17 years after the murder of his then-wife, Barbara, Pittsburgh Comicon promoter and Comics World store owner Michael George has been arrested and stands accused of the crime.
According to reports published by the Johnstown Tribune-Democrat, George was arrested on Saturday by Pennsylvania State Police in Windber, Pa., where his store, Comics World, is located, and where he lives with his current wife, Renee. The couple has lived in Pennsylvania with Michael and Barbara's children and Renee's own five children since the time of the 1990 murder, and have been running the Pittsburgh Comicon for the last fourteen years. Active in the community, George is a locally-known and well-respected businessman in Windber, where he also regularly referees local basketball games.
Following the arrest, which was completed "without incident," according to police, George was arraigned by on-call District Judge Joseph Cannoni of Windber on a fugitive warrant and sent to the Somerset County Jail without bond. Later this week, George is expected to participate in an extradition hearing, which will lead to his return to Michigan and charges of first-degree murder, second-degree murder and one count of using a firearm during a felony.
The arrest stems from an incident in 1990, when George's then-wife, Barbara, was shot and killed after closing up the couple's comic shop, also called Comics World, in Venice Square Mall on Garfield Road in Clinton Township, Mi. According to the Macomb Daily, Barbara George was planning a surprise birthday party for Michael when she was murdered. At the same time, approximately $30,000 worth of collectables from the shop was taken, leading police to originally consider the case a matter or robbery, though the "execution style" way in which Barbara was shot, point-blank through the top of the head, added a grisly twist to the incident. Barbara's body was found by two longtime customers who were visiting the store, and the customers found the body in the store's rear storage room.
17 years later, the cold case was reopened by Clinton Township detectives, who began researching the incident once again this past January. Following the first words of the alleged charges on Tuesday morning, no information was available on exactly what led detectives to investigate Michael George for the crime, though it was discovered that police from Michigan were in Somerset County, Pa. last week continuing their investigation. It was not until Tuesday afternoon that further details were revealed, when a press conference was held in Michigan to announce the charges, as reported by C&G Newspapers.
During the press conference, Clinton Township Police Chief Fred Posavetz, joined by members of Barbara George's family, said there was no "smoking gun" that finally led to a break in the case. Rather, police simply began reviewing more and more information, interviewing old witnesses once again and examining the nearly 20-year-old evidence.
"It was like a snowball rolling down the hill," Posavetz said.
As to the initial thoughts of robbery, Posavetz said that, in talking to witnesses, suspicions were aroused that there were, in fact, no comic books missing from the Michigan store following the murder. Macomb County Prosecuting Attorney Eric Smith added that the victim was found wearing jewelry, and there was money in her pockets and in the store's cash register.
Since the news broke in both Pennsylvania and Michigan, word has spread of the accusations facing Michael George, and neighbors, regular Comics World customers, friends and industry professionals have all expressed surprise and dismay at the allegations.
"My prayers are with the Georges," wrote artist Jamal Igle at Newsarama, who attended the Pittsburgh Comicon as a guest in 2005. "Hopefully this turns out to be a mistake."
"I share everyone's shock," added renowned inker Bob Almond. "This traumatic event couldn't have happened to a nicer, kinder couple and family than the Georges. They run an exceptional family show. I wish them all the support and strength in the world and pray that this is all a mistake."
Though speculation has run rampant in just the few short hours since the news reached the Associated Press, it is important to note that George has only been accused, something that industry pro Eva Hopkins stressed heavily during her own post.
"Joe Linsner & I have been taking the 'Dawn' setup to the Pittsburgh Comicon since '96 or '97 or so," began Hopkins. "We love the Pittsburgh Con and the folks who run it. Michael and Renee have given us a lot of love and support over the years. Let's remember, people - innocent until proven guilty. There's a tendency to sensationalize coverage of horrible tragedies like this. I'm all about the facts coming out, but this isn't the right place for that to happen. Every man gets his fair trial."