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Case # 8 - The Co-Ed Killer

Updated: Jan 31

https://www.podcastdetroit.com/crime-in-the-mitten-case-8-the-co-ed-murders/

The Co-Ed Killer Transcript


This week’s episode is a listener’s choice episode. Once a month Shelby and I pick an episode you, the listener’s, suggested. If there’s a case you’d like to hear us discuss, go to our website, www.crimeinthemitten.com, go to the “contact us” page and leave your suggestion. Our goal is to discuss each and every one of them. This month’s Listener’s Choice was selected by Autumn Temple.


Ypsilanti Ripper, the Michigan Murderer, the Co-Ed Killer, all names for one man, John Norman Collins. Collins killed young women between the years of 1967 and 1969 in the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti area of Southeastern Michigan, young women between the ages of 13 and 21. He would abduct, rape, beat, and murder them. Mostly all were killed the same way, by stabbing or strangulation with their bodies basically destroyed after death, then got rid of the bodies by dumping them within a 15-mile radius of Washtenaw County.


John was born John Norman Chapman in 1947. He lived in Ontario, Canada with his parents Richard and Loretta Chapman. Collins was the youngest child, he had a brother, Jerry, and a sister, Gail. Chapman left his family and while he was still a toddler, his mother soon remarried, but that marriage ended as well. His mother packed up her three children and moved them to Center Line, MI. There, Loretta met her next husband, William Collins and he adopted the three children, that’s where the name change comes from. William Collins was abusive and the couple got a dicvore after five years. He was known to be torturous to animals and told his friends about how he strangled a cat. John was smart and played lots of sports. He was a good student at St. Clement Catholic School, described as quiet, polite, and respectful, but his girlfriends said he was angry a lot and sexually aggressive. After graduating in 1965, he went to Easten Michigan University in Ypsilanti, MI his sophomore year to study childhood education and was in Theta Chi frat and was forced to leave for stealing.


John Collins crime spree started while he was living in Ypsilanti. His first victim was 19 year old, Eastern Michigan University student, Mary Fleszar. She was only 5’2 and about a little over a 100 pounds. Flezar went for a walk at 9pm on July 9, 1967, because her room was so hot. A few people admitted to seeing Mary that night. A man sitting on his porch said he saw her walking and a man pulled up on the side of her driving a blue-ish, gray colored Chevrolet. Mary shook her head no to whatever the guy had been asking her and kept going, but the guy kept coming back and each time, she was seen shaking her head no after the two talked for a second. He last saw Mary when she turned the corner to continue her walk. Her roommate called police when Mary didn't return that night.

Mary Fleszar’s body was found on August 7, decomposing on an abandoned farm a few miles from where she went missing. Two guys were working on the field when they heard a car door slam and a car start up. When they went over to see what was going on they noticed a body, but didn’t realize right away that it was a human body. They called the police and who quickly arrived and found clothes that the Fleszar family identified as Mary’s, the body was identified later as Mary by dental records. Her body was found nude with about 30 stab wounds. A part of one arm and fingers from the other hand were missing. Her feet were cut off as well. Her body had been moved several times, when the two boys heard the car, it’s possible that he was just coming back to visit the body. Two days after her remains had been identified, a young man showed up to the funeral home, asking for permission to take pictures of Mary Fleszar, but the workers didn’t allow him to. Employees at the funeral home could not offer any clear description of the weird man, besides the fact that he had a blue-ish, gray car.


He didn’t strike again for a whole year. Joan Schell was a 20 year old EMU student last seen hitchhiking on June 30, 1968 in front of the student union because she missed the bus to Ann Arbor and trying to get to her boyfriend. She was seen getting into a car with three men. On July 6, 1968, she l was found dead in Ann Arbor. She had been stabbed at least 25 times, I saw a few different articles with different amounts of stab wounds. Joan had also been raped and her clothes were wrapped around her neck. Schell was from Plymouth, Michigan, she had just moved into a house on Emmett Street in Ypsilanti. She was last seen on July 1st with John Norman Collins, Collins was living directly across the street from her at Emmett. When questioned, Collins said he never even knew Joan and claimed he was 'with my mama' at her house in Center Line, Michigan at the time. Police believed him and left it at that.


In late March 1969, not quite a year after Joan Schell had been murdered, Jane Mixer went missing after posting on the University of Michigan school bulletin that she was in need of a ride to her hometown of Muskegon. The trip was to tell her family about her engagement and move to New York City. Jane never made it to Muskegon, she was discovered in Denton Cemetery, just off of Michigan Avenue, a few miles east of Ypsilanti, in Wayne County. Her shoes and a book titled “Catch-22”, by Joseph Heller, were placed by her side. An autopsy showed that Mixer had been shot twice in the head with a .22-caliber pistol, then strangled with a nylon stocking which were not hers. The pathologist also stated that Mixer had not been sexually assaulted, and that the murder had occurred around 3a.m. on March 21. She had not been killed at the location where her body had been found. She was supposed to have met up with a guy named David Johnson, he was supposed to give her a ride home, but David Johnson was never found during the investigation. Her death was thought to be related to the homicides committed by Collins. In 2005, 62-year-old Gary Leiterman, was convicted of murder in the death of Jane Mixer.


The first few murders happened years apart, the next few were not like that Collins began to pick up the pace in his murder spree, just days later, on March 24, 1969, Maralynn Skelton went missing while hitchhiking. Like I said in the episode I did a few weeks back on the Oakland County Child Killer, hitchhiking was normal at that time, especially for teens. Maralynn was a 16 year old high school dropout from Romulus. She was found dead the next day. Her body had been badly beaten with what looked to have been with a belt with a huge buckle. Her skull was cracked and she was found nude and she had been molested. A tree branch was stuck in her vagina and a rag was stuffed into her mouth. Her body was found by a farmer, working on the same field that Mary Fleszar was found on. As the farmer was walking through, he stumbled over her body. Maralyn hung out at an apartment next door to one where Collins spent time, where his friend lived.


About three weeks later, on April 15, 1969, 13-year-old Dawn Basom was found dead by strangulation after disappearing the night before. She was last seen walking along a dirt road where Collins rode his motorcycle on a daily basis. Dawn had been raped, stabbed, and strangled with a black cord. She was naked and her beast were almost completely cut off. Like a few of the other girls, there was something stuffed in her mouth. Dawn hadn’t returned home after visiting a home near the EMU campus. The sheriff working on her case widened the search when her close weren’t found in the same area as her body. They were later found in the basement a farmhouse near her own home. They found her blouse, orange sweater, same cord that was used to strangle her, as well as fresh blood. Police came to the conclusion that she was killed in the farmhouse and later moved to the side of the road.

On June 9, 1969, 23 year old University of Michigan graduate student Alice Kalom was found in a field with her throat cut, stab wounds, and a gunshot to the head. She was found by three teenage boys walking by an abandoned barn. Witnesses say that Alice had attending a party in Ann Arbor on June 7th and was seen dancing with a young man with long hair. Alice had been shot in the head, stabbed, her throat was slit, she had been raped, and she was found nude. A piece of her shirt had been cut off and wrapped around her head. Her clothes were found in the same area as her body.


Soon after Alice Kolam was found, a task force was set up. It took six murders before the task force happened. When you think about it, the first 3 were so spaced out, they probably were not thinking about it because they didn't happen around the same time as the last few. They were only counting the last few when they thought to band together for a task force. The people of the area raised money to hire famous psychic, Peter Hurkos. He helped out police in quite a few cases and some information he gave on the co-ed murders, but also gave some useless, unhelpful leads that sent investigators in the wrong direction.


On July 23, 1969, a missing person's report was filed for 18 year old Karen Sue Beineman to the Eastern Michigan University. The freshman did not return to her room that night. Karen was scheduled to pick up a wig downtown, where she was last seen. The worker at the wig shop said she was there earlier in the day and left on the back of a young man's blue motorcycle. Three days later, almost two years to the date the first victim, Mary Fleszar disappeared Karen was found. A doctor and his wife were out walking in a wooded area where they found her lifeless body. She has been beaten, strangled, and raped. Her underwear were stuffed into her mouth and human hair clippings were found in the underwear.


When the sheriff heard about her case, he didn't want any information to get out to the public, he wanted to try to keep it a secret to see if the killer would return back to the body like he had done with the others. Officers put a mannequin in the same spot where Karen was found and had a stake out in the area to see if he would return. Around midnight, a male was seen walking down Riverside Drive. It was raining so it was strange for someone to be out walking, especially late at night in that area. When the man entered the area the detectives felt they had their guy. He was so close to the mannequin that he could touch it. When the man realized it was not Beineman's body he ran through the woods with the detectives not far behind. The detectives searched for the suspect, but they had lost him. Because it was so dark and with the rain, detectives were unable to give a description of the man.


Campus police Larry Matherwson, was the officer who brought everyone's attention to John Collins. In the case of Joan Schell, he was the officer who questioned Collins when he said he was at his mom's the night she went missing. Mathewson said a picture of Collins to the wig store clerk and another witness that was in the store at the time that Karen was there. Both witnesses said that Collins was the guy they saw.


When investigators went to question him after that, they didn't have enough evidence to hold him. They went to him to early when they should have let the case build up before they began questioning him. John's roommate said after the questioning he began to take stuff from their home. Things like women's clothing, shoes, purses, just a lot of random women's things. He also cleaned out his car. John had been house sitting for his uncle State Police Sergeant David Leik and his family while they were out of town. When he returned home and went back to work, he found out his nephew was the prime suspect in the murders, he didn't want to believe it was true. David Leik was in his basement, where John had been and discovered what looked like blood. He had analysts come into his home and check it out, but it turned out not to be blood. While they were searching the basement they found hair clippings, but it was later discovered that they came from Mrs. Leik cutting the children's hair. Although it was proven that the hair belonged to the children, it was the hair that was found in Karen's underwear. As they continued to search the basement, they found actual human blood, but because it was the 60's there wasn't much that could be done.


After the search, they went back to John Collins and told them what they found. He continued to deny ever knowing or being around Karen. Because they had the hair clippings and the eyewitnesses from the wig shop, they were able to arrest him. John cleaned out his car, but they still found blood around the front seat that was the same blood type as Alice. Not only did they find the blood, but they also found some material that matched a belt that was tied around a young girl's neck all the way in California. Roxie Phillips was a 17 year old girl from Salinas, California. She went missing on June 30, 1969. She was going out to mail a letter and go out with a friend. Her body was found on July 13th in Pescadero Canyon by some boys out looking for fossils. She was nude, badly decomposed, with a red and white cotton belt wrapped around her neck. Where Roxie's body was found, there was a lot of poison oak. John was treated in California for poison oak within that time frame. Roxie's friend said that Roxie told her that she met a man named John and he attended school in Michigan.


The trail against John Norman Collins, of the murder of Karen Beineman began in Washtenaw County Court Building in Ann Arbor on June 2, 1970, before Judge John Conlin. Collins chose not to testify in his own defense after being advised by his lawyer. John was only charged with the murder of Karen Beineman because they had direct evidence tying him to that specific case. Even though there were patterns connecting him to the others, there was not enough evidence to hold him for them all. They were afraid that if they tried to charge him for the others they would lose him for them all. I'm sure it had to have been hard for the other families, but that was the best decision because that's the case they had the most evidence on. They had the hair clippings, eyewitnesses, and the blood that matched Karen's blood type in his car. They knew they she left the wig shop on the back of John's motorcycle around noon, and the time of death was around 3pm. Investigators had evidence that Karen was in the Leik's basement at some point that day where John was staying at the time.


John Collins lawyers tried to get everything thrown out and come up with an alibi for John. Because there were so many other women that claimed John tried to pick them up on his motorcycle that day, there was no solid alibi that could really use. John's roommate testified against him, telling them about all the women items John got rid of after that first questioning. He also tried talking his roommate into making up an alibi for him. After 17 days and 57 witnesses, on August 19, 1970, John Norman Collins was found guilty of first degree murder. At the sentencing hearing, Collins was allowed to talk and he denied ever knowing Karen Sue Beineman and claimed that he was innocent and basically said things were just blown out of proportion. He was sentenced to life in prison at Southern Michigan State Prison with a minimum of twenty years. He went through three appeals and even changed his name to Chapman, his original last name, to try to get a transfer to Canada, where he was born, where he would have been eligible for parole in 1985. He also attempted to escape by tunneling out of the prison.


The state of California declined to extradite John for trial for the murder of Roxie Philips. They had all the evidence, the fact that he was treated for poison oak around the same time that her body was found in a field of poison oak, the testimony from Roxie’s friend, as well as the belt. They just chose not to seeing that he already had he already had a life sentence.















Resources

https://murderpedia.org/male.C/c/collins-john-norman.htm


https://www.freep.com/in-depth/news/local/michigan/2019/11/11/john-norman-collins-michigan-murder-suspects-letters-interviews/2522765001/


https://aadl.org/aapd/truecrimes/7

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