Saturday, May 26, 2018

John Norman Collins Canadian Connection

When I speak to people about the Washtenaw County murders of the late 1960s, I am usually asked, "Have you been in contact with any of John Norman Collins's family?" My answer is always, "I've made several attempts without success."

JNC's older brother and his late sister were steadfast in their silence about their notorious younger brother. Neither of John's siblings bear any responsibility for what their brother did; regardless, they both paid a heavy personal price and are victims of the collateral damage from the very public and court case. They chose not to comment--well within their rights.

John Norman Collins (13), his brother (16), and sister (15) - December 30th, 1960.
The Collins' family wall of silence is a legacy from their mother, Loretta--the family matriarch. She was the sole ruler and spokesperson for the family during her son's trial and afterward. Not even John was allowed to speak in his own defense. Now that Loretta is gone, no one speaks for the family. I had just about given up establishing contact with anyone in the Collins clan when I received an unexpected email from a surprising source.

"My name is John (Philip) Chapman; I am John Norman Collins's Canadian cousin. I've been in contact with my cousin since 1981, thirty-two years now--and I have some interesting information I would be willing to share with you pertaining to John's family history and facts he has revealed to me. 

"I normally would never get involved, however, after reading your blog post--Treading on the Grief of Others in the John Norman Collins Case--I agree a debt is owed to history that must be paid.

"My heart truly goes out to those young women and their families who had their daughters taken away from them too soon. If there is anything I can share with you to help, I would be happy to do so."

John Philip Chapman appeared exactly when we needed him most. My researcher Ryan M. Place and I had worked for three years to get someone from the Collins family to speak with us about John's early family history.

Richard Chapman in 1944 on motorcycle seen with his friend Fred Higgins who saved his life.
"John's father--my Uncle Rich--was a light-infantry officer and an explosives/demolition expert in His Majesty's Canadian Services. He lost his left leg in 1944 during the Second World War. After his injury, he spent weeks in a military hospital recovering from battle fatigue and physical complications before being shipped home to Canada. He was on medication for the rest of his life. My uncle lived until 1988.

"I want to correct a public inaccuracy. Uncle Richard was never abusive towards his children or my Aunt Marjorie (Loretta went by her middle name in Canada). He never abandoned his children and never would. My aunt divorced my uncle for alleged 'extreme mental cruelty.' Uncle Rich loved his children very much, however, due (to) the amount of lies Aunt Marjorie put in their heads, they didn't want to be bothered with him. Hoping to avoid dragging their children through a bitter divorce, my uncle gave Aunt Marjorie what she wanted--full custody. My cousin Gail learned the truth shortly before her Dad passed away."

According to Chapman, "My Aunt Marjorie's family felt Uncle Rich was not good enough for their daughter. He wasn't Catholic. Her parents didn't like their son-in-law and offered him money to disappear.... I know for a fact that my Uncle Rich never took the money."

John Philip Chapman
John Philip explained that he had been writing his cousin John (Collins) in prison since he (Chapman) was seven or eight years old. "(Collins) is twenty-five years older than me and has always been like a big brother. In our letters, he refers to me as 'Little Brother'." John Philip Chapman explained that he was an only child and found comfort in the attention from his older American cousin who became a virtual 'Big Brother' for him.

Somehow, Chapman managed to remain ignorant of his older cousin's crimes. Over the years, Chapman maintained a "Don't ask - Don't tell" policy regarding his cousin's imprisonment. After all, Collins had insisted he was innocent of the Karen Sue Beineman murder. Collins also complained in his letters that he was victimized by a rogue cop (Sheriff Douglas Harvey), an overzealous prosecutor (William Delhey), and a corrupt legal system looking for a scapegoat. Now forty-one years old, Chapman's personal search for knowledge about his cousin was making him confront his deepest fears.

John Philip Chapman asked if I would be interested in receiving some of his cousin's prison letters. Chapman had noticed a change in tone and intensity in the letters of late, and he wanted me to look at them. Then, Chapman volunteered something unexpected. He offered to see what other information he could find out from his cousin about his crimes. 

Without JNC's knowledge, over the next four months we received a total of nine prison letters from Collins to his cousin. The letters average seven pages and cover a range of subjects, but one theme became more and more prevalent as time went on. Collins was pressing for an international prisoner exchange with Canada. This was Chapman's original motivation for contacting me. He wanted to know if he and his mother had anything to fear from Collins. I told Chapman that I wouldn't feel comfortable with Collins in my house or my neighborhood.

Chapman told me that Collins tried unsuccessfully to get an international prisoner exchange with Canada in 1981. Canada has more liberal sentencing provisions than the United States, so Collins saw parole as a very real possibility. The basis for his repatriation claim was he was born in Canada and held dual citizenship. He claimed he had relatives and a support system there.

But both JNC's father and his uncle refused to offer their sponsorship to Collins after being contacted by authorities on both sides of the Detroit River informing them of the particulars of Collins's crimes. When the Detroit Free Press ran an article about the possible transfer acting on a tip from a Marquette prison inmate, the Michigan Department of Corrections summarily revoked Collins's application for the international prisoner exchange.

John Norman Collins
Thirty-two years later, Collins summoned up the courage to ask his younger cousin--his last Canadian blood relative--to sponsor him for another prisoner transfer attempt in hopes of receiving dispensation for timed served in Michigan. To Collins's way of thinking, all he needed was a relative and a place to stay; then, he could be assigned to a work release program in Canada and be free of his Michigan prison cell and his jailers. Now, it became clear to Chapman what JNC had been driving at for months--the chicken hawk wanted to come home to roost.

Link to the above mentioned blog post:

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