Courtoom packed as Warner bound over for trial


Above: Dale Warner, left, watches himself speak to a police detective in video footage shown in 2A District Court in Adrian last week at a hearing for Warner, accused of killing his wife, Dee Warner.

Story, photos by Julie Riddle

ADRIAN ― Inconsistencies, apparent lies, and a tightly drawn timeline of the morning Lenawee County woman Dee Warner went missing add up to reasonable belief that her husband killed her, a judge said last week.

In a continuation of a hearing that started in May, the prosecution used electronic reports and interview accounts to paint a picture of the late-April 2021 weekend when Warner was last seen. A judge declared her legally dead in March.

Warner’s husband, Dale Warner, has been charged with killing his wife, allegedly after an argument at the couple’s farm home near Tipton. Warner did not contest the legal declaration of his wife’s death but maintains his innocence of the criminal charges.

Despite an extensive search, including excavations as recent as January of this year, police have never found Dee Warner’s body or physical evidence of her death, nor any evidence she is still alive.

Even without a body, records lay sufficient suspicion on Dale Warner to substantiate a murder charge, Visiting Judge Anna Frushour of Washtenaw County said at Friday’s conclusion of Dale Warner’s preliminary examination, at which a judge hears evidence and decides if the prosecution has enough evidence to proceed toward trial.

Warner’s attorney, Mary Chartier, voiced the question on the minds of many in the full courtroom as she addressed the judge before the hearing’s conclusion.

“If he murdered his wife,” Chartier said, “where on Earth is Ms. Warner?”


Dee Warner was a woman of big heart and big temper, Frushour said as she summed up the evidence presented by Lenawee County Prosecutor Jacqueline Wyse.

Above: Dale Warner, accused of killing his wife, Dee Warner, listens during testimony in a court hearing on Friday in 2A District Court in Adrian.

Before her disappearance, Warner kept in close contact with family and friends, texting and calling more than 300 times per day, according to electronic records. While she stayed close to family and friends, her marriage to Dale was volatile and, according to a police witness, included an affair with a man who was ruled out as a suspect and had an alibi for the time of her disappearance.

In December of 2020, she told an acquaintance via text that she threatened to leave her husband, and that Dale responded by throwing her into a dresser, according to lead investigator Detective Sgt. Daniel Drewyor of the Michigan State Police.

“He turned into the devil,” she said in the text. “I literally thought he could kill me.”

Nobody witnessed this fight or could verify it actually happened, Dale Warner’s attorney noted.

Dee threatened again to leave Dale two months before she disappeared, according to text records. Witnesses testified to screaming arguments between the couple, their deteriorating financial situation, and suspicions that led Dale Warner to obsessively use electronic surveillance to check the location of his wife’s vehicles, according to electronic data.


Details from the morning Dee Warner went missing pointed police to Dale Warner as the only suspect in his wife’s disappearance and presumed death, Wyse told the judge.

Dale Warner told police he last saw his wife at 7 a.m. on April 25, a Sunday. He stopped by the house briefly while doing farm chores, parking his front-end loader near the rear door of the house, and saw her asleep on the couch where she had been since their fight the night before, he said.

Tire tracks verify the loader was parked by the door as described. The loader’s front scoop fits between a set of pillars and reaches far enough to rest on the porch just outside the door, Drewyor testified.

Several hours earlier, at about 3:45 a.m., a witness saw the couple’s Hummer parked in the same spot. Police later found the Hummer outside a nearby building. Dale Warner told police his wife must have moved it, but, according to his story, she was asleep when the vehicle had to have been moved to enable him to park the loader in the same spot at 7 a.m.

At 7:08 a.m., Warner used a phone app to link to and possibly unlock the Cadillac usually driven by Dee Warner, and in which she kept her purse.

At 7:14 a.m., Dee’s phone connected to cell towers for the last time.

Police have not recovered the purse or the phone.

Video played at the hearing shows multiple pieces of farm equipment, presumably driven by Warner, passing surveillance cameras between 7:30 a.m. and 7:45 a.m., according to video timestamps. At about 7:45 a.m. ― just after the Cadillac app was accessed a second time ― Warner leaves in a sprayer, consistent with his statement with police and with a text he sent to his wife’s phone at the time, accompanied by a smiley face emoji.

A farm sprayer appears on surveillance camera footage shown during a hearing in 2A District Court in Adrian involving the disappearance and possible murder of Lenawee County woman Dee Warner, missing since April 2021.

Half an hour later, cameras captured farm equipment again navigating around the farm buildings. Shortly before 9 a.m., Warner used a phone app to try to access the property’s surveillance camera system four times and also tried to remotely connect to his wife’s phone.

In interviews recorded on police body cameras and played in court, Warner said he tried to access the cameras, phone, and Cadillac to help find Dee.

Warner was not informed of his wife’s absence until about 10:30 a.m., according to witnesses.


Warner offered police several possible explanations of his wife’s absence, including that she intentionally left intending to never be found or that she ended her own life. He suggested Dee called someone to pick her up using a secret second phone.

Police never found a black SUV seen via surveillance footage near the farm on the day of her disappearance, Drewyor confirmed.

Given her spending habits, police believed it unlikely Dee Warner would not tap into the untouched $100,000-plus she had at her disposal at the time she vanished if she meant to go into hiding. Her credit cards regularly registered $13,000 in expenses per month, and a jeweler reported she purchased $45,000 in jewelry in the two years before her disappearance, according to electronic records.

Based on patterns typical of suicides, if the missing woman had ended her life, police would have found her body, lead investigator Drewyor testified.

Dale Warner also suggested his wife may be hiding in the hills of Jamaica with a drug cartel. The Secret Service told Drewyor a recent investigation had turned up a Dee Warner in connection with a drug cartel but confirmed it was not the same person as the missing woman.


In her cross examination of Drewyor, defense attorney Chartier repeatedly referenced the exhaustive search for Dee Warner’s remains that netted nothing.

Since April 2021, police have searched homes, fields, silos, sheds, and septic tanks looking for the woman. They used cadaver dogs, drones, ground-penetrating radar, helicopters, and other advanced search tactics to cover thousands of acres of property across a wide swath of South Central Michigan, checking crawl spaces and ponds and creeks, conducting excavations and searching at least 37 vehicles. They surveilled Dale Warner to see if he visited any location of interest and monitored him via phone pings, Drewyor said.

Without physical evidence, witnesses to the killing, or an admission, all police have, Chartier told the judge, is speculation and innuendo.

She cited a precedent-setting Michigan court case strikingly similar to the Warner disappearance, People v. Fisher, in which a woman disappeared and a jury convicted her estranged husband of her murder, despite police never finding a body.

Motive and opportunity to kill are not adequate reasons to convict someone, and neither are inferences based on speculation or conjecture, according to the Michigan Court of Appeals, which overturned the conviction in that case.

Continuing to accuse Warner of murder with no physical evidence risks another overturned conviction and, worse, the conviction of an innocent man based only on assumptions, Chartier said.

“Assumptions become wildly dangerous when the government gets involved,” she told the judge.

A packed courtroom ― Dee Warner family and friends on one side, Dale Warner supporters on the other ― listened with tears and clasped hands as Frushour announced her decision to bind the defendant over to the 39th Circuit Court.

Warner is currently being held in the Lenawee County Jail. He will appear in Circuit Court next week for the first of a series of hearings leading toward a possible trial, at which both sides could present additional evidence to jurors.

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