Witnesses describe Dee and Dale Warner's relationship and the initial search for Dee (2024)

ADRIAN — Testimony started Wednesday in a hearing to determine if the case against a Franklin Township man accused of murdering his wife — who hasn't been seen in more than three years — will proceed toward a trial.

Dale Warner, 56, is charged with open murder and tampering with evidence in the death of his wife, Dee Ann, in April 2021. Dee hasn't been seen since the evening of April 24, 2021. Dale was arrested in November 2023.

Witnesses describe Dee and Dale Warner's relationship and the initial search for Dee (1)

Visiting Judge Anna M. Frushour heard testimony Wednesday from two employees and a consultant of the Warners, who owned farming and trucking businesses; Dee's friend who invited the couple's young daughter to stay overnight with her the night Dee disappeared and later started the "Justice for Dee" movement; and one of Dee's adult children from her first marriage, Rikkell Bock.

Frushour is a district judge in Washtenaw County, appointed to hear the preliminary examination after Lenawee County judges recused themselves. The judge originally assigned the case recused herself after disclosing she once represented Dale's mother in divorce proceedings, plus other personal and professional interactions with the parties over the years. The others didn't give specific reasons.

The exam was scheduled to run through Friday, May 3.

During a preliminary examination, the prosecution must show there's probable cause to believe a crime was committed — and that Dale is likely to have committed it. Frushour will decide if one or both charges will be bound over to Lenawee County Circuit Court for further proceedings.

Before the prosecution started calling witnesses, Frushour ruled the prosecution can't use the newly issued death certificate for Dee as evidence of her death. Lenawee County Probate Judge Catherina A. Sala ruled in March that Dee is dead, but the court was told Wednesday that ruling has been appealed.

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Before a packed gallery, former employees Brian Bush and Todd Neyrinck, former IT consultant Kyle Wagner, friend Amy Alexander, and Bock described their observations of the Warners' relationship, their last interactions with Dee and their interactions with Dale.

Searching for Dee

While being questioned by Lenawee County Assistant Prosecutor Dave McCreedy, Bock said she and her brothers filed the missing persons report on April 25, 2021, after she searched throughout the day for Dee.

She described arriving at about 9:30 a.m. with her boyfriend and daughters for their usual Sunday morning breakfast. She walked into the couple's home on Munger Road and no one was there. She called out for Dee and Dee's then-9-year-old daughter, but there was no response.

She texted Dee and also got no response, which was unusual. She tried calling Dee, but the call went straight to voicemail. That, too, was unusual, as Dee always answered her calls, Bock said.

She went to the farm office, thinking perhaps her little sister was there listing to Dee and Dale argue, to no avail. She called her siblings and her aunt and uncle, Gregg and Shelly Hardy, who live nearby at their dairy farm. She went to the Hardys' large barn to see if Dee was there. She wasn't.

At that point, Dale called her, Bock said. He asked if she'd talked to Dee and said Dee was angry with him. He said he hadn't talked to her that day.

Bock later noticed Dee's makeup bag and some hair styling items, such as hairspray and a curling iron, were missing. The only sign of a struggle, Bock said, was a bookshelf that doubled as a doorway to the attic. It was open and items were on the floor.

Dale came in the house, Bock said, and they first talked in a bedroom. She said Shelly Hardy also was there. She described Dale going through some tote bags and complaining about all the medications Dee was taking and how he didn't know what any of them were. He also had Dee's wedding ring, which he said he found on his office desk. Bock said Dee would never take it off.

Bock said Dale also told her that Dee had a "burner" phone, slang for a second phone. She said she had no knowledge of her mother having a second phone.

Dale told her that Dee was leaving him and he didn't know where she was going, Bock said. He said they had fought, then he gave her a shoulder massage after he calmed her down, and she fell asleep on the living room couch.

Bock and Alexander both described how Dee would move her shoulders away when Dale would try to massage them.

In the kitchen, Dale removed more of Dee's medication from a cabinet, expressing frustration about not knowing what it was, Bock said. Dale then said Dee was "always trying to ruin his life" and "everything I worked for is gone."

After taking her kids to a sitter, Bock said, she returned to the office. One of her brothers was able to access the farm's security video, but she didn't see Dee. She noticed her mother's Hummer had been moved near the house and was parked over tracks that went up to the sliding glass door between the living room and kitchen.

She and her brothers Zack and TJ called police to file a missing persons report. She recounted that Dale had said he might report Dee missing the next day, after he took their daughter to school. He said he didn't know where she was, but that she would come back.

Under cross-examination by one of Dale's attorneys, Marisa Vinsky, Bock described Dale as "frazzled" on the day Dee went missing, talking about the medication and not acting like himself.

The day before Dee went missing, Bock said, she was upset over a fight with employees and Dale sharing her medical information with an employee's wife. Dee was sobbing during their conversation and expressed a desire to divorce Dale. At one point, Bock recounted, Dee said she didn't "even have the energy to pack my bags." One of the last things Dee said to Bock was, "I watch 'Dateline' almost every night and (Dale) could do something like that to me."

"Dateline" is a TV show that frequently features stories of murdered women.

Saying goodbye

Alexander also described being with Dee on the evening of April 24, 2021, when she went to the Warners' home to pick up their young daughter. She said it appeared that Dee had been crying and that her appearance was not as well-kempt as it usually was. She said they had exchanged text messages, with Dee telling her she had been hyperventilating and vomiting.

Dee had told her she wanted to sell her trucking company and be done with the marriage. Under cross-examination by Dale's lead attorney, Mary Chartier, she said Dee said she wanted to stop working so much. As Alexander left with the the Warners' daughter, Dee hugged the girl from behind and kissed her on the head. Frushour sustained a hearsay objection from the defense to Alexander testifying that Dee told her daughter she loved her.

Later that evening, Alexander testified, she texted Dee, but the response she received was odd, which left her wondering if something was wrong. The next day, she tried to call and text Dee, but there was no response.


Bush, who is Dale's former son-in-law, described to the court how he bought a diagnostic GPS device to install in Dee's Hummer. He said they were trying to diagnose an electrical problem in the Hummer. He described how the device was paired with a smartphone app that could be used to look up where the Hummer was and if it detected any problems in the vehicle. He said they never figured out what the problem was, but Dale would regularly ask him for updates on Dee's whereabouts.

Dale also asked Bush for a trail camera that he could place in their house, Bush testified. Dale put it by the kitchen sink so he could see who was coming and going.

He also described being at the Warners' property near Onsted to go turkey hunting on the morning of April 25, 2021, when Bock stopped by, looking for Dee.

Bush and Alexander both had trouble remembering some details, particularly dates, when pressed by the attorneys.

Business problems

Neyrinck testified about running the Warners' trucking business. He said he last saw Dee on the afternoon of April 23, 2021, which was a Friday. They were in the office, and Dee seemed frazzled and upset and she wasn't dressed as she normally was. Over the previous three months, he said, the frequency of his contact with Dee dropped from daily conversations to not much contact at all.

On April 24, 2021, Neyrinck said, he talked to Dee about needing someone to look at the business' finances because she had been complaining about not bringing in enough money.

On April 25, 2021, Neyrinck told the court, he arrived at the Warner farm at 3:25 a.m. to prepare to drive a load of lime to Burns Harbor, Indiana, which is along Lake Michigan. He said he was on the road by 3:42 a.m. As he drove past the Warners' house, he said there were some lights on and maybe a TV, but nothing out of the ordinary.


Wagner told the court that Dee was his main contact for their business' IT needs. He recalled one time when Dale asked him to copy the data from Dee's cellphone to another phone, but he refused because it didn't seem right and he didn't have Dee's permission.

He also testified about Dale telling him he had trouble using his fingerprints to access his iPad because they had been burned off by working with fertilizer.

On the day after Dee was reported missing, Wagner said, Dale called him and wanted to meet. They met around noon outside Hardy Farms, where Wagner was working that day. Dale told him he wanted to have the network passwords changed and access to the security cameras. Dee had worked with Wagner to set up the camera system, and Dale did not have access to it before April 26, 2021, but Dee, her nephew Parker Hardy, and her son Zack did.

As he worked on making the changes Dale requested, Wagner said Dale said he "just wanted his wife back" and expressed concern over control of the computers, money and the business.

Describing Dee

Questions from Vinsky and Chartier probed whether Dee would ever leave the household on her own. Bock said there was a time when she and her mother went to a friend's house when Dee was pregnant and other weekends when they would go to a hotel, but she said she wasn't with Dee every time she'd go somewhere.

Alexander said Dee would stay with their young daughter at the Warners' lake house about once every other month.

Chartier and Vinsky also asked about Dee's personality and medical problems. Witnesses described her as unreasonable, liking attention and someone whose mood could change quickly. When she was angry, she would yell. She would bicker with her brother Gregg, Neyrinck said, and he described an incident where she was on the phone and her daughter started climbing on her. Dee yelled at the girl, using a curse word that he wouldn't repeat in court, but added Dee felt bad afterward. He said he saw Dale spank the girl once.

Bock said her mother had several chronic conditions, including migraines and neck pain. The defense delved into whether Dee used opioid medications. Bock said she never saw any signs of addiction in her mother.

Bock testified about Dee keeping her car keys and her cellphone away from Dale. She would keep them in her pockets, and one time hid her phone in the couch when Dale walked in the room. She said Dee showed her the GPS device.

Testimony was set to continue Thursday.

— Contact reporter David Panian at dpanian@lenconnect.com or follow him on X, formerly Twitter: @lenaweepanian.

Witnesses describe Dee and Dale Warner's relationship and the initial search for Dee (2024)


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