John Norman COLLINS
A.K.A.: "Ypsilanti Ripper" - "Co-Ed Killer"
Classification: Serial killer?
Characteristics: Rape - Mutilation
Number of victims: 1 - 8
Date of murders: 1967 - 1969
Date of arrest: August 1969
Date of birth: June 17, 1947
Victims profile: Karen Sue Beineman, 18 / Mary Fleszar, 19 / Eileen Adams, 13 / Joan Schell, 20 / Maralynn Skelton, 16 / Dawn Basom, 13 / Alice Kalom, 23 / Roxie Phillips, 17
Method of murder: Beating - Stabbing - Shooting - Strangulation
Location: Washtenaw County, Michigan, USA
Status: Sentenced to life imprisonment (minimum 20 years) on August 19, 1970
John Norman Collins
Seven years before "Terrible Ted" (Bundy) launched his one-man assault against Washington brunettes, pretty young co-eds in Michigan had become targets of an even darker monster. In a two year period, this charming young man struck repeatedly, at random -- savaging his prey with the abandon of a rabid animal. The killer's downfall, when it finally came, was more dependant on coincidence and sheer criminal carelessness than anything else...
The first to get it was Mary Fleszar, in July of 1967. Vanished from the campus of EMU, she was found August 7th, rotting -- stabbed then hacked to pieces. Two days later, a young man showed up at the mor- tuary and asked permission to *take pictures of the body* (a request which was angrily denied). Employees at the mortuary couldn't, however, supply a clear description of him to police(?).
A year went by before student Joan Schell was abducted. She was found five days later, raped and stabbed an estimated *forty-seven* times. Cops learned she was last seen with a fellow student, one John Norman Collins. But Collins was a personable sort, and, after questioning, detectives apparently accepted his alibi at face value.
Another eight months slipped by before the corpse of Jane Mixer was discovered in a boneyard outside Ypsilanti. She'd been strangled with with a nylon and shot in the head, point-blank.
The siege had begun... and the killer decided to pick up the pace.
Days later, construction workers near Schell's murder site discovered another stiff -- sixteen-year-old Maralynn Skelton, thoroughly bludgeoned to death. A stick had been savagely rammed into her vagina, and cops reported evidence that she had been mercilessly flogged with a heavy strap before she died.
Three weeks later, Dawn Basom, just thirteen, was found half-naked, strangled with an electrical cord. Her sweater was found in a nearby farmhouse.
Driven by some unknown urge, the killer began to taunt police. When officers returned to search the farmhouse a second time, they found clothes that had not previously been there. A short time later, someone torched the place. Lined up along the driveway, cops found five clipped lilac blossoms -- one, presumably, for each victim.
The next unlucky contestant was Alice Kalom, found discarded like garbage in a vacant field. She had been raped, repeatedly skewered, her throat slashed and a bullet fired into her brain before the killer's rage was finally spent.
The final victim, Karen Beineman, turned up missing from her dorm at EMU a few weeks later. Her corpse was discovered three days later, in a wooded gully, strangled, beaten -- her breasts and stomach scalded with some sort of caustic liquid. Karen's panties were wadded up and stuffed into her vagina, as some kind of sadistic afterthought. Cops found the garment to be covered with with short, dark clipped hairs from someone other than the victim.
Three days after Beineman was discovered, State Police Corporal David Leik returned to his home in Ypsilanti after a family vacation. He discovered black paint splashed across his basement floor, surmising that it had been spilled by his wife's nephew, (you guessed it) John Collins, who had been caring for the family dog. Leik was later told that Collins had been questioned in connection with the killings, whereupon he hurried home and scraped away the paint, uncovering peculiar brownish stains underneath.
Lab analysis showed the stains were only varnish -- *but* in scraping up the paint, Leik had been forced to move the washing machine -- and found *tufts of hair* (relics from his sons' haircuts in the basement). Curious, he turned the samples over to the lab, who confirmed that that they matched the samples taken from Karen Beineman's ravaged body. In apparent haste to cover up what he *thought* were bloodstains, our hero had led detectives right to the evidence that would prove to be his undoing.
Investigations revealed that Collins was chronic thief, suffering from violent rages -- usually directed at females who somehow managed to piss him off. Ex-lovers described him as oversexed and a sometimes "brutal" companion, into bondage and repulsed by any contact with a woman in her menstrual cycle (several of the victims were snuffed during thier monthly merriment).
In June of 1969, Collins fled, using a worthless check to rent a trailer which was later found in California (near the scene of yet another unsolved rape and murder). The siege was over.
At trial, Collins was tried and convicted of the Beineman murder (only?) and sentenced to just twenty years (???).
ObCredit: Thanks to Michael Newton, 'Hunting Humans' (Loompanics) and Harold Schecter/David Everitt, 'The A-Z Encyclopedia of Serial Killers' Pocket Books
John Norman Collins
First to die was Mary Fleszar, in July of 1967. Vanished from the campus of Eastern Michigan University at Ypsilanti, she was found by teenaged boys on August 7, stabbed to death and decomposing, with her hands and feet hacked off. Two days after her remains had been identified, a young man turned up at the mortuary, asking for permission to take snapshots of the body (which was angrily refused). Employees at the mortuary could not offer any clear description of the man.
A year elapsed before the second victim was abducted, on July 1, 1968. Discovered five days later in Ann Arbor, student Joan Schell had been raped and stabbed no less than 47 times. Detectives learned that she was seen with fellow student John Norman Collins on the night she disappeared, but Collins was a personable youth, and the police accepted his alibi at face value. Another eight months slipped away before the body of a third co-ed, Jane Mixer, was discovered in a cemetery south of Ypsilanti. Mixer had been strangled with a nylon stocking, and a bullet had been fired into her brain at point-blank range before her corpse was found on March 21, 1969. It was the end of quiet times and the beginning of a ruthless siege in Ypsilanti, as the co-ed killer stepped up his attacks in both ferocity and frequency.
On March 25, construction workers near the scene of Joan Schell's murder stumbled on another corpse. The victim, sixteen-year-old Maralynn Skelton, had been killed by crushing blows about the head; a stick had been rammed into her vagina, and police reported evidence of flogging with a heavy strap or belt before she died. Three weeks later, young Dawn Basom, just thirteen, was found half-naked in Superior Township, strangled with a black electric cord. Her sweater was discovered in an old, abandoned farmhouse roughly one mile from the point where Mari Fleszar's body had been found in 1967.
Driven by some unknown urge, the killer now began to taunt police. Officers returned to search the empty farmhouse for a second time in early April, and discovered articles of female clothing which had not been there before. A short time later, someone torched an old barn on the property where lengths of black electric cord had been retrieved; lined up across the driveway, officers discovered five clipped lilac blossoms -- one for each of the outstanding murders on their books.
On June 9, 1969, some teenaged boys found Alice Kalom, graduate of EMU, discarded like some broken plaything in a vacant field near Ypsilanti. She had been raped and stabbed repeatedly, her throat slashed, with a bullet fired into her brain before the killer's rage was finally spent.
The final victim, Karen Beineman, went missing from her dorm at EMU on July 23. Her body was discovered three days later, in a wooded gully, strangled, beaten savagely, her breasts and stomach scalded with some caustic liquid. Karen's panties had been wadded up and stuffed in her vagina, as a sort of grisly afterthought; detectives found the garment to be thick with short, clipped hairs from someone other than the victim.
Three days after the discovery of Karen Beineman's body, State Police Corporal David Leik returned to his home in Ypsilanti from a family vacation. He discovered black paint splashed across the basement floor, surmising that it had been spilled by his wife's nephew, John Collins, who had cared for the family dog in their absence. Checking in for duty after his vacation, Leik was told that Collins had been questioned as a suspect in the co-ed murders, whereupon he spent an evening scraping up the paint, uncovering peculiar brownish stains beneath it.
Lab analysis reported that the stains were only varnish, but in scraping up the paint, Leik had been forced to relocate a washer in the basement. Underneath it, he discovered tufts of hair belonging to his sons, the relics of a family haircut session prior to their vacation. Curious, he turned the samples over to detectives, and a new report confirmed the clippings were identical to hair recovered from the panties left with Karen Beineman. In his apparent haste to cover what he thought were bloodstains, Collins led detectives to the evidence for which they had been waiting all along.
Pretrial investigation showed that Collins was a chronic thief who sometimes suffered violent rages, usually directed toward some female who had managed to offend him. Intimate acquaintances described the suspect as an over-sexed and sometimes brutal lover who was "into" bondage and repulsed by any contact with a woman in her menstrual cycle. (Several of the victims had been murdered in their menstrual periods.) In June of 1969, he used a worthless check to rent a trailer which was later found in California, near the scene of yet another unsolved rape and homicide.
At trial, he was convicted of the Beineman murder and consigned to prison for a term of twenty years.
Michael Newton - An Encyclopedia of Modern Serial Killers - Hunting Humans
Norman Collins (1967-1969) aka "The Michigan Murderer" was a 30-year old resident of Ypsilanti, Michigan, and he killed 7 female students at Eastern Michigan University using a variety of methods -- guns, knives, blunt instruments, strangulation. All the victims had been sexually mutilated.
He showed up at the funeral parlor of one of his victims and asked the mortician if he could take a picture of the corpse, but this didn't result in as good a description of the suspect as it should have.
The famous Dutch psychic, Peter Hurkos, was called in to help and was fairly accurate in predicting when the killer would strike again. Someone else gave a good description, however, when Collins was leaving a soda shop with his last victim.
The killer never admitted to anything, and fiber evidence was used to sentence him to life at hard labor in 1970.
John Norman Collins is a serial killer who was found guilty for one of the "Michigan Murders", as they came to be called by various media sources and locals. He is allegedly responsible for all but one of the other murders. The Michigan Murders were a series of highly publicized killings in the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti area of Southeastern Michigan between 1967 and 1969 that terrified Washtenaw County for over two years.
The murders began with Eastern Michigan University student Mary Fleszar on July 10, 1967. Her body was found on August 7, decomposing on an abandoned farm a few miles north of where she disappeared. The corpse had multiple stab wounds and was missing her hands and feet. Two days after her remains had been identified, a young man turned up at the mortuary, asking for permission to take snapshots of the body (which was angrily refused). Employees at the mortuary could not offer any clear description of the man.
Almost one year later, on July 6, 1968, student Joan Schell was found dead in Ann Arbor with multiple stab wounds. Schell was from Plymouth, Michigan and had just moved into a house on Emmett Street in Ypsilanti. She had last been seen on July 1 with John Norman Collins, a failing student at Eastern Michigan University who had recently been evicted from the Theta Chi fraternity. Collins was living directly across the street from her at 619 Emmett. When questioned, Collins claimed he was 'with my mama' at her house in Center Line, Michigan - just north of the Detroit border - at the time. Police took him at his word.
In late March 1969, Jane Mixer was found in Denton Cemetery, just off of Michigan Avenue, a few miles east of Ypsilanti, in Wayne County. A law student at the University of Michigan, she had been shot and strangled. Her shoes and a copy of Joseph Heller's novel Catch-22 were placed by her side. Initially her death was thought to be related to this sequence of homicides; however, in 2005, 62-year-old Gary Leiterman, a former nurse, was convicted of murder in the death of Jane Mixer.
On March 26, 1969, 16-year-old Maralynn Skelton was found dead, her body badly beaten, though there was some speculation that it might have been a drug-related murder not linked to Collins. Coincidentally Skelton frequently hung out at an apartment next door to one where Collins spent time, which was occupied by a friend of Collins. About three weeks later, 13-year-old Dawn Basom was found dead by strangulation after disappearing the previous evening. She was last seen walking along a dirt road where Collins rode his motorcycles on a daily basis. University of Michigan graduate student Alice Kalom was found in a field with her throat cut, stab wounds, and a gunshot to the head. The public outcry was increasing, and the psychic Peter Hurkos was brought in to help, but proved to be of very little help.
Soon the police had yet another body on their hands, student Karen Sue Beineman, who went missing on July 23, 1969, and was discovered a few days later, strangled and beaten to death. This was the killer's downfall. While he was waiting on Beineman the day she disappeared, an older female manager of a wig shop had gotten a good look at the man seated on his motorcycle up on the sidewalk—at Beinemen's request. Beineman reportedly told the woman, "I've got to be either the bravest or the dumbest girl alive because I've just accepted a ride from some guy". He was the previously mentioned John Norman Collins, who was subsequently taken into police custody but again denied having any involvement in the killing.
During the investigation police discovered Collins was considered to be "oversexed" and that he had an extensive history of sexual harassment and violence against women. Upon finding his sister with a man, he beat her so badly that she was admitted to a Detroit Emergency Room and subsequently hospitalized. He had long been obsessed with mutilation and excessive gore. Collins was "positively identified" by the store managers as well as another young co-ed he had attempted to 'pick-up' earlier the same day. Tests showed that hairs found attached to Beineman's underwear matched those found at the home of Collins's uncle in Ypsilanti. Investigators also found a bloodstain on the washing machine in the basement of the house and matched it to Beineman's blood type. Collins was caring for the German Shephard and house of Corporal David Leik - his uncle Dave - while the family was on vacation up north at the time of Beineman's murder. The Leik family's next-door neighbor heard the tortured screams of a young female on the evening of July 23, 1969 and several days later another neighbor witnessed Collins leaving his uncle's home with a deluxe laundry detergent box. A roommate of Collins at the Emmett Street boarding house testified to having seen missing items from the murder victims in the same laundry box inside Collins's bedroom. He was also intimidated into concealing a gun and ammunition belonging to Collins. Collins's uncle was a Michigan State Trooper and brought his numerous suspicions about his then-23-year-old nephew to the attention of his superiors, which ultimately led to Collins' arrest and incarceration.
John Norman Collins went to trial, and on August 19, 1970, was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment with no possibility of parole for Beinemen's brutal slaying. There was a grand jury indictment against him for the murder of a young girl in Monterey, California named Roxie Phillips who had been seen with Collins while he was on vacation there. Upon leaving her house to mail a letter, she was given a ride from Collins and several days later her tortured body was found in Monterey Bay. Despite his endeavor to scrub the vehicle spotless, a piece of the fabric matching her dress was found in Collins' Oldsmobile upon his return to Michigan. California ultimately declined to extradite Collins.
In the early 1980s, Collins legally changed his last name to Chapman, his mother's maiden name. She died in 1988. Many sources who knew the convicted killer said it was Collins desire to be associated in the public's mind with Mark David Chapman. He applied numerous times to be transferred to a Canadian prison. The requests were all denied.
Collins is now in his mid-sixties and is currently serving his life sentence in the Marquette Branch Prison in Marquette, Michigan in the Upper Peninsula.
The Mixer case
In 2005, 62-year-old Gary Leiterman, a former nurse, was tried and convicted of the killing of Jane Mixer. Leiterman came to the attention of authorities 35 years later because a lab report showed his DNA was found on the pantyhose of the deceased. Leiterman worked as a pharmaceutical salesman at the time and lived about 20 miles from the University of Michigan at the time of the murder. According to the Michigan state police lab, Leiterman's DNA hadn't come from blood or semen but might have been from sweat, saliva or skin cells. Some observers feel this DNA evidence is compromised because the report also says the DNA from the spot of blood scraped from Jane Mixer's hand in 1969 matches that of convicted killer John Ruelas who was only four years old at that time. The prosecution offered no explanation as to how Ruelas could have been at this murder scene when he was that age and living 40 miles away. The Mixer and Ruelas cases had been in the lab at about the same time and many wondered if there had been transference.
Other testimony at the trial included a handwriting comparison of two words written on the cover of a phone book found in the basement of Michigan's law dormitory. This was important for the prosecution because it was the only testimony that put Leiterman at the university and with knowledge of Mixer's identity. After Mixer's murder occurred, police had found where someone had written the victim's last name "Mixer" and her hometown "Muskegeon" on the cover of a phone book found in the basement of the University of Michigan's law dormitory. Lt. Thomas Riley testified, "It's my opinion that it is highly probable Gary Earl Leiterman wrote the 'Muskegeon,' 'Mixer' entries on the phone book." However, under cross-examination, Riley admitted he was only able to examine photos of the phone book and couldn't perform the standard microscopic tests because the actual book had been thrown out in 1975. Riley further acknowledged that he had marked possible similarities in the handwriting of a diary he thought was written by Leiterman but ultimately turned out to be written by his wife.
Other testimony involved Leiterman's roommate at the time who testified that he was an avid hunter and had owned a .22 caliber handgun along with several other guns in 1969. .22 was the caliber of the murder weapon.
John Norman COLLINS
By Paul Sutherland
On 18 July 1967 a 19 yr old student named Mary Fleszar disappeared from outside of her apartment block in Ypsilanti, Michigan. Twenty-four hours later her worried flatmate contacted Mary’s parents to report that she had not returned home. The police were contacted and at first were unconcerned, due to the fact that most college students were prone to vanishing for days at a time for parties and drunken binges. However, it was classed as uncharacteristic for Mary, and due to the fact all of her clothes and possessions had been left behind, police took a bit more notice. However, investigations led nowhere. The only possible lead police had was from a neighbour who had seen Mary being approached by the driver of a blue-grey Chevrolet. Four weeks later, on 07 August 1967, two teenage boys playing near an old farmhouse in a field in Superior Township, two miles north of Ypsilanti, heard a car door slam and the car then drive away. The boys, who went to investigate, found a mass of rotting flesh that they soon identified as human remains. Clothing found near the body was identified as belonging to Mary by her parents, and the post mortem on her remains showed that she had been stabbed in a frenzied attack about 30 or 40 times.
Two days later, the staff of the Moore Funeral Home, in Ypsilanti, were shocked when a good looking young man came in and asked if he could photograph Mary’s body. He explained that he was a family friend of the Fleszar’s, and that they would like the photographs as a keepsake. When he was told that this was impossible, he shrugged and left. The receptionist noticed that he was driving a blue-grey Chevrolet.
Almost a year passed and then Ypsilanti police were informed of a disappearance that rang very similar to the Fleszar case. Joan Schell, a 20 yr old Eastern Michigan University Student, had gone out late on the evening of 02 July 1968, and had failed to return. Five days later, a group of workmen on an Ann Arbor construction site found Joan’s body. A pathologists report noted that Joan had been raped, and had been murdered in a frenzied attack with a knife. Intriguingly, it was noted that although she had been dead for a few days, the body had only lay where it had been discovered for less than 24 hours.
In the case of the disappearance of Joan, police believed that they had a possible clue. Two university students believed that they had seen Joan on the night she had vanished, and that she had been walking with a young man, who they believed to be another Eastern Michigan University student named John Norman Collins. Collins was questioned by police but denied being with Joan or even knowing her. Police had no reason to suspect Collins, and as his identification was not positive, had to release him.
Ten months later, on 21 March 1969, a 13 yr old schoolboy arrived at his home with a gift-wrapped present. Upon questioning from his mother, he admitted that he had found it near the Ypsilanti cemetery. His mother insisted that they return it, and upon their arrival at the cemetery, found the body of a girl covered with a yellow raincoat. The body was that of 23 yr old law student Jane Mixer, whom Ypsilanti police had received a missing persons report about only a few hours earlier. She had been raped, beaten and stabbed in what was now becoming the usual fashion.
Four days later, an Ann Arbor construction worker tripped over an arm sticking out of a patch of weeds close to the spot where Joan Schell’s body had been discovered. The body lay in the typical rape position, a branch had been jammed into the vagina, and she had been severely beaten about the head and body. She was identified as 16 yr old Maralynn Skelton, a known drug user/dealer who had strained relations with her family. She had vanished whilst hitchhiking on the day Jane Mixer’s body was found. As with the other killings, there were little clues to be found at the site of the body dump.
On 15 April 1969, the body of the youngest victim yet, 13 yr old Dawn Basom, was found at the side of a lonely country road in Ypsilanti. Dawn was found half naked and had been raped and strangled with a black electrical flex, and had had her breasts almost cut off. Dawn had been reported missing after failing to return home from visiting friends the previous evening. The local Sheriff, Douglas Harvey, ordered the search for Dawn’s clothes to be widened, and found the majority of her clothes at a deserted farmhouse not far from her home. In the basement of the farmhouse, police discovered a length of the same black electrical flex used to strangle her, as well as her blouse and an orange sweater known to have belonged to her. Police noted the connection with the dumpsite of Mary Fleszar, and theorized that the “Co-ed Slayer”, as the press had christened the killer, had a liking for using deserted farmhouses as his killing ground.
On the afternoon of 09 June 1969, 3 teenage boys walking through a disused farmhouse found the body of a girl in her early twenties. She had been shot in the head, raped, stabbed repeatedly and had then had her throat cut. The girl was identified as Alice Kalom, a student from Kalamazoo, who was taking a design course at Ann Arbor. She had last been seen the day before leaving a party in the early hours of Sunday, and had probably accepted a lift from her killer.
Ypsilanti police now came under intense public criticism because four murders in 3 months caused a widespread panic in the local community. Yet, the police frustratingly knew that they had done all that they could to catch the killer. On 23 July 1969 the campus police at Eastern Michigan University received a missing persons report. Karen Sue Beineman, an 18 yr old student, had failed to appear at dinner in her room after curfew. Ypsilanti police reacted immediately and learned that Karen was due to pick up a wig from a downtown wig store, where she had been headed at midday when last seen.
The manageress of the wig store recognised Karen from the photograph the police showed her, and said that she had left on the back of a Triumph motorcycle with a good looking young man. She particularly remembered this as Karen had said to her that she had just done the most foolish thing in her life; accepted a lift from a stranger. Another girl student who was interviewed described how a good-looking young man on a Triumph motorcycle had tried, and failed, to offer her a lift. Police now had good descriptions of their suspect but tantalisingly could not find him.
On 27 July 1969 a doctor and his wife out walking found the body of Karen in a wooded gully. She had been raped, beaten and strangled. Her panties had been stuffed into her mouth and a curious aspect noted by the medical examiner was the presence of human hair clippings stuck to the panties. As soon as Sheriff Harvey heard of the discovery, he ordered a total news blackout. The reason for this was that police had theorized that the killer was returning to the bodies in some sort of macabre ritual. Twice before police had attempted a total news blackout, and had been thwarted by eager newshounds.
That night, police surrounded the gully and a tailor’s dummy was put in place of Karen’s body. Shortly after midnight one of the police officers saw a man running out of the gully; the heavy rain had prevented him from being spotted sooner. The officer tried to radio assistance but found that the stormy weather caused atmospherics and made the radio inoperable. The police grew more frustrated as it seemed that the luck of the killer was endless. The clue that broke the case, however, was the human hair.
Descriptions of the man on the motorcycle led campus policeman Larry Mathewson to suspect a former college friend of his, John Norman Collins. He borrowed a photograph of Collins and showed it to the wig shop owner and the girl student. Both identified Collins as the young man on the motorcycle. Collins was again questioned by Ypsilanti police, but was released due to lack of evidence.
Collins had been looking after the home of his uncle, Police Corporal David Leik, whilst he was on holiday with his wife and family. On 29 July 1969 Leik returned home and was annoyed to find a large patch of black spray paint on the floor of his basement. Half an hour later, whilst the family were still musing over the paint, the telephone rang. Sgt Chris Walters of the Ypsilanti police wasted no time in requesting to see Leik, and told him, “ That nephew of yours, John Collins. He’s the prime suspect in these Co-ed murders”. Leik was shocked and disbelieving at first, but when confronted with the wealth of evidence against his nephew, had to acknowledge that there was very powerful evidence to suggest that Collins was the Co-ed killer.
Leik neglected to tell his wife, who looked on Collins almost as a son. Late that night he went down to the basement and scraped off some of the paint. Underneath there was a stain that looked like blood. The next morning, Leik hurried to the police station to report his findings. Upon his return, he found his wife on the phone to Collins. When she hung up, he gently told her that her nephew was almost certainly the Ypsilanti Ripper, and she was devastated by the news. The lab men arrived later that day and examined the stain, which turned out to be varnish. However, they were suspicious as to why someone would paint over a varnish stain. It was whilst they were musing this that one of the lab men spotted something more interesting; human hair clippings. Leik explained that his wife cut the children’s hair in the basement, and was shocked when the lab men told him about the hair clippings removed from the panties of Karen Sue Beineman.
The lab men took a sample, and also noted nine stains on the basement floor, which proved to be human blood. That afternoon, Leik and Police Captain Walter Stevens called at Collins home, and informed him that he was the prime suspect. After detailing the evidence against him, Collins burst into tears. The policemen expected a confession, but Collins quickly regained his poise and denied knowing Karen Sue Beineman. Collins was then arrested.
A search of Collins room proved negative for anything solid to link him to the murders, and cursed when Collins’ roommate, Arnold Davis, told them that Collins had disposed of a box containing woman’s clothing and handbags. Davis also told police that Collins was a habitual thief, and that he had been committing several burglaries with another former roommate, Andrew Manuel. Police had another reason to want to find Manuel, he was a suspect in another murder, one that Collins himself was a joint suspect in. The body of 17 yr old Roxie Ann Phillips had been found in a ravine in Salinas, California, at a time when Collins and Manuel were both known to have been in the area. Manuel was eventually caught and charged with burglary and stealing the trailer. He was sentenced to 5 years probation. Meanwhile, although they only had circumstantial evidence, Collins was arraigned for trial on 05 September 1969.
The trial of John Norman Collins opened in Washtenaw County Court in Ann Arbor on 02 June 1970. Collins was only charged with the murder of Karen Sue Beineman, as it had been impossible to collect enough evidence to charge him concerning the other cases. The evidence for the prosecution rested mainly on the hair found, with Walter Holz, a graduate chemist from the Health department testifying that the hairs found on the basement floor were an identical match for ones found in the panties. Despite objections from the defence, the jury had been swayed.
On 19 August 1970, the jury found Collins unanimously guilty. On 23 August 1970, Collins was sentenced to life imprisonment - a minimum of 20 years to be served, with hard labour.
The character of Collins that emerged following his conviction carries similar traits found in other serial sex killers. John Norman Collins was born in Canada in 1947, the son of Richard and Loretta Chapman. Collins was the youngest child, having an elder brother, Jerry, and sister, Gail. Chapman soon deserted his family and Loretta remarried. This marriage lasted a year. Theorizing that a fresh location meant a fresh start, Loretta and family left Canada for Detroit, and married William Collins, who formally adopted the three children. Collins turned out to be a violent alcoholic who beat his wife and children, and this marriage ended in separation in 1956.
By the age of 9 John Collins had seen 3 father figures, and a great deal of domestic violence. His mother worked hard as a waitress and formed a relationship with another man. Collins, however, was known as an “all-American boy”, by his peers, and was raised as a Catholic. His teachers found him a bright and attentive student, and, even when he moved to Eastern Michigan University his teachers were impressed with his work progress. However, in the second half of his first year his grades slipped and he began to commit petty thefts, often just for thrills. It was around this time Collins met Andrew Manuel, and realised he had a partner for some of his escapades. Collins was expelled from the Theta Chi Fraternity house after being suspected of many petty thefts.
Collins also had a large sexual obsession, although curiously had a puritanical streak to his character too. Several girls reported how Collins could fly into rages at minor things, even quoting the Sixth Commandment at one girl who danced too provocatively for him. He was also described as a “bondage freak”. This may stem from an incident when he discovered his pregnant sister with another man. He beat the man unconscious and then hit his sister until she bled, calling her a tramp as he did so. Collins also had a strange necrophiliac obsession too, almost being caught several times returning to the scene of his murders, a trait that again has shown itself in many high profile cases, such as that of Peter Kurten; The Yorkshire Ripper and Dennis Nilsen but to name a few. Many modern day crime writers overlook Collins, but his case remains a fascinating study of a sex killer.
John Norman Collins: The Co-Ed Killer
By Katherine Ramsland
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 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 hard 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.
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 pierced 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 the victims.
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 Philips' 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.
9. 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.
Geoforensics: The Crime Scenes
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.
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 Philips 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 Philips.
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.
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.
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.
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 Philips 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.
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 Philips 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. Philips' 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 Wastenaw 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.
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 Leik's 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 Leik's 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.
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 Leik's 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 Philips, 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 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.
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.
The primary sources for the article are:
Clippings from The Ann Arbor News, Ypsilanti Press, Detroit News, and Detroit Free Press, 1967-72.
The Michigan Murders, Edward Keyes (Pocket, 1976). This is the only full-length nonfiction work devoted to the Collins case, although Collins and all of his victims are referred to under pseudonyms.
A chapter in The Psychic World of Peter Hurkos, by Norma Lee Browning (NAL/Signet, 1970), which credits Hurkos with a bit too much, but is insightful, nevertheless.
A chapter in Killer among Us: Public Reaction to Serial Murder by Joseph C. Fisher.
The author's own memories from living in Ann Arbor at the time Collins was at large.
A brief summary in Killers among Us: Serial Murderers of the 20th Century by Colin Wilson (Warner, 1995).
Encyclopedia of Serial Killers by Brian Lane and Wilfred Gregg (Headline Books, 1992).