Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Better Safe Than Sorry - Another John Norman Collins Anecdote

John Norman Collins - 1969
Over the last couple of years doing research for my The Rainy Day Murders true crime project, I have received many anecdotal accounts from people about encounters with John Norman Collins, alleged serial killer.

I even have a couple stories of my own, having lived a block up the street from him during those frightening days.

After speaking with several of these people, I have their permission to share their stories over the next few weeks.  The original emails are slightly edited for clarity.


Ypsilanti, Michigan

"At fifteen years old, which would have been 1966/67, I worked at Superior's (an ice cream place) on Cross Street. Walking home from work one summer evening, a car slowed behind St. John's parking lot and a nice, clean cut looking young man asked if I could give him directions to one of the dorms on Eastern Michigan University's campus.

"Since I had lived in the campus area most of my life at the point, I gave him the requested directions. He asked me if I could ride with him to show him the way, and he would then bring me back to my destination. He claimed he was from out of town and didn't know his way around. 

"I declined and continued my walk home. I lived on Olive Street one block over but accessed my house via an alley that sat adjacent to it. As I walked down the alley, I saw that he was driving down my street very slowly. I ran to my back door and entered my house.

"Several weeks later, this same guy came into Superior's with a group of guys from Theta Chi (an EMU campus fraternity). One of the guys looked familiar to me, and I asked if I knew him. The guy from the car asked if I remembered him and I told him 'No.'

"When they (the Michigan State Police) arrested him (Collins) and his picture was broadcast, I remembered him as the same guy who tried to pick me up. It was just a couple of weeks before the first victim was found!

"I believe my instincts and warnings to never get in a car with a stranger may have saved my life!

- Dianne Ellis -

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Canadian Dream of John Norman Collins

When John Norman Collins discovered in 1980 that Michigan Governor William Milliken had signed an international prisoner exchange agreement with Canada, he had an idea. 

John was born in Windsor, Ontario, Canada in 1947, and moved with his mother and siblings to the Detroit area on the American side of the river in 1951 where he grew up. If he changed his adopted father's last name, Collins, and returned to his birth father's last name, Chapman, it might strengthen his claim at repatriation.

He most certainly was hoping also that the name change would help him coast under the radar of public notice and the scrutiny of the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC). On January 5, 1981, in an Oakland County courtroom, John Norman Collins legally became John Norman Chapman.

Collins' Michigan sentence called for Life without the possibility of parole. If transferred to Canada, he would be subject to their law which provides for the possibility of parole after fifteen years of a Life sentence. Additionally, a foreign conviction does not constitute a criminal record in Canada.

Including his time served in the Washtenaw County Jail prior to his prison sentence, Collins had served twelve years of his Life sentence. A transfer to a Canadian prison meant he would have been eligible for parole in 1985. 


Collins (Chapman) handled all of the paperwork successfully and he was transferred from Marquette Prison in the Upper Peninsula to Jackson Prison, closer to the Federal building in Detroit where the international transfer was to take place.

But on the day of the hearing, it was discovered that one signature from Ottawa was missing, so the transfer hearing was rescheduled until the paperwork caught up with the necessary signature.

Before that could happen, a fellow Marquette prison inmate familiar with Collins' plan to circumvent his full sentence blew the whistle on him. He posted a letter to the Detroit Free Press night editor, someone he had worked with on an earlier prison story.

The night editor gave the story to Marianne Rzepka who ran a story the next day called "Transfer to Canada For Killer?" That evening, Michigan's Associated Press picked up the story on their wire service, and by morning, thirty-three newspapers and eight-five radio and television stations ran with the story.

When the prosecutor of the case, William Delhey heard of the transfer request, he immediately contacted the parents of Karen Sue Beineman and they started making phone calls and writing letters.

To convince John Norman Collins' last remaining Canadian relatives not to sponsor him for eventual parole, a letter of some graphic detail about the case and other troubling details, was sent by Prosecutor Delhey to their Canadian home.

When Collins' uncle received a call from the Canadian Director of Prisons, he was told to stay away from the case due to its graphic nature and content. After reading about the details of the case, Mr. Chapman, John's paternal uncle, refused to support Collins any further. 

In a collect phone call from prison, Collins became unhinged when he was told that he didn't have the support or acknowledgement of his Canadian relatives, an essential part of the transfer agreement. 

John's Canadian cousin remembers it this way: "When my Dad realized that John was lying to him about his innocence, my Dad told him off in no uncertain terms.... There were some colorful metaphors thrown around and it was after that, that my Dad refused to take any more of John's collect phone calls from prison, but he never stopped me from writing him.... I was in the living room watching TV, so I heard everything."

"After my Dad got off the phone, he spoke with my Mom out on the balcony. When they came inside, he sat me down and spoke with me. In that conversation, he told me that some day, John might try the same thing on me, as he did with him.... My Dad was only looking out for me and wanted to let me know that this possibility might happen. And the truth is - it did!"


On another front, the MDOC was getting heat from the press, the public, and the politicians. The MDOC and Marquette's warden, T.H. Koehler, would have liked to trade off their most notorious inmate. The warden was quoted as saying, "John Norman Collins is the only inmate in this prison who has a book about him for sale in the prison gift shop."

On January 20, 1982, MDOC's Deputy Director, Robert Brown Jr., revoked approval of Collins' transfer bid on the grounds that John Norman Collins was a naturalized American citizen raised in the United States, and he has had minimal contact with his few surviving Canadian relatives over the years.

Collins was immediately shuttled by prison van back up to Marquette Branch Prison to serve out the rest of his Life sentence, only to find someone else occupying his former cell. The warden hadn't expected him to return.

For more information on this subject, check out this earlier post:

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Ann Arbor Living History Account: "Guess It Wasn't my Time"

Ann Arbor U of M Campus Area
After three years of intensive research of public documents, vintage news clippings, and living history accounts, I am close to completing the first draft of The Rainy Day Murders, my true crime account of the Washtenaw County coed murders in Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor during 1967-1969. 

Students on the campuses of The University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan University were living with paralyzing fear of a serial killer for two years.

Since I began this project, many people have come forward with stories about encounters and confrontations with John Norman Collins. Most don't fit tightly within the scope of my true crime account, but nonetheless, they are living history and worthy of documentation. I have the permission to transcribe some of their emails and post them in the coming weeks.

June 6, 2012:

In 1968, after two years of community college (Henry Ford CC), I decided to move to Ann Arbor to be with my best friend. Since there were no funds for me to attend University of Michigan, working was imperative. 

I was on my own so an ordinary job wouldn't do. Soon, I applied for a job at U of M Hospital as a psychiatric child care worker... I worked a split shift... two weeks afternoons... two weeks days.

It was either July 2nd or July 9th of 1969 in Ann Arbor that I had an encounter with Collins, although at the time, I didn't know it was him. On the Wednesdays that I worked afternoons, I had a routine. I would walk to Kerry Town and make a stop at Middle Earth and Circle Books on State Street and return home.

Being a hippie type during my non-working hours, I put on an outfit that I had just purchased from Saturn Clothing. The outfit was pretty and a little provocative as the top looked normal from the front, but the back was completely bare, held together by a string. The outfit is significant because of my encounter.

I was living on the corner of Hill and Tappan streets. It was 2:00 PM, and I needed to be at work by 3:30 PM. I was taking a shortcut to my carriage house through the Architectural Diag (concourse). My house was then in plain view but across the street. I started walking into the parking lot when suddenly a car cut me off. I remember this as if it was yesterday.

The first thing I noticed was the immaculate car. I would call it a muscle car (Cutlass Coupe), the driver was a frat, not my type. He had very dark hair, almost black, and his eyes were so squinted that I could hardly tell they were blue.

He said, "Do you want a ride?"

I emphatically said "No!" and pointed to my house telling him, "I live right there." Immediately, I realized how stupid that was but he caught me off-guard. He didn't want to take "No" for an answer and asked me a second time. I used the "f " word, which I don't usually use. I told him to "Fuck off and Leave me alone."

He began yelling "Cunt, Cunt, Cunt!!!" over and over. He peeled out of the parking place extremely angry. To be honest, I really didn't give it much thought at the time. 

I went to my house, changed my clothes, and walked to work. I got home around midnight and went to bed. The next morning, I looked for my clothes that I had left in a pile on the floor the afternoon  before. Now, they were gone. My halter top, shorts, my panties, and my sandals were nowhere to be found. I searched everywhere, I even picked up my box springs... they were gone! Someone had been in my apartment while I was at work.

John Norman Collins - 1969
Being from the Detroit area, I would watch WXYZ Channel 7 News with John Kelly and Marilyn Turner. That's when (three weeks later) I saw the picture of the person arrested for the murder of Karen Sue Beineman. It was the same person in the parking lot.

I've thought about that encounter many times in my life. Perhaps that's why it is still so vivid. Guess it wasn't my time.

Pamela A.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

"A Crime to Remember" - Investigation Discovery Channel's New True Crime Show Debuts Tuesday, November 12, 2013

A Crime to Remember debuts Tuesday night on Investigation Discovery at 10 PM Eastern time. Check your local listings for channels in your area and set your DVRs to record the entire series.

Episode number five, "A New Kind of Monster" will air on Tuesday, December 10th, 2013. It will deal with the Washtenaw County Coed Murders of 1967-1969, the subject of the true crime book I'm close to completing called The Rainy Day Murders.

The six-part limited series premieres: 

Tuesday, NOVEMBER 12 at 10PM/9PM on ID.

Watch the NEW and GORGEOUS series promo:  https://vimeo.com/78664854

Or you can find it here:

Crime never looked so classy.

Link to it, tweet it, share it, post it - whatever you like!

For a review of the series and a summary of each episode, click on this link: http://www.thefutoncritic.com/news/2013/11/06/investigation-discovery-revisits-the-good-old-days-gone-bad-with-a-crime-to-remember-683204/20131106id01/ 

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Investigative Discovery Channel's New Series Debuts - A CRIME TO REMEMBER - on Tuesday, November 12th, 2013

"Michigan Coed Murders"

In February, I flew out to New York to do a segment on a new series XCON Productions was doing for the Investigation Discovery Channel called A CRIME TO REMEMBER. The series recounts six cases that have fallen through the cracks of time or which are generally unknown to the public at large.

XCON's fifth show of the series covers the "Michigan Coed Murders," which occurred in Washtenaw County, Michigan, in 1967-1969. The accused killer of seven young women was convicted of only the last, Karen Sue Beineman. The program will surely focus on that part of the story to stay within their forty-two minute time constraint.

In addition to re-enactments, several people involved with these cases were interviewed: former Washtenaw County Sheriff, Douglas Harvey; forensic psychologist, Dr. Katherine Ramsland, Ph.D; former Eastern Michigan University campus policeman, Larry Mathewson; and others will provide commentary on these matters. The real names of the victims are used in this new production, as well as vintage photographs from the era.

Be sure to view the sneak preview of the first episode of the series below in the XCON announcement of the season opener.

I am very pleased with the production values I see and look forward to the Washtenaw County episode on Tuesday, December 10th, at 10:00 PM Eastern Time.

Set your DVR to record the entire series, as scheduling may be subject to change.

Greetings from XCON Productions,

We are happy to announce the premiere of A CRIME TO REMEMBER  (formerly titled The Bad Old Days) on Investigation Discovery, Tuesday Nov 12th at 10pm.  

The episode order is always subject to last-minute network changes (so check your local listings!) but looks like this right now:  

The Alice Crimmins Case -11/12/13
The Career Girl Murders - 11/19/13
The Chillingworth Murders - 11/26/13 
United 629 - 12/3/13
The Michigan Coed Murders - 12/10/13
The Ann and Billy Woodward Story - 12/17/13

Once again, thank you very much Greg for your time and generosity throughout the process. We couldn't have done it without you. As I'm sure you're aware (since you're now a seasoned TV pro!), 42 minutes is nowhere near enough time to tell these stories in the degree of detail that you have provided or that we would like.   So please forgive us for truncating in certain places and expanding in others...television is a strange creature, with particular demands.  We hope you understand.

We are very proud of the series and hope you like the shows. 

Thank you again for your participation!

All the best, 
The XCON team

Friday, November 1, 2013

The Demise of Kristi Kurtz - November 1990

My girlfriend during the years covering the Washtenaw County coed killings (1967-1969) was Kristi Kurtz. When we met up, she had just dropped out of Eastern Michigan University and managed a small boutique called Stangers near Ned's Bookstore on West Cross Street in Ypsilanti.

I worked part time evenings at the university and took classes during the day. We lived together one block up the street from the boarding house where John Norman Collins lived on 619 Emmet St. and walked past that house daily unsuspecting the eventual notoriety of the place.

Kristi was a vibrant, outspoken, and fiercely independent young woman who found solace in her love of animals. They were the center of her life. Tragedy struck Kristi's young life when her father and mother were killed in a private plane crash. Her father owned a steel company in Detroit and had provided well for his orphaned family. Losing both parents so early in life had a lasting impact on her, and she became more independent because of it. 

Kristi and her older sister and brother grew up in Grosse Pointe and were raised by her aunt who kept tight control of the children's trust fund which was sizable. But after Kristi dropped out of college, the money dried up. Kristi wasn't twenty-one and had limited access to her money, so she worked just enough to get by, against the day when she would inherit the money outright.

Kristi liked animals better than people, and she wanted to raise and board horses on a small farm of her own. As soon as she was able, she bought the 113 acre Firesign Farm on Trotters Lane in Webster Township north of Ypsilanti. Kristi set out to live her dream, but I decided that finishing my education was more important than being her horse groom. We parted ways but remained friends. It was a defining moment for both of us.

Twenty years later, I'm living in California, and I get a phone call from a mutual Michigan friend of ours that I hadn't heard from in over ten years. "I've got some tragic news for you," he says. "Kristi's body was found shot to death and discovered buried under some bales of hay in her barn. She's been missing for a month."

It took me a few seconds to wrap my head around what I had just been told, then I heard what few details were known at that time. Two days after Thanksgiving on Saturday, November 24th, 1990, Kristi was last seen by a friend. When Kristi disappeared and hadn't fed her nine horses or other animals for a day or two, her neighbors got worried and contacted Kristi's sister who lived in Colorado. She called the Michigan State Police and filed a missing persons report on Monday, November 26th.

Then on Wednesday, December 26th at 10:15 AM, the day after Christmas, the Good Samaritan neighbor who had been caring for Kristi's horses and dogs, Rick Godfrey, removed another bale of hay to feed the horses, then he recognized her leather boots sticking out. Godfrey had given them to her as a Christmas gift two years before. He moved another bale and saw her frozen, fully clothed body. She had been missing for thirty-two days.

Twice the police had searched the barn with canines but felt the pungent smells confused the dogs. The barn cats had managed to find her body though. Dental records were required for a positive identification.

Check the link for archival news footage about the capture of Kristi Kurtz's murderer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z7fnfrk6ZpA