Monday, December 30, 2013

John Norman Collins Canadian Connection


When I'm speaking to people about the Washtenaw County murders, I am usually asked, "Have you been in contact with John Norman Collins (JNC) or any of his family?"

My answer is always the same, "I've made many attempts without success."

JNC's older brother and sister have been steadfast in their silence about their notorious younger brother. Neither of John's siblings bear any responsibility for what their brother was accused of doing; regardless, they both have paid a heavy personal price and are victims of the collateral damage from the very public court case. They have chosen not to comment, and that is well within their rights.

The Collins' family wall of collective silence is a legacy from their mother, Loretta, the family matriarch. She was the sole ruler and spokesperson for the family during her son's trial and after. Not even John was allowed to speak in his own defense. Now that she is gone, there is no one to speak for the family.

My researcher and I had just about given up establishing contact with anyone in the Collins clan when I received a surprising email from an unexpected and unsought for source. 

"Please allow me to introduce myself. My name is John (Philip) Chapman; I am John Norman Collins' (Canadian) cousin. I have been in contact with my cousin since 1981, 32 years now... and I do have some interesting facts I would be willing to share with you pertaining to John's (Canadian) family history and facts that he has revealed to me. 

"I normally would never get involved, however, after reading your blog post (Treading on the Grief of Others in the John Norman Collins Case), I do agree that 'a debt is owed to history that must be paid'.

"My heart truly goes out to those young women and their families who had their daughters taken away from them too soon. If there is anything I can share with you to help, I would be more than happy to do so."

This was almost too good to be true. John Philip Chapman appeared exactly when we needed him most. My researcher and I had been working for three years to get someone from the Collins family to speak with us about John's childhood and early family history.

We discovered that Chapman had a personal motive for contacting me. His uncle, Richard Chapman, was JNC's Canadian birth father from Windsor, Ontario. 

John Philip Chapman wanted to correct a long held misperception about his Uncle Rich. Previous published accounts of this case have noted and repeated that Mr. Chapman was a drunk who deserted his family.

Richard Chapman in 1944 on motorcycle seen with his friend, Fred Higgins, who saved his life.

"Nothing could be further from the truth. My Uncle Rich lost his left leg in 1944 during the Second World War. He also suffered from Battle Fatigue and other maladies of war. The medication he was on for the rest of his life would not allow him to tolerate alcohol. It would have killed him, yet my uncle lived until 1988."

Staff Sergeant Richard Chapman served in His Majesty's Canadian Services, unit #152. He was a light-infantry officer and an explosives/demolition expert. After his injury, he spent weeks in a military hospital recovering before he was returned home.

"I want to take the opportunity to correct a historical inaccuracy. War changes people, however, my Uncle Rich was never abusive towards his children or my Aunt Marjorie. He never abandoned his children and never would. 

"My Aunt Marjorie's (Loretta Collins) family had money, and they felt that Uncle Rich was not good enough for their daughter. He wasn't Catholic. Her parents didn't like their son-in-law, to say the least, and they offered him money to disappear.... I know for a fact that my Uncle Rich never took the money, but because he didn't want to drag the children through a messy divorce, he gave Aunt Marjorie what she wanted (full custody).

"Uncle Rich loved his children very much... however, due (to) the amount of lies Aunt Marjorie had put in their heads, they didn't want to be bothered by their dad, with the exception of (his daughter). She learned the truth before her Dad had passed away."

If I wanted to learn more about the Chapman side of the family, John Philip suggested I call him or speak with him in person. First, I made a sixty minute phone call to Canada to satisfy myself that he was the real deal. 

Then, my researcher and I arranged to meet with Chapman in Canada on my next trip to Michigan. A month later, in June, we drove across the Ambassador Bridge from Detroit into Windsor to see what we could learn about the early years of JNC's family.

Ryan M. Place and I spent over two hours talking with John Philip and his mother, who was the sister-in-law of Marjorie (Loretta Collins) Chapman, JNC's birth mother. When Loretta was living in Canada, she was known by her middle name, Marjorie.

We had a wonderful afternoon meeting with the Chapmans; they were warm and inviting. John Philip explained to us that he had been writing his cousin John (Collins) in prison since he (Chapman) was seven or eight years old.

"(Collins) is twenty-five years older than me and has always been like a big brother to me. In our letters, he refers to me as 'Little Brother'." 

John Philip Chapman further explained that he was an only child and found comfort in the attentions from his older American cousin who became a virtual 'Big Brother'  to him.

Now forty-one years old, Chapman's personal search for knowledge about his cousin was making him confront his deepest fears. Over the years, Chapman had maintained a "Don't ask - Don't tell" policy regarding his cousin's imprisonment. 

After all, Collins had insisted that he was innocent of the Karen Sue Beineman murder. He also complained in his letters that he was victimized by a rogue cop (Sheriff Douglas Harvey), an overzealous prosecutor (William Delhey), and a corrupt legal system. 

After sharing information with the Chapmans for a while, we went through several family photo albums with faded snapshots and Polaroids from back in the day. It was interesting and vaguely voyeuristic to peer into their family history. 

John Norman Collins (13), his brother (16), and sister (15) - December 30th, 1960 - fifty-three years ago today.

As Ryan and I were getting ready to return to the states, John Philip asked if we would be interested in receiving some of his cousin's prison letters. Chapman had noticed a change in tone and intensity in the letters lately, and he wanted me to take a look at some of them.

We couldn't believe our good fortune - again! Then, John Philip volunteered something unexpected. He offered to see what other information he could find out for us from his cousin about his crimes.

Without JNC's knowledge over the next four months, we received a total of nine prison letters and a half-dozen emails from Collins to his cousin, most only days after Collins had mailed them from Marquette Branch Prison.

The letters average seven pages each and cover a myriad of subjects, but one theme became more and more prevalent as time went on. Collins was pressing for an international prisoner exchange with Canada, once again.

He had tried unsuccessfully in 1981. Collins was born in Canada, which was the basis for his naturalization claim, and he said he had relatives and a support system there. Canada has more liberal sentencing provisions than the United States, so a parole was a very real possibility. 

But both JNC's father and his uncle refused to offer Canadian sponsorship to him after being contacted by authorities on both sides of the Detroit River informing them of the details of John's crimes. The Michigan Department of Corrections summarily revoked Collins' application for an international prisoner exchange.

Thirty-two years later, Collins summoned up the courage to ask his younger first-cousin, his last Canadian blood relative, to sponsor him for another prisoner transfer attempt in hopes of receiving dispensation for timed served. To his way of thinking, all he needed was a relative and a place to stay; then, he would be assigned to a work release program in Canada and be free of his prison cell.

Now, it became clear to Chapman what JNC had been driving at for months; the chicken hawk wanted to come home to roost.


Link to the above mentioned blog post:
http://fornology.blogspot.com/2013/06/treading-on-grief-of-others-in-john.html

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

John Norman Collins Mail Call - Coming Clean With My Readers


For three and a half years, I have focused most of my worldly attention on researching and writing about John Norman Collins (JNC) and the Washtenaw County murders of 1967-1969. 

I would have been finished with The Rainy Day Murders six months ago but for an unforeseen development which I have been holding back from my readers. 

My researcher, Ryan M. Place, and I have privately received over twenty prison letters and a handful of emails from two separate sources that JNC had written to from April 2013 until October 2013.

The first cache of letters we received was from a woman who had been corresponding with JNC for close to a year. Sandra contacted us when Collins agreed to answer some of our questions through a third party, his current girlfriend, Sandra. 

We had written Collins numerous times asking for an interview, but he decided to use Sandra as a virtual "human shield" to play games with us. I am sure he believed that going through her would give him some level of control over the interview, but in reality, it was merely weak dealing.

Collins believed he had a firm grasp on her, but his glib, evasive, and sometimes disturbing answers to our written questions about the young women's murders began to turn her off, and she began to internalize her feelings about the defenseless victims of his carnage. What he said and how he said it was upsetting to her.

He began making lewd remarks in his prison letters. Rather than "charming" her with his sweet talk as he had been doing, he suddenly became vulgar and suggestive which bothered her. 

Finally, Sandra wrote to us saying she was through with Collins. Then she surprised us with an offer we couldn't refuse, "Would you like me to send you some of his prison letters?"

"Yeah!"

Ryan and I couldn't believe our luck. Here was an exclusive information drop handed to us. Primary resource material is the meat of research, and now we had some prison letters from JNC himself. Sandra sent us twelve personal letters and many pages of notes she had taken from several "collect" phone calls Collins had made to her from the prison yard.

Disgusted with him, Sandra finally told Collins that she had sent us the letters he had written to her. The master manipulator had been double-dealt and he was furious. 

Some days afterwards, in a phone call to me, Sandra said that John had called her back and apologized profusely. He said he had been under a lot of stress lately and needed to talk with her face-to-face, necessitating a visit to Marquette prison. 

"It's URGENT!" he told her. 

Stock Photograph - Depicts High Security, Non-Contact Visitation

For some unspecified reason, she recanted and drove several hundred miles up to Michigan's Upper Peninsula to finally face the prison inmate she had been writing for months. Although I wasn't made privy to their entire conversation, I do know this, JNC asked Sandra to marry him.

That is the last thing we have heard from Sandra. Her phone is still connected, but she isn't answering our calls.

Then something even more remarkable happened. In May of 2013, I received an email from a person who claimed to be JNC's last living Canadian blood relative. He had been investigating the internet for information on his infamous cousin and read several of my recent blog posts about him. 


The Canadian emailer wanted to correct the mistaken perceptions concerning his Uncle Rich, the Canadian birth father of John Norman Collins. What had been previously printed about his uncle was blatantly inaccurate, and he wanted me to set the record straight in The Rainy Day Murders.

More about the JNC Canadian family connection in my next post.


Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Grande Ballroom - Is There a Future For Detroit's Former Rock and Roll Mecca?


The Grande Ballroom as it exists in ruins today.

In the mid to late sixties, the Grande Ballroom was the place to be on the weekends in Detroit. The Motor City had no shortage of high energy, head banging garage bands competing with one another in frequent "Battle of the Bands" events. Local groups like MC5 (Motor City 5), SRC (my fav), Frost, The Stooges with Iggy Pop, The Amboy Dukes, Bob Seger, Grand Funk Railroad, and many others each had a dedicated following.

Top-shelf bands from around the country, and from England in particular, saw Detroit's Grande Ballroom as the undisputed rock
and roll Mecca of the Midwest. The Jefferson Airplane, Cream with Eric Clapton, Big Brother and the Holding Company with Janis Joplin, Jethro Tull, The Spirit, The Grateful Dead, Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, Savoy Brown, The Moody Blues, and many others played on the Grande stage that once hosted the Glenn Miller Band, Benny Goodman, the Dorsey brothers, and other swing dance era big bands. There was a lot of music history made within these walls.



During the turbulent Sixties, the Grande Ballroom served up an uneasy mixture of high energy music and counter culture propaganda centered around Detroit's self-proclaimed hippie guru, John Sinclair. John managed some local Detroit bands and led a group called Trans Love Energies, which morphed into the White Panther Party when the group moved to Ann Arbor because of police harassment.
 
Is there a future for a restored Grande Ballroom in the new Detroit? Some people think so. Check out the link for more discussion of restoring this landmark which holds so many memories for inner-city and suburban Detroiters.

 http://www.mlive.com/entertainment/detroit/index.ssf/2013/07/rock_and_roll_hall_of_fame_off.html

For more on the Grande Ballroom: http://fornology.blogspot.com/2012/04/grande-ballroom-detroits-sixties-rock.html

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Tuesday, December 10th, "A New Kind of Monster" on Investigation Discovery

Early in 2013, I was asked by XCON Productions if I would be interested in appearing on an episode of a new true crime series they were doing called A Crime To Remember. 

One of their staffers had seen my blog posts on the Washtenaw County Murders of 1967-1969 and their presumed killer, John Norman Collins. 

I say "presumed" because Collins was only charged with one of the seven local murders before being sentenced to "Life" in prison. With his arrest and conviction, the series of grisly sex-slayings in the Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor, Michigan ended.


The episode entitled "A New Kind of Monster" will air this Tuesday, December 10th, at 10:00 PM Eastern time. Other people appearing on the program will be Dr. Katherine Ramsland, forensic psychologist; Larry Mathewson, former Eastern Michigan University policeman; Douglas Harvey, former Washtenaw County Sheriff; and others. 

Re-enactments using the actual names of the people involved in these matters will be a feature of this program, which is a thumbnail sketch of an extremely complicated, controversial, and convoluted case.

I was put on the program because of the strength of my blog posts on the subject at large. For the last three and a half years, my researcher, Ryan M. Place and I have been working tirelessly on these other cases which have remained officially unsolved. 


Soon, I will be finished with the first draft of The Rainy Day Murders. My treatment of the subject benefits from forty-five years of hindsight and the living history of people who have had some direct connection with these events. 

Once my true crime account goes through revision and editing, I hope to get it published sometime next year. 

In addition to giving the latest information known about each of the murders and recreating the "lost" court case, which the Washtenaw County Courthouse has "purged" from their records, my book will cover for the first time ever, John Norman Collins' prison years and his efforts to get out of prison.

When Ryan and I started this project almost four years ago, we could not have imagined where it would lead. Many thanks to all the individuals who have come forward with information on these cases and also to the many people in Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor affected by this dark period in Washtenaw County's history who were willing to share their stories with us. 

William Treml  (1929 - 2013)
And a special thanks needs to go out to all the reporters who covered these murders and the subsequent trial, especially William Treml of The Ann Arbor News, who died last month. 

Without their efforts, this story would have been lost to time and institutional neglect. A debt needs to be paid to history, and its on their shoulders I stand.

Check this link for more information about the press and these cases: http://fornology.blogspot.com/2012/10/the-fourth-estate-proves-its-worth-in.html


Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Roxie Ann Phillips California Case. Did John Norman Collins Act Alone?

In August of 1969 after working on a recent unsolved murder case in Salinas, California for two frustrating weeks, a tired police investigator sat down to dinner in front of his television to watch the national news. 

A break had been made in the Michigan murder case of Karen Sue Beineman. An unlikely suspect by the name of John Norman Collins, a student at Eastern Michigan University had been arrested.

The story went on to say that Collins had recently returned from a short vacation in California. The network showed a picture of him taking a perp walk into the Washtenaw County Courthouse in Ypsilanti, Michigan. Mention was also made in the story that a silver Oldsmobile Cutlass was believed to have been used to dump the coed's body. 

Other circumstances of the crimes were eerily similar. Both women died of strangulation, both were sexually violated, both were dumped in secluded areas, and both were wearing only their sandals. 

The Salinas Police Department contacted the Michigan State Police to share information. When the MSP were told that the Salinas police had found an abandoned house trailer thought to be the murder site, Detective Tom Nasser and Sergeant Kennard Christensen from the Plymouth Crime Center flew out to Salinas to help with their investigation. Both men testified before the Monterey County Grand Jury inquest.


Among other damning evidence presented before the grand jury, an eyewitness placed a young man at the scene of seventeen year old Roxie Ann Phillips' abduction. She saw Roxie get into a silver-gray Olds Cutlass with Michigan plates. Then he sped away, running a red light and making a hard right turn. The witness remembered the red flowered outfit Roxie was wearing that day.

A Monterey County California Grand Jury indicted Collins for the murder of Roxy Ann Phillips, a recent visitor to California from Milwaulkie, Oregon. After some bureaucratic squabbling between each state's Attorney General, Michigan Governor Milliken rejected California Governor Ronald Reagan's request for extradition. 

Vice President George Bush, President Gerald Ford, California Governor Ronald Reagan, and Michigan Governor William Milliken


California had a stronger case than Michigan, and it was a death penalty state. But because of the community impact that the seven unsolved murders of young women had in Washtenaw County, Governor Milliken had no choice but to try Collins in Michigan for the Beineman murder. "Life" behind bars was the maximum prison sentence a Michigan judge could levy.


***

Accompanying Collins on his fateful trip to California was his Motor Wheel work buddy and housemate, Andrew Manuel. There had been six unsolved murders in the area. Police from five departments were swarming over the area, and both men were also feeling some heat for a spate of break-ins and burglaries in the city.

Andrew was from Salinas, California and thought a month away from Ypsilanti might do them both some good. Collins and Manuel fraudulently rented a 17' long house trailer in Ypsilanti and towed it behind a silver Olds Cutlass, a new car belonging to Collins' mother, Loretta.

In their investigation of Roxie Ann Phillips' murder, the Salinas police reported finding an abandoned house trailer behind the home of Andrew Manuel's grandparents, the Salinas forensic team went to work. It was discovered that every fingerprint inside and outside the trailer had been wiped clean. When Andrew's grandparents were interviewed, they complained that the boys didn't even say goodbye before they left.

The evidence against Collins for the murder of Roxie Ann Phillips was the strongest case against him. But the detailing and abandoning of a house trailer doesn't make Andrew Manuel his accomplice in her murderer. It is apparent at the very least that he was fully aware of what his buddy had done, and he helped Collins cover it up by destroying evidence.  He may also have been an accessory after the fact by helping Collins dump the body.

Why then would these guys cut their trip in half, fully detail a 17' house trailer, and then abandon it? One can only wonder what the conversation between them was on their trip back to Michigan.


***

After Collins and Manuel returned, Andrew disappeared immediately and was eventually arrested in Phoenix by the FBI. He was extradited from Arizona and returned to Michigan where he took and passed several lie detector tests clearing him of the murders of Roxy Ann Phillips and Karen Sue Beineman. 

Manuel was arrested for "theft by conversion" of the house trailer and selling stolen jewelry from an Ypsilanti break-in. He was given one year probation and a $100 fine, on the understanding that he would testify for the prosecution in the case against Collins. 

Andrew was given immunity. He violated his probation agreement and fled the area, only to be arrested to serve out his term in the Washtenaw County Jail. On the stand at the Collins trial, Manuel became "Helen Keller." He saw and heard nothing.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Better Safe Than Sorry - Another John Norman Collins Anecdote

John Norman Collins - 1969
Over the last couple of years doing research for my The Rainy Day Murders true crime project, I have received many anecdotal accounts from people about encounters with John Norman Collins, alleged serial killer.

I even have a couple stories of my own, having lived a block up the street from him during those frightening days.

After speaking with several of these people, I have their permission to share their stories over the next few weeks.  The original emails are slightly edited for clarity.

***  

Ypsilanti, Michigan

"At fifteen years old, which would have been 1966/67, I worked at Superior's (an ice cream place) on Cross Street. Walking home from work one summer evening, a car slowed behind St. John's parking lot and a nice, clean cut looking young man asked if I could give him directions to one of the dorms on Eastern Michigan University's campus.

"Since I had lived in the campus area most of my life at the point, I gave him the requested directions. He asked me if I could ride with him to show him the way, and he would then bring me back to my destination. He claimed he was from out of town and didn't know his way around. 

"I declined and continued my walk home. I lived on Olive Street one block over but accessed my house via an alley that sat adjacent to it. As I walked down the alley, I saw that he was driving down my street very slowly. I ran to my back door and entered my house.

"Several weeks later, this same guy came into Superior's with a group of guys from Theta Chi (an EMU campus fraternity). One of the guys looked familiar to me, and I asked if I knew him. The guy from the car asked if I remembered him and I told him 'No.'

"When they (the Michigan State Police) arrested him (Collins) and his picture was broadcast, I remembered him as the same guy who tried to pick me up. It was just a couple of weeks before the first victim was found!

"I believe my instincts and warnings to never get in a car with a stranger may have saved my life!

- Dianne Ellis -

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Canadian Dream of John Norman Collins


When John Norman Collins discovered in 1980 that Michigan Governor William Milliken had signed an international prisoner exchange agreement with Canada, he had an idea. 

John was born in Windsor, Ontario, Canada in 1947, and moved with his mother and siblings to the Detroit area on the American side of the river in 1951 where he grew up. If he changed his adopted father's last name, Collins, and returned to his birth father's last name, Chapman, it might strengthen his claim at repatriation.

He most certainly was hoping also that the name change would help him coast under the radar of public notice and the scrutiny of the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC). On January 5, 1981, in an Oakland County courtroom, John Norman Collins legally became John Norman Chapman.

Collins' Michigan sentence called for Life without the possibility of parole. If transferred to Canada, he would be subject to their law which provides for the possibility of parole after fifteen years of a Life sentence. Additionally, a foreign conviction does not constitute a criminal record in Canada.

Including his time served in the Washtenaw County Jail prior to his prison sentence, Collins had served twelve years of his Life sentence. A transfer to a Canadian prison meant he would have been eligible for parole in 1985. 

***


Collins (Chapman) handled all of the paperwork successfully and he was transferred from Marquette Prison in the Upper Peninsula to Jackson Prison, closer to the Federal building in Detroit where the international transfer was to take place.

But on the day of the hearing, it was discovered that one signature from Ottawa was missing, so the transfer hearing was rescheduled until the paperwork caught up with the necessary signature.

Before that could happen, a fellow Marquette prison inmate familiar with Collins' plan to circumvent his full sentence blew the whistle on him. He posted a letter to the Detroit Free Press night editor, someone he had worked with on an earlier prison story.

The night editor gave the story to Marianne Rzepka who ran a story the next day called "Transfer to Canada For Killer?" That evening, Michigan's Associated Press picked up the story on their wire service, and by morning, thirty-three newspapers and eight-five radio and television stations ran with the story.

When the prosecutor of the case, William Delhey heard of the transfer request, he immediately contacted the parents of Karen Sue Beineman and they started making phone calls and writing letters.

To convince John Norman Collins' last remaining Canadian relatives not to sponsor him for eventual parole, a letter of some graphic detail about the case and other troubling details, was sent by Prosecutor Delhey to their Canadian home.

When Collins' uncle received a call from the Canadian Director of Prisons, he was told to stay away from the case due to its graphic nature and content. After reading about the details of the case, Mr. Chapman, John's paternal uncle, refused to support Collins any further. 

In a collect phone call from prison, Collins became unhinged when he was told that he didn't have the support or acknowledgement of his Canadian relatives, an essential part of the transfer agreement. 

John's Canadian cousin remembers it this way: "When my Dad realized that John was lying to him about his innocence, my Dad told him off in no uncertain terms.... There were some colorful metaphors thrown around and it was after that, that my Dad refused to take any more of John's collect phone calls from prison, but he never stopped me from writing him.... I was in the living room watching TV, so I heard everything."

"After my Dad got off the phone, he spoke with my Mom out on the balcony. When they came inside, he sat me down and spoke with me. In that conversation, he told me that some day, John might try the same thing on me, as he did with him.... My Dad was only looking out for me and wanted to let me know that this possibility might happen. And the truth is - it did!"

 ***

On another front, the MDOC was getting heat from the press, the public, and the politicians. The MDOC and Marquette's warden, T.H. Koehler, would have liked to trade off their most notorious inmate. The warden was quoted as saying, "John Norman Collins is the only inmate in this prison who has a book about him for sale in the prison gift shop."

On January 20, 1982, MDOC's Deputy Director, Robert Brown Jr., revoked approval of Collins' transfer bid on the grounds that John Norman Collins was a naturalized American citizen raised in the United States, and he has had minimal contact with his few surviving Canadian relatives over the years.



Collins was immediately shuttled by prison van back up to Marquette Branch Prison to serve out the rest of his Life sentence, only to find someone else occupying his former cell. The warden hadn't expected him to return.

For more information on this subject, check out this earlier post:
http://fornology.blogspot.com/2013/06/john-norman-collins-and-canadian-prison.html

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Ann Arbor Living History Account: "Guess It Wasn't my Time"

Ann Arbor U of M Campus Area
After three years of intensive research of public documents, vintage news clippings, and living history accounts, I am close to completing the first draft of The Rainy Day Murders, my true crime account of the Washtenaw County coed murders in Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor during 1967-1969. 

Students on the campuses of The University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan University were living with paralyzing fear of a serial killer for two years.

Since I began this project, many people have come forward with stories about encounters and confrontations with John Norman Collins. Most don't fit tightly within the scope of my true crime account, but nonetheless, they are living history and worthy of documentation. I have the permission to transcribe some of their emails and post them in the coming weeks.

June 6, 2012:

In 1968, after two years of community college (Henry Ford CC), I decided to move to Ann Arbor to be with my best friend. Since there were no funds for me to attend University of Michigan, working was imperative. 

I was on my own so an ordinary job wouldn't do. Soon, I applied for a job at U of M Hospital as a psychiatric child care worker... I worked a split shift... two weeks afternoons... two weeks days.

It was either July 2nd or July 9th of 1969 in Ann Arbor that I had an encounter with Collins, although at the time, I didn't know it was him. On the Wednesdays that I worked afternoons, I had a routine. I would walk to Kerry Town and make a stop at Middle Earth and Circle Books on State Street and return home.

Being a hippie type during my non-working hours, I put on an outfit that I had just purchased from Saturn Clothing. The outfit was pretty and a little provocative as the top looked normal from the front, but the back was completely bare, held together by a string. The outfit is significant because of my encounter.

I was living on the corner of Hill and Tappan streets. It was 2:00 PM, and I needed to be at work by 3:30 PM. I was taking a shortcut to my carriage house through the Architectural Diag (concourse). My house was then in plain view but across the street. I started walking into the parking lot when suddenly a car cut me off. I remember this as if it was yesterday.

The first thing I noticed was the immaculate car. I would call it a muscle car (Cutlass Coupe), the driver was a frat, not my type. He had very dark hair, almost black, and his eyes were so squinted that I could hardly tell they were blue.

He said, "Do you want a ride?"

I emphatically said "No!" and pointed to my house telling him, "I live right there." Immediately, I realized how stupid that was but he caught me off-guard. He didn't want to take "No" for an answer and asked me a second time. I used the "f " word, which I don't usually use. I told him to "Fuck off and Leave me alone."

He began yelling "Cunt, Cunt, Cunt!!!" over and over. He peeled out of the parking place extremely angry. To be honest, I really didn't give it much thought at the time. 

I went to my house, changed my clothes, and walked to work. I got home around midnight and went to bed. The next morning, I looked for my clothes that I had left in a pile on the floor the afternoon  before. Now, they were gone. My halter top, shorts, my panties, and my sandals were nowhere to be found. I searched everywhere, I even picked up my box springs... they were gone! Someone had been in my apartment while I was at work.


John Norman Collins - 1969
Being from the Detroit area, I would watch WXYZ Channel 7 News with John Kelly and Marilyn Turner. That's when (three weeks later) I saw the picture of the person arrested for the murder of Karen Sue Beineman. It was the same person in the parking lot.

I've thought about that encounter many times in my life. Perhaps that's why it is still so vivid. Guess it wasn't my time.

Pamela A.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

"A Crime to Remember" - Investigation Discovery Channel's New True Crime Show Debuts Tuesday, November 12, 2013


A Crime to Remember debuts Tuesday night on Investigation Discovery at 10 PM Eastern time. Check your local listings for channels in your area and set your DVRs to record the entire series.

Episode number five, "A New Kind of Monster" will air on Tuesday, December 10th, 2013. It will deal with the Washtenaw County Coed Murders of 1967-1969, the subject of the true crime book I'm close to completing called The Rainy Day Murders.

The six-part limited series premieres: 

Tuesday, NOVEMBER 12 at 10PM/9PM on ID.


Watch the NEW and GORGEOUS series promo:  https://vimeo.com/78664854

Or you can find it here:


Crime never looked so classy.

Link to it, tweet it, share it, post it - whatever you like!


For a review of the series and a summary of each episode, click on this link: http://www.thefutoncritic.com/news/2013/11/06/investigation-discovery-revisits-the-good-old-days-gone-bad-with-a-crime-to-remember-683204/20131106id01/ 



Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Investigative Discovery Channel's New Series Debuts - A CRIME TO REMEMBER - on Tuesday, November 12th, 2013

"Michigan Coed Murders"

In February, I flew out to New York to do a segment on a new series XCON Productions was doing for the Investigation Discovery Channel called A CRIME TO REMEMBER. The series recounts six cases that have fallen through the cracks of time or which are generally unknown to the public at large.

XCON's fifth show of the series covers the "Michigan Coed Murders," which occurred in Washtenaw County, Michigan, in 1967-1969. The accused killer of seven young women was convicted of only the last, Karen Sue Beineman. The program will surely focus on that part of the story to stay within their forty-two minute time constraint.

In addition to re-enactments, several people involved with these cases were interviewed: former Washtenaw County Sheriff, Douglas Harvey; forensic psychologist, Dr. Katherine Ramsland, Ph.D; former Eastern Michigan University campus policeman, Larry Mathewson; and others will provide commentary on these matters. The real names of the victims are used in this new production, as well as vintage photographs from the era.

Be sure to view the sneak preview of the first episode of the series below in the XCON announcement of the season opener.

I am very pleased with the production values I see and look forward to the Washtenaw County episode on Tuesday, December 10th, at 10:00 PM Eastern Time.


Set your DVR to record the entire series, as scheduling may be subject to change.



Greetings from XCON Productions,

We are happy to announce the premiere of A CRIME TO REMEMBER  (formerly titled The Bad Old Days) on Investigation Discovery, Tuesday Nov 12th at 10pm.  

The episode order is always subject to last-minute network changes (so check your local listings!) but looks like this right now:  

The Alice Crimmins Case -11/12/13
The Career Girl Murders - 11/19/13
The Chillingworth Murders - 11/26/13 
United 629 - 12/3/13
The Michigan Coed Murders - 12/10/13
The Ann and Billy Woodward Story - 12/17/13


Once again, thank you very much Greg for your time and generosity throughout the process. We couldn't have done it without you. As I'm sure you're aware (since you're now a seasoned TV pro!), 42 minutes is nowhere near enough time to tell these stories in the degree of detail that you have provided or that we would like.   So please forgive us for truncating in certain places and expanding in others...television is a strange creature, with particular demands.  We hope you understand.

We are very proud of the series and hope you like the shows. 

Thank you again for your participation!

All the best, 
The XCON team

Friday, November 1, 2013

The Demise of Kristi Kurtz - November 1990

My girlfriend during the years covering the Washtenaw County coed killings (1967-1969) was Kristi Kurtz. When we met up, she had just dropped out of Eastern Michigan University and managed a small boutique called Stangers near Ned's Bookstore on West Cross Street in Ypsilanti.

I worked part time evenings at the university and took classes during the day. We lived together one block up the street from the boarding house where John Norman Collins lived on 619 Emmet St. and walked past that house daily unsuspecting the eventual notoriety of the place.

Kristi was a vibrant, outspoken, and fiercely independent young woman who found solace in her love of animals. They were the center of her life. Tragedy struck Kristi's young life when her father and mother were killed in a private plane crash. Her father owned a steel company in Detroit and had provided well for his orphaned family. Losing both parents so early in life had a lasting impact on her, and she became more independent because of it. 

Kristi and her older sister and brother grew up in Grosse Pointe and were raised by her aunt who kept tight control of the children's trust fund which was sizable. But after Kristi dropped out of college, the money dried up. Kristi wasn't twenty-one and had limited access to her money, so she worked just enough to get by, against the day when she would inherit the money outright.

Kristi liked animals better than people, and she wanted to raise and board horses on a small farm of her own. As soon as she was able, she bought the 113 acre Firesign Farm on Trotters Lane in Webster Township north of Ypsilanti. Kristi set out to live her dream, but I decided that finishing my education was more important than being her horse groom. We parted ways but remained friends. It was a defining moment for both of us.

Twenty years later, I'm living in California, and I get a phone call from a mutual Michigan friend of ours that I hadn't heard from in over ten years. "I've got some tragic news for you," he says. "Kristi's body was found shot to death and discovered buried under some bales of hay in her barn. She's been missing for a month."

It took me a few seconds to wrap my head around what I had just been told, then I heard what few details were known at that time. Two days after Thanksgiving on Saturday, November 24th, 1990, Kristi was last seen by a friend. When Kristi disappeared and hadn't fed her nine horses or other animals for a day or two, her neighbors got worried and contacted Kristi's sister who lived in Colorado. She called the Michigan State Police and filed a missing persons report on Monday, November 26th.

Then on Wednesday, December 26th at 10:15 AM, the day after Christmas, the Good Samaritan neighbor who had been caring for Kristi's horses and dogs, Rick Godfrey, removed another bale of hay to feed the horses, then he recognized her leather boots sticking out. Godfrey had given them to her as a Christmas gift two years before. He moved another bale and saw her frozen, fully clothed body. She had been missing for thirty-two days.

Twice the police had searched the barn with canines but felt the pungent smells confused the dogs. The barn cats had managed to find her body though. Dental records were required for a positive identification.

Check the link for archival news footage about the capture of Kristi Kurtz's murderer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z7fnfrk6ZpA

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Facing Down John Norman Collins - Kristi Kurtz

The tale I'm about to tell really happened. It took over a year for me to contextualize the incident  that occurred one Sunday evening to me and my then girl friend, Kristi Kurtz, as we were walking to our apartment after visiting friends.

We stopped at Abby's party (convenience) store on the corner of W. Cross Street and Ballard Street just off of Eastern Michigan University's campus. We bought a bag of groceries, walked up the street a block, and turned right on Emmet Street heading for College Place where we shared an apartment.
 
This neighborhood was over a hundred years old and the old growth trees that lined the street provided a natural canopy of added darkness. As Kristi and I casually walked up the street, a car pulled along side us. It was a muggy July evening, and the windows were rolled down revealing three males in the car.

The driver addressed Kristi first saying, "Hey, baby. Want to go out with some real men?" My response was, "Hey, man. She's with me." The next thing I heard was, "Shut the fuck up asshole or the three of us will get out and kick the shit out of you."

Before I could respond, Kristi was impugning their manhood. "What a bunch of dickless wonders!" she scolded the driver. "Three against one, you cowardly faggots." Did I mention that Kristi didn't take crap from anyone and had a mouth on her?

I figured that it might be time for us to drop our groceries and sprint home, but something unexpected happened. Kristi's defiant response seemed to perplex the driver, then out of frustration, he punched the gas pedal and left us in a cloud of screeching tires and stinking exhaust.  That was sometime after nine o'clock on the evening of July 30th, 1968.

Although I thought this was an isolated incident, one day I was reading an article about the series of unsolved murders in the Ypsilanti area and focused on the second murder victim, Joan Schell. Suddenly, I was able to connect the dots. Joan had been hitchhiking and had taken a ride with three guys in a black and red, unidentified car some time after Kristi and I had been approached.

A year after John Norman Collins was arrested for the abduction and sex-slaying of Karen Sue Beinemen, Collins ex-housemate, Arnie Davis, told police while being interrogated that he was in the black and red car with Collins the night they picked up Joan Schell. Then Collins and Schell left Davis and an unidentified third person to cruise around town while John would drive Joan to Ann Arbor in his car. After that fateful ride, Miss Schell was never seen alive again.

In yet another cruel twist of fate, Kristi Kurtz (41) was found murdered in 1990 during a bungled burglary attempt at her horse farm in Whitmore Lake. More on that story in my next post.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Treading on the Grief of Others in the John Norman Collins Case


It is not easy writing about terrible matters which stir up painful memories and open old wounds. So it is with the Rainy Day Murder cases in Washtenaw County that occurred between the summer of 1967 and the summer of 1969.

If these deaths were matters of private grief, interest would be limited to the family and friends of the deceased, but a lone murderer bent on venting his rage against defenseless young women held two college campuses hostage during his two year reign of terror.

Coeds at The University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan University felt threatened by chronic fear. Parents whose hopes and dreams rested upon the fragile shoulders of their daughters lived in dread of getting a knock on the door from plainclothes policemen with the news that their daughter was the latest victim of the phantom killer.

When a sixteen year old Romulus, Michigan, girl and a local Ypsilanti thirteen year old junior high school student were found murdered only twenty-two days apart, the entire city of Ypsilanti went into panic mode. 

The murderer was no longer killing only college girls - every young woman in town was now a potential victim of this at-large killer, and police were no closer to making an arrest than they had been with the murder of the first victim almost two years before. 

Only two of the eight families of victims ever had their day in court - the Beinemans in 1970 and the Mixers in 2005. After forty-five years, most of the parents of the victims have gone to their graves never to see justice done on their daughter's killer. 

It is a persistent wound carried by the brothers, sisters, cousins, and friends of the victims. But generations further removed from those times want to know the facts about what happened to their relatives and the man accused of killing them.

Comments on John Norman Collins websites show a remarkable amount of misinformation about these cases. Some people have elevated Collins to the status of a folk hero who was falsely imprisoned for the deeds of another, then scapegoated and railroaded by Washtenaw County law enforcement officials anxious to prosecute this case. When the actual details and facts of these murders are generally known, it is my hope that such people will disabuse themselves of those notions.

Many young people in Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor would like to know more about their history and discover what their grandparents and parents never knew, the full evidence as it exists in the unsolved murders of these six young women.

A debt to history must be paid. The facts of these cases need to be documented and preserved for posterity, so time doesn't swallow up the memory of these young women whose fatal error was not recognizing danger before it was too late.

Soon, the living history of people with knowledge of these cases will be lost. If you can shed some light on these tragedies, now is the time to come forward. You can contact me confidentially at:
                                 
gregoryafournier@gmail.com 

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The John Norman Collins Mess and My Motivation For Writing About It

A small number of people have questioned my motives for writing The Rainy Day Murders about John Norman Collins. Why reopen old wounds?

The sex slaying murders of seven and possibly more local young women created an atmosphere of sustained panic and mortal fear for college coeds on two college campuses, Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti and The University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. 

 ***

This tragedy left an indelible impression on me and anyone else who lived through that terrible period of Washtenaw County history. I first realized an arrest had been made in the "Coed Killer Case" when I was walking down from my apartment on College Place St. to have lunch at Roy's Grill, a diner on the corner of W. Cross and College Place. It was Friday, August 1, 1969, around 10:30 or so in the morning.

I lived only a block down the street and saw an assortment of four or five police cars surrounding the corner house on Emmet St. A small group of people had gathered across the street from the house; the police were keeping spectators away.

My first thought was that another girl's body had been found. A year before, Joan Schell, the second victim of a phantom local killer, had lived across the street from this very same Emmet St. house. Her body was found in farm country on the northern outskirts of Ann Arbor.

I approached someone I knew and asked him what was happening, "John Collins was arrested for the murder of that Beineman girl a week ago," he told me. 

My friend had occasionally ridden motorcycles through the countryside with Collins, and now and then they "exchanged" motorcycle parts, so he knew him. When I asked how he got his information, he pointed to a guy in front of the cordoned off house who was arguing with policemen. 

Arnie Davis lived across the landing from Collins on the second floor and described himself, during the court case a year later, as Collins' "best friend." Davis wanted to get his stuff out of the house, but it had already been locked down as a potential crime scene. 

I walked a scant block further to W. Cross St. and ate lunch at Roy's Grill. When I walked up the street to go home, the crowd had grown and the media had arrived by this time. I have a vivid memory of reporters questioning bystanders. 

When I saw Collins' picture in the newspaper later that evening, I was able to place the name with the face. I realized that I had several negative brushes with this guy while I was a student at Eastern Michigan. 

He tried to clothesline me once when I passed by him. Perhaps he was displeased with me because I witnessed him and his friend Manny attempt to break into a car on my street, College Place.

As I was about to walk past him, I ducked and swung around in a defensive position, but Collins and Manny continued walking down the street like nothing had happened. They headed towards the Emmet St. boarding house where they each rented rooms.

After learning of Collins' arrest, my mother called me on the phone relieved. She reluctantly told me that she had suspected I might be the murderer because I resembled the eyewitness descriptions in the newspapers. Can you believe that? Thanks, Mom.

***

When The Michigan Murders came out in 1976, I snapped it up like so many other people in Ypsilanti and anxiously read it. I was disappointed because I felt the novelization of the story took liberties with the facts and relied too heavily on official reports and the work of an Eastern Michigan University English Professor, Dr. Paul McGlynn.  He had allowed Edward Keyes to use his notes which McGlynn had gathered while attending the court proceedings doing research for his own book.

I soon discovered that many assumptions and liberties were taken with the story which made for smooth flowing fiction, but the real story is anything but smooth flowing. It is a ragged mess of complicated misinformation, shaky news reporting, and missing documentation. If this was an easy story to tell, it would have been done long ago.

The most frustrating and confusing aspect of Edward Keyes' novelization was that he chose to change the names of the victims and their alleged murderer. When another author took up the charge of this case some years later, he too changed the names of the victims and of the accused, and then referenced those names to the fictitious names which only compounded the confusion and led to the obscurity of the real victims.
  
Over forty-five years have passed since these sad events, and it is time for the record to be restored and updated. It may have been customary in the past for authors to change the names of victims to protect the families and their feelings, but those days are long gone. I would rather get the facts right than be polite.