (Ind.) Municipal and the Saint Joseph (Mich.) Municipal Band.
They were both devout Christians, caring for people with the love of God, especially their close and extended family, and they were loved by all whose lives they had touched.
They were married July 7, 2007 at Hope Community Church, Niles.
They are survived by Johns children, John F. Tarwacki III an Zachary (Katrina) Tarwacki, all of West Point, Miss., Tea (Ryan) Koehn of Texas, Janna Tarwacki of Oklahoma; a granddaughter, Ciersten Tarwacki; Carolyns mother, Sharon A. McKnight of Niles; Johns parents, Dolores E. Dollie (Dean) Frick and John F. (Carol) Tarwacki Sr., all of South Bend; Carolyns sister, Katherine Katie (David) Weist of Niles; Johns siblings, Sue (Tom) Michael of Cincinnati, Ohio, Kurt J. Tarwacki and Danielle Tarwacki, both of South Bend; and by many aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews, including a nephew who was very special to them, Kelan McKnight.
They were preceded in death by Carolyns father, Jack McKnight, and their grandparents, former Wakarusa (Ind.) postmaster Jerry (Ruth) Miller.
The funeral service for Carolyn and John Tarwacki will be at 10 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 11, 2010 at Hope Community Church, 2390 Lake St., Niles with the Rev. Cornelius Ryan, C.S.C. of Little Flower Catholic Church, South Bend; the Rev. David Bartley of South Bend First Church of the Nazarene; and the Rev. Patricia Hass of Pokagon (Mich.) United Methodist Church all officiating.
Committal will follow at Silverbrook Cemetery, Niles and will conclude with the veterans flag presentation and Taps in honor of Johns military service.
The family will receive friends and relatives at the church from 4 to 8 p.m. Wednesday.
Contributions in memory of Carolyn and John may be made to the Instrumental Music Department of Niles High School or the Relay for Life.
Arrangements were made by Halbritter Funeral Home, Niles.
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