For two years the Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti community was shocked by the murders of seven young women in a case the would be known as the Co-Ed Murders. Fear gripped the community as over this two year period, a killer stalked, raped, mutilated and murdered young women. John Norman Collins was eventually arrested for the murder of the seventh victim, Karen Sue Beineman. Strangely enough he was arrested based on a tip provided by his uncle, a Michigan State Trooper.
The first murder occurred on July 9, 1967, when Mary Fleszar, a 19 year old from Willis, went out for a walk near the Eastern Michigan University campus. She told her roommate that she needed to “get a bit of fresh air” due to the summer heat. Fleszar was studying accounting at E.M.U. and was working as a secretary. Fleszar's body was not found until August 7, 1967, and was badly decomposed. She had been stabbed several times in the chest and her fingers and feet had been cut off. Police theorized that she had been raped, but due to the condition of the body, they could not determine this for certain.
While this murder was particularly gruesome, it was seen as an isolated incident. The murder of Joan Schell, a 20 year old E.M.U. student, threw the community into panic. Schell was last seen hitchhiking on June 30, 1968, in front of Eastern Michigan's student union. Her roommate became concerned when she did not return that night and notified police the next day. She was found one week later near Glacier Way and Earhart road by construction workers. She had been stabbed five times and her throat had been slashed. She also had been sexually assaulted and her blue mini-skirt was found wrapped around her neck.
Schell had been seen entering a late-model red and white vehicle, which contained three other people. Police authorities obviously wanted to question these three men who had given Schell a ride. While two murders had been committed thus far, police authorities did not know a serial killer was on the loose. Lt. Eugene Staudenmaier, of the Ann Arbor Police Department stated, “This is the second case we've had like this in about a year and there is a strange similarity between the two.
A year earlier a girl named Mary Fleszar was stabbed to death just north of Ypsilanti. She suffered the same type of wounds and her assailants never were apprehended.” Lt. Staudenmaier was asked if he thought the two were related and he replied, “We can't tell until the assailants are apprehended and we have a chance to question them.”
The first two victims were reported missing by their roommates and Schell's body was found four miles from Fleszar's. The searched focused on the vehicle which Schell was seen entering. She had been hitchhiking only after missing a bus that was to take her to Ann Arbor to visit her boyfriend. Ann Arbor officers searched the scene, attempting to find Schell's purse and the murder weapon. It was believed that she had been killed elsewhere and her body moved to the desolate spot.
Schell's boyfriend, Dale Schultz, was picked up for questioning and was found to be AWOL from the Army. He was released after questioning and was not considered to be a suspect.
The third murder victim was found in a cemetery, just inside of Wayne County. Jane Mixer was a brilliant, 23 year old University of Michigan law student. Her murder was unlike the others as she was shot twice in the head with a .22 caliber gun. Her body was fully clothed, except for her shoes which were neatly placed next to the body. Stockings were found twisted around her neck and again she was believed to have been killed elsewhere.
Police continued their search for the killer when the fourth victim was found in late March of 1969. Maralynn Skelton was a 16 year old from Romulus and was last seen on March 24, hitchhiking in front of the Arborland Mall on Washtenaw. Her body was found on Pemberton Drive in the Earhart subdivision in Ann Arbor. She had been brutally beaten to death as her skull had been shattered. The location of where her body was found was only a quarter mile from the body of the second victim, Joan Schell. Police reported that this was the most sadistic murder to date, as Skelton's body bore deep wounds believed to have been made by a leather strap. A garter belt was twisted around her neck and Chief Krasny stated it was the worst he had seen in his thirty years with the department. He stated she was “beaten unmercifully about the face.”
Skelton had also been reported missing when she failed to meet a friend at McKenny Union at Eastern Michigan University. She had previously called this friend and asked to be picked up at that location. The following day her parents contacted the Wayne County Sheriff's Department to make a missing persons report. A missing persons flyer was printed up and sent to area departments.
By this point a massive investigation was ongoing as fear continued to grip the community. The police departments of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, along with the Washtenaw County Sheriff's Department and Michigan State Police, dedicated many detectives in search of the elusive killer. In spite of their efforts, the fifth victim was found on April 19, 1969, at Gale and Vreeland Roads.
Thirteen year old Dawn Basom was found strangled with black electrical wire, her body slashed across the breasts and buttocks. A handkerchief was stuffed into her mouth and her blue stretch pants were missing.
Basom had been reported missing by her mother on April 18, when she failed to return home from visiting a friend. Basom was an eighth grade student at West Junior High School in Ypsilanti. She had left prior to darkness as she told her friend that she had to get home. She was last seen walking down the Penn Central Railroad tracks, which passed near her house.
When she was found her chest and stomach had over a dozen slash marks, made with a razor or a very sharp knife. Again it was believed that she was killed elsewhere and her body was dumped along the road. Sheriff Harvey believed the killer wanted the body found as it lay simply along the side of the road and anyone passing by would notice it.
There were several similarities that the police had to work with in their attempts to find the killer. Four of the victims had some connection to Eastern Michigan University. Strangling was involved in four of the five cases. All of the victims were white, with brown hair and all the bodies were easily found, leading police to believe the killer wanted them found. Mutilation of the victims was also prevalent.
Area police agencies received hundreds of tips, but were no closer to solving this latest murder than they were with the first. Ann Arbor Police Chief Krasny stated, “Somewhere there must be a connection; someone who must have one piece of information that will give us the break we need.”
The pace of the killings accelerated with the killing of 23 year old Alice Kalom. Kalom was a recent University of Michigan arts graduate and was enrolled as a graduate student. Her death took place on June 7, 1969, as she was shot once in the head. She had also been stabbed twice in the chest and was raped. As in all the previous murders she was believed to have been killed elsewhere as her naked body was found by an abandoned farm near North Territorial and U.S.23. Three days later officers found the site of her murder as they were patrolling outlying areas and found at Earhart Rd. and Joy were Kalom's shoes and coat buttons, along with bloodstains.
Kalom had last been seen at The Depot House at 416 S. Ashley in Ann Arbor, where she was seen dancing with a long haired youth. The Depot House was a rehearsal house for rock bands.
No one observed her movements after she left the party and it was not known if she left with this long haired man. Sheriff Douglas Harvey stated the latest murder appeared to be a “carbon copy” of the previous ones.
Kalom's father, Joseph, was so stricken with grief that he lashed out at reporters who were at the sheriff's department when he arrived to claim his daughter's body. “I don't want her body. I want her alive. I didn't come here for her body,” said Mr. Kalom. “I'm not going to claim her body. I'm going to tell them not to go to this university-it's too big. They don't give a damn about anything but money and politics. I'm not going to bury her. Let them bury her on the president's lawn. I've worked too damn hard to raise her, to send her here. I don't want her dead.”
Mr. Kalom did have his daughter's body retrieved and she was buried in the Mount Ever Rest Memorial Park in Kalamazoo.
Up to this point in the investigation, detectives were not convinced the murder of Jane Mixer was connected as she had been shot and the other victims strangled or stabbed. With the murder of Kalom however, they felt all six murders were committed by the same person.
With this latest murder Governor William Milliken, in a press conference, stated everything that could be done to help the local police would be. He further stated that Col. Frederick Davids, commander of the State Police, was personally in charge of the Michigan State Police portion of the investigation. Governor Milliken's 21 year old daughter was a junior at the University of Michigan.
The officers investigating the killings were so desperate for a break in the cases that they spoke of contacting a criminologist who was a nationwide expert in the field. Chief Krasny stated, “It's apparent we need a new, fresh look at the crimes. It's possible a trained, competent criminologist can, through his experience and training, give us a fresh approach. I'm certainly willing to try it.”
While the public continued to call in tips, some were sick hoaxes. In one of these hoaxes a writer sent a letter to the Detroit News, stating he had information about the killer and was seeking a reward. The writer demanded the money be turned over to the head of the Detroit Catholic Churches, John Cardinal Dearden. The writer stated that as a signal that the arrangement was agreed to, newscasters on WJBK-TV, would mispronounce the name of weathercaster Jerry Hodak, on a date set by the writer. This was done, but no information was ever supplied by the writer. Chief Krasny knew the writer was probably a hoax, but felt it was worth a try.
What would be the last of the co-ed murders occurred on July 23, 1969, when the body of 18 year old Karen Sue Beineman was found on Riverside Drive in Ann Arbor Township. Beineman was found strangled and nude, her face beaten beyond recognition. Beineman had gone to downtown Ypsilanti to buy a wig at 1:00 p.m. Beineman had been reported missing after she did not return to her residence hall at Eastern Michigan University, where she was a freshman. When she was reported missing authorities, fearing the worst, searched around the clock for her but were unsuccessful.
A clerk in the Ypsilanti store was the last known person to have seen Beineman alive. She overheard Beineman say she had done two foolish things in her lifetime. One was buying a wig and the other was accepting a ride with a stranger on a motorcycle. She then exited the store and left with this unknown person on the motorcycle. The motorcycle was believed to be a Honda 450, very shiny with a lot of chrome. Investigators obtained a list of all Honda 450s in the state and began the tedious process of attempting to find the killer through this list.
As in the other killings it appeared that Beineman had been killed elsewhere and her body was dumped in a secluded ravine. She was found by homeowners who were walking to their mailbox to get their mail. The autopsy revealed Beineman was killed the day she disappeared. When Beineman's parents were notified her father, Roland, had to be hospitalized for shock.
Sheriff Harvey was notified personally at his office and ordered minimal personnel to respond to the scene. A plan was in place that when the next victim was found, a mannequin would be placed where the body was recovered. Police believed the killer returned to at least two other locations where he had dumped his victims. Washtenaw County Prosecutor William Delhey personally gave his approval to this plan. Six detectives, from the sheriff's department and the state police, staked out the murder scene on Saturday, July 26. Two each were in vehicles and the other two were on foot.
At approximately midnight, a lone male was observed walking down Riverside Drive. It was raining steadily so it seemed unusual for someone to be out walking, especially late at night in a desolate area. When the man entered the ravine, the detectives obviously felt they had their man. He was so close to the mannequin that he could touch it. He quickly discovered it was not Beineman's body. He bolted through the woods with the detectives in pursuit. The detectives searched in vain for the suspect but were not able to locate him.
When word of the incident got to the press, the officers were roundly criticized. Prosecutor Delhey did state it was possible the man was just a passerby who was frightened by the shouts of the detectives, although this seemed unlikely due to the circumstances. Prosecutor Delhey stated, “Obviously we didn't have enough personnel on the scene, but we couldn't really flood the area with officers or the suspect might have seen them.”
While the detectives received criticism for not apprehending this man, it should be noted that the suspect approached the body through a densely wooded area in a steady rainfall. Visibility was poor and the detectives could not get close enough to arrest him before the suspect fled, after he saw the mannequin. The suspect was believed to have ran through a swampy area to elude capture and then swam across the Huron River.
Sheriff Harvey and Prosecutor Delhey especially came under fire after this incident. One newspaper published an editorial calling them “Keystone Kops.” In the editorial it accused some in the investigation of looking not for the killer, but for “glory.”
In another twist to the investigation, Governor Milliken invoked a little used law which gave full jurisdiction in the murder investigations to the Michigan State Police. While Governor Milliken made the decision, he stated it was not because of a lack of accomplishment by the departments investigating the murders. Local law enforcement felt differently however as this was perceived to be a vote of “no confidence.”
After an arrest was made in the case, Prosecutor Delhey responded to this criticism. He stated, “We don't believe we acted like nonprofessionals as one paper said, nor as Keystone Kops like another newspaper put it.”
Sheriff Harvey also did not respond well to the perceived criticism stating, “While the governor was up there in Lansing wringing his hands and invoking 1935 laws we already had the prime suspect under a tight look for a week. Col. Davids is one of the finest policemen in the country and we welcome his additional forces into this investigation. But Milliken, without even the courtesy of a request for a progress report, took it on his own and pushed the panic button. It was handled badly.”
The investigation continued and the break which solved the murder of Karen Beineman came in a most unusual way. Michigan State Police Corporal David Leik was assigned to the Ypsilanti Post and was a resident of Ypsilanti, residing on Roosevelt St. Corporal Leik was going on vacation and had his nephew, John Norman Collins, take care of the family home while he was away for two weeks.
When Corporal Leik returned home from vacation he found things in the house “not as they should be.” He passed this information along to the detectives investigating the murders and the focus was then placed on Collins. Collins was not immediately arrested as the evidence against him was initially insufficient for a successful prosecution. Collins was place under surveillance and was picked up for questioning on two occasions.
On July 31, 1969, Collins was placed under arrest for the murder of Karen Sue Beineman. At the time Collins was a senior at Eastern Michigan University, studying elementary teaching. Collins was 22 years old at the time of his arrest. After Beineman was reported missing an artist made a composite of the man that was observed giving Beineman a ride on the motorcycle. This composite strongly resembled Collins and Corporal Leik told investigators that Collins did own a motorcycle.
It was believed that Beineman was killed in Corporal Leik's basement by Collins. When the murder took place, blood splattered on the basement floor. Collins knew he had to clean the scene of the murder up and painted over the area in which the killing had took place. When Leik returned from vacation he immediately became suspicious, wondering why his basement floor had been painted. He discovered what appeared to be blood underneath the paint, although this turned out to be varnish. He reported his suspicions to his superiors at the state police and technicians were sent to investigate further, finding blood splatters by the family washing machine. A fingerprint set in wet paint was found to be Collins and this was part of the evidence used to arrest him, as was blood and hair samples. Once Collins was arrested, lab technicians discovered blood and hair in his 1968 Oldsmobile Cutlass, which matched Beineman's.
Investigators spoke to the clerks at the wig shop where Beineman was last seen and they identified Collins as the person she was with. Another Eastern co-ed identified Collins, as he had tried to pick her up and give her a ride on his motorcycle.
While the focus of the investigation was obviously on Collins, detectives did not discount the possibility that Collins did not act alone. In the Schell murder she was last seen getting into a car with three other males. Certainly her murder could have occurred after leaving this car but investigators looked into every possible angle. Investigators even flew to California to consult with authorities in Claremont, as they were investigating a murder eerily similar to the co-ed murders. Collins had gone to California with his friend and was there when the murder occurred. He was considered to be a very strong suspect in that case.
Authorities later believed that Collins was the driver of the vehicle Schell had entered and that the other two males exited shortly afterwards.
Collins' preliminary exam was held during August of 1969 in front of Judge Edward Deake. Judge Deake found that a murder had been committed and there was probable cause to believe Collins committed the crime. The only murder Collins was being prosecuted for was that of Karen Sue Beineman. Evidence did not exist to go forward with the other six. Collins denied the killing of Beineman to his attorney, Richard Ryan, stating he had never met her.
The murder trial of John Norman Collins turned out to be the longest trial in the history of Washtenaw County. On August 19, 1970, the jury found Collins guilty of the murder of Karen Sue Beineman, the only victim of the seven that Collins was convicted of killing.
There were a number of main prosecution witnesses that testified during the trial. One of them, Diane Goshe, was the owner of the wig shop in which Beineman was last seen. She observed Beineman get on a motorcycle with Collins, shortly before her disappearance.
The second witness was Arnold Davis, a self-described best friend of Collins. Davis testified that he saw Collins remove a blanket and a box of women's apparel from the trunk of his car and dispose of them after he was first interviewed by the police. Collins also gave Davis a knife for safekeeping, which Davis then turned over to the detectives investigating the case.
Collins tried to use Davis as an alibi for the time period of the Beineman abduction and murder telling Davis, “Don't forget we went motorcycle riding in afternoon on July 23,” which was the day of Beineman's disappearance.
Corporal Leik and his wife, Sandra, testified about Collins use of their home while they were on vacation and the evidence that eventually led to his arrest.
Collins was sentenced to life in prison in August of 1970. When the sentence was announced Collins stated, “I never knew a girl named Karen Sue Beineman. I never took the life of Karen Sue Beineman.” Those were the only words that he ever uttered publicly about the murder up to that time.
He began serving his sentence at the Southern Michigan Prison in Jackson and was transferred to Marquette Prison in 1977. In January of 1980, Collins had an unexpected return to Ann Arbor when he was admitted to the University of Michigan Hospital for a fractured skull. The incident occurred while Collins was at Marquette and fell on the ice while taking part in an exercise period. He was flown by air ambulance to the University Hospital as his injury was thought to be life-threatening. He eventually recovered and was returned to prison.
Interestingly, a movie about the murders was partially filmed in Ann Arbor during the summer of 1977. The movie starred Victoria Bayley as one of the murder victims and Bob Purley played the role of Collins, although the names were all changed in the movie to avoid legal problems. The movie cost over one million dollars to make and parts of the movie were also filmed in Southern California, as Collins was believed to have murdered a young woman there.
The film was named “Now I lay me down to sleep” and the script was based on the book, “The Michigan Murders,” which is a book written about the murders. [Editor's Note: According to Lt. Logghe, the film was never completed.]
Collins was interviewed in prison by William Treml and told him he was dismayed by the movie project as he felt it could jeopardize his fight for freedom during the appeal process. The producer of the movie, William Martin, stated he would stop production of the movie if Collins took and passed a lie detector test which he never did.
In 1979, Collins attempted to escape from the maximum security prison at Marquette. Collins, along with six other inmates, dug a two foot wide tunnel over 19 feet underneath the prison. The prisoners had another 25 feet to dig for freedom but were thwarted by a guard who found the tunnel entrance.
I learned of another bizarre story concerning the Co-Ed Murders when I was speaking to the Rotary Club of North Ann Arbor. I was invited there to speak about this book and after I was done I was approached by a man who was in the Rotary Club when Chief Krasny spoke to them, many years before. Chief Krasny spoke of the murders to the Rotary Club and told them of the inquiry he made to the authorities in California, about the murder in which Collins was suspected. Chief Krasny wanted a copy of the dead girl's fingerprints so they could be compared with fingerprints recovered from Collins' property.
One day the chief was opening his mail when he came upon a package from the California jurisdiction investigating the murder of the local girl there. The chief opened this package to find a severed hand inside. The hand was simply placed in a manila envelope and shipped to the chief. Instead of sending a copy of the girl's fingerprints, the authorities sent the girl's hand instead, not protecting it against decomposure in any way. The chief swore to the club that the story was true.