In 2013, Kelly Boyce-Hurlbert was a recently-married young woman working towards a psych degree. She and her husband, Paul, lived an exciting life in northwestern Michigan, and were poised for great things. But in the early morning hours of July 5th, while bicycling home from a bar she worked at, Kelly would meet a tragic end...
The National Cherry Festival is a week-long event that runs through the first half of July, and takes place in Traverse City, Michigan.
Traverse City is in northwestern Michigan, right at the base of the Leelanau (Lee-Lah-Naw) Peninsula. For reference, Traverse City isn't anywhere close to Detroit - in fact, geographically, it's closer to Green Bay, Wisconsin than it is to Detroit.
Traverse City, which rests right along the coast of Grand Traverse Bay, is known for its scenic beaches. It's a lovely little coastal town, which has been named one of America's best travel destinations (by multiple publications). It's also been ranked as one of the best places in all of the United States to retire.
Returning to the subject of the National Cherry Festival, it is a week-long event that began in 1925. The area is one of the world's biggest suppliers of cherries, which thrive in the northwestern Michigan climate... during the summer months, at least. The Cherry Festival attracts more than half-a-million visitors to this area; which balloons the area's population by a significant margin. The entirety of the Traverse City metropolitan area has a population of less than 150,000, so the population essentially triples over the span of a week.
It also happens that the National Cherry Festival tends to overlap with the Fourth of July, which creates a festive environment of its own.
For decades, the National Cherry Festival has become the thing that Traverse City is most well-known for. It's what originally put Traverse City on the map, and attracted many of its families and retirees to it.
However, over the past handful of years, there has been a dark topic of discussion undercutting the Festival every July. Residents of Traverse City were shocked when one of their own was killed at the tail-end of the 2013 festival, just hours after Fourth of July events lit up the skyline. The incident, which occurred in the middle of Traverse City itself - right in the open - has left Traverse City asking whether or not they have a killer living in their midst.
This is the story of Kelly Boyce-Hurlbert.
Kelly Ann Boyce was born on January 30th, 1984.
She was the second daughter to her parents, Steve and Michelle Boyce. She had one older sister, Nicole; and would be followed by two brothers, Craig and Scott.
Nicknamed "Kel-Bel" by her family, Kelly lived in northern Michigan for her entire life. She was working herself up in life, but had plans to travel and see the rest of the world as she got older.
Those that knew Kelly describe her as a young woman that was full of life and laughs. She loved dancing, music, and anything to do with panda bears; she also loved to wear tutus, which she thought always paired well with her favorite Chuck Taylor sneakers.
Kelly graduated from Benzie Central High School in 2003, where she had played both soccer and softball.
Kelly was described as being very understanding and kind with everyone she knew; she had a tendency to hear out someone else's side of the argument before making her own opinions known. She would fully hear you out before adding in her own two cents... which, more often than not, came in the form of a self-deprecating joke. On her Facebook page, she had described herself to the best of her abilities:
"I don't judge others. I say if you feel good with what you're doing, let your freak flag fly. I'm a ridiculous human being with a sunny disposition."
Kelly also had a positive personality that became infectious. Her older sister, Nicole, described her as:
"Fun, happy-go-lucky, [and] lived life to the fullest."
Almost everyone that knew Kelly agreed that she was the type of person that became impossible to hate. She had a way of endearing herself to everyone that met her.
Kelly Boyce met Paul Hurlbert at a bar named Union Street Station, in 2008.
The two, who met via mutual friends, had no real reason to interact or talk to one another. If you listen to Paul tell the story, he says that he had no intention of talking to Kelly that evening, but she decided to break the ice in the most silly of ways.
Without any music playing, Kelly asked Paul if he wanted to dance on top of one of the bar's pool tables. Paul reluctantly accepted, as their group of friends below clapped out a beat with the hands and feet.
Paul, who loves telling that story every chance he gets, says that his meeting Kelly was "the best thing that ever happened to me."
"I was a fun-loving idiot who got lucky. She saw something in me and kept at it until her loving ways started making sense to me.
"She made me a better person."
Shortly after this chance encounter, the two started dating. Within four years, they were engaged.
Finally, on July 15th, 2012, the two married.
Kelly loved to talk about her husband, Paul - who she and most others nicknamed "Pauly" - who became a pilot in the time they were together. She was also in the process of legally changing her name to Kelly Boyce-Hurlbert, but had been using the conjoined name for months.
The two lived a caring, interesting life together. Paul worked as a pilot and a flight instructor, but also spent his down time as a photographer and playing in a band. Kelly, meanwhile, was working towards her psychology degree, and was balancing two separate jobs: one at the Omelette Shoppe - a breakfast hot-spot - and the North Peak Brewing Company - a local pub and brewery. Both jobs were within biking distance of the home Paul and Kelly shared, and they were able to become avid cyclists during their time together.
The couple had a pair of dogs, named Zephyr and Maggie - which Kelly loved to dote upon - and were planning to move to San Juan in the near-future. Remember what I told you about Kelly and her plans of travelling?
Things were beginning to come together for this young couple, and their relationship was one full of love and laughs.
All of that would come to a screeching halt in July of 2013.
In 2013, the Fourth of July holiday happened to correlate with the National Cherry Festival. This meant that not only was there a parade moving through downtown Traverse City, and an airshow over the Bay in the early evening hours, but a large fireworks show was prepared for that evening, while a Simon & Garfunkel tribute band was entertaining festival-goers.
While the city around her partied and celebrated America's 237th birthday, Kelly Boyce-Hurlbert just so happened to be working. She was spending her evening at the North Peak Brewing Company, where she was scheduled to work until past midnight.
Meanwhile, Paul Hurlbert, Kelly's husband, was playing with his band in a pub downstairs named Kilkenny's. The band played there regularly, usually on Thursdays, and Kelly was there for almost all of their performances.
Some time after midnight, Kelly finished up her shift, and went downstairs to watch Paul's band finish up their set.
A little bit after 1:00 AM, Paul and his band finished up, and they began packing up their equipment. Kelly prepared for her bike ride home, which she would have to make by herself. As Paul himself later stated:
"We both ride our bikes every day. I didn't ride my bike that day because I had my equipment with me."
So Kelly walked out into the night air, which still held the faint aroma of sulfur from the fireworks that had lit up the northern Michigan sky earlier that evening. Either on or alongside her bike, she began heading towards the home that she shared with her husband... a trip that would have taken her no more than five minutes on any given night.
At around 1:56 AM, on the morning of July 5th, 2013, a terrible sound pierced the relative silence of a sleepy Traverse City neighborhood.
Some residents of the area's 700 block, along Washington Street, recall hearing what sounded like a woman's screaming. The screams had been precipitated and then followed by a squealing sound, like a car suddenly peeling out.
911 was called by a handful of these residents, and officers from the Traverse City Police Department from less than a mile away arrived to the scene within minutes.
The responding police officers found a scene that they had not been expecting... at least, not here, in this cozy little neighborhood of Traverse City, on such a festive occasion.
Twenty-nine-year-old Kelly Boyce-Hurlbert had been struck by a vehicle, and had been badly injured. Whoever had hit her had fled from the scene, and were nowhere to be found.
Her bike was found roughly two blocks away from her body, mostly undamaged.
Kelly, who had suffered terrible injuries, seemed to have become entangled with the vehicle, and dragged upwards of a city block behind the car itself. Police found her lying unconscious on the road, in an southern alleyway on Railroad Street.
Kelly was barely clinging to consciousness, but was able to tell police a few things as they eagerly awaited an ambulance to take her to a nearby hospital. Her mother, Michelle Boyce, recalled police telling her what Kelly had initially told them:
"... they tried to kill me... they tried to run me over..."
When police had asked who tried to kill her, she could only tell them the vehicle was a dark SUV. When pressed further, she said that it had either been black or silver, but she couldn't go into any further detail in her current state.
Kelly was able to give police the phone number to her husband, Paul, before she began slipping into unconsciousness.
When Paul Hurlbert returned home just a short time later, he was surprised to find that Kelly had not made it home before him. She had left the bar some time before him, and he expected to find her at home already.
It was very unlike her to still be out, and Paul's nerves were already on-edge.
That was when he received a call from an unknown phone number. The caller on the other end identified himself as a police officer, who asked him if he was the husband of a young woman named Kelly.
Paul looked outside, and he could see the flashing lights from an ambulance just down the street.
"It was not even a quarter of a block away from our house. I immediately dropped everything in my hand and sprinted as fast as I could.
"I was hysterical. They were trying to stabilize her."
Kelly was rushed to the nearby Munson Medical Center, where paramedics and doctors struggled to stabilize her and keep her breathing over the next hour or two.
Paul was told by doctors that even though Kelly couldn't respond to him, she could hear every word he was saying. Paul, who was at a loss for words, struggled to find the courage to tell her that everything was going to turn out fine.
"I just told her how much I loved her. I told her everything was going to be OK and that I loved her so much."
A short time after this, with Paul by her side, Kelly Boyce-Hurlbert passed away.
Family and friends of Kelly were informed of her death over the next several hours, and the news of her loss sent shockwaves through the community.
Michelle Boyce, Kelly's mom, said that in the aftermath of the tragedy:
"Nothing seemed real to me."
Loved ones assembled at the home that Kelly and Paul had shared, just down the block from where her mangled body had been found by police, the victim of an errant hit-and-run. Present was Paul's father, Joseph Hurlbert, who recounted his thoughts to a local report a short time later:
"[Paul] told me that Kelly had been killed and she had been hit and did not survive the surgery and it was just gut wrenching to hear my son have to tell me about that.
"Newspaper reports said that Kelly was riding within 12 inches of the curb in a parking lane on a residential street at two o'clock in the morning on her way home. Paul and Kelly both loved Traverse City because they could ride everywhere, they had a car but they didn't have to use it hardly at all.
"The person apparently left the driving lane and went over to the parking lane and clipped her and dragged her for a block and a half. Neighbors heard her screaming and came out and found her bike and eventually found her."
While family and friends struggled to come to terms with the loss of Kelly - a bright, loving, inspirational young woman who had her entire life ahead of her - they began to focus in on the overarching question: What had happened? Who was behind the wheel? Had Kelly been the victim of an unfortunate accident, or was there something more malicious at-work? Was this murder?
From the home that Paul and Kelly shared, these loves ones commiserated in their grief and heartache. Outside the windows, they could see Traverse City police officers canvassing the neighborhood, asking around for anyone that may have seen or heard anything in the last day or two... looking for a tip that could point them in the right direction.
These loved ones remained hopeful that the police investigation would be able to come to a conclusion relatively soon, unaware that their heartache was only getting started.
Following the death of Kelly Boyce-Hurlbert, a large-scale police investigation was launched by the Traverse City Police Department, with cooperation from various agencies and departments.
Roughly ten detectives were assigned to the case, primarily from Traverse City and its more overarching Grand Traverse County Sheriff's Office. They were tasked with discovering whether or not the case could be classified as an accident - indicating manslaughter or another similar crime; or if it was intentional - meaning that murder charges could be filed against the responsible parties.
Unfortunately for them, the investigation got off to a rough start when it was discovered that there was very little evidence that could be recovered from the scene. Dark tire marks found on the street weren't very distinguishable; at least, not to the point where investigators could make out a specific tread or tire make.
And, while it initially appeared that Kelly had been struck while riding her bike, there was very little damage to the bike itself. Kelly's bike only had a single scuff mark on the back tire, which indicated that the assaulting vehicle had likely not received much damage. In fact, the only noticeable damage to Kelly's bicycle was its broken chain, which police theorized might have happened before the crash.
It was theorized that Kelly might have actually broken the chain earlier in the evening, when she was riding to work. That meant that she might have been walking home alongside the bike, which would explain the minimal damage it had received, before being abandoned in a lawn a distance away from where her body was recovered.
Matt Richmond, one of the detectives working on the case for Traverse City, told the media:
"She was with a bicycle. Whether she was riding the bicycle or walking the bicycle is still a question that we have. But it was bicycle-related. And we believe [it was] struck by a vehicle that fled the scene."
Investigators began looking through the area to try and find a vehicle that matched the description provided by Kelly herself, on the morning she passed away: a dark SUV or pickup truck. In particular, police tried finding a vehicle with damage to the front end, but stressed that this was not essential. After all, Kelly's bicycle had not become entangled with the vehicle, so there was likely very little structural damage.
Nonetheless, all dark SUVs or pickup trucks were suspect for the time being, but police began investigating leads local to the area.
Because the road where Kelly had been hit wasn't a very popular road - it was more of a residential neighborhood - it was believed that the driver of the car might have been a resident; or, at least, someone who was familiar with the area.
Police began collecting surveillance footage from the area of the accident; this included not only local businesses, but any homes that may have had security systems in-place. They checked places primarily on the south and east sides of Traverse City, as that was the area where most of the hotels and businesses were, but conducted a thorough door-to-door search of any footage they could find.
Mike Ayling, the Traverse City Police Captain, told the media that police were also intending to collect receipts from downtown bars, in an effort to track down people that had been drinking in the area.
It was still unknown whether Kelly's death had been due to an accident or reckless driving, and police were not ruling out the possibility that the driver had been impaired and perhaps panicked after the incident. In fact, one of their biggest struggles in the early days of the investigation was trying to differentiate between that likelihood and the more terrifying possibility of this being an intentional act.
The news of Kelly Boyce-Hurlbert's death reached the media that weekend, as the National Cherry Festival came to an end. The thousands of visitors that had been in the area left, and with them, left many opportunities for investigators to identify potential leads.
Police had publicly stated that they were looking for a dark pickup truck or SUV, which may or may not have been the vehicle responsible for Kelly's death.
A couple of witnesses stated that they had seen a dark SUV in the area a short time before the incident along Washington Street - at around 1:50 AM - but these reports were hard to verify without further detail. No witnesses could provide license plates, descriptions of drivers, etc. Just a vague description of a vehicle.
Likewise, police were unable to discount other reports which indicated a silver SUV had been spotted by witnesses in the area.
Police conducted tests in the area, which verified their worst fear: that eyewitnesses would be unable to differentiate between dark and light-colored vehicles in the dimly-lit neighborhood. It made no difference between a white car and a black car, as eyewitnesses would not be able to tell the difference.
Traverse City Police officials reached out to various police agencies for assistance, including the Grand Traverse Sheriff's Office, the Michigan State Police, and even the FBI - who supplied the investigation with a crime scene reconstructionist, who tried to provide a more thorough detailed description of the scene itself.
With the cooperation of these various departments, investigators were able to arrange for specialized tip line to be created, which was managed by state police in Lansing, Michigan. This allowed investigators to load the seemingly-endless amount of tips into a software program, which made it easy for investigators to sort through and access easily.
Within the first few weeks of the investigation, police had received over 300 tips, which proved incredibly helpful. However, police cautioned potential witnesses and tipsters to focus less on vehicles with physical damage, and more so on character flaws. After all, the damage to the SUV or pickup truck would likely be minimal, and it was possible there was no visible damage to the car that had killed Kelly Boyce-Hurlbert.
Traverse City Police Captain Mike Ayling said as much to the press, in the aftermath of the terrible tragedy:
"At this point we're hoping the tip would be more related to a person saying something.
"Truthfully, I think the person-related tips are much more prone to be the one we're looking for. We don't even know if there will be damage to the car. If we get one about a person we look at it much more closely."
Detective Sergeant James Bussell expanded on this line-of-thinking in an interview of his own:
"The tips that we are looking for now are somebody that may have had a significant decline in their quality of life and are feeling remorse or guilt. They may have developed a substance abuse problem or relationship issues. They may have said something to somebody close to them that would lead them to believe they may have been involved in this type of incident."
While police struggled to ascertain whether or not the death of Kelly Boyce-Hurlbert was an accident or intentional, her loved ones continued to struggle with the loss of their "Kel-Bel."
For many, Kelly was the glue that brought them together. She was a friendly, loving presence, and the idea that she could be lost in such a violent, sudden way was unthinkable.
To many of these loved ones, there was no doubt that Kelly's death was an intentional act. Everything they learned about her final moments - from her getting struck from behind, to her being dragged nearly two blocks both beneath and behind a vehicle that failed to slow down or stop - pointed to a malicious, premeditated act.
Nicole Nostrandt, Kelly's older sister, said a short time later:
"It wasn't like they just bumped Kelly and then moved on. They went around parked cars and turned the corner dragging her. That's what makes me think it was intentional. If it was just a random accident, why wouldn't they have stopped?"
Likewise, Mike Moran - Paul's best friend, who spoke to the press on his behalf in the immediate aftermath of Kelly's loss - was also upset and angry with the loss of his good friend, Kelly. He expressed outrage on behalf of Kelly's family, acting as their unofficial spokesman.
"The town is very upset about this. Kelly was dragged over a block and a half, screaming, and people are angry, because it was a brutal act of violence. It was intentional. Nothing like this has ever happened here."
Mike had a point: this was a violent and brutal act, which had resulted in the tragic loss of a young woman for no good reason.
However, he was wrong on one account: something like this had happened before. However, this just happened to be the first time it had resulted in a death.
Roughly a year before Kelly Boyce-Hurlbert was hit by a vehicle along Washington Street, a similar incident unfolded just a few blocks away.
The date was June 28th, 2012, and a thirty-year-old woman named Kylee Bonne (Bunn) was riding home on her bright pink bicycle, which was covered in reflectors. Kylee was approximately six months pregnant at the time, and was heading back home early in the morning, just after 1:00 AM.
Kylee had been hanging out with some friends on a party boat, in Grand Traverse Bay, but had not consumed any alcohol. After all, she was entering her final trimester, but enjoyed getting out and having a good time with her friends.
She was riding down Union Street, which is just a block or two away from Washington Street - the road where Kelly Boyce-Hurlbert would be hit by a vehicle just a year later. The streets were on opposite sides of the Boardman River, which ran through Traverse City.
The trip was taking Kylee south, away from the harbor. As she rode, she passed by a number of bars, which were still open but winding down this early on a Thursday morning. One drinker yelled out to her, saying "Nice bike!" as she rode past.
Eventually, after passing the intersection of Union and Eighth Streets, Kylee noticed a car pulled out behind her, onto Union Street, travelling south. The car was riding pretty slow, and Kylee began to feel a bit weird about the headlights illuminating her path. She thought that it might have been a friend that knew her, and was trying to creep her out or play a prank on her.
She turned left onto Ninth Street, and then turned to look at the vehicle which had been following behind her for about a block.
"As soon as I turned around, I heard it accelerate and it veered toward me."
Kylee Bonne got a brief look at the vehicle, and she later recalled it as being a new-ish dark SUV or pickup truck, which was black and shiny in appearance. Nearby witnesses confirmed this, saying that it was either a dark SUV or pickup truck, which may have had a topper or camper shell.
Kylee, though, had a split second not only to protect her life, but the life of her unborn baby.
"I knew I was going to get hit, so I started jumping off my bike and jumped toward the grass. I curled into a ball and rolled onto the grass on my side, protecting my belly. It happened really fast. The truck didn't slow down even when it hit me, and I couldn't see much. I remember seeing the headlights and the chrome grille and thinking, 'I can't believe this truck was hitting me right now.' I remember seeing a tire eight inches from my head. It just kept driving really fast. It sped around the corner onto Cass Street."
Kylee Bonne would survive the terrifying ordeal, which resulted in a black eye and a pretty badly-injured leg. Kylee's leg was broken in multiple spots, with the breaks correlating to her bike frame, which slammed together upon impact.
Thankfully, though, Kylee's baby was unharmed.
Following the crash, an article about the incident appeared in the local publication, the Record-Eagle. Kylee detailed her ordeal, and told investigators that she - and the rest of her social circle - believed that it wasn't an accident.
"[My friends] thought it must have been a drunk driver. But I just knew it wasn't a drunk driver. In my opinion, everything points to someone who has some issues.
"I've played it over in my head a million times, and I just can't see any way it was an accident. There were no other cars on the street, and I was easily avoidable."
Following the tragic death of Kelly Boyce-Hurlbert about a year later, the near-miss of Kylee Bonne was brought back into the spotlight. The two hit-and-runs, which occurred less than a mile apart from one another, were linked together by not only their setting, but their timing and witness statements.
Both of the victims had recalled the responsible vehicle being a dark-colored pickup truck or SUV, and their accounts were added to by eyewitness accounts, which claimed that a similar vehicle had been spotted by others in the area at around the same time.
The 2012 incident also happened within a one week span of the National Cherry Festival, which brought thousands of visitors and tourists to the area. It is possible that there was a connection there, but - again - police believed that the responsible party was likely local to the area, as they seemed to utilize side streets instead of busier roads.
Kylee Bonne, who survived her encounter, was asked for comment in the aftermath of Kelly Boyce-Hurlbert's death.
"I can't stop thinking about her. It brought back memories of my night... when the truck left the roadway and veered toward me."
Beyond the media putting the two cases together, police indicated that they were investigating the two incidents as being linked. Both Brian Heffner and Mike Ayling, captains with the Traverse City Police Department, indicated that investigators were looking into the two as being linked.
Most surprisingly, though, was the revelation that a third similar incident had happened a few years prior, which police indicated may also be linked.
That incident, which occured on July 5th, 2010 - exactly three years before Kelly's hit-and-run - happened at around 2:14 AM. In that incident, the victim - a 39-year old that was riding a bicycle home, in the 400-block of State Street - was struck from behind. The vehicle that hit them was similarly described as a black, full-sized pickup truck.
That victim, who chose to remain anonymous, only suffered minor injuries.
Following the reporting of these similar incidents, a couple of Traverse City residents came forward to give their own statements to police, which indicated that there might be a serial offender harassing pedestrians and cyclists in the area.
A man named Brian Beauchamp came forward after the death of Kelly Boyce-Hurlbert, claiming that he had nearly been hit some time in 2012, while riding his bike to work. He said he was riding along Eighth Street - the same neighborhood where Kylee Bonne was hit - when the driver of a dark-colored vehicle:
"... revved his engine behind me, came within inches of hitting me and sped off."
Bill Palladino, another Traverse City resident, said that he had been walking along Washington Street with his family in March of 2012, when a similar vehicle harassed them.
"[The driver] clearly saw us and revved their engine as if to announce themselves. They did not stop at a stop sign as they were turning toward us. It actually hit the curb and sat there and revved the engine. It was probably about 20 feet from us."
Unfortunately, none of the witnesses that came forward in these months after Kelly's tragic loss could provide more detailed descriptions of the vehicle or driver in-question. They had been too shocked at the ordeals to remember license plate numbers, and could only provide vague details about the vehicles which had stalked them in the time period and neighborhoods of the other vehicular assaults.
About a week after the tragic loss of Kelly Boyce-Hurlbert, a memorial was arranged for her at F&M Park - a large public space, about a block away from where she had been struck by a vehicle in the early morning hours of July 5th.
Family members and friends had organized the event, which took place on July 11th - a Thursday. It was meant to celebrate Kelly's life and show support for her family and loved ones, who were reeling in her loss.
More than a thousand Traverse City residents gathered for the memorial, and heard many of Kelly's friends and family speak about her colorful life. This included her friends Katie Stewart and Maggie Smith, who spoke about Kelly and how she had been the glue which brought all of them together.
Paul Hurlbert spoke about his wife, and couldn't help but mention the story about how Kelly and he had met, years before, at Union Street Station.
"I have grown more in the past five years with Kelly than I did in the previous twenty-three.
"I miss everything [about her] - every second of my life. She was beautiful inside and out."
Paul then led a procession of bike-riders through Traverse City, a parade that showed strength in numbers. More than 1500 people participated in the bike ride, which began in F&M Park, and ended a short time later in Hannah Park.
Paul later spoke about the bike ride, which he felt was essential for memorializing his wife, whose life was lost much too soon.
"I refuse to call it a funeral because it wasn't. It was a celebration of her life. It couldn't have been cooler... it was in true Kelly fashion."
Mike Moran, a family friend that helped organize the event, said that the bike ride through Traverse City was incredibly special to those that loved and missed Kelly.
"I've never been a part of anything like that. It's sad, but I think we did our [best] to give Kelly her justice. She deserved that for sure."
A private ceremony was held later that evening, which was important for Kelly's family; especially her father, Steve, who worked as a contractor in Afghanistan.
Following this bike ride, as public pressure began to mount on the police, a reward was announced for any information that could lead to an arrest in the tragic hit-and-run of Kelly Boyce-Hurlbert. The amount, which started out at $20,000, had been announced almost immediately after Kelly's death, raised by family and friends. Following the public memorial, that amount had raised to $50,000, and Kelly's loved ones were hoping that it would help bring the responsible parties to justice.
In the final weeks of July 2013, a photo began spreading through Traverse City social media pages. Primarily through a couple of Facebook groups, where the photo was shared over 500 times.
The photo, which showed a black Chevy Tahoe, was allegedly a photo of the vehicle that had killed Kelly Boyce-Hurlbert. However, TCPD had to make a public statement on their own social media pages, which urged readers not to harass the owner of the vehicle.
"We as a community obviously want nothing more than the person or persons involved in Kelly Hurlbert's tragic death identified. In the last day or so there has been a picture of a black SUV circulating, along with accusations and threats being made against the driver.
"... this is not the suspect vehicle. This vehicle and its driver were not involved."
The following month, Traverse City police officials announced that they had zeroed in on a particular person-of-interested, based on a tip sent into them.
This person-of-interest was a man who split his time between Traverse City and Ossineke, Michigan - a town in Alpena County, which was roughly two-and-a-half hours away, along the coast of Lake Huron.
Police verified that this person-of-interest was in Traverse City on the morning of July 5th, the day in which Kelly Boyce-Hurlbert was hit by an unknown vehicle. They also stated to the media that this POI happened to drive five vehicles, all of which were being searched as part of their investigation.
Detectives began interviewing people known to this person-of-interest, in an effort to verify his alibi. However, they cautioned the public to not jump to any conclusions about this lead, as it may result in a dead-end. Mike Ayling, a Traverse City Police Captain, spoke to the media about this POI:
"We've received probably five tips since the beginning that we've spent hundreds of hours on. This is one of five. We so far don't have anything really pointing at this person, but we don't have anything so far that says he didn't do it, either."
The investigation into this Alpena County POI seems to have stalled, because no further updates came publicly about that route of the investigation.
The unsolved death of Kelly Boyce-Hurlbert remains one of the area's most publicized cases, with over thirty-three detectives contributing to the investigation. Most of those detectives were local, to either Traverse City or Grand Traverse County, but also included members of the Michigan State Police force and the FBI.
Matt Richmond, a Traverse City detective who served as lead for the overall investigation, said that police struggled to come up with any significant suspects or POI's following their August person-of-interest. After all, they were still struggling to determine basic information about the case; such as whether or not Kelly's death was the result of a tragic accident or if it was murder. He also stated that, due to some conflicting witness statements, they could come up with no basic description for the vehicle that had hit her in the early morning hours of July 5th, 2013.
"There were witnesses that lived in the area but due to the time of night it was dark. There was a description given of a possible vehicle, [but] at night in the area a white car could look black, so it's tough."
James Bussell, who was a Detective Sergeant but became a Captain in 2015, said that during the first two years of the investigation, police had received upwards of 700 tips from the public. However, out of those 744 tips, 702 had been closed, due to police successfully ruling them out or exhausting every potential investigative avenue.
"The problem from the beginning is that we don't have any vehicle parts or a solid description of the vehicle. Witnesses said it was a dark colored - possibly an SUV or pickup truck, but it was also a poorly-lit area and we don't have any evidence there was damage to the vehicle.
"[Kelly] was loved by a lot of people and she's missed by a lot of people. It's the biggest unsolved crime for our agency, at least in the last 18 years that I've been here. It's one we'd really like to solve for sure.
"We haven't forgotten about the case. We're still investigating as much as we can and we'll continue to do that."
Over the years, similar hit-and-runs throughout Traverse City - even through Michigan - have sparked discussions of a serial offender.
Separate incidents in 2016, 2017, and 2018 have brought the memory of Kelly Boyce-Hurlbert back into the forefront of Traverse City's discussions. However, in each of these incidents, a suspect was identified or apprehended, and none seemed to match up with the dark SUV or pickup truck that had been spotted in Kelly's tragic incident.
However, one story bore a lot of similarities to Kelly's tragic accident, and had unfolded just months before her death, in December of 2012.
Sandra Lee Loepp was a 37-year-old mother of five, who lived in Washington Township, a suburb on the outskirts of Detroit, Michigan.
In the early morning hours of December 16th, 2012, Sandra decided to walk home from a bar named Santino's, which was not too far from her home. She made it about a half-a-mile, before tragedy struck.
At a little after 1:00 AM, a vehicle hit Sandra from behind. Her body was dragged over six hundred feet, before the driver finally came to a stop in a parking lot, which was directly in front of the Washington Mobile Home Park. Whoever had hit Sandra, and dragged her body a quarter-of-a-mile, got out of their car and then decided to personally dislodge her from the vehicle.
The body of Sandra Lee Loepp was abandoned in this parking lot, and wasn't discovered until approximately 8:20 in the morning... nearly seven hours later. At that point, she had passed away due to the severity of her injuries.
Investigators were able to discover some evidence at the scene, but none of it led to a vehicle or driver description. Sandra's case remains unsolved to this day, and many in Michigan have debated whether or not her case could be related to the similar hit-and-run of Kelly Boyce-Hurlbert, which took place seven months later. Traverse City is a good distance away from Washington Township, but there were many similarities in the two incidents.
Both featured a woman leaving a bar, in the time period around 1:00 AM. Both were hit from behind, and dragged at least a city block away before being abandoned by the driver. In both cases, police struggled to come up with a vehicle description, and that incidents took place just months apart - December of 2012 and July of 2013.
However, just like the case of Kelly Boyce-Hurlbert, the hit-and-run death of Sandra Lee Loepp has remained unsolved in the years since.
Police throughout Traverse City and Grand Traverse County continue to hold out hope that they can bring resolution to Kelly's case, and provide answers for her family and friends.
The amount of tips received by police, during their five-year-plus investigation, now exceeds 800. Despite that large amount, police insist that all but 60 or so have been closed. Those 60 tips, which remain open for investigation, are classified as "very low priority" - according to TCPD Captain James Bussell. And, unfortunately, out of those 60, only a handful are considered "significant" and still being explored by the area's investigators.
Captain Bussell told the media on the case's five-year anniversary, during this most recent Fourth of July holiday:
"We don't know what type of vehicle it was, if it was an SUV, truck or van, or passenger car. We certainly don't know the identity of the driver at this time, if they were male or female."
In addition to this lack of any new information, local prosecutors are worried that the six-year anniversary of Kelly's death - in July of 2019 - will bring with it an unfortunate end of some statutes of limitation. This anniversary will mark the deadline for prosecutors to file lesser charges, based on Michigan state law. These would be charges unrelated to murder, of course, but prosecutors remain worried that this will exhaust their options in the future, should a culprit be identified.
Bob Cooney, the prosecutor for Grand Traverse County, remains hopeful that the investigation is on the right-track. In fact, as recently as this summer, Cooney led an effort to file subpoenas related to the case, based on tips received in the past. He stated that this allowed investigators to re-examine certain aspects of the case that they had looked at in the past, and interview several persons-of-interest under oath.
This way, even if the statute-of-limitations passes next year, prosecutors would be able to file perjury charges; should it turn out that anyone lied about their involvement under oath.
Cooney said that his office, in cooperation with the local police and sheriff's office, remained committed to the case.
"We've had a lot of highs and lows in this case. We have what seemed to be very good information, where we thought we had a break in the case, and then it later turns out that it doesn't pan out.
"I do remain hopeful, even five years later, that at some point, we are going to know what happened here and bring some closure and justice to Kelly's family and the community."
A "Ghost Bike" was erected at the spot where Kelly Boyce-Hurlbert was struck by a vehicle over five years ago, in an alley off of Railroad Street. This Ghost Bike is an all-white bicycle memorial, which is within sight of the home that Paul Hurlbert once shared with his wife.
The Ghost Bike, which stands as a memorial to the loving, caring person it represents, is underscored by the dark tire mark along the road, which highlights the route the driver had taken when he or she struck Kelly all those years ago.
Paul Hurlbert, when asked about the memorial, tried to remain positive... but struggled to do so.
"The memorial is positive energy - people are showing support and love - but that tire mark has hate written all over it."
Throughout the first anniversary of Kelly's tragic loss, her loved ones remained optimistic that police would be able to quickly wrap up the case quickly and with very little effort. Kelly's mother, Michelle Boyce, refused to give up hope:
"I do not give up. I'm constantly in-touch with law enforcement and pushing to get things done. I'm not going to let it rest."
But as the second anniversary approached, her loved ones began to grow a little more reserved. They scaled back the public memorials of Kelly, growing concerned that her investigation was entering cold case-territory.
Nicole Nostrandt, Kelly's older sister, spoke out as the second anniversary of Kelly's death approached in 2015:
"The first year you go through all your firsts. But now that we are coming up on the second anniversary, still without any answers, it feels defeating. You can't close and move on."
Of those that struggled with Kelly's loss, very few were hit as hard as her husband, Paul Hurlbert. Over the years, he has spoke out sporadically, often choosing to let his friends and family do his talking for him. However, whenever he does speak to the press or local media figures, he remains committed to preserving the memory of his wife, whose life was lost much too soon.
"There's no way that my life will be as good as it would have been. But because of how well I got to know [Kelly], my life will definitely be much better than if I never met her. I'll always be grateful for that."
Paul says that he would like to get justice for his wife's unsolved death, but knows that it won't bring her back. That, he says, is his biggest takeaway.
"I don't know if I'll want to see this person or not. I think what I'll like to do is just focus on my life. I do hope that nothing like this ever happens to anyone else.
"One reason why people and the whole community [are] so upset about this is it makes them feel less safe because they realize it could be them. Then I feel it hit the community even harder when they found out what caliber of person Kelly was. She was as good as it gets."
In the Fall of 2015, following the two-year anniversary of Kelly's death, Paul decided to quit both of his jobs, and went on a cross-country bicycling trip - inspired by his and Kelly's love of bike-riding. For over six months, he traveled across America, letting his passion for life take him to places he had never seen before.
Every Fourth of July, the loved ones of Kelly Boyce-Hurlbert are asked for a comment. The holiday remains permanently darkened by this ominous anniversary, but they continue to speak out. Their comments have become less and less hopeful, but they remain committed to finding out what happened to their twenty-nine-year-old wife, daughter, sister, and friend.
Just a few weeks ago - in July of 2018 - the FBI announced that they were continuing to assist in the investigation. As part of their effort, they were announcing a $25,000 reward for information that led to an arrest, which added to the already-existant $50,000 reward.
The announcement, which came on the five-year anniversary of Kelly's death, came at a press conference. Traverse City Police and officials from the Grand Traverse Sheriff's Office insisted that the case remained open and active, and Kelly's family that was in-attendance had to hope that this most recent announcement will help finally unearth the answers that they have been waiting for.
If you know anything about this case, please don't be shy. You can call the Grand Graverse County Central Dispatch non-emergency line at 231-922-4550, or the Traverse City Police Detective Bureau at 231-995-5002. If you want to email in your tip, you can do so by sending it to TCPDTips@traversecitymi.gov, or head to the FBI tip page, which can be found at tips.fbi.gov.
A $75,000 reward exists for information that proves beneficial for investigators.
The story of Kelly Boyce-Hurlbert remains unresolved.