Friday, April 26, 2013

Gregory A. Fournier Speaks about Zug Island on the Michael Dresser Show

On Friday, April 19, 2013, I did a web radio interview for the Michael Dresser Show. It has been a while since I had done any live Zug Island promotion, but with summer coming, I thought it might be a good time to let readers know that Zug Island makes a great vacation read.

Despite its serious subject matter, race relations during the summer of the Detroit Riots, Zug Island is an often humorous account of a college dropout and an intercity young man who fall in and out of rhythm on Detroit's mean streets to discover that the face of racism comes in every shade of color.

Zug Island is a blue collar, coming of age, buddy novel which tells a slice of history much neglected in the telling of this horrible period of Detroit's history. It's been almost fifty years since July 23, 1967, and the city has yet to recover from its conflagration.

Amidst all the devastation, an unlikely friendship endures which suggests that hope for the city's recovery lies with its people and not its politicians.

Listen to my latest Zug Island web radio interview (15 minutes):

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Willie O'Ree - First Black Player in the National Hockey League - Meets Jackie Robinson - First Black Player in Major League Baseball

Now that the new Jackie Robinson movie, 42, is out and in theaters, I am reminded of a story my friend, Willie O'Ree, told me about having the honor of meeting Mr. Robinson twice in his life. What makes this story interesting is that Willie is best known as the first black player in the National Hockey League.

When Willie was fourteen years old in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada, his baseball team won the league championship. The team's reward was to go down to New York City to watch the Brooklyn Dodgers play at Ebbets Field. 

Before the game, Jackie Robinson had a meet and greet session with the Fredericton champs. When it was Willie's turn to meet Mr. Robinson, he told the sports hero that he played hockey as well. Mr. Robinson said he didn't know that black kids played hockey. "They do in Canada," Willie said.

Many years later in 1962, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People gave a luncheon to honor the baseball legend and to commemorate the breaking of Major League Baseball's color line. 

Willie O'Ree was invited to attend the luncheon and Mr. Robinson remembered him from their earlier meeting thirteen years before. I wish I had a photo of that meeting of the sports icons to show you.

These two sports figures, confident in their places in history as integration pioneers, are what this country is sorely in need of today - worthy heroes who can bring us together as a nation.

Willie O'Ree - Canadian Interview Link:


42 trailer:

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Jenny Hilborne - Writer of Mysteries and Psychological Thrillers

I met Jenny Hilborne at a book fair in Solana Beach in April of 2011, when we were sharing a booth and promoting our debut novels. We were both new born to the green wood of publishing.

Jenny is a Brit from Swindon in Wiltshire, England, who has lived in Southern California for the past fifteen years. She still maintains her roots in England, but she now carries a subdued British accent.

She and I hit it off when I told her the subject of my next writing project, a true crime history of the John Norman Collins murders of 1967-69. This time I would try my hand at non-fiction, and I've been buried by my research ever since.

In the meantime, Jenny had just published Madness and Murder, had No Alibi close to publication, and was planning her third novel, Hide and Seek. She has since completed and published her fourth novel, Stone Cold. She is a virtual writing machine.

So far, most of her novels take place in her favorite city, San Francisco, and people familiar with the City by the Bay will recognize the locales. But Jenny went home to the United Kingdom for six months to do research on Stone Cold to enhance its verisimilitude.

"I didn't want to be stereotyped as only writing about the West Coast," Jen said. "I needed to draw inspiration from home, but it was a challenge getting used to British English again." 

Jen says that she enjoyed her research for Stone Cold which got her out of the house and away from her computer screen. While in England, she visited the Cotswolds and Oxfordshire, the settings featured in her latest book.

Check out Jenny's blog:

Check out her Amazon author page:  

Monday, April 8, 2013

"Terror In Ypsilanti" - Who Were the Victims?

Without a full confession and tangible corroborative evidence, it may never be proven that John Norman Collins was the killer of Mary Fleszar (19), Joan Elspeth Schell (20), Maralynn Skelton (16), Dawn Basom (13), Alice Kalom (23), or Roxie Ann Phillips (17) - the California victim from Milwaukie, Oregon.

Collins was only brought to trial for the strangulation murder of Karen Sue Beineman (18), which occurred on the afternoon of July 23, 1969. Three eyewitnesses were able to connect Collins and Beineman together on his flashy, stolen blue Triumph motorcycle. Then an avalanche of circumstantial evidence buried John Norman Collins. The lack of a credible alibi also worked heavily against his favor with the jury.

Technically, the term serial killer does not legally apply to Collins. He was only convicted of one murder. It wasn't until 1976 that the term was first used in a court of law by FBI profiler, Robert Ressler, in the Son of Sam case in New York City. 

When the Washtenaw County prosecutor, William Delhey, decided not to bring charges in the other cases, Collins was presumed guilty in the court of public opinion by most people familiar with the case.

Today, however, not everyone agrees because of the ambiguity that surrounds this case and the many unanswered questions. To prevent a mistrial in the 1970 Beineman case, prosecutors suppressed details and facts about the other unsolved killings. 

There are some people who believe Collins was railroaded for these crimes by overzealous law enforcement and that he should be given the benefit of the doubt and released. That can happen only with a pardon by a sitting Michigan governor. the chances of this are slim and none.

When the sex slayings stopped with the arrest of Collins for the murder of Karen Sue Beineman, everyone was relieved. Most certainly, other young women were murdered in Washtenaw County after Collins was arrested, but none with the same signature rage and psychopathic contempt for womanhood. These were clearly brutal power and control murders.

The six other county murders of young women in the area from July 1968 through July 1969 were grouped together and considered a package deal. Law enforcement felt they had their man. The prevailing attitude of Washtenaw County officials was that enough time and money had been spent on this defendant.

DNA testing and a nationwide database was not available in the late 1960s. Even if it had, Collins would not have been screened because he was not in the database. He had never been arrested or convicted of any crime and had no juvenile record.

Still, in 2004, over thirty years since Collins was thought to have murdered University of Michigan graduate student, Jane Mixer, DNA evidence exonerated him and pointed the finger at Gary Earl Leiterman, a male nurse in Ann Arbor at the time of Jane's murder.  For some people, the Mixer murder cast the shadow of doubt over Collins' alleged guilt in the remaining unsolved murders attributed to him.
Authors Edward Keyes and Earl James changed the names of the victims and their presumed assailant in their respective books on Collins. Between them, they left readers with a mishmash of fifteen fictitious names. Then William Miller wrote a script about these murders called Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep and once again, the names of the victims were changed. Even people familiar with the actual case became confused.

John Norman Collins officially changed his last name in 1981 to his original name Chapman, his Canadian birth father's last name. Collins/Chapman attempted unsuccessfully to engineer an international prisoner exchange with Canada. The end result was that the real identities of the victims and their assailant were obscured over the years and all but forgotten by the public.

Using the real names of the victims, here is a micro-sketch of each of the remaining young women whose cases have yet to be solved but are considered open by the Michigan State Police. The Roxie Ann Phillips California case is the exception.

Roxie Ann Phillips
Mary Fleszar (19) went missing on July 9, 1967, and was found a month later on August 7, 1967. She was not killed where her body was found. It had been moved several times and was unrecognizable. Mary taught herself to play guitar left handed and played for church services for several denominations on Eastern Michigan University's campus. People who knew her said she was very sweet and vulnerable.

Joan Elspeth Schell (20) was seen hitchhiking and getting into a car with three young men in front of McKinney Student Union on EMU's campus. She was last seen with Collins just before midnight on June 30, 1968, by three eyewitnesses. Prosecutors felt this case was promising but never pursued it.
Maralyn Skelton (16) was last seen on March 24, 1969 hitchhiking in front of Arborland shopping center. An unidentified witness said she got into a truck with two men. Of the seven presumed victims, Maralyn took the worst beating of the lot and then in death was pilloried by the county police and the local media.
Dawn Basom (13), the youngest of the victims and a local Ypsi girl, was abducted while hurrying to get home before dark on April 16, 1969. Dawn was last seen walking down an isolated stretch of railroad track that borders the Huron River. She was less than 100 yards from her front porch. Police discovered where she had been murdered not far from her home. Her body was found tossed on the shoulder of Gale Road in Superior Township. A fifteen mile, triangular drop zone began to reveal itself to investigators.
Alice Kalom (23), who was the oldest victim, was on her way to a dance on the evening of June 7, 1969. Two people report that she had a date with someone she had only recently met at a local restaurant--the Rubaiyat in Ann Arbor. Another person said he saw her standing outside a Rexall Drug store on Main and Liberty streets that evening. Alice's body was found two days later with the earmarks of the previous killings. Her murder site was discovered also - a sand and gravel pit north of Ypsilanti. Her body was deposited on Territorial Road furthest north of any of the victims. Police claimed they found evidence in the trunk of Collins's Oldsmobile Cutlass that linked Collins to Miss Kalom. This was another case the prosecution thought they could win but never brought to trial
Roxie Anne Phillips (17) was from Milwaukie, Oregon visiting a family friend in California for the summer in exchange for babysitting services. On June 30, 1969, Roxie had the misfortune of crossing paths with John Norman Collins in Salinas, California where Collins was "visiting" to escape a narrowing dragnet in Washtenaw County. In many ways, the California case was the strongest of any of the cases against Collins. Extradition was held up so long in Michigan that Governor Ronald Reagan and the Monterey County prosecutor lost interest in the case and waived extradition proceedings. This remains a cold case. 
What links these murders are the mode of operation of the killer, the ritualized behavior present on the bodies of the young women, and the geoforensics of the body drop sites.  

At the time of the murders, investigators thought that the killer may have had an accomplice, but that idea was largely discredited by people close to the case. The two likeliest suspects were housemates with Collins. Both men were given polygraph lie detector tests and were thoroughly interrogated by police detectives. Prosecutors hoped one or both of Collins's roommates  would roll over on him after being given immunity by the prosecutor. They didn't.

But investigators did discover that both friends of Collins--Arnie Davis and Andrew Manuel--were involved with him in other crimes such as burglary, fencing stolen property (guns and jewelry), and motorcycle theft. 

There was also a "fraud by conversion" charge brought against Collins and Andrew Manuel for renting a seventeen foot long travel trailer with a stolen check that bounced. They abandoned the trailer in Salinas, California. It is the suspected death site of Roxie Ann Phillips.

These guys were not Eagle Scouts--that's for certain. When the trailer was discovered, police found that it had been wiped clean of fingerprints inside and out. Both men vanished and returned to Ypsilanti two weeks earlier than planned, driving back to Michigan in the 1968 Oldsmobile Cutlass registered to Collin's mother but in John's possession for months.

Back in the sixties, police protocols and procedures for investigating multiple murders were not yet firmly established. For two long years, an angry killer of young women was able to evade police, but slowly a profile was developing and police were closing in on the suspect from two different fronts. Washtenaw County's long nightmare was about to end. 

Link to Amazon author site: