On July 5, 1969, Margaret Phillips was shot in her apartment at 203 N. State Street. Phillips died 23 hours after she was discovered unconscious with two bullet wounds to her head. Phillips had been shot with a .22 caliber pistol. Police initially had no suspects, but after speaking with Phillips' parents, the investigation focused on Ernest Bishop.
Phillips was a student at the university who enjoyed working with people that were “down and out.” She was working on her doctoral in sociology, specializing in persons with mental disorders. In a chilling coincidence, Phillips was researching six unsolved local murders of female co-eds. These murders were later solved and John Norman Collins was convicted of one of them, commonly referred to as the Co-Ed Murders. Once Bishop had been arrested, the focus of the co-ed murders focused on him, but he was eventually cleared.
Bishop had recently been released from prison and Phillips was counseling him, trying to find him a job. She had been introduced to Bishop by a university professor who was also interested in rehabilitating former convicts. Phillips established a relationship with Bishop, trying to acclimate him back into society.
Bishop had gone to Phillips' apartment where he had a cup of coffee, while Phillips had a glass of lemonade. The killer pulled out the .22 and shot Phillips twice in the head and once in the hand. Bishop's fingerprints were found on the coffee cup.
After interviewing Phillips' parents, officers found that she had been assisting Bishop and he was arrested within days as he walked out of his Gott Street home.
While Phillips lay dying in the hospital, a detective was at her side with a tape recorder in case she had any last words. While she never woke up, police did leak information that she was in fair condition in the thought that this information would flush the killer out.
Chief Krasny stated that while this was unsuccessful, “It was a move we felt we had to make. We felt a little added heat on the killer would push him toward us.”
Information was also discovered that the murder weapon was thrown into the Huron River and it was found there by Michigan State Police Divers. This information was provided by Clifford Shewcraft, a friend of Bishop's. After the shooting, Bishop went to his house and told him he had witnessed the shooting of Phillips. He told Shewcraft that a man named “Dave” was responsible for the shooting.
They went for a ride and Bishop told Shewcraft to stop the vehicle as they were northbound on US-23. Bishop exited the car and threw the murder weapon into the river. Bishop was tried for the murder and found not guilty by reason of insanity.
Before the arrest of Bishop, Phillips' father came forward with information about a possible motive in the killing. Phillips had told her father that she was probing the “Co-Ed Murders” which had yet to be solved. She said that she had information which would “shock the nation” once revealed.
Detectives searched for this information but could not find any which had a tie to the Co-Ed Murders. Certainly there was a chance that Bishop was the suspect they were looking for in the Co-Ed Murders investigation, but they could not find any evidence to establish Bishop as a suspect. Investigators did discover that Phillips and Alice Kalom, the sixth murder victim in the Co-Ed Murders, were casual acquaintances. Detectives could not establish anything further and Bishop was cleared. Ballistics tests found that the weapon that killed Phillips was not used in any of the Co-Ed Murders.
The city was still reeling from the Co-Ed Murders when another murder shocked the community. A Dearborn woman was murdered on December 9, 1969, at the University Towers at 536 S. Forest. Gloria Murphy, 19, was found dead by her husband, James, after he returned to their high rise apartment. She had been slashed with a knife and stabbed repeatedly. An autopsy later found she had been stabbed over 34 times.
On the day of the murder, Chief Krasny stated that Murphy's husband “was not a suspect in the case.” James Murphy was a student the U of M and had arrived home at 2:00 p.m. discovering his wife's body fully clothed and lying by their bed. The Murphy's two week old baby was lying uninjured at the foot of the bed.
As the detectives processed the scene they noted there were no signs of forced entry into the apartment and nothing was stolen from it. While her husband was not a suspect initially, this fact aroused their suspicions of Mr. Murphy. Feeling the suspect discarded the murder weapon nearby, officers searched over 200 apartments in the building, along with the trash dumpsters outside, in an attempt to find it.
Murphy told the detectives that he did not have any classes on the day of the murder as it was finals week. He stated he was studying at home and left early in the afternoon to do some shopping. He arrived home about 1:30 p.m. and discovered her body. Instead of calling for the police, he called an ambulance. Once they arrived they immediately called the police as it was obvious a murder had taken place.
Word spread quickly through campus what had occurred and before Murphy's body was taken from the apartment, crowds spread along S. University and Forest, shocked at this latest murder.
The detectives began to focus the investigation on Mr. Murphy and asked him to submit to a lie detector test. He was taken to the State Police where the examination was held. Afterwards, he was admitted to St. Joseph's Mercy Hospital for emotional distress. It was at the hospital that Murphy admitted to killing his wife.
Detectives Richard Anderson and Bill Lyons were at the hospital with Murphy, as was Murphy's father. As the younger Murphy was lying on an examination table his father asked him, “Jimmy, did you hurt her?” Murphy broke down and stated, “Yes, I don't know why. I was only kidding Dad.”
On December 10, James Murphy was arrested for the murder of his wife. Chief Krasny stated, “Sufficient evidence has been found in the case. It will now be turned over to the county prosecutor.” Chief Krasny would not say what the evidence was, but did admit that the murder weapon had not been found.
Officers conducted a weeklong search for the murder weapon in the city's landfill. Their search was called off after an unsuccessful week at the landfill on Ellsworth, as they believed the knife was wrapped in bloody clothing and thrown into it.
It was discovered by detectives that the couple had argued frequently over many things, money and their lack of it a major concern. Murphy was to have graduated from U of M the following Saturday, instead he was in the county jail while wife's funeral was taking place.