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|John Norman Collins|
June 17, 1947 |
Windsor, Ontario, Canada
|Other names||The Ypsilanti Killer
The Co-Ed Killer
|Criminal penalty||Life imprisonment|
Span of killings
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. 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 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 5, 1968, student Joan Shell's mutilated body was found on an Ann Arbor roadside.She had been sexually assaulted and then stabbed 25 times in the back, carotid artery, lungs, and head. Shell 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 Van Buren Township, Michigan. 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 which was occupied by a friend of Collins, where Collins spent time.
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, but proved to be of no 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 Shepherd 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 because Collins wished 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.
Belated data in 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.
||This article includes a list of references, but its sources remain unclear because it has insufficient inline citations. (November 2008)|
- "Deadly Ride". 48 Hours Mysteries (CBS News). 22 November 2005.
- Ryan, Harriet. "Testimony focuses on handwriting". CNN.
- Edward Keyes, The Michigan Murders (1977), ISBN 978-0-472-03446-8. A full account of each of the horrific murders as well as detailed events leading to Collins' incarceration.
- Duane L. Dobbert "Psychopathy, Perversion, and Lust Homicide, Recognizing the mental disorders that power serial killers" 2009, ISBN 978-0-313-36621-5. The life story of John Norman Collins.