Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Invoking the Freedom of Information Act in the John Norman Collins Case

Trying to piece together the forty-three year old John Norman Collins sex-mutilation murder case of Karen Sue Beineman, without the benefit of the court transcripts which have been purged from the Washtenaw County court records, has been a challenge to say the least.

Collins was convicted on August 19, 1970, of the Beineman murder, but six other young woman thought to be multiple murders committed by Collins between 1967 and 1969 were never brought to trial. Behind bars, he has steadfastly maintained his innocence for over four decades.

Were it not for about 800 pages of news clippings from 1967-1970 and the efforts of court and crime reporters of that era, the true facts of this case would be lost to history. Another thank you and acknowledgement goes to the archivists at the Ypsilanti Historical Museum and the Halle Library at Eastern Michigan University for their generous help and expertise.

My researcher, Ryan Place, and I have been pursuing every lead possible to obtain information about these cases. When Ryan's lawyer told him how to invoke the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) as a private citizen, he petitioned the Michigan Department of Corrections for information on John Norman Collins' prison years, and we received 1,000 pages of documents, taken primarily from Marquette Prison records. There were many duplications of routine documents and some were illegible photocopies, but much of the material gives an interesting view into his prison years. This cost us about $500, but we were happy to have some new information.

Next, we invoked the FOIA to get Michigan State Police documents that would be useful for their information and the authentication of facts. After a ten day waiting period, the department asked for a week's extension; then after that week, they asked for another extension. No problem for us, we were still working our way through the prison docks.

Well, they finally came through. We hit the jackpot! The Michigan State Police scoured the state of Michigan for forty-five years of documents related to these murders and this case. They discovered approximately 800,000 pages, and for a paltry sum of $318,000 (conservative estimate) they will photocopy them and send them out to me. Even if I could afford a third of a million dollars, it would take me and a warehouse full of trained researchers months to sort through, catalog, and annotate the material.

Ryan and I are going to narrow the scope of our request severely, so we can tell the essential story with as much authority and documentation as possible. 

One interesting side note to all of this is that Ryan was told by an informed source that these cases have been reopened within the last year. Now that's a story I hope we can get a piece of before I finish my true crime account of these events entitled, In the Shadow of the Water Tower.

 Check out the link for FOIA paperwork: 


  1. It seems strange to me that the Washtenaw County Courts would not save the records, especially since there are still unsolved cases... I can't believe the MSP wants to charge that fee for copies of their records. Keep up the great work!

  2. What an interesting blog, introduced by a thought-provoking photo. The unusual wall painting of the dwellings is also a strangely modern interpretation. Something like this hieroglyphic view of a park by Swiss painter Paul Klee,
    The image can be seen at who can supply you with a canvas print of it.