Sunday, September 9, 2012

In the Shadow of the Water Tower - The John Norman Collins' Story

The Ypsilanti Water Tower

Forty-five years ago, a series of seven horrific sex slayings of young women began in the Ypsilanti, Michigan area. The first mutilation murder was of Mary Fleszar (19), an Eastern Michigan University coed majoring in accounting. On July 9, 1967, Mary went for a walk on a hot summer evening and never returned to her apartment. A month later her, body was found in a fallow field in an advanced stage of decomposition. It took dental records to identify her.

This was the worst sight most of the detectives called to the scene had ever witnessed. Everyone involved in this gruesome episode hoped that it was an isolated incident committed by a deranged transient, but it appeared that the murderer had returned to the scene twice, maybe three times.This suggested that the killer was someone local.

Almost a year passed before another brutal murder of an EMU coed occurred on July 1, 1968. Twenty year-old  Joan Schell was last seen just before midnight on June 30. When her body was discovered a week later, it had been mutilated and dumped not far from where Mary Fleszar's body had been dumped, just north of Ypsilanti. Police began to worry they had a maniac murderer on their hands - maybe two. Not wanting to cause the public to panic, law enforcement downplayed any connection between the two murders, but some police detectives believed differently.

Eight months later on March 20, 1969, a third murder was discovered neatly placed in a cemetery in Denton Township just inside the Wayne County line with Washtenaw County. Jane Mixer was a twenty-three year-old University of Michigan coed who had identification in her belongings. The coroner sent the body to University Hospital morgue in Washtenaw County. Now the press showed a deeper interest in connecting the three murders. But police thought things were fundamentally different about this murder.

Then a mere five days later, Maralynn Skelton (16) was last seen hitch-hiking in front of Arborland Shopping Center on March 25. When her body was found, there was such an overkill, that some cops felt her murder might have been a drug related message murder for talking with the police. Maralynn was a drug informant and may have owed money to some people. Her body was found approximately in the same area as the first two, north of Ypsilanti in Superior Township.

Dawn Basom
Dawn Basom, a local thirteen year-old Ypsi junior high school student, went missing while walking home on April 15 just before dark. She walked part of the way home on the railroad tracks which was and is the local shortcut. The next day, her body was found in the same vicinity as the previous three of four murders of young women in the area.

Only twenty-two days separated the killings of the youngest teenage girls. The public was officially panicked and outraged. What were the police doing? Did the area harbor a multiple murderer? Where and when would he, or they, strike next? Nobody felt safe.

Then seven weeks passed until Alice Kalom (23), a University of Michigan student was last seen on June 7,1969. She was supposed to meet some friends at a place called The Depot House who said she never showed up. Others at the Depot House said they thought they saw a girl who looked like her dancing with a young, long haired guy, but they couldn't be sure. Just another one of the many unanswered questions and conflicting evidence the police were struggling with.

Things were getting red hot for the killer, whoever he might be. A female accomplice might be involved or maybe a copycat killer or killers. The police had theories but no suspect. The reality was that the police were no closer to solving any of these cases than ever, but they were scouring the town searching for the maniac killer. By this time, most experts believed the killer acted alone in the commission of these power and control murders.

There was a pause of sixty-four days until another EMU coed disappeared from the area. On Thursday, July 23, Karen Sue Beineman was seen driving off on a motorcycle with a young man she had just met. She took a ride with a stranger despite all the warnings she had heard from the university and the appeals made in the local media by police. Her body was found laying face down in a gully three days later on Sunday, the 26th, only a mile away from the police task force command center. Law enforcement officials were desperate for a break in the case and were about to get two major ones.

John Norman Collins
A twenty-three year-old EMU student, John Norman Collins was arrested on August 1, 1969, for the mutilation sex slaying of Karen Sue Beineman. John Norman Collins was convicted of first degree murder on August 28, 1970 to life in prison.

But what of the other murders? These cases were shelved and never prosecuted. And an additional murder surfaced in Salinas, California, of Roxie Ann Phillips (17) of Milwaukie, Oregon. Roxie went missing on June 30, 1969, and her body was found on July 13, in Pescarado Canyon. Collins had been "visiting" in Salinas and was linked to her. A Monterey County Grand Jury brought an indictment against Collins on April 16, 1970, for her murder.

All of these cases are still considered open, so evidence is not available and is closely guarded by Michigan State Police in Lansing. The official Washtenaw County Courthouse case transcripts have been "purged" from their records, and understandably, family members of the victims are reluctant to talk, including the family of John Norman Collins.

Apparently there was a point of diminishing returns for more jurisprudence. One conviction was as good as seven. The police got their man off the streets, the rash of sex slayings ceased, so the other cases were never pursued. This was the most expensive case in Washtenaw County history. Some people may not want this story re-examined, but history demands a full accounting.

As a writer and researcher, I am left with archival news clippings and the memories of people who knew the victims and the alleged serial killer, John Norman Collins. Remember, he was only convicted of one murder and officially doesn't qualify for the title of serial killer.

If anyone has information pertaining to this case, photos, or other relevant information, please send me a message at or write me at:

                                                   PO Box 712821 
                                             Santee, CA 92072-2821

All replies will be held in strictest confidence. I want to collect as many facts about this case as I possibly can for the true crime book I'm writing entitled In the Shadow of the Water Tower. Here's your chance to contribute information.