|John Norman Collins|
|Also known as:||The Ypsilanti Killer, The Co-Ed Killer, John Chapman|
|Number of victims:||7|
|Span of killings:||1967–1969|
|Date apprehended:||August, 1969|
The "Michigan Murders", as they came to be called by various media sources and locals, 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 on an abandoned farm a few miles north of where she disappeared. It had multiple stab wounds and was missing her hands and feet. John Norman Collins showed up at the funeral home with a camera, claiming to be a press photographer, requesting to take pictures of the deceased. He was asked to leave by funeral home personnel.
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. He had once beaten his own sister 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 extradict Collins.
In the early 1980s, Collins legally changed his last name to Chapman, his mother's maiden name. She passed away 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 was last known to be serving his sentence in the Marquette Branch Prison in Marquette, Michigan in the Upper Peninsula.
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 after the fact. His DNA was found at the scene on the pantyhose of the deceased in the form of sweat; however, the most incriminating evidence was a small written sample taken from a phone book recovered at the University of Michigan phone booth the day after the murder, which contained the victim's name and the destination of where she had been looking for a ride on a public bulletin board. Leiterman's current writing sample matched and led to his arrest. Moreover, Leiterman lived and worked in the area as a pharmaceutical salesman at the time. A .22 caliber gun was used in the crime; his roommate at the time testified that he had owned such a weapon. A Michigan law going into effect in January 2002 required felons to give DNA samples, and Leiterman was convicted of "forging narcotics prescriptions" just three days after the law went into effect.
Edward Keyes, Michigan Murders (1977), ISBN 978-0450034459. A full account of each of the horrific murders as well as detailed events leading to Collins' incarceration. Book is currently out of print.
Redirecting to Michigan murders