Larry Nassar’s trash can was sitting near the curb.
Inside his white, one-story home, police were searching the living room, the bedrooms.
And they were searching the basement, because a woman named Kyle Stephens had recently told Michigan State University Police Det. Lt. Andrea Munford that Nassar had sexually abused her there for years, starting when she was 6.
Stephens had told her parents more than a decade earlier. They hadn’t believed her.
Munford did. And now she had a search warrant.
The house in Holt was filled with “just stuff…” Munford said. “It appeared he never threw anything out.”
Munford was inside when an officer noticed the trash can was full. Put it in the truck, she said. Go through it later.
It was Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2016. Police didn’t yet realize it, but that trash can held the evidence that would crack open the careful façade Nassar had built over 20 years: Larry the superstar who treated Olympians, the caring doctor who slipped forbidden treats to young gymnasts and took their side against strict coaches, the devout Catholic and pillar of his suburban community.
If garbage collectors had come earlier that day, investigators might not have found the four hard drives in Nassar’s trash.
The sheer quantity of clutter in Nassar’s home “was why it was so striking to us that he threw those hard drives out,” Munford said.
On one, the MSU police Computer Forensics Unit would find 37,000 images and videos of child pornography, the accumulation of Nassar’s decade-long collecting.
Nassar was a respected MSU and USA Gymnastics doctor who over the course of a 20-year career sexually assaulted hundreds of women and girls, including a 15-year-old from Kalamazoo who 16 years later called MSU police. That call sparked an investigation that would pull in hundreds of victims, topple the leadership at MSU and USA Gymnastics and send Nassar to prison for the rest of his life.
But first there was Munford, whose inquiry began with a phone call from that former gymnast on a Thursday in August. Then there was prosecutor Angela Povilaitis, who joined the case when the Michigan Attorney General’s Office agreed to partner on the rising number sexual assault reports against Nassar.
Over 16 months, the two women built the stories of hundreds of victims into one of the largest sexual assault investigations in U.S. history. They set the stage for Nassar’s seven-day sentencing hearing, where the world watched those women and girls declare themselves an “army of survivors.”
“They believed in us,” said Larissa Boyce, who was 16 and a member of the Spartan Youth Gymnastics program when Nassar abused her in 1997. “Because they believed in us we started to believe in ourselves.”
Nassar, like Munford, is an MSU graduate, he with a medical degree from the College of Osteopathic Medicine and she with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. Both started working at the university in 1997.
Coming off the 1996 Olympics where he treated the gold medal-winning U.S. women’s gymnastics team, Nassar was hired as an assistant professor with clinical duties. His stature in the gymnastics world grew over the next 20 years and he became an associate professor.
Munford worked in the MSU Police Department’s bike unit and crime scene investigation unit. She became a detective. In August 2016 she was supervisor of the special victims unit.
She was sitting in her glass-walled office in the detective bureau when her phone rang.
Dispatch was on the line, wanting to know who could take a sexual assault report. Munford wrote down contact information and the woman’s name: Rachael Denhollander.
Their phone call was brief. Denhollander didn’t want to give too many details over the phone, but told Munford she wanted to report a sexual assault by an MSU sports medicine doctor from 16 years earlier. They set an appointment for the following Monday. Before the call ended, Munford asked for the doctor’s name.
Then the detective walked across the hall into Capt. Valerie O’Brien’s office. Munford had a question for her boss, even though she was almost certain she knew the answer.
Who was that doctor you investigated a couple years ago?
Yeah, Munford said, it’s the same guy.
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