The First Body
“A body found yesterday afternoon on a Superior Township farm was tentatively identified as that of a 19-year-old Eastern Michigan University coed who disappeared without a trace July 9.”
This report in the Ann Arbor News on Tuesday, August 8th, 1967 described the first of a string of coed murders in the Ypsilanti/Ann Arbor area of Michigan over the next two years. The body was that of Mary Fleszar, 19, who was last seen by a roommate when she left their apartment near the university campus to go for a walk. She was wearing a bright orange tent dress with large white polka dots, and a pair of sandals. She was five foot two, weighing about 110 pounds, wore glasses, and had brown hair. She had not taken her purse, but her car keys were gone, and her car was parked across from where she normally left it, which her mother thought was odd.
Half an hour after she left the apartment, a university police officer had spotted her walking alone. Later, a man sitting on his porch who knew her saw her walking toward her apartment. Then he saw a young man driving a bluish-grey Chevy stop beside her, open his window, and talk with her. She shook her head and walked on. He drove by again and pulled up in front of her. She again shook her head and walked around him. He backed out, accelerated with an angry screech, and left. Concerned, the man on the porch watched her draw close to her building and then lost sight of her, but did not see the car return. He was the last person to see her alive.
The body was found by Saline residents Russell Crisovan, Jr., 15, son of the owner of the farm near Geddes and LaForge Roads, and Mark Lucas, 15. They were working at the farm, preparing to plow a field, when they heard a car door slam. Thinking they might witness a pair of lovers on a clandestine date, they went over to where they had heard the sound. It was near the foundation of a former farmhouse and silo, a sort of dumping site and lovers’ lane combined. The car door slammed again and an engine turned over, but by the time they reached the area, the car was gone. They noticed fresh tire tracks in the weeds and followed them for about twenty feet, smelling something foul. Then they spotted a blackish-brown object with leathery skin, which they initially took to be a deer in an advanced state of decomposition. Flies and bugs crawled all over it in the summer heat. The carcass appeared to have a head, but it was rotten and shapeless. Then one of them noticed that the ear looked human, so they beat it out of there and drove straight to the Ypsilanti post of the State Police.
Just a Friend of the Family
The responding officers immediately recognized the body as human. It was nude, lying on its side, with face down. One forearm and hand, and the fingers of the other hand were missing. Both feet had been severed at the ankles, and animals bites were evident on the skin and bones. It was not clear at first whether the victim was male or female. The medical examiner, Dr. Henry Scovill, estimated that the victim had been dead approximately one month, and she was quickly identified with medical records as the missing coed. The farm was located approximately three miles from the apartment where Fleszar lived.
The autopsy found evidence that she had been stabbed repeatedly in the chest, approximately thirty times, and twenty of those punctures had been inflicted by a knife or other sharp object. The lower leg bones had been smashed just above the ankles. It also appeared that she had been brutally beaten.
Detectives who examined the crime scene said the body had been moved at least three times, possibly by animals or possibly by the killer, who apparently had returned at least once. It was first placed on top of a pile of bottles and cans in an area obscured by a clump of box elder trees. It was moved about five feet south, and probably stayed there for quite some time. Later, the body was moved three more feet, and may have been moved yet again. Clearly, whoever had been out there that day was there to see her.
A leather and plastic sandal found at the scene was identified by Fleszar’s mother as belonging to her. Later, beneath some corrugated paneling, an officer turned up a pile of women’s clothing, on top of which was an orange dress with white polka dots. It had been torn down the front, and both the bra and panties had been partly ripped.
The remains of Mary Fleszar were transported to a funeral home. Just before the funeral, there was a report that a young man in a bluish-gray Chevy had visited, claiming to be a friend of the family. He wanted to take a picture. When this was denied to him, he left. Only then did the personnel on site realize that he did not even have a camera. The Fleszars said they did not know who he was. No one could describe him in any helpful way, and he did not show up at the ceremony or burial, yet police suspected that this was the murderer returning for a grisly souvenir.
The next body would not be discovered for almost a year.
The Victims I
Collins was implicated superficially in fifteen murders, but only the first seven on the list are officially considered his, as outlined in The Michigan Murders. Numbers eight and nine are very likely his. Characteristic of his murders were strangulation, beating about the head (dehumanization), articles of clothing missing, nude or semi-nude bodies, evidence of sexual assault, disappearance without a struggle, and disposal of bodies to ensure discovery. Most of the girls had long, brown hair and ears, and several were having their periods.
- Mary Fleszar, 19, from Willis, Michigan. She had been working as a secretary and majored in accounting. She went for a walk on July 9, 1967, from her apartment in Ypsilanti near the Eastern Michigan University campus and was found a month later on August 7 on a farm near Geddes and LaForge Roads. She was nude and had been stabbed repeatedly in the chest, with body parts missing. She was killed elsewhere and dumped here; also moved several times.
- Joan Schell, 20, from Plymouth, Michigan. She was an art major at Eastern Michigan University. On June 30, 1968, she was hitch-hiking in front of the EMU student union, around 10:30 p.m., and was found a week later outside Ann Arbor near Glacier Way and Earhart Roads. She had been sexually molested, her throat was slashed, and she had been stabbed five times. She was killed elsewhere and dumped here. Her miniskirt was twisted around her neck. She was seen getting into a car with three young men.
- Jane Mixer, 23, of Muskegon, Michigan. She was a freshman law student at the University of Michigan. She was supposed to meet a “David Johnson” to get a ride home on March 20, 1968. She was found the next day in a cemetery in Denton Township. She had been shot twice in the head with a .22 caliber gun. She was killed elsewhere, and a stocking was twisted around her neck. (There is some speculation that she is not among Collins’ victims, because the location of her body was far afield from the others, dumped in an atypical site, and because she was fully clothed.)
- Maralynn Skelton, 16, of Romulus, Michigan. She was a high school dropout, known to run with a bad crowd. She was last seen hitch-hiking in front of Arborland Shopping Center on March 24, 1969, and was found the next day near Glacier Way and Earhart Roads. Her skull was cracked in three places, and she had been whipped with a belt and sexually molested. She was killed elsewhere and dumped here. A garter belt was wrapped around her neck.
- Dawn Basom, 13, of Ypsilanti, Michigan. She was leaving a house
near the EMU campus to go home on April 15, 1969, and was found the
next day near Gale and Vreeland Roads. She had been strangled with a
black electrical wire and stabbed in several places. She was killed
elsewhere, possibly in a deserted farm house where items of her
clothing were found. She was an eighth-grade student, the youngest of
Ypsilanti Sheriff Douglas Harvey points to the spot where Dawn Basom’s body was discovered
- Alice Kalom, 23, of Portage, Michigan. She was a University of Michigan graduate in the fine arts, enrolled in grad school. On June 7, 1969, she went to a party at the Depot House in Ann Arbor and was seen dancing with a young man with long hair. Her body was found near North Territorial Road and U. S. 23, near an abandoned barn. She had been shot once in the head and stabbed twice in the chest, as well as raped. She was killed elsewhere and her clothing was scattered around her body. Her shoes were missing.
- Karen Sue Beineman, 18, of Grand Rapids, Michigan. She was an EMU freshman attending summer classes. She had just sent a note to her parents assuring them she was being careful, but then accepted a ride on a motorcycle from a man she did not know. She was last seen on July 23, 1969, leaving a wig shop to go with him, and was found, strangled, in a ravine off Riverside Drive near Huron River Drive in Ann Arbor. Her face was badly battered and she was nude. She had been killed elsewhere. She was the last victim before Collins was caught, and it was the evidence found on her that led to his conviction.
- Roxie Phillips, 17, of Salinas, California. She disappeared on June 30, 1969, going out to mail a letter and meet a friend, and was found on July 13 in Pescadero Canyon just north of Carmel by a pair of boys looking for fossils. She was badly decomposed and nude, except for a pair of sandals and a red-and-white cotton belt wrapped tightly around her neck. The body had to be carried to where it lay amidst poison oak (and Collins was treated in California that week for a rash from poison oak). Some of Phillips’ possessions were found strewn along Route 68. A friend of hers mentioned having met a “John” driving a silver Oldsmobile who was going to college in Michigan, and who rode motorcycles. She didn’t think Roxie knew him, but she did admit she had met him while he was cruising near Roxie’s house.
- Eileen Adams, 13, of Toledo, Ohio, was kidnapped in December, 1967, and found in January south of Ypsilanti, raped, strangled with an electrical cord, and stuffed into a sack. Like another victim, her bra was tied around her neck. She was cruelly beaten with a hammer, and a three-inch nail was driven into her skull. Her stockings were arranged on her body, but her shoes were missing. There was evidence of sexual assault and her body was placed in plain sight. It appeared that she had left willingly with her killer.
In trying to decipher the personality traits of an unknown homicidal predator, many things are taken into consideration, including victim background, time and place of the murders, method of abduction, murder weapon used, degree of planning, and evidence of overkill.
A relatively recent development in the profiling field is the analysis of a suspect’s geographic patterns—victim selection area, where the crime was actually committed, travel route for body disposal, where and how he dumped the bodies, and the degree of isolation of the dump site. It tells something about the suspect’s mobility, method of transportation, potential area of residence, and ability to traverse barriers, such as crossing state lines.
Familiarity is part of one’s comfort zone and many murderers begin their crime spree in areas where they live, with victims with whom they feel relatively safe. In the case of the coeds, it was likely—and proved to be the case—that the murderer lived near the EMU campus. Collins, in fact, resided in Ypsilanti, a few blocks from campus, and went to school there.
In this case, there were many geographic similarities. Several victims lived near the EMU campus or disappeared from there. Many were students, which indicated that he prowled the campuses. Six of the seven bodies were found in rural areas between Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, and five body dump sites formed a tight circle. Only Jane Mixer’s body was found outside the area (which some thought eliminated her as a Collins victim, but given the overwhelming evidence of his involvement in the case in California, there is no reason to believe he would only use the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti border as a dump site). The five dump sites close together indicate that he traveled this way back and forth and knew the area well. In fact, one obvious murder site, an abandoned farmhouse, showed evidence of at least two of the victims having been killed there, possibly more.
Police search for bodies
The killer left most of the bodies out in the open, in lover’s lane-type areas, where they would be discovered fairly easily, except for Mary Fleszar, who lay in the weeds for a month before discovery. However, Collins returned and apparently moved her around, as if to make discovery easier. She was dumped 150 feet from a road. Joan Schell appeared to have been stored in some kind of root cellar (perhaps the farm site) before being dumped 12 feet from a road and covered with grass. After that, Collins made no effort, as if he wanted these bodies to be found.
Clearly the suspect had a car of some type to transport bodies. He also crossed state lines. Roxie Phillips was found in some weeds, dumped in a Canyon near Carmel, after being picked up near Salinas, where Collins was staying. He had cruised the area the day before, making himself familiar with it and engaging girls in conversation before making his move on Phillips.
Thus, he was organized and calculating, preferring to grab victims where he was comfortable, and dumping them in wooded areas away from where he killed them. Often they were left in ways that made discovery easy, and he apparently killed more than one in the same place.
On July 10, 1967, Mary Fleszar was reported missing from her apartment near Eastern Michigan University. On August 7th, her badly decomposed body was found near the foundation of a farmhouse two miles north of Ypsilanti, Michigan. She had been stabbed to death, and her feet and one hand were missing, along with the fingers of her other hand. She was nude and her clothing was found under a pile of trash. The only clues to her murder were the sighting of a bluish-gray Chevy that had pulled up to her as she walked home the night she disappeared, and a young man whom nobody seemed to know who showed up at the funeral home to take photos of the corpse (which was refused). There were no leads.
Almost a year later, on July 6, 1968, Joan Schell was found on a construction site, stabbed to death, five days after she got into a car with three young men who offered her a ride. One of them was a tall, trimly-built, clean-cut young man with dark hair who wore a green EMU T-shirt. Schell’s apartment was only three blocks from Fleszar’s. Although she had been dead for five days, her body had been in the place where it was found less than twenty-four hours. Part of the body was still fresh, as though it had lain in a root cellar and been preserved, while the upper part was black and leathery, as if exposed to the elements. There was evidence that she had been raped, and her clothing was bunched up around her neck. The grass was trampled, as if someone had been there recently.
John Norman Collins
Some students had seen Schell in the company of an Eastern Michigan University student named John Collins, who lived across the street from her, but he claimed to have been with his mother in Detroit for the weekend. He also said he’d never met Schell. He was a personable, clean-cut young man with the goal of becoming a teacher, so no one thought seriously that he might have had something to do with this brutal murder. He sent the detectives on their way with a friendly, “Sure hope you catch that guy.”
Schell’s boyfriend, AWOL from the army, was under heavy suspicion, but he passed a polygraph test and was released to the MPs.
During that fall semester, a rumor went around the campus of Eastern Michigan University that psychic Jeanne Dixon had predicted a string of murders, with a death toll of some fifty young women on four Michigan college campuses. Ms. Dixon denied making any such prediction and assured the students, ironically, that they could feel safe.
Then a twenty-three year-old law student, Jane Mixer, was found on March 25th, 1969, fully clothed in a cemetery in Denton township. She had been shot twice in the head, strangled, and then covered with a yellow raincoat. Her skirt was rolled up and her pantyhose pulled down, but a sanitary napkin still in place indicated no sexual attack. Her last message to her parents was that she had succeeded in getting a ride to their home in Muskegon and would be there for the weekend.
Police looked unsuccessfully for a young man named “David Johnson,” with whom she supposedly got this ride home. They compiled a list of sixteen men by that name who had some association with the universities, but none checked out.
Only four days later, another construction worker found Maralynn Skelton, 16, beaten to death and left not more than a quarter of a mile from where Joan Schell’s body had been found. She had been brutally battered about the head and left exposed in a rape position, with a tree branch jammed into her vagina. Her body was covered with welts, as if she had been hit with a large-buckled belt. Imprinted across her breasts were marks that could have been from straps. Her clothes (except underwear) were piled beside her body, her shoes next to her feet, and a piece of dark blue cloth was stuffed into her throat. Since she was a known drug abuser, police felt that she might have been running with a bad crowd. She had been hitch-hiking the day she disappeared.
Once again, the boyfriend was questioned, but proved a dead-end. Known drug-users were interrogated, but there were still no leads.
Then thirteen-year-old Dawn Basom was discovered by the roadway on April 15th. She wore only a white blouse and bra, pushed up around her neck. Her arms were bent over her head. She had been strangled with an electrical cord, and her breasts and buttocks were viciously slashed. A handkerchief or piece of her blouse was stuffed back in her mouth.
Sheriff Doug Harvey, in charge of the Washtenaw County investigation that by now involved six law enforcement agencies, ordered a news blackout so they could do a stake-out, but a journalist had already leaked it.
Police search the area on horseback
One of the victim’s shoes was found about fifty yards away, and then the other was located across the road in a ditch, as if the killer had just tossed them out the window as he drove. Harvey extended the search for her clothing over a wider area. One deputy was sorting through some rubble in an abandoned farmhouse not far from where the girl had lived and only half a mile from where Mary Fleszar had been dumped. He found the orange sweater she had been wearing. He also found pieces of her blouse, and in the barn, a length of cord like that with which she had been strangled. Further investigation revealed fresh blood. For the first time, they had located one of the actual murder sites. Even so, there were no clues as to who the killer was, but they continued to comb through the rubble in the house.
A week later one of Maralynn Shelton’s gold-plated earrings was found at the site, along with another scrap of material from Basom’s blouse, and the police were certain these items had not been there previously. The feeling was that the killer had returned to taunt the investigators. Then two weeks later, the barn at the site burned down. A reporter looking over the smoking ruins discovered five purple lilac blossoms, freshly cut, lying nearby. One for each murder, it seemed. An arsonist was arrested for setting the fire, but no one could explain the flowers.
A Task Force is Established
The sixth victim of “the Ypsilanti coed slayer” was Alison Kalom, age 23. Three young boys walking across a disused farm on June 8 found her at the edge of a field. Her body was stabbed multiple times and her throat was cut. She had also been shot in the head, and her torn clothes were scattered around her. A sheer purple strip cut from her blouse was tied around her forehead. Her pantyhose were slashed at the crotch, and one of her shoes was missing. The other, a purple pump with a bow, lay nearby. She was last seen leaving a party in Ann Arbor the day before.
The murder site was located five miles form the body. There Deputy Earl Lewis found a pair of brown loafers and two red buttons missing from the victim’s raincoat, along with brownish stains scattered all over which turned out to be blood that matched the victim’s type. The loafers fit the victim’s feet, and the purple shoes were soon explained when it was discovered that she had just bought them. The empty shoe box lay in her apartment, along with her purse, indicating that the killer may have been there with her—and he might have the missing shoe.
After this murder, a crime center was set up for a specific task force to be focused solely on the coed murders. All files were gathered and stored in a building on Washtenaw Avenue that once had been a Catholic seminary.
At the same time, a citizen’s group, outraged by the failures of the multiple police department task force, decided to take action. They raised money and contacted the famous psychic Peter Hurkos, who had been involved in the case of the Boston Strangler a few years earlier. The profile he gave contained some elements that helped, but many that were misleading. He predicted that the killer would soon strike again, and he did that very week.
Karen Sue Beineman, 18, who had written to her parents that she was being careful, inexplicably accepted a ride with a stranger on a motorcycle on July 23, 1969. She mentioned this to the owner of a wig shop, who warned her not to go with the man and who was probably the last person to see Beineman alive. Three days later, she was found strangled, beaten, and sexually abused. She had been raped either while she was dying or right afterward. Once side of her face was a pulpy mass of bruises. The autopsy later revealed that a piece of material was stuff into her throat, her torn panties were stuffed into her vagina, and there were human hair clippings stuck to the panties. She had been in that location only about a day and a half.
Since the body was sheltered in a wooded gully, this time Sheriff Harvey was successful in keeping the grim discovery out of the news. He ordered a stake-out, replacing the body with a store mannequin, to see if the killer would return.
A Midnight Jogger
That night it rained, diminishing visibility, and when a deputy spotted a man stop by the mannequin and then run out of the gully, he tried to radio a description to others, but his walkie-talkie failed. The sound of a car engine told them that whoever the midnight jogger was, he got away.
Between three witnesses from the area of the wig shop, a composite sketch was made and printed in the paper. One person who worked at an office supply was sure that the man had been riding a Triumph motorcycle.
At the same time a young campus policeman, Larry Mathewson, was putting together a profile. He was acquainted with John Norman Collins, who had already been questioned during the second murder investigation. He had seen Collins cruising around that day. Borrowing a photo of him from a former girlfriend who also said she’d seen Collins driving around campus, Mathewson took it to the girl who had noticed the make of the motorcycle. She readily identified him, so Mathewson decided to go investigate Collins.
He was inexperienced with murderers, however, and his unexpected visit gave Collins the opportunity to hide any evidence he had in his possession. Collins’ housemate, Arnold Davis, recalled that he had taken a box covered with a blanket out of his room. As Davis opened the door for him, he spotted a woman’s shoe, rolled-up jeans, and a handbag inside the box. Collins later returned without the box and said he’d gotten rid of it. He was put under surveillance, but no one could stop him from thoroughly cleaning out his car.
At the same time, police corporal David Leik, Collins’ uncle, returned home from vacation with his wife and three sons. His wife noticed patches of black paint on the concrete floor. They had left their home in the charge of their nephew and wondered what he had been doing there. Leik noticed that a can of paint that he had left in the basement was gone. His wife said that a box of detergent and bottle of ammonia were also missing.
Soon they learned that their nephew was the prime suspect in the coed murder investigation. Leik was incredulous, but when he heard that Collins had agreed to take a lie-detector test and then had backed down, he acknowledged that something was amiss. He went into his basement and scraped up some of the paint, finding a stain that looked like blood. Immediately he called in some lab analysts. The stain turned out to be varnish, but suspiciously, Collins had called to ask if they had found out anything about it. (When Leik later told Collins that it was just varnish, Collins inexplicably began to cry.) Leik recalled that he had used varnish on some shutters, but that did not explain why someone had covered them with paint.
As the lab experts crawled around on the floor, one of them noticed hair clippings near the washing machine. Leik explained that his wife had cut the children’s hair. Aware of the odd clippings found on Beineman’s panties, they gathered some from the basement floor to compare to those already at the lab.
The Leik home, the location of Karen Beineman’s murder
Then they noticed tiny droplets that looked like blood. When tested, these did indeed prove to be blood. When later tests revealed that the bloodstains were human and that the hairs could be consistent with those on the panties, Collins was arrested—just as his attorney was taking him away from interrogations. Another five minutes and he might have been free to bolt.
Although his car had been thoroughly cleaned, blood matching Alice Kalom’s type was found near the front seat. A red-and-white piece of cotton fabric was also pulled out, and that was found to match the belt around the throat of a 17-year-old female murdered in June in California.
In fact, Collins and a friend had stolen a camper-trailer and gone to Salinas, California at the end of June. Roxie Phillips had disappeared from there on June 30 and her nude, strangled body was found two weeks later in a canyon near Carmel. She had been wearing a red-and-white cotton pantsuit, and the belt from it was tied tightly around her neck. A friend of hers claimed to have met a “John” from Michigan cruising around Philips’ neighborhood who liked to drive motorcycles. Philips was left in a bed of poison oak, and Collins was treated in a hospital there for a case of poison oak. It seemed a clear connection.
Then Arnold Davis remembered another incident. He had been one of the three men in the car when Joan Schell was picked up, although he did not know who she was at the time. He stated that she had made plans to get together with Collins when the other men went their own way, and that Collins later had claimed that he’d left her in an empty parking lot when she’d been sexually uncooperative. It also turned out that Collins had an office across the hall from Mary Fleszar’s and often visited friends who lived across the hall from a unit frequented by Maralynn Skelton.
Even so, the case against him was thin and mostly circumstantial.
Aside from the typical suspicions about boyfriends and acquaintances, there was a peculiar connection with the case of the Boston Strangler that perhaps may have merited more attention than it was given, considering the source.
Although the police command post was flooded with hundreds of tips and a few false confessions, they received a call after the fourth murder that alerted them to an interesting lead. The front page of the Ann Arbor News had run a photo of a group of people forming a rent-strike protest against owners of off-campus housing. A leader of that group was named who had been one of the principal suspects in the Boston murders, ultimately pinned on Albert DeSalvo. A former Harvard student, this man in his mid-twenties was now a graduate student at the University of Michigan with an IQ in the 155-170 range (which is exceptional). He also had a history of drug abuse, petty crime, and mental illness, and had been a patient at Bridgewater State Hospital where DeSalvo had been examined. He was diagnosed as psychotic—he claimed he was Othello and showed other signs of schizophrenia. Initially, he had been arrested for abusing his pregnant wife, who claimed to be afraid of him. She said he once had tried to strangle her. He had been without a father for the first three years of his life and had been raised by women. Friends said that he was subject to wild fits of violence and intense anger, and he claimed he would save the world by destroying its women.
The person who noticed his picture was none other than the psychiatrist who had examined him, Dr. Ames Robey. He was now the director at the State Center of Forensic Psychiatry in Ypsilanti, and had formerly been the director at Bridgewater. He had examined both DeSalvo and this young man, named in Gerold Frank’s book, The Boston Strangler, as “David Parker.” Robey did not believe that DeSalvo was the right man—and in fact DeSalvo was never tried for the murders themselves—but he had strongly suspected that Parker was, to the point of alienating police by his insistence that they had the wrong man. He thought two of the recent victims showed the signature of the Boston murders—stockings tied around their necks. Robey also had recalled that Parker had once tied his shoe with a knot that was characteristic of the Strangler’s method.
He contacted the police with his suspicions about the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti murders, but since they had noticed no unusual knot in the choking garments of these victims, they discounted the connection. They also determined that Parker had not been in the area when the first and second murders were committed. However, they did think that Robey’s knowledge about both sets of crimes was significant, and he had been around when Mary Fleszar was killed: He’d been appointed in July of 1967. For a time, Dr. Ames Robey was, himself, a suspect.
Enter the Psychic
When it appeared that the police, despite all their resources, were getting nowhere with their investigations, a citizens group called the Psychedelic Rangers decided to act. The entire community was beginning to see some supernatural force behind the string of murders, although it wasn’t clear whether it was God’s divine plan or the devil at work. One mother was convinced that her daughter was sent to her fate to save others. A few amateur astrologers stepped in, but no one had an answer.
At that time, Peter Hurkos was one of the most famous psychics in the world. In 1941 at the age of thirty, he fell off a ladder in the Netherlands while painting a house and survived a four-story plunge. Suddenly he found he had psychic powers, especially the ability to “read” a person by being in close proximity or touching an object associated with that person. He visited the United States in 1956 under the sponsorship of a research society and decided to remain. He became a regular celebrity. Among his accomplishments by 1969, he listed his success in solving 27 murders in 17 countries.
He had offered his assistance in the Boston Strangler case which had shown his powers to have potential. He did identify a shoe salesman as the multiple murderer, but police determined that this person was not who they sought. When DeSalvo confessed, Hurkos insisted that was not the man and that his suspect was still at large. Investigators ignored him, although the public perception that he was instrumental in the case remained intact.
Archie Allen led the Psychelic Rangers into negotiations for Hurkos’ services. The psychic had requested $2500, plus traveling expenses, so the group sent out a plea for money. They received only a few donations, which amounted to $1010. Hurkos was initially insulted, but then agreed to come for the cost of his travel—perhaps because it was a high profile case, and any success could only boost his newly-revived career. He arrived on July 21, 1969.
His method was to hold pictures of the murder scenes in closed envelopes, reciting reconstructions of the murders in remarkable detail. (In a book about him, the author claims he went to the grave of a victim, and then went off into the woods and pinpointed the murder sites and how the victims were found.) Several officers commented later that he had turned them into believers, particularly the one who was accurately told that he had a gas leak in his camper. However, many of the facts had already been published in newspapers. A clever person could have boned up on all of that. (In fact, on July 14, a reporter from The Detroit Free Press came to California where Hurkos lived with photos of the victims, a map of the area, and some articles of clothing that had belonged to the victims. He might have filled Hurkos in.)
Several times, Hurkos insisted he could solve the case within the next day or two, only to recant. He gave them a name, but it was just one more suspect to investigate. He said the killer was a genius who was playing with the police. He also called him a sick homosexual, a transvestite, a member of a blood cult, a daytime salesman, and someone who hung around garbage dumps. He said the killer was about five feet seven, blond and baby-faced, 25-26 years old, and about 136-146 pounds. He drove a motorbike and went to school at night. He was also associated in some way with a trailer. Hurkos also thought the murder count would reach nineteen. It was now a battle between larger-than-life adversaries—the killer and Hurkos–and he assured the public that, as a representative of the good, he would triumph.
Two days after arriving, Hurkos received a call warning him to leave or be responsible for another murder. There is some evidence, too, that John Norman Collins actually went to a restaurant where Hurkos was showcasing his abilities so he could eavesdrop. He told friends that Hurkos was a fraud.
Hurkos then received a note that sent him on a wild goose chase and raised everyone’s hopes, but indicated only that someone—possibly the killer—was taunting him.
On July 27, Hurkos went on television and predicted that an arrest was imminent. He hoped the killer was listening, because he was going to describe him. Now he changed the description to a man who was six feet tall and had dark brown hair.
However, Collins was not watching. He was picking up his next victim on a motorcycle. Her disappearance put pressure on Hurkos to deliver. However, a photo of her gave off no vibrations, although he believed that something bad had happened to her. He predicted that her body would be found by a roadway named Riverview or River Drive, and in fact it was found several days later in a ditch alongside Huron River Drive. That was about one mile from where Hurkos was staying, as if in challenge.
Upon hearing of the body’s discovery, he hit his face and said, “Her face was beat, beat, beat. It was wrinkled, like a monkey face.” He described the disposal site accurately, but still could not name the killer. When taken to the site, he didn’t experience much in the way of “vibrations,” but said the man he “saw” was not an American and that he was associated in some way with a ladder. That was all he could envision.
One account holds that a girl came to Hurkos’ hotel at 1:30 a.m. one night, and in the presence of three police officers, said that she felt her boyfriend fit the description. She hesitated to give much information, but finally said that this name was John Collins and he rode a motorcycle. However, there is no indication that the investigation of Collins was prompted by such a report, although it could explain the dramatic change in Hurkos’ description of the killer.
A book about Hurkos’ feats claimed that he also led police to the wig shop where the last victim was seen getting on the motorcycle, but there was no mention of this by the police or newspapers. In fact, it was the missing girl’s roommates, not Hurkos, who had alerted police to the fact that she had gone to pick up a wig.
Collins, with head down, under armed guard
The next day after the body’s discovery Hurkos left the city, vowing to come back a week later to wrap up the investigation. Before he could return, Collins was arrested.
A search of Collins’ rooms failed to turn up any further evidence, except for what Arnold Davis was able to tell them about the box. He also revealed that Collins was a thief who ran his four motorcycles off stolen parts—and one of the bikes had recently been stolen. He had been committing burglaries with a former roommate, Andrew Manuel—and burglaries are quite often the precursors to sexual crimes.
Manuel had just gone with Collins to California at the end of June, and it was soon learned that a 17 year-old girl named Roxie Ann Phillips had vanished in Salinas, California after a friend who had walked away from her house had met a man cruising around named John from Michigan. Collins and Manuel had been staying in a rented camper-trailer, which they had stolen and left in the backyard of Manuel’s grandfather, who lived in Salinas. Phillips’ strangled and battered body was discovered July 13 in a ravine near Carmel. Manuel, who had left Ypsilanti hastily when Collins was being questioned, was found in Arizona, but he denied knowing anything about the murder. He was charged with theft. During the trial, he was not pressed much about his background, which was probably due to the defense wishing to downplay Collins’ association with him.
Collins’ trial began on June 30, 1970 in Washtenaw Country before Judge John Conlin. Witness slection took nearly two weeks. The prosecutor, William F. Delhey, focused only on the murder of Karen Sue Beineman, for which there was the most physical evidence. The defense lawyer was Joseph Louisell from nearby Detroit. Collins’ mother originally had hired a lawyer named Richard Ryan, but Ryan had begun having doubts about his client and had asked for an off-the-record polygraph test. Collins agreed to it and Ryan refused to disclose what it had revealed—a good indication that he was not pleased by the results. He suggested a change in Collins’ defense tantamount to a diminished capacity plea. Collins’ mother was outraged and fired him on the spot, replacing him with the more expensive and canny Joseph Louisell, with his partner Neil Fink.
Attorneys for the defense, Neil Fink (left) and Joseph Louisell
Fink outlined the prosecution’s strategy as thus: establishing that the accused had been cruising in Ypsilanti on the afternoon of July 23, that he had been positively identified by witnesses as riding off with Beineman between 12:30 and 1:00, that her time of death was established at no later than 3:00 that afternoon, and that trace evidence had confirmed Beineman’s presence in the basement of the Leik home, to which only the accused had access. The defense strategy was to attempt to get evidence and testimony thrown out, and to establish an alibi for Collins for that afternoon.
Evidence was heard starting on July 20. There was little rebuttal of Collins out cruising that day. Between 11:30 and 12:30, seven young women had been approached by him on his motorcycle. Time of death was also resistant to challenge.
Key witnesses were the wig shop owner, an employee from The Chocolate House, and the office supply girl, all of whom had identified Collins as the man who had picked up Beineman the day she disappeared. Arnold Davis also testified about the box he had seen Collins removing from his room and that Collins had pressured him to give an alibi that he knew to be false. A former girlfriend spoke about the motorcycles that Collins owned. The defense challenged several witnesses on eyesight and memory, but failed to make a dent in their respective testimonies. The one problem the prosecution faced was evidence of police harassment and manipulation of witnesses. Still, they proved credible.
In all fifty-seven witnesses were called for seventeen days of testimony.
It was the physical evidence that ultimately nailed him. Public Health employee Curtis Fluker had matched the type A blood found in the Leiks’ basement to the same type blood taken from the victim, although he had failed to do more sophisticated tests for subtyping. Walter Holtz, a chemist, testified that the hairs found in the dead girl’s panties were identical to those found on the floor of the Leiks’ basement. The defense claimed that precise identification of hair is impossible, and in any event, she could have picked up such hairs elsewhere. There were experts for both sides on “neutron activation analysis” and the chemical properties of hair, but it’s unlikely the jury followed much of that testimony. One expert, who was roundly challenged, claimed to have formulated that only four to eight people in the state of Michigan would be apt to have hair similar to that in their test samples. He had just come up with his formulation in the previous two weeks and it had not been scientifically verified.
John Norman Collins, shackled, escorted to court by officer
None of the defense’s alibi witnesses was able to offer a definitive time frame for Collins’s whereabouts on the afternoon of July 23. However, their own fiber expert insisted that hair analysis on such minute samples could not be done with any degree of certainty. And in fact, if the hair in the victim’s panties was from the basement floor, why was there no other debris mixed in, as there was in the sample collected by the lab from the floor itself? To top it off, this expert had collected hair shaved from the thighs of his female assistants and found that they matched the hair from the panties in many ways as well.
The prosecution’s rebuttal proved that there was indeed debris from the basement on the panties, and that the defense’s witness had used a different processing method, which yielded an inaccurate reading.
What Delhey really wanted, however, was to get Collins on the stand and reveal what was beneath his choirboy face: a girl he’d tried to seduce at the Leiks’ house the weekend before the Beineman murder, his amoral philosophies and sexual hang-ups, his nearly-nude photo in Tomorrow’s Man magazine, and his history of thievery.
The defense team was uncertain about letting Collins testify, although Fink wanted to risk it. He felt the jury would wonder why Collins was not willing to proclaim his innocence, and that could go against him. Collins was willing to do it, but proved that he could not stand up to Fink’s prosecutorial role-playing. His burst of anger alarmed the attorneys. They decided to ask the judge to allow Collins to confer with his mother in private, and she would decide whether he could take the stand in his own defense.
They were together in the judge’s chambers for nearly half an hour and when the door opened, Loretta Collins came out, her face puffy from weeping. She groped her way to the corridor, wearing a stunned expression that told the lawyers that she had learned something that she had not expected. Collins followed her out, his eyes red. When the judge asked if the defense had any more witnesses, Louisell said no.
Both sides rested.
In closing arguments, they both appealed to common sense, each using the concept to contradict the other side. Later over drinks, Louisell admitted that he believed the jury would return a verdict against his client.
On August 19, 1970, after deliberating for three days, the jury brought in a unanimous verdict of guilty of first-degree murder. At the sentencing hearing, Collins denied ever knowing Karen Sue Beineman and claimed that he was innocent of her murder. He was subsequently sentenced to life imprisonment at Southern Michigan State Prison, a minimum of twenty years. He went through three appeals and even changed his name to Chapman to get a transfer to Canada, where he would have been eligible for parole in 1985. He also tried to escape by tunneling out of the prison. As of 1999, he is still incarcerated in northern Michigan.
The State of California declined to extradite him for trial for the murder of Roxie Phillips, feeling by 1972 that the case did not warrant priority attention, although they had delivered a Grand Jury indictment against him at the time of investigation.
The murders of the other six girls remain officially unsolved.
Anatomy of a Killer
John Norman Collins led away after verdict
John Norman Collins was a twenty-two-year-old student at Eastern Michigan University, majoring in education when he was arrested for the murder of Karen Sue Beineman. He was from Center Line, a suburb north of Detroit, where he had lived with his mother and stepfather. At six feet, he was wiry and muscular, with neatly trimmed dark brown hair and sideburns. Many people thought him handsome and easy to talk to.
He had a part-time clerical job at EMU’s McKenny Union, and he shared a house near the campus with another man. He had belonged to a fraternity, but had been kicked out under suspicion of theft. He had also engaged in petty burglaries for fun and kept his four motorcycles running with stolen parts. One of his professors suspected him of cheating.
He also got involved in grand theft when he wrote a bad check for a camper-trailer to take to California in June of 1969. He never returned the trailer, and the name on the check he wrote was lifted from a student whose wallet and ID had been stolen the week before.
Collins’ family life was unstable, having been abandoned by his father soon after his birth in Windsor, Ontario, on June 17, 1947. His mother’s second marriage lasted only a year, and her third husband was an abusive alcoholic, so she divorced him when Collins was 9, although Collins took the man’s last name.
In high school at St. Clement’s in Center Line, he was an honors student and an athlete, lettering in three sports. He dated regularly, was president of the C-Club for lettermen, star pitcher for the baseball team, and a tri-captain of the football team. Those who knew him called him “polite,” “quiet,” “respectful,” and “nice.” However, one former girlfriend said he was “mad most of the time.”
He began attending Eastern Michigan in 1966, after a year at Central Michigan, because he wanted to major in education so he could teach the upper elementary grades. While there, he became vice president of the ski club, played sports, and was in the Theta Chi fraternity until he was asked to leave. Thereafter he became more of a loner, preferring to ride his motorcycles over dating girls. His teachers said he was a quick, alert student, but noted that his grades had declined by the second half of his sophomore year. He should have graduated in 1969, but was 24 credits short and had made no attempt to make them up over the summer. He seemed in no hurry to get out of school.
Anatomy of a Killer
When he went out, he was often sexually aggressive, and he made a few remarks that provided potential motives for some of the killings. One former girlfriend remembered a time when Collins had walked her across campus and then began to fondle her. Suddenly, he held her away and angrily asked if she was having her period. She admitted she was and he yelled at her, “That is really disgusting!” Then he stalked off.
Another coed recalled riding with him near some wooded area and when they stopped to rest under a tree, he asked her if she would be scared if he was the coed killer. She could be the next victim, he said, being there alone with him. She thought he was kidding, but the serious expression on his face made her uneasy.
A girl who said she had met a man who looked like Collins when he accosted her from his car remembered him saying that he couldn’t stand girls with pierced ears, “because they left holes that defile their bodies.” He also told a tale of having strangled a cat with a length of clothesline, and to make his point, he put his hands on the girl’s throat, scaring her.
Collins also had expressed some ideologies that bordered on psychopathy. He had told a girl that if a man had to kill, he killed. If he decided it was right for him to do it, then he had to do it. The perfect crime, he told her, was when there was no guilt. Without guilt, a person could not get caught. He had said something similar in an English paper:
“If a person wants something, he alone is the deciding factor of whether or not to take it—regardless of what society thinks may be right or wrong If a person holds a gun on somebody—it’s up to him to decide whether to take the other’s life or not. The point is: It’s not society’s judgment that’s important, but the individual’s own choice of will and intellect.”
Collins apparently believed he could get away with murder, just in virtue of the fact that he had decided it was the right thing for him to do. If in fact he killed all of the victims or only one, each exhibited a degree of overkill that indicated how angry he was with women—possibly with his mother, toward whom he displayed a fair amount of coldness. Whether his rage was spurred by pierced ears, thwarted advances, evidence of a menstrual period, or any other quirk, he was clearly an organized killer with a sexual rage that was beyond his control.
Additional Evidence I
In 1991, First Lieutenant Earl James of the Michigan State Police published a book called Catching Serial Killers. He devotes a segment to the Collins case because he had been assigned to go through all the papers and put together a summary. He includes evidence that he says was not made public before that he believes links Collins more clearly with seven of the eight murders. The police had held some information back in the event that Collins ever got a new trial (for which he petitioned in 1988). A summary of this evidence appears below. However, in some of the cases, there is some question as to whether Collins had anything to do with them or perhaps that there was more than one man involved.
In the case of Mary Fleszar, it was noted that she had contacted medical services because she was afraid she was pregnant. Her doctor believed that she was, despite no clear indication during his examination. She claimed that a classmate to whom she had given a ride had raped her. There was reason to believe she had just gotten an abortion before she was killed. Her roommate said she was having her period, but doctors believe this was post-abortion spotting. Missing from her effects was an Expo 67 Canadian silver dollar that she wore around her neck. Such an item was apparently found on Collins’ dresser, according to police, when his rooms were searched. He claimed that it was not his and denied that it had been in his room.
Joan Schell was last seen getting into a car with three men. Collins’ roommate, Arnie Davis, said that he was in that car with Collins and another man whose name he claimed not to know. (His brother had a car the same color.) Collins allegedly had told the girl that he would take her to Ann Arbor in his own car. Davis says that they left together from the apartment and Collins came back two and a half hours later to say that he had failed to have the sexual encounter with her that he had hoped for. He had her red purse with him, which he said she had left in his car. He went through the wallet, says Davis, and called her a bitch. There was also speculation by the police that Davis was actually along when Collins and the other man together raped and killed Schell in a parking lot. Later, Collins apparently asked Davis to hide a hunting knife, which was the type of knife that could have made the wounds found on her. Collins told someone that he did not know Schell, although several witnesses claimed to see them together that night. He told someone else that he’d had a date with her but had stood her up. No one checked out his alibi of being at his mother’s that weekend, although someone said that he had overheard Collins on the phone to his mother, telling her that he was in some trouble. One person said that he talked obsessively about the wounds on Schell’s body, claiming that he got the information from his uncle, a corporal on the State Police force. However, Corporal Leik said he knew only what had been printed in the newspaper. He could not have told Collins the things he apparently knew.
Additional Evidence II
The third murder, which seems unlinked to Collins, was that of Jane Mixer. She was found fully clothed and shot in the head. She was not molested. She had been placed in a cemetery with considerable risk. What might link her death to the others, according to James, is that she was shot with a .22 caliber bullet and Collins had a frat brother named David Johnson—the name of the man who had offered Mixer a ride home. Otherwise, all other factors are inconsistent, although her body was found only a few miles from where two others had been left.
Young Dawn Basom lived across the street from an apartment complex where a girl lived that Collins used to date. Dawn was strong and would not accept rides, even with men she knew. She was last seen about a block from her home, walking along the road. A neighbor had seen two cars parked in front of a vacant house in their neighborhood, one a red Chevrolet and one a blue Volkswagen. She saw a young woman in the front seat of the red car sitting with a man with dark hair. Then both cars drove away. Many people believe that one man alone could not have forced her into a car, unless he had a gun. Glass particles on the soles of her shoes indicated that she was forced into the basement of an abandoned farmhouse, where it is thought she was killed. The only link to Collins is his knowledge of the neighborhood.
Collins was seen in Ann Arbor, both on foot and on his motorcycle the day that Alice Kalom disappeared. He was not far from her apartment. Friends who stopped to talk with him claimed later to police that he had a strange look on his face and seemed distant. He would not look them in the eye. Davis said that Collins had brought Kalom back to their apartment on June 7th. There was some commotion between them in Collins’ room and Kalom broke away and ran from the place. According to Davis, Collins chased her. He returned later alone. When she was found, there was a boot print on her skirt that later was matched to a boot that Collins owned. Blood found later in Collins’ car and on his raincoat matched her type. The bullet found in her head could have come from a High Standard revolver, which he was said to have stolen a few months before from a private home in Livonia. The knife wounds were consistent with the hunting knife that Collins later told Davis to hide for him (as stated by Davis).
Roxie Phillips in California was dumped amid poison oak. Collins had been treated there for a case of poison oak. Also, twenty-two public hairs were found on one of his sweaters that were consistent with hers. If he had carried her over his shoulder in a state of rigor, James speculates, this would have accounted for the hair being rubbed into his sweater. The one person who recalled the man that she and Roxie met gave the following information: His name was John, he was from Michigan, he was six feet tall with dark hair, he drove a silver-gray Oldsmobile, he was there with a friend in a camper, he was a college senior with the goal of being a teacher, and he was in his twenties. That’s a close match. James believes this could not all be coincidence.
Additional Evidence III
Additional evidence found in the Leik home that went against him in the Beineman murder included fresh scuff marks in the kitchen, a bloodstain on a uniform hanging in the basement that matched the victim’s type, and dust recently knocked off the pipes as if someone had been suspended there. Cord marks on the victim’s wrists matched an electrical cord found in the Leik basement.
Collins in custody, going to arraignment
Collins had been talking to friends about the missing girl and when one woman told him that the wig shop owner could identify the man who had picked her up, Collins was shaken (as she reported to police later). He asked repeatedly if that was true. Then she recalled him saying that the girls were stupid and careless, and had deserved it. In the same conversation, he had said something to the effect that the bodies had to be placed in such a way as to be discovered so that the person who did it got credit for killing them. Later, Davis claimed that Collins pressured him to provide him with an alibi about riding bikes together that day. He also sent him to get a new license plate for the bike he had ridden that day, claiming he had lost the plate. After Collins was questioned by police, David saw him remove a Bold box from his car that appeared to contain items of women’s clothing. A Bold box was missing from the Leik house, and a neighbor said that she saw Collins drive away with it on his motorcycle. Collins was later picked out in a line-up by several girls who claimed he had tried to pick them up that day. Seven of them testified in court.
A neighbor claimed that she had heard screams from the Leik home on the night the girl had disappeared, but this was not used in court. It is in the police file.
If Collins had taken the stand, James says, the State was going to use a witness who claimed that he had beaten her into submission with his forearm and then had raped her. Later he had apologized, she claimed, saying that he couldn’t help it.
Another girl was ready to testify that Collins had told her that he knew how to commit the perfect crime. He had said he no longer believed in the Ten Commandments, especially the fifth one, “Thou Shalt Not Kill.” He also had written a paper in which he claimed that if a person was smart enough to get away with it, he could do anything he pleased. Society’s rules were meaningless.
Collins Speaks Out
John Norman Collins talked in the courtroom only once during his trial. He addressed the judge with the words, “I never knew a girl named Karen Sue Beineman. I never took her for a ride on my motorcycle. I never took her to my uncle’s basement. I never killed Karen Sue Beineman.”
Lockdown at Southern Michigan State Prison, where Collins was incarcerated
After that, except to reiterate this denial a few times, he maintained his silence. Then in October of 1988, eighteen years after he was convicted, he agreed to appear on a Detroit-based talk show, “Kelly and Company,” that was devoted to his case. It was his hope to set the record straight on his side of the story. Also appearing were Sheriff Doug Harvey; defense attorney Neil Fink; Marlene Thompson, who served as a spiritual counselor to Collins; Jackie Kallan, who had written several newspaper stories on him; and Eric Smith, a reporter for the Detroit Free Press who had covered the case (but who ultimately contributed nothing to the show).
The show’s hosts were John Kelly and Marilyn Turner. At first, they were going to have a camera set up to have Collins come on live, but arrangements were made instead to have Turner interview him at Marquette in the prison. Clips of that interview were shown throughout the program whenever they raised key issues on which Collins had spoken.
Turner’s first question to him in prison was, “Did you kill Karen Sue Beineman?”
He was quick to say, “No, I never met Karen Sue Beineman.”
“Doesn’t it bother you to be called a serial killer?” she asked.
“Yes, it does,” he admitted. “It’s bad enough being convicted of one thing you didn’t do without being labeled for other things you haven’t done.” His assessment was that back in 1969 the police had fed reporters with ideas that while it couldn’t be proven that he had killed all seven women, they knew that he had. The media had then reported these comments as being from anonymous but authoritative sources. That set the idea in the public mind, creating damaging pre-trial publicity. True crime writers afterward picked up on this same theme.
Collins also stated that he believed it was the pressure exerted by the governor taking over the investigation and calling the FBI that made local law enforcement agencies move in to arrest him. They did not like this trespass on their territory.
“But you were identified as the man on the motorcycle (who picked up Beineman),” Turner countered.
Collins had a response. It was obvious that he understood those points that had been made against him in the media and was quick to show Turner (and her audience) why these issues were more involved than people realized.
The two women who had noticed the man with Beineman, he said, worked in the wig shop where the victim was last seen. They had come together to do a composite description of this man, “but they couldn’t agree on the hair.” One said that the man had curly hair, and since her livelihood as a beautician made her an expert, it would have been unlikely that she would get such a detail wrong. Collins also pointed out that she had said that she and her husband had been looking that weekend at Hondas with square mirrors, which she identified as the same bike the man was on. “I had a Triumph with a round mirror,” he said. More significantly, the woman wore glasses for seeing things at a distance and had admitted that she had not been wearing them. These things had come out in the trial, but not in press reports.
Cold Case – New Issues
At the time that John Norman Collins was arrested for the murder of eighteen-year-old Karen Sue Beineman in 1969, the police decided that he was good for the string of seven murders in the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti area of Michigan. The murders took place from 1967-69, of which five clustered between March and August 1969, and while Collins was only convicted of the Beineman murder, he nevertheless entered crime archives as a serial killer. In part that was because Edward Keyes published The Michigan Murders, which implicated Collins circumstantially in each of the seven cases, as well as one in California and possibly a few in other states.
Yet Keyes wrote much of his book based on newspaper reports, police suspicions, and the notes kept by a professor at Eastern Michigan University. He did not speak to anyone in Collins’ family, Collins himself or his attorneys. In short, Keys’ book offered a one-sided account. But then former state trooper Earl James penned Catching Killers, in which he described the physical, circumstantial, and testimonial evidence that tied Collins to the murders. Yet there were rumors that some of this evidence had been planted so that if Collins managed to get through the Beineman trial they could prosecute him for others.
Collins was convicted and received a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. From there he protested his innocence, and still does to this day. He was never charged in any other case.
Collins resides in Marquette Branch Prison
On November 25, 2004, more than thirty-five years after these incidents, a new development was announced in the Ann Arbor News and the Associated Press. Gary Earl Leiterman, 62, was charged with one count of murder in the death of Jane L. Mixer, a twenty-three-year-old University of Michigan law student. She was last seen on March 20, 1969, after she had tried to arrange for a ride home in Muskegon. She was found on March 21 atop a grave in a cemetery near Denton Road, and because she was a student she was considered the third victim of the area serial killer. Only four days later, another girl was found murdered.
More Than One Killer?
There was some debate in retrospect as to whether Mixer actually fit the series. When found, she was fully dressed, unlike the other victims. In addition, she had been shot twice in the head and not mutilated in any manner or sexually molested. But the other victims had been dumped within a few miles of this cemetery, so it still seemed possible, and Mixer also had a stocking tied around her neck. Other victims were strangled as well.
Former state trooper Earl James had speculated that the perpetrator of this murder had been in the student union building on the University of Michigan campus where Mixer had placed an ad seeking a ride. She was hoping to get home to inform her family that she was engaged to be married. A man named “David Johnson” had responded but did not give her a way to reach him. Since the victim’s coat was covered with soap granules, James believed she had been taken to a laundry room and held there. Then she was taken elsewhere and shot. She was dragged from a vehicle to where she was left in the cemetery, which could be viewed easily from several homes in the area, so the perpetrator had taken some risk. A green-and-white Chevrolet Caprice station wagon was observed near the cemetery that night, but was never tracked down. No “David Johnson” ever came forward to say that he was the man who had contacted the victim, and all other David Johnsons associated with the university had alibis.
James does offer a few links to Collins: he had lived in a frat house with a David Johnson and he owned a .22 caliber pistol. Also, a similar manner of catching the victim’s blood had been used in another of the seven murders. Yet these are tentative links at best.
John Norman Collins, recent
The arrest of Leiterman raises issues about the initial investigation and a possible assumption of guilt that might have caused police to overlook other suspects. Those same questions can be raised as well with the investigations of the other victims. In the event that investigators had decided at some point that the coed murders were all linked just because they were students on two closely-related campuses, they may have failed to note how dissimilarities among the crimes (and there were some) might link them to different offenders rather than to a single perpetrator. It’s possible, in light of the recent arrest, that other perpetrators also remained free after Collins was convicted.
Mixer Case Re-examined
The trial of Gary Earl Leiterman began July 11, 2005, in Ann Arbor, Michigan with jury selection. He was charged late in 2004 with the 1969 murder of University of Michigan law student Jane Mixer, 23, long believed to have been a victim of alleged serial killer John Norman Collins. The evidence from the 36-year-old cold case was controversial, and many trial watchers believed that there were too many problems for a conviction. Some of the police officers from the Collins investigation testified, and they admitted that three decades ago evidence had not been well-handled: People did not wear gloves and some key items had been lost. But it was the new DNA evidence that caught the attention of the national media, and the trial was covered daily by the Ann Arbor News and Court TV.
Gary Earl Leiterman
The Jane Mixer murder remained an open case for over three decades until DNA analysis connected her with Leiterman, a former nurse who is now 62, and who had no apparent association with her. Leiterman’s DNA had been included in the FBI’s national database after he was convicted in 2002 of prescription fraud. When evidence from the Mixer case was tested, they got a hit. The odds that it had come from a Caucasian man other than Leiterman were calculated at 170 trillion to one. That alone would have been compelling, despite his denial that he knew her, except for one thing: DNA from the body also connected another man to Mixer. A spot of blood removed from her hand had been tested and matched to John Ruelas, who was imprisoned in 2002 for the murder of his mother. However, Ruelas was only four years old at the time of the Mixer murder. It made little sense, aside from contamination in the lab while handling evidence, that he could have had anything to do with her murder. That’s what Leiterman’s defense team counted on.
Yet there were other things that set Mixer apart from the list of seven area victims attributed to Collins. Unlike the others, she was fully dressed when found, with a coat placed protectively over her, and she had been shot twice in the head with a .22 but not molested or mutilated. Still, the other victims had been strangled, and Mixer had a stocking tied around her neck. She was also found in the general vicinity of some of the other murders, and she had been a student at one of the universities that other victims were attending. She also looked like the “victim type,” and she had accepted a ride with a stranger.
The two-week trial, which ended on July 22 with a quick verdict, focused on the DNA. Five stains had been found on Mixer’s pantyhose. They were of biological origin, but Stephen Milligan, who worked in the DNA section of the lab, said he was not able to identify them clearly as semen or blood, due to the way such evidence was stored three decades ago. The samples from both cases had been tested on the same day, but several technicians claimed they were analyzed in separate parts of the lab. To the charge that technicians had been careless, Milligan insisted that there had been quality controls in place and it was not possible that they somehow mixed the evidence. But the prosecutor never did explain how DNA evidence found on the victim could be linked to Ruelas, a major disappointment in the trial.
Defense attorney Gary Gabry hoped to capitalize on this oddity. He wanted to utilize Dan Krane, an associate professor of biological science at Wright State University in Ohio, who relied for his analysis on a controversial software program. Yet Krane was allowed to testify only in a limited capacity, because his methods were not generally accepted in the scientific community, so the full force of his analysis was not heard.
Still, DNA was not the only issue. A documents expert had said that a phrase, “Muskegon — Mixer,” found penned in a phone book in 1969 was most likely Leiterman’s handwriting, although another expert contradicted this. It was also confirmed that Leiterman had owned a .22 handgun at the time of Mixer’s death, but he reported it stolen in 1987, so it could not be fired for comparison tests. In addition, the bullet fragments were too degraded for a good comparison. Nevertheless, a merchant testified that Leiterman had purchased .22-caliber ammunition in February, just a month before Mixer’s death. How Leiterman came across Mixer was not clarified in media reports, but the assumption was that he noticed her ad requesting a ride and arranged to pick her up.
In all thirty witnesses took the stand, many from the original investigation. Closing argument took up the morning on Friday, July 22, and at 4:15, the jury announced that they had a verdict: they found Leiterman guilty of first-degree murder. Leiterman faces mandatory life in prison. His attorney vows an appeal. It’s likely that, given the DNA controversy and the lack of explanation, this case will be analyzed by experts and attorneys, and used by some as an example of mistakes made during DNA analysis. It may also stand as a case of tunnel vision, since many investigators believed that Collins was their man.
In 2005, Gary Leiterman was convicted for a 1969 murder in Michigan that investigators had originally attributed to John Norman Collins. Sophisticated DNA analysis had revealed Leiterman, not Collins, as the perpetrator. Now the same technology has identified the killer of another girl whose murder some people had also tentatively linked to Collins. The announcement was made on November 27, 2006.
Book cover: The Michigan Murders
It’s another victory for cold case investigations, as well as another indication that unrelated circumstances not fully investigated can influence assumptions of guilt. Collins was convicted of one murder in 1969, but seven more from the previous two years were linked to him by circumstantial evidence. Furthermore, in The Michigan Murders, Edward Keyes tentatively associated Collins with other murders during this same period that had similar behavioral manifestations, ranging into neighboring states. This was one of those cases.
Eileen Adams, a freshman in high school, was abducted from Toledo on December 19, 1967, as she left school. Her frozen body was found in a field in Whiteford Township, Michigan on January 30, 1968. It had been wrapped in a rug and mattress cover, and tied with an electrical cord. The girl had apparently been left alive but bound in such a way that her struggles to get free had tightened a telephone cord looped around her neck and tied to her ankles, which strangled her. Her shoes and coat were missing, and she had been raped. Police believed that her abductor had held her somewhere for up to two weeks before leaving her in the field in southeastern Michigan.
U.S. Map with Whiteford, MI Locator
Although the case went unsolved for nearly forty years, Eileen’s relatives had not forgotten. According to the Toledo Blade, Eileen’s father raised the issue at dinner one day with an off-duty police officer, Sergeant Mike Mcgee. In ordinary circumstances, they’d never have crossed paths, but McGee’s in-laws were in the habit of inviting the elderly from area nursing homes to join them; Eileen’s father was one of them, and he took the opportunity to tell Mcgee the terrible story.
McGee alerted Lucas County cold case detectives, who’d recently received a considerable grant to investigate murders and sexual assaults, so they decided to re-open the case. They looked at evidence from the crime scene and managed to isolate DNA from semen found on the girl’s underwear. They were also already aware of a potential suspect against whom to compare it.
Robert Baxter Bowman
In 1981, the former wife of Robert Baxter Bowman had alerted the police about her suspicions that he had been involved. The police spoke with him, but had no evidence against him, so he was released. In the interim, DNA analysis was discovered and utilized in solving cold cases, many of them as old as this one.
In September 2006, cold case investigators found Bowman’s ex-wife and daughter in Florida, and since they had nothing of Bowman’s from which to acquire a DNA sample, they used a reverse paternity test on the women to confirm the identification from the semen. Bowman’s last known residence, they then learned, was Riverside, California.
If still alive, Bowman is now 70 years old, but his current whereabouts remain unknown. Charged with kidnap, rape, and aggravated murder, he is currently wanted by the Ohio police, and California agencies are participating in the search for him. His last contact with police in that state was in 2003, when he was investigated for two warrants. A Michigan woman who saw Bowman’s photo in the news paper in relation to this story told police that he’d tried picking her up when she was a girl, so it’s possible that he committed other crimes against children as well.
Bowman might be homeless and thus have no driver’s license, employer or home address, but his implication in this case is beyond doubt. Police hope that someone will call in a tip that will facilitate finding the man. The Adams murder the second oldest case in Ohio to be solved with DNA analysis.