When Jillian Groh checked in to the downtown Westin Hotel one cold night almost seven years ago, everything felt certain. Then things changed forever.
Bill and Janelle Groh met at Arizona State University in 1969. Janelle was born in Nebraska. Her family later moved to Colorado, and she attended Lakewood High School, in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains. Bill grew up in Iowa. He joined the Air Force out of high school, and while he was enlisted, his family moved to Arizona. It’s easy to miss someone among thousands of students on a college campus, but Bill didn’t miss Janelle; he was drawn to her the moment he saw her. Bill asked a mutual friend to arrange a date. Janelle smiles when she tells the story, all these years later, about how they went dancing at a nearby hotel lounge.
As a fraternity brother in his Arizona State days, Bill would often stay up all night. But as a father he developed an early-to-bed, early-to-rise routine, so it was no surprise that on Sunday, March 4, 2007, he was up before 6 a.m. He drove, as he often did, to the 24-hour Walmart down the road from the Grohs’ home in Fountain Hills, Arizona, a modest, cookie-cutter town in the hills east of Phoenix. During these frequent morning trips, Bill would shop for miscellaneous things—bananas, a box of Clif bars, maybe even a new button-down shirt.
Bill headed home when he was done with his morning shopping. He pulled onto his street and noticed there wasn’t a single car parked along the side of the road. Bill turned into the driveway and unloaded a couple of bags of groceries. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw what looked like two police cars, black sedans with gold trim. Bill wondered why the cops were in the neighborhood. The Grohs lived on a good block; there weren’t many bad blocks in Fountain Hills. The cars moved deliberately down the road and stopped in front of the Groh house, a few feet from Bill. A police officer climbed out of one of the cars and asked: “Are you William Groh?”