Neighbor, investigators share details in Samantha Woll murder at preliminary hearing

Prosecutors laid out evidence in the Oct. 21 homicide of the beloved Detroit synagogue leader with the hope of bringing the suspect to trial.

The booking photo of Michael Jackson-Bolanos, who has been charged with homicide in connection to the fatal stabbing of metro Detroit synagogue leader Samantha Woll.

The booking photo of Michael Jackson-Bolanos, who has been charged with homicide in connection to the fatal stabbing of metro Detroit synagogue leader Samantha Woll.

Prosecutors called seven witnessed to testify Tuesday during the first day of the preliminary exam for the suspect accused of killing metro Detroit synagogue leader Samantha Woll.

Michael Manuel Jackson-Bolanos, 28, was charged last month with homicide, home invasion and lying to police officers in relation to the incident on Oct. 21, when Woll was found fatally stabbed outside her Lafayette Park home.

At the hearing on Tuesday, 36th District Court Judge Kenneth King heard from Woll’s neighbor, Kevin Mull, who found her body on the sidewalk, as well as multiple law enforcement officials who gave testimony about the crime scene and investigation.

Mull was the first witness to take the stand. He testified that he was out walking a friend’s dog around 6:20 a.m. when he found Woll’s body in the fetal position on the ground. He said he wasn’t sure at first what he was looking at, but as he approached he realized it was someone in “a very bad situation.”

“As I got closer I noticed that the person was barefoot, which was obviously of concern considering the time of day and the temperature,” he said, adding that she was cold to the touch and bluish in color by the time he found her.

Mull said he went home right away and instructed his wife to call 911.

Assistant Wayne County Prosecutor Ryan Elsey went on to call several law enforcement officials to the stand who were involved in the investigation to share details about the crime scene and the evidence against Jackson-Bolanos, which investigators say includes surveillance records obtained from Woll’s home, nearby CCTV footage and cellphone tower data.

Investigators said there was a trail of blood at the scene leading to her home, where they believe the homicide occurred. Detroit Police Sgt. Daron Zhou testified that there was a significant amount of blood found inside the home, including in the living room, front hall leading to the living room and stairwell leading to the basement. He also said there appeared to be a struggle inside the home, with a bowl of fruit on the dining room table knocked to the floor and some pillows and blankets on the floor in the living room that were soaked in blood.

Woll was stabbed eight times in total, according to the medical examiner’s report — three times in the head and five times in the neck and back.

Alex Martinez, a Michigan State Police detective trooper assigned to the homicide task force, testified that he drafted a search warrant for ADT to obtain surveillance records from Woll’s residence on the night of her murder. Those records showed the front door of Woll’s home was left open around 1 a.m. Oct. 21, and motion in the living room at 1:24 a.m. and 4:20 a.m., though it was not clear what set off the motion sensors.

A detective with the Detroit Police Department assigned to the homicide unit, Sara Markel, also testified, saying that a data extraction of Woll’s phone showed that the last outgoing message sent on the phone was at 1:02 a.m. The device was unlocked at 1:29 a.m., and then locked again at 1:35 p.m., she said. While she confirmed that a passcode had been in place on the phone, she was not sure whether biometrics had been enabled, which would require a fingerprint to unlock it.

During the course of the investigation, police searched an apartment where they believed Jackson-Bolanos was living, where they reportedly found a black North Face fleece with a speck of Woll’s blood, Michigan State Police detective Elizabeth Stockmeyer testified. CCTV footage outside Chrysler Elementary School on Lafayette near Woll’s home captured a man wearing the same jacket that same day, according to Stockmeyer.

When cross-examined by defense attorney Brian Brown, Stockmeyer testified that there was no fingerprints, DNA or other physical evidence found inside or outside Woll’s home that links Jackson-Bolanos to the scene, nor was there camera footage of him at the actual residence.

Throughout his cross-examination of the witnesses, Brown picked apart the evidence put forth by the prosecution, trying to bring the point home that his client was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Woll, 40, led the Isaac Agree Downtown Detroit Synagogue since 2022 and was considered by many to be a pillar of metro Detroit’s Jewish community, focusing much of her work on bridging the gap between Jewish and Arab communities.

Days after Woll’s murder, Detroit Police Chief James White held a press conference to share with the public that no evidence had surfaced in the investigation to suggest the crime was motivated by antisemitism.

Detroit police arrested a suspect in the case on Nov. 8, but released the individual 72 hours later without issuing charges, leading to further public speculation surrounding the case.

Police took Jackson-Bolanos into custody on Dec. 11 and charged him two days later. Investigators believe the suspect killed Woll during a home invasion, stating that he was involved in multiple larcenies in the area.

The preliminary exam will continue before Judge King on Jan. 23, with four more witnesses expected to testify.

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  • Jenny Sherman
    Jenny Sherman is 101.9 WDET's Digital Editor. She received her bachelor’s in journalism from Michigan State University and has worked for more than a decade as a reporter and editor for various media outlets throughout metro Detroit.