Cold Case: WLOX revisits the murder of Michael Surber

Published: Jun. 8, 2023 at 2:56 PM CDT
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BILOXI, Miss. (WLOX) - It’s a local murder case that’s gained national attention through television shows like America’s Most Wanted — one that is still talked about in pool halls across the country.

Questions remain more than a decade later: who killed Michael Surber, and is it the mystery man seen in surveillance video recorded the last day Surber was seen alive?

Michael Surber was known in pool halls across the country, beating the best of the best of billiards. The 54-year-old was killed at his Ocean Springs home in late 2009.

Investigators say they are actively following leads to this day. Friends and family continue to hold onto hope his killer will be brought to justice.

“On one side is the legal stuff, on one side is illegal stuff — sometimes the pool room mixes right in between,” Michael Surber said in a 2009 interview at The Derby City Classic, an annual pool convention and tournament held every January. “Everybody is in there. The thieves and the gamblers all get together.”

Those words came from Surber just nine months before he was brutally murdered — words that still haunt his brother and friends.

“The people that hang around and the people that gamble in pool rooms can be pretty heartless,” his brother Steve Surber said. “It’s too bad that there are people like this in the world and people like Mike end up mixed up with them.”

“Mike would have probably given him the money,” said Ricky Dombrowski, former owner of Skeeter’s Billiards. “Mike was a kind person. It wasn’t necessary to kill the guy.”

“That’s the last thing anybody thought would happen, especially in a small town like this,” Surber’s friend Jason Moran said.

“The case is so cold,” according to another friend, Art Tripp.

Mike Surber was a renowned pool player, holding his own in tournaments against players with household names in the pool world.

“They called him ‘Biloxi Mike,’” Dombrowski said. “He liked to come here on Tuesdays to play one pocket. Everybody liked to come in and play him because he was so good and they just wanted to be able to say they played with that caliber of a pool player.”

“He had to be the best player that was in this town,” Moran said.

“I met Mike at the pool room,” Tripp said. “It was important to meet somebody like Mike because he was a nationally ranked player.”

Mike had a flair for felt, known always as the gentleman competitor, who matched his determination to win with a dignified manner at the table.

“If you win, you win; if you don’t win, you don’t win,” Mike said in another interview at the Derby City Classic. “There’s a lot of hardcore gamblers out there is the big difference. Some of them do it for their life, a lot of the others do it for necessity. That’s where I see the difference there.”

“We both played pool since we were very small,” his brother, Steve Surber said. “I think one of the pictures that came up was a picture of him and I. I was six. He was probably five with this little, tiny pool table in the basement of our house in Arlington.”

Mike was the youngest of four children. His older brother calls him a prodigy.

“He started playing fairly seriously when he was in middle school and got very good, got to the point where he could play against adults in the pool room, much to my mother’s shock and horror,” Steve said.

Nothing could prepare Mike for the man he would meet on Nov. 10, 2009, as he played his regular Tuesday game with friends at Skeeter’s on Teagarden Road in Gulfport. You can see the entire encounter unfold from surveillance footage.

“We noticed this guy that came in,” Tripp said. “All of a sudden, he started nosing around, started a conversation with Mike and Mike assumed that he wanted to play for money. I chatted with him very briefly. He was a very creepy guy.”

“One of the bartenders basically said that the guy seemed a little sketchy, that he came in and gave a credit card,” Dombrowski said. “She preauthorized it to see if it was good. Turned out, it was not a good card.”

From the start, that credit card has been an important clue to finding the mystery man. In a 2019 WLOX News report ten years after this crime, an Ocean Springs investigator told us about that key piece of evidence.

“He was using a stolen credit card,” Ocean Springs investigator Gregory McClellon said. “He was going by the alias of Jericho Cooper. He attempted to use that credit card in Villa Rica, Ga. as well as in Gulfport at Skeeter’s. He was saying that he was a record executive from Atlanta. The real Jericho Cooper is an Atlanta resident and had his credit card stolen.”

Police have narrowed down a timeline of the suspect’s whereabouts around this time in 2009. Aside from being seen at the bar in Villa Rica before the murder happened, he was also spotted at a bar in Ridgeland, Mississippi, soon after the homicide. Investigators noticed that all three bars the man has been seen in all had one thing in common: they were all pool halls.

Witness interviews also revealed another clue. The man was seen with a woman at the pool halls in Georgia and Ridgeland.

“They described her as a 5′2″ female, older, heavier set,” McClellon said. “He introduced her while he was in Villa Rica, Georgia, as his sister and I believe the name they were using was Vicki.”

Detectives still working to solve Michael Surber's murder 13 years later.
Detectives still working to solve Michael Surber's murder 13 years later.(FBI)

Web sleuths have dove into this case over the last ten years, as well, picking out clues and trying to solve the murder. Members of a Facebook group dedicated to finding the man note the very distinct stance he takes when shooting pool. Surber’s friends noticed that as well.

“He obviously wasn’t a good player, he stood very unmasculine, he stood with his legs together, and bent forward,” Tripp said. “You never see that. Guys always spread his legs to shoot. Some gals that haven’t played may keep their shoes together, bend forward and play. You never see a guy play like that.”

“I’m not sure that he was really a pool player,” Dombrowski said. “I think he was just an opportunist.”

The FBI describes the unknown man as a white male, possibly between the ages of 55 and 65, standing approximately 5′8″ to 6′0″ and weighing 170 to 185 pounds, with a receding hairline and ponytail. He may have had gray hair, gaps between his teeth and worn glasses.

In the video from Skeeter’s on that fateful night, you can see the man playing on a coin table favored by amateurs before going to where professionals play. That’s where Mike and his friends had a game going.

“He asked Mike if he would show him around the area,” Tripp said. “Mike thought he could show him around the casinos and he was going to take him over to his friends and his attorney’s office with the aim of getting him set up with some contracts or real estate. He thought it would be a good idea to meet him.”

“I think the people in there were surprised when the two of them left together,” Steve said.

“Mike was so cautious because he was a small guy,” Tripp said.

“It took a while to get his trust, usually, and he didn’t really let his guard down,” Steve said. “That’s why everybody was pretty surprised when this happened.”

When Mike’s car was spotted back at Skeeter’s later that night in a no-parking zone with the keys still in the ignition, Dombroski moved it, not giving it much thought. When Mike didn’t show up to work two days later, his friends went into a frenzy.

“[We] went to his house,” Dombrowski said. “We tried to get him to come to the door, he wouldn’t come to the door. We ended up taking the window out. He had the windows boarded up. We borrowed a saw from somebody, cut a hole into the board, the board fell down and that’s when I saw him lying on the floor right there by the door.”

“When they opened that door and seen what they seen, it was a shock,” Moran said.

“It was a horrific sight inside,” Steve said. “There was blood everywhere. It was awful.”

“There was blood around his neck and head area,” Dombrowski said. “He had been murdered.”

Michael had been stabbed to death. Witness statements along with a few physical clues, like blood from the crime scene and a cigarette butt could be key to pinpointing the killer if they can ever find the man in the seen in the surveillance video.

Ocean Springs police and the FBI have searched pool halls and taverns throughout the nation for the past 13 years.

Friends and family are left with only small mementos of Mike like pool cues and photos.

“Ricky and some of the guys got together and made a big photo portrait of Mike and they put it on the wall,” Tripp said.

The portrait still hangs in the pool hall, now under new ownership.

“Nobody’s forgotten it and I’m glad to see that,” Steve said.

Jennifer Lott joins us now to discuss where the mystery suspect may be.

Watch the surveillance videos released by authorities below:

Enhanced footage from 2015 is available below:


Police looking into murder with fresh set eyes

Who killed Michael Surber?

America’s Most Wanted eyes Ocean Springs murder case

Police hope video will give their cold case a hot lead

OS murder suspect may be back in Mississippi

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