Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Rendezvous with Death - Part Two

My goal in recounting the horrible deaths of seven young women in Washtenaw County, Michigan, in the late 1960s, is not to evoke the pain and sorrow of friends and family, which is bound to happen, but to present an up-to-date account of what occurred so long ago, which has been obscured by time, hasty reporting, and spotty police work.

I have researched the misnamed "coed murders" and interviewed people who knew the victims and discovered details not generally known to the public. I am attempting to bring together living history accounts, over 700 pages of news clippings from the era, the Michigan State Police report the prosecutor of this case worked from, perceptions of people who knew John Collins - the alleged serial killer, and several post trial developments which will give a fuller picture of this story than ever told before.

The national obscurity of this case is largely due to being overshadowed by the Charles Manson case in Los Angeles, California. John Norman Collins was arrested the night of July 31, 1969. On August 10th, just over a week later, the bodies of pregnant Sharon Tate, director Roman Polanski's starlet wife, and three others people, were ruthlessly slaughtered in the Hollywood Hills. The discovery and the murder case that followed became known as the "Helter Skelter" murders. The national spotlight suddenly shifted from Washtenaw County and the sullen John Collins, to the West Coast and wildman Charles Manson. The spotlight suddenly dimmed at the Ann Arbor courthouse.

The case of the Michigan murders faded into the background, except for those who knew the victims and/or the suspect, or for people who lived in the area during those tense two summers between 1967 and 1969. The dim shroud of time, misinformation leaked by and to the press, the Blue Wall of Silence, and a "fictionalized" account of the murders rushed into print because of a publishing deadline, have obfuscated many of the facts and details of this case.

It should be remembered that John Norman Collins was convicted of only one of the seven murders attributed to him. The public knows a great deal more about Karen Sue Beineman than any of the other victims because of the public court proceedings. But Mary Flezsar, Joan Schell, Maralynn Skelton, Dawn Basom, Alice Kalom, and Roxie Phillips, the six other murdered young women linked to Collins, have never had their day in court or had their stories told publicly.

An interesting and pertinent development came to light thirty-seven years after John Collins was convicted of murder in the first degree of Karen Sue Beineman. DNA forensic evidence cleared Collins of one of the murders attributed to him. What of that?

(To be continued...)