Burger Chef murders
|Burger Chef murders|
|Location||Speedway, Indiana, U.S.|
|Date||November 17, 1978 |
c. 11:00 pm
|Attempted robbery, kidnapping, mass murder|
|Weapons||Firearm, knife, blunt object|
No. of participants
|2 or more|
The Burger Chef murders began at a Burger Chef restaurant in Speedway, Indiana, on the night of Friday November 17, 1978. Four young employees went missing in what was initially thought to be a petty theft by them of cash from the restaurant safe. By Saturday morning it became a clear case of robbery-kidnapping, and by Sunday, when their bodies were discovered, a case of murder. While investigators believe they have identified some or all of the perpetrators, without physical evidence they have not been able to prosecute those who remain alive.
Suspected robbery and homicides
At some point between 11 pm (closing time) and midnight (23:00 and 24:00 ET) on November 17, 1978, four employees of Burger Chef restaurant in Speedway, Indiana (at 5725 Crawfordsville Road) disappeared: Jayne Friedt, 20; Daniel Davis, 16; Mark Flemmonds, 16; and Ruth Ellen Shelton, 18. A fellow employee who came by at midnight to visit the four noticed that the restaurant was empty and the back door ajar and raised the alarm.
Initially, police did not consider the case to be serious, given that management reported the loss of only approximately US$581 (equivalent to $2,232 in 2018) from the safe and no clear signs of a struggle. It was thought to be a case of petty embezzlement, with the assumption that the pilfered cash had been used by the youths to go partying that night. Change had not been taken from the registers. Although the purses of the missing women had been left at the shop, the petty theft theory initially seemed most likely and the scene was cleaned up by employees early Saturday morning.
When the four did not show on Saturday morning and Friedt's Vega was found partially locked in town, concerns grew. It became evident that they had been abducted while closing up the restaurant for the night, with the attack possibly beginning as they removed trash bags out the back door.
On Sunday afternoon, hikers found the bodies of the four over 20 mi (32 km) away, in the rural woods of Johnson County. Both Davis and Shelton had been shot execution-style numerous times with a .38 caliber firearm. Friedt had been stabbed twice in the chest. The handle of the knife had broken off and was missing; the blade was later recovered during an autopsy. Flemmonds had suffered a blunt-force head injury, which coroners believed he suffered while fleeing his captors, only to have the misfortune of colliding with a heavy object, possibly a tree trunk, which thwarted his flight. Flemmonds was later determined to have been bludgeoned — possibly with a chain — prior to his death.
On the night of the murders, a 16-year-old eyewitness saw two suspicious men in a car outside the Burger Chef just before closing. Both men were white and in their thirties. One man had a beard; the other was clean-shaven with light colored ("fair") hair. The police had models of the suspects created in clay to assist the investigation.
Later that year, a man in a bar in Greenwood bragged that he had been involved in the killings. Police subsequently questioned him, but he passed a polygraph claiming not to have been involved and officers were unable to bring charges on other grounds. The man provided the names of others whom he suggested belonged to a fast-food robbery gang, and whom investigators suspected may have been involved in this case. While following up on these leads in Franklin, officers spotted a man who bore a strong resemblance to the "bearded man" composite. Summoned for a lineup, the man shaved his beard (which he had had for the previous five years) the night before he was to appear. A neighbor of his, who had not been spotted by the original witness but who had been named by the Greenwood suspect, subsequently went to prison for strongarm robberies committed with a shotgun. Another associate named by the Greenwood suspect, who fit the description of the fair-haired man, also subsequently was imprisoned for other armed robberies of fast-food restaurants. However, without confessions — despite offers of plea deals to any suspects not directly responsible for the killings — and without direct physical evidence of the involvement of the suspects in the murders, the police were not able to effect an arrest.
At the time, there was some speculation that the murders were tied to other crimes that had shocked the town over the preceding months, such as the murder of Julia Scyphers and the Speedway bombings. At the time the perpetrator of the bombings was still on the loose. However, these cases were subsequently found to be unconnected to the November murders.
Investigators continued to follow leads relating to possible suspects as widely as Cincinnati, Milwaukee, Chicago and Dallas. However, they were not able to find any more promising leads, or to locate the evidence they believed would have been most useful: the firearm, the handle of the knife, and the chain used in the murders. Nor have any perpetrators made confessions to police, though the son of the bearded suspect has told police that he confided in him that he had been involved prior to his own death.
Ken York, one of the original investigators on the case, has noted that the deaths of the Greenwood suspect and the bearded suspect, from an apparent suicide and a heart attack respectively, came suspiciously close after the release of the armed robber named by the suspect from the Greenwood bar.
Despite thousands of hours of police investigation, as well as Burger Chef offering a reward of $25,000 to anyone who could capture the murderers or provide information about their whereabouts, the attackers were never prosecuted, and the case remains officially unsolved. Indiana state police continue to hold the case open, and have reportedly investigated the possible use of new DNA-tracing techniques developed since the initial investigations.
During the summer of 2018, the community, as well as family and friends of the victims, raised money to plant four red oak trees in their honor. Each tree is adorned with a plaque with a short biography of one of the victims. The original monetary goal was surpassed within 24 hours. With the extra funds, a marble bench was installed and dedicated to their family and friends. On November 10, 2018, just one week before the fortieth anniversary, a small dedication ceremony for family and friends was held at the memorial site at Leonard Park in Speedway, Indiana.
- Swan, Scott (2003). "Burger Chef murders, a 25-year-old mystery". WTHR.
- Ferguson, Mike; Gibson, Mike (21 April 2019). "Ep110 - The Burger Chef Murders". True Crime All The Time Unsolved. Retrieved 9 May 2019.
- Walton, Richard D. (1978-11-19). "Police Baffled By Kidnappings". Indianapolis Star. p. 1.
The four employees - an assistant manager and three teen-agers - were abducted sometime between 11 p.m. and midnight Friday during a robbery at the restaurant, 5725 Crawfordsville Road... Police theorized that the four employees were forced to leave the store in a white 1974 Vega owned by the assistant manager, Jane C. Freidt, but said it appeared they left without a struggle... The Vega was found early Saturday... the passenger door was not [locked]
- Shapiro, Emily (14 November 2018). "'I hope... before my time on Earth is gone that I have those answers': Victim's sister on 1978 unsolved quadruple killing". ABC News. ABC News. Retrieved 2019-05-09.
- Patrick T. Morrison; James G. Newland Jr. (1978-11-20). "4 Speedway Kidnap Victims Found Dead In Wooded Area". Indianapolis Star. p. 1.
Examination of the car turned up no evidence, police said... Brian Kring, 17, an off-duty Burger Chef employee... discovered the back door open and found the manager's office in disarray... Kring said the back door normally is kept locked. He speculated that the four victims were interrupted while emptying trash because several trash containers were just inside the open door.
- Dan Luzadder (1986-11-14). "Police have confession in Burger Chef murders". Indianapolis Star. p. 1,7.
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- Vickie J. West (1994). The Encyclopedia of Indianapolis. Indiana University Press. p. 364. ISBN 978-0-253-31222-8.
- Higgins, Will (14 November 2018). "Here's why police think a photo of a knife might help them solve the Burger Chef murders". IndyStar. Indianapolis, IN: IndyStar. Retrieved 2019-05-09.
- "Unsolved: Burger Chef murders". WTHR. 2013.
- National Organization for Victim Education, Legislation, and Justice. Archived from the original on 2009-07-08. Retrieved 2008-05-25. Cite uses deprecated parameter
- Carrera, Anna (16 November 2018). "Remembering Burger Chef victims at Speedway park". Indianapolis, IN: WTHR. Retrieved 9 May 2019.