Friday, September 13, 2013

The Lost John Norman Collins Movie - Part Two of Three

Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep was writer/producer/director William Martin's attempt to tell the story of the coed killings, alleged to have been committed by John Norman Collins in Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor, Michigan, between 1967 and 1969. The title comes from the well-known children's bedside prayer.

Martin made an earlier film in Michigan called Jacktown, the nickname for the world's largest walled prison at the time - Jackson State Prison. It was an uneasy mix of documentary footage from the Jackson prison riot in the 1950s, location shooting in Royal Oak, Michigan, and an uninspired script with wooden acting. What makes this movie fun to watch is how really bad it is.

As with Jacktown, Martin used seasoned actors in the lead roles for Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep and wanted some local talent to play several of the murdered girls. Local actress, Kathy Pierce of Chelsea, Michigan, was chosen to play the role of Karen Sue Beineman, the only murdered coed Collins was convicted of killing. Allison Date from Ann Arbor had also been cast as one of the victims.

As other writers have done in the past, Martin changed the names of the victims, which over time has obscured the girls' identities. Karen Sue Beineman was renamed Carol Ann Gebhardt in one account, Karry B. in another, and Norma Jean Fenneman in Martin's movie. By my count, the seven victims are referred to by no fewer than twenty-eight names in various treatments of this material. Is it any wonder the public is so confused about this case? John Norman Collins' character was to be called Brian Caldwell, played by veteran actor, Robert Purvey (See bio link for more information about him).

At first, Martin said he encountered lots of local resistance, but after the The Michigan Murders came out in 1976, resistance became pointless. Then, Collins' lawyers tried to get an injunction against the film because it prejudiced the appeals process against their client. At his own expense, Martin, offered to close down production of his film if John Collins would take a lie-detector test exonerating himself. He never did.

More serious was an Ann Arbor News report from July 30th, 1977, about William Martin being approached by "a large man with a beard" at about 10:00 AM as he was preparing for the day's shoot. The burly man poked his finger into Martin's chest and told him, "You, you're dead. We'll kill you!" Afterwards, Martin told of other threats to him and some of the film's stars. The article goes on to say, "a truckload of road blocks led some to believe that this film would never be made."

Last week, actor Robert Purvey contacted my researcher with a different story. He said that Martin had only half a script and asked Purvey to help write the story as they went along. They spent their days on location and their evenings feverishly preparing for the next day's shooting. Once the crew returned to Hollywood, there were additional studio scenes to shoot and post production costs skyrocketed, so the project was shelved.

Probably just as well. The story of the murders of these young woman deserves to be told accurately - not cobbled together like some mystery movie of the week. If William Martin's early film, Jacktown, is any indication, it is better that Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep never saw the light of day.

Post mortem on NILMDTS in part three.    Jacktown free movie download.