When I began writing about the Ypsilanti/Ann Arbor coed murders of 1967-1969 almost two years ago, I decided on the title In the Shadow of the Water Tower. It had a noirish and pulp-fiction quality that seemed to suit the subject matter.
In addition, the first two victims and their alleged murderer lived virtually in the shadow of the water tower. As I got deeper into the research and learned more about the facts and the people connected with these cases, I became increasing uncomfortable with the title.
Then it struck me. Why taint Ypsilanti's beloved landmark with the John Norman Collins controversy? The Water Tower played no role in any of the seven murders that Collins is thought by many to have committed.
I decided to change the name of my non-fiction book to The Rainy Day Murders, which is what the media called these killings early on because rain was a factor in most of the murders.
Some police investigators thought that the rain may have acted as a trigger that drove the murderer to kill. Other investigators thought the rain helped destroy evidence at the body drop sites, and the killer was merely perfecting his stealth.
The Rainy Day Murders title also presents the thematic subject matter of the work right up front. The word "murder" is a strong and evocative image that clearly labels the product inside.
This Michigan Historic Landmark, completed in 1890, has stood proudly for 123 years. Built on Ypsilanti's highest point, the 147 foot tall building is clad in Joliet limestone with four crucifixes set into the stonework to protect the workers who built it.
On a personal note, my wife and I were walking to McKinney Union, sometime in the mid-Seventies, heading south down Summit St. Two city workers were pouring a new cement sidewalk leading up to the double door entrance of the Water Tower, whose tall doors were swung wide open.
I asked if we could go inside and take a peek. One of the workmen said, "Sure."
Grinning, we entered and started up the stairwell. Many people since 1890 had left their mark and written their names on the walls over the years. Somewhere near the top of the staircase on the inner wall, we signed our names and dated it with permanent marker.
Once in the top portion, wooden cross braces and other structural elements were visible, as was some radar and other buzzing electrical equipment. The entrance to the cat walk was locked, so we couldn't see the magnificent 360 degree view of Eastern Michigan University and the nineteenth century residential section of historic Ypsilanti.
Local university legend has it that when a virgin graduates from EMU, the tower will fall down. Such legends exist at many universities, but Ypsilanti and Eastern experienced the "rainy day murders" up close and personal. Now the expression isn't as clever or funny as it once seemed.