Murder at Bursley Hall: This Week in Ann Arbor History

Good Friday 1981 was marred by tragedy when a University of Michigan senior, Leo E. Kelly Jr., murdered two of his classmates in Bursley Hall.

Kelly, 22, was a psychology major from Detroit. He’d failed out of Michigan once and was on his way out for a second time when he shot and killed hallmates Edward Siwik, 19, a freshman from Livonia, and Doug McGreaham, 21, a senior from Caspian in the Upper Peninsula.

Kelly’s hallmates at Bursley would later describe him as a quiet guy, the odd man out. In many ways he was. Kelly was a senior, facing serious academic struggles, socially isolated and living alone in a dorm full of confident freshman and sophomores who all seemed to be the best of friends and have the brightest of futures ahead.

It all started when Kelly threw a Molotov Cocktail at a student in the hallway. When the fire alarms went off, Siwik, who had volunteered as the floor’s fire marshal, and McGreaham, a residential advisor in the hall, were gunned down.

When the Ann Arbor police arrived in Kelly’s dorm room soon after the 6:00 a.m. shooting, Kelly surrendered without statement or struggle. He never said a word to the cops and in the 30 years since, hasn’t said a word to reporters. He claims he can’t remember what happened that day or why it happened.

Kelly was convicted on June 21, 1982 and sentenced to life in prison. Later he would attempt to get the conviction thrown out, asserting that because the prosecutor had eliminated all of the potential black jurors in voir dire, he was, in effect, denied a jury of his peers. The appeal failed. Kelly is serving his life term at the Carson City Correctional Facility.

We’re as safe as can be, U-M says

In loco parentis.

Al Pacino popularized the concept, which is normally the exclusive province of boarding school students, in this scene of “The Scent of a Woman,” but basically it refers to the idea that a school that parents send their children away to is responsible for the students’ well-being.

Universities are often targets of criticism – and lawsuits – after on-campus tragedies. More important than the tragedy itself, which is often unpreventable, is the response to the tragedy. When Eastern Michigan tried to cover-up the rape and murder of a student in 2006, the university was sued and EMU’s president at the time, John Fallon, lost his job, along with his VP and his director of safety. Virginia Tech is facing a gross negligence suit for its failure to notify students or evacuate the campus after the first of its two on-campus shootings on April 16, 2007. Two people died in the first shooting that morning and no notifications went out. 31 people, including the shooter, died in the second shooting.

If tragedies are unpreventable, the response to tragedy is controllable.

The university’s response was immediate. That afternoon, then U-M president Harold Shapiro held a town hall meeting for Bursley residents in the dorm’s cafeteria.

“We had discussions about what this tragedy means to us as human beings and we tried to get some idea of how we can deal with it,” Shapiro told Ann Arbor News reporter Max Gates afterward. “As human beings we have tragedies but we also have strengths, strengths that we can draw on in times like these.”

Days later, U-M security officials took to the media to explain that U-M dorms were “as safe as anyone can make them,” but said there is little they can do to keep students from bringing weapons into their dorms.

David M. Foulke, then manager of housing security at U-M, explained that “there are many ways items can be brought into a dorm. We can’t inspect baggage and packages of residents moving in or coming back from a weekend away,” for instance.

Ironically, housing security had been in Kelly’s room the very day before the shooting. Kelly had left his stereo on, and housing security entered his room, turned off the stereo, and left. Had they found anything, administrators would say later, they would’ve taken action. But there was nothing in plain sight. Just a stereo needed to be turned off.

Foulke explained that U-M has a bit of a security blind spot when it comes to violence committed by Michigan students, a remark that’s as true 30 years later as it was in April 1981:

“Much of our effort is directed at detecting uninvited outsiders in our buildings,” he told Ann Arbor News reporter William B. Treml. “But it’s pretty hard to plan protection when a legitimate resident of a dorm is involved and there’s a violent action which he or she might take. We can’t anticipate that.”

Additional reading:

A Word with the Photog Greg Dooley, founder of the MVictors blog and a University of Michigan sports historian, speaks with photographer Brian Masck, who captured the iconic photo featured above. Masck, then a photog with the Michigan Daily, was the only photographer to capture an image of Kelly’s arrest, an image that would accompany even international news coverage of the shooting.

Special guest appearance by Bob Wojonowski of The Detroit News.

Campus carnage leads family to relive horror – On the heels of the Virginia Tech shooting, a reporter reaches out to the Siwik family.

The Michigan Daily’s look back at one of the darkest days in U-M history.

An Ann Arbor Police Department account of the tragedy.

Leo Kelly’s Michigan OTIS page.

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About Ann Arbor Scene

I write about Ann Arbor. And stuff.
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