Norman Collins: The Co-Ed Killer
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
The next body
would not be discovered for almost a year.
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.
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
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.)
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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,
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.
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
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.
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."
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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.)
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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."
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.
sources for the article are:
The Ann Arbor News, Ypsilanti Press, Detroit News, and Detroit Free
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,
A chapter in
Killer among Us: Public Reaction to Serial Murder by Joseph C. Fisher.
own memories from living in Ann Arbor at the time Collins was at large.
summary in Killers among Us: Serial Murderers of the 20th Century by
Colin Wilson (Warner, 1995).
of Serial Killers by Brian Lane and Wilfred Gregg (Headline Books,