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.