Wednesday, October 29, 2014

John Norman Collins and the Code of Silence

The most frustrating aspect of researching the Washtenaw County murders of 1967-1969 for The Rainy Day Murders is knowing that there are still people out there who are withholding information from some sort of misguided loyalty or fear of self-incrimination.

I can understand that John Norman Collins' brother and sister want to distance themselves from the actions of their younger brother to protect their families. Of these murders, they knew nothing. But they could shed light on John's childhood and help us better understand why these terrible things happened.

Their mother Loretta Marjorie Collins was the unchallenged spokesperson for John during his arrest and trial for the murder of Karen Sue Beineman in 1970. Since Mrs. Collins' death in 1983, neither brother nor sister has commented publicly about their brother. So be it. They have lived with that decision for forty-five years.

But then, there are others who have valuable knowledge about John Collins who are not as closely bound as family. A wall of silence still exists among many of Collins' Theta Chi fraternity brothers. I find it difficult to understand why, after he was kicked out of their frat house for the suspected theft of $40 from their social fund, that they still shield him. There also had been a rash of petty thefts in the W. Cross St frat house while Collins lived there.

Eastern Michigan University Theta Chi fraternity members clean up the day after the annual welcome back party attended by more than 600 people.

And after John Collins moved out of the Theta Chi house, one of his former senior fraternity brothers got his 650cc Triumph motorcycle stolen. Collins kept it under wraps until the bike's owner had graduated and moved back to Benton Harbor on the west side of the state safely out of Ypsilanti. This was the same motorcycle that Karen Sue Beineman was last seen driving away on with Collins at the controls, before her body was discovered three days later at the bottom of a shallow gully.

My researcher Ryan M. Place and I were able to obtain the names and contact information for fifteen of Collins' former Theta Chi Brothers, requesting any information about Collins, either positive or negative, that we could get. We emailed everyone and in some cases made followup phone calls. Of the fifteen Theta Chi we contacted, only three responded. Two agreed to speak with us on the phone, while another met with us in person.

The first was extremely nervous over the phone for fear that his Brothers would discover that he had broken the fraternity Code of Silence. One valuable piece of information we learned from him was the name of the third man in the red and black car that picked up Joan Schell in 1968. Her nude body was found a week later in the outskirts of Ann Arbor shoved under some roadside shrubs.

The next Theta Chi to respond to our entreaties has been acting as John Norman Collins' legal adviser and spokesperson for many years. This meeting in his law office was one of those occasions. I told him what I was hoping to accomplish by writing this book and shared a few matters with him that he agreed to pass on to Collins in Marquette Prison.

Ryan and I were both struck with how uncomfortable he was, even in his own office at his own desk. Collins' mouthpiece put forth his belief that John was innocent and that another frat brother committed the crimes. If that was the case, why wait forty-five years to break the news and spring his client from false imprisonment? There is no evidence to even remotely suggest that anyone but Collins murdered Karen Sue Beineman. Why such loyalty after forty-seven years?

The last person to contact me was a former Theta Chi Brother of John Collins, who also happened to be an Allen Park High School friend of mine. He gave me a full account of JNC's exile  from Theta Chi but asked me not to reveal his name. Apparently, nobody wants to be marked lousy for ratting out a Brother.

From him, I learned about the theft of the motorcycle, an expensive bag of golf clubs, a stereo system, a color TV, and an expensive jeweled Theta Chi pin taken from another Theta Chi member. He said most of the Thetas were glad to see Collins leave their house, though a couple of their members left with Collins where they shared a boarding house at 619 Emmet St. around the corner and up the street, only one crooked block away from the Theta Chi house.

After pledges endure "secret" and usually humiliating hazing rituals, they take an oath of allegiance to one another which entitles them to all the rights, privileges, and protections of the Brotherhood. My question is this, when does that loyalty end? At what point does a person say, I draw the line at murder and mayhem? Theta Chi was conspicuous by its silence throughout the trial.

In a recent prison letter written to his Canadian cousin, Collins justifies the nobility of silence:
John Norman Collins in 1970 and in 2014.
"All my friends I grew up with had OLDER BROTHERS (me included) and you just didn't RAT anyone out. YOU JUST DIDN'T!!! If someone needed to be taken care of, we did it amongst ourselves. I still know "THINGS" that could get people arrested today. Most of them have turned out pretty good, e.g. cops, lawyers, and even a judge. Should I ruin their lives now? I don't think so. That's the "CODE" I grew up with, be it RIGHT OR WRONG? Let God judge that."

"Then when I pledged Theta Chi with (name withheld), we took an OATH to always come to the aid of a Brother. I took that Oath seriously and to Rat Out (name withheld) wasn't "IN THE CARDS" for me at that time... I kind of believed in the SYSTEM in that they wouldn't convict an innocent man. While a few of us still believe in the Brotherhood, a few do not. You are only as good as your WORD." (sic)

There are three former Theta Chi members who are people of interest to us. One of them hasn't spoken for fear of self-incrimination. He was able to tell the prosecution just enough at the Collins' trial to be granted immunity and keep himself out of jail, before slithering away into relative obscurity.

We are certain that Collins' legal adviser knows key information also, but he is protected by lawyer/client confidentiality. Then there is the "third man" who has been pulling back his social media after we made our initial contact with him. His name has come up in connection with the first two coed murders but somehow he escaped notice and was never interviewed as a person of interest by local police. We are still trying to figure out why.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Title IX Bares its Teeth in the Fight Against Campus Rape

In a recent San Diego public radio news story entitled Fraternity Culture Linked to College Sexual Assault Problem, I was surprised to discover that college fraternities indemnify themselves against sexual assault charges. That's correct! Rape is built into the cost structure of their insurance policies. Sexual assault charges against fraternity members represent the second largest percentage of claims brought against fraternities except for assault and battery charges. When parents send their daughters to universities, they don't sign them up for that.

Time magazine took a hard look at the issue of sexual assault on America's college campuses in its May 26th, 2014 cover story "Rape: Crisis in Higher Education," by Eliza Gray. The Department of Education released a list of fifty-five colleges that are under federal scrutiny over how they handle sexual assault complaints. When United States Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Thomas Perez stood before a press conference and announced there would be a federal investigation of the University of Montana, he told the reporters that "In the last three years, there have been at least eighty reported rapes connected with the university." Perez announced that the university, the city police, and the county attorney were all under investigation. "Other big public institutions like Ohio State, Harvard, and Princeton are also under investigation," he added.

Eliza Gray concluded that the problem is much broader than the big name universities who get all the bad publicity. "The truth is, for young women, particularly those who are eighteen and nineteen years old and just beginning their college experience, America's campuses are hazardous places. Recent research shows that one in five women is the victim of an attempted or completed sexual assault during college." Statistics also revealed the obvious that three-quarters of rape victims were incapacitated by alcohol. "College party culture takes particular advantage of young women who lack experience with alcohol," reported Gray.

Because of the cultural tolerance for drunken fraternity parties, aptly portrayed in the 1978 movie Animal House, it is a rite of passage for many young men and women to drift into the "Greek" party environment to see what it is all about. Campus life is a liberating cocktail of new found freedoms for freshmen. But large scale frat parties offer protective cover for sexual assault and attracts more than its share of predatory males looking to have sex with inexperienced and incapacitated young women. This testosterone-driven environment is fueled with large amounts of alcohol and date rape drugs that many young college women fall prey to.

The latest study shows that only12% of university rapes are ever reported to law enforcement because of fear of retaliation. The study also found that women in sororities are 74% more likely to experience rape than other college women. The number of universities the U.S. Department of Education is investigating has grown to eighty. Their study seeks to assess how universities respond to rape on their campuses and has been focused primarily on athletic departments and fraternity row. But the federal government is also examining how university officials and law enforcement handle these charges when they are brought to their attention.

Title IX is a 1977 law that combats gender discrimination in college sports. The Obama Administration has turned it into a weapon in the fight against rape on America's college campuses. In April of 2011, the Department of Education sent a letter warning colleges and universities to adequately address the issue of sexual assault on their campuses or risk losing federal funding.

Fraternity Culture Linked to College Sexual Assault Problem KPBS, October 21, 2014

Rape Culture Reality Check:

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Ukraine Ranks Second Largest Fornology Audience

Ukrainian folk costume with lovely traditional hand embroidery.
Since I began my blog in May of 2011, the United States has been my biggest audience of Fornology readers by far. But from the start, the second place spot has been shared alternately by Great Britain, Canada, and Germany, with Australia occasionally making a run for the second place spot. But in 2013, I added a translator feature to Fornology's sidebar and noticed a change in my international audience ratings. 

Russia had always made my top ten audience list but now they were climbing up the ranks. France and China started to hit my blog list at roughly the same time, but second place seemed to belong to Russia and Germany for many months on my All-time category report. Then Turkey began to rise up the ranks of my top ten and showed an interest in what I was writing. Finally, in late 2013 and into early 2014, Ukraine started making it onto the listing.

This new audience began to bound up my top ten list. Finally it happened. Ukraine leaped into second place in every reported category for the last month (Now, Day, Week, Month, and All-time).  No other country had come on as strong and as fast as Ukraine. It struck me that I needed to find out more about these proud people who have suffered much at the hands of history.

Pageviews by Countries

Graph of most popular countries among blog viewers
United States
United Kingdom

(All-time list as of October 13th, 2014)
Like most Americans, I am woefully ignorant about Ukraine, other than it has been having sovereignty problems with the Russians over Crimea, and they have been moving towards possible civil war. Unlike many Americans, I can find Ukraine on the map. It is in southeastern Europe bordering the Black Sea between Poland, Romania, and Moldova to the west and the Great Russian Bear to the east. Its capital city is Kiev (Kyiv), one of the oldest and largest cities in Europe. Ukraine is 603,550 square kilometers with a population of 45,000,000 people.

In high school, all we were taught in history class about "the Ukraine" was that it was the "Breadbasket of the Soviet Union," and its people were brutalized by the Soviets and the Nazis during World War II. Why Ukrainians have shown such a strong interest in my Fornology blog is a mystery to me, so I decided to learn more about them, their history, and their culture and pass that information on to my Fornology readers.

The Ukrainian National Flag
In recent history, Ukraine became independent from the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) when that communist regime dissolved in 1991. It is on August 24th that Ukrainians celebrate their Independence Day. The national flag of Ukraine was adopted in 1992. It simply consists of two stripes arranged horizontally, one blue stripe on top representing the skies and rivers of Ukraine and a yellow stripe below symbolizing Ukraine's lush golden wheat fields. Ukraine has a fledgling constitutional republic struggling to maintain its country's independence from Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin.

Bohdan Khmelnytsky, "Hetman of Ukraine", established an independent Ukraine after the uprising in 1648 against Poland.

Ukraine has an ancient history and its territory has changed hands and moved around many times since it was founded in 882 AD as Kievan Rus', a center for Slavic trade and culture. In 1240 AD there was a Mongol conquest, but by the 14th Century, the region was ruled by the Golden Horde, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, and Poland before becoming a Cossack state in 1648. For much of the 18th and 19th Centuries, most of Ukraine was part of the Russian Empire, and the rest was controlled by the Austria-Hungary Empire.

Ukraine was free for a brief period after the Russian Revolution between 1917-1920. Ukraine became a republic of the Soviet Union from 1922 until 1991, when that communist regime collapsed. Check the link below for more detailed information and a timeline from CNN on Ukraine's ongoing political crisis.

Traditional Ukrainian cuisine
Ukrainian food is typically Eastern European. Hard cheeses, sausage, and borshch (beet soup), the national soup of Ukraine, are traditional dishes. Holubtsi (stuffed cabbage rolls), kovbasa (smoked or boiled sausage), and varenyky (dumplings with various meat, fruit, or vegetable fillings) are also part of traditional Ukrainian cuisine. Baked goods are bublik (similar to a bagel but bigger), babka (Easter bread made with sweet dough and dried fruit baked in a tall, cylindrical shape), and paska (traditional butter and egg rich Easter bread decorated with Easter symbols baked on top).

A Ukrainian folk art is Pysanka, decorated Easter eggs which are well-known the world over. Each region has its own traditional designs. They use the wax relief method to write intricate designs with beeswax to create symbolic patterns, next the eggs are dyed colors that also carry symbolic significance. The eggs are strongly tied to the Easter holiday and are painted during Holy Week to symbolize the rebirth of man and Jesus Christ's resurrection.

Woven goods with colorful embroidered motifs from around the country are found in traditional folk costumes worn for holidays and special occasions. Men's shirts and women's blouses and decorative vests are embroidered in brilliant colors with regional patterns, each with its own symbolic meaning.

Ukrainian customs and culture are heavily influenced by Christianity. Almost ninety percent of Ukraine's religious community is either Eastern Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, or Roman Catholic, though forty percent of its general population claim to be atheists. This is a residual effect of the Russification of Ukraine's population during Soviet domination to discourage Ukrainian national identity. But without their religious traditions to bind them through the dark times, Ukraine would long ago have lost its national identity, its heart, and its very soul. Even now, Ukraine struggles.

The Ukrainian people enjoy celebrations with family and friends, but as a people, they tend to be fatalistic because of their history and geography. Their country has been the corridor to Europe in the west and the gateway to Asia in the east since before written history. Their history is written in blood and is reflected in the Ukrainian anthem, Shche ne vmerla Ukraina (Ukraine has not yet died!). May Ukraine live long and prosper!

For more background on Ukraine's current political crisis with Russia, consult this CNN link:

Petrykivka - Ukrainian ornamental folk art documentary in the Ukraine language. If the audio distracts you, turn the sound down and enjoy the visuals:

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Homage to Detroit

I just returned from a successful two week trip to the Detroit area to speak about my novel Zug Island and wrap up some final interviews for my current writing project The Rainy Day Murders (RDM). Since I began work on RDM in June of 2011, I have flown into the Detroit area nine times to do archival and field research with the help of my friend and project manager Ryan M. Place. Every trip has been enlightening, informative, and productive regarding the Washtenaw County murders (1967-1969) and John Norman Collins' role in them. Now, that project is winding down.

Unlike previous trips to the Motor City, this recent trip was a mixture of business and vacation. What characterized this trip for me was a personal feeling of accomplishment and a sense that Detroit may actually be on the comeback trail. While I was there, my wife and I got to share the excitement of the Tigers run for the playoffs and the disappointment of the Orioles sweep in three. As transplanted San Diego Padres fans, it was nice for us to have something to cheer about, even for a little while. Comerica Park is a real gem and a great place to see a ball game in the center of Downtown.

Another notable hot spot in Downtown Detroit is Cafe D'Mongo's Speakeasy on Griswold St. I was able to meet and speak with Larry Mongo in his club one afternoon to discuss the past and his view of present day Detroit. We talked about the "67" riots and recent city history. Mr. Mongo is truly the Griot of Griswold Street. His night spot is full of Detroit memorabilia, old time family photos, and noteworthy art work. This vintage Detroit bar has a long and fascinating history contained within its walls.

I went there last Saturday night and the place was standing room only, with a vibrant mix of the new face of Detroit, energetic, young, upwardly mobile, and optimistic. Cafe D'Mongo's Speakeasy is open only on Fridays from 5:00 PM until 1:30 AM and Saturday nights from 8:30 PM until closing. Next time I'm in town, I'll be back for some of that soul food and local Detroit flavor.

I usually travel to Detroit alone, but this trip was business and pleasure, so my wife was surprised to discover that my Allen Park High School Facebook friends were real and not my imaginary friends. Happily, I was able to meet with several of them one evening at the Wheat & Rye on Allen Rd.

Allen Park High School - Class of 1966 members.

Once upon a time in the 1960s, my parents owned that bar under the guise of The Cork & Bottle. A high school friend of mine owns it now and has improved the business. It is the home of Downriver's legendary giant pastrami sandwich which rivals the sandwiches at the famous Carnegie Deli in New York City.

Though I don't normally post about food or restaurants, there has never been a shortage of great places to eat in and around Detroit. The Polish Village Cafe in Hamtramck is always a must stop for me when I'm in town, and the Polish Art Center gift shop on Joseph Campau Ave. is a must see. Hamtramck reminds me of growing up in Detroit back in the 1950s.

The Rhapsody on Northline Road in Southgate specializes in authentic Hungarian food and was a great new find. This restaurant has a comfortable dining room and great service. Its walls are festooned with craft displays. As for the food? It was the best I had on my trip.

And when I'm in Ypsilanti doing serious research, I always like to have breakfast at The Bomber on Michigan Avenue, lunch at Aubrey's in Depot Town, and dinner at The Sidetrack across the street. I also indulged my passion for White Castle sliders a couple of times when I was on the run.

No trip to Michigan in the autumn is complete without a trip to an apple cider mill and ours was no different. We spent the day at Franklin Cider Mill with an Eastern Michigan University friend of mine who flew into Detroit from Albuquerque to hear my talk. As it so happened, she had her wedding reception at Pasquale's in Royal Oak many years ago. Small world!

Author Claudia Whitsitt and me at Pasquale's.
In closing, I want to personally thank the Book Club of Detroit and the Detroit Drunken History Society for sponsoring my Zug Island: A Detroit Riot Novel book talk at Pasquale's Italian Restaurant in Royal Oak, Michigan last week. One-hundred and nine people attended. An extensive buffet dinner was available and the food was fantastic. I look forward to returning here to discuss my true crime book RDM after it is published. My reception here was memorable and appreciated.

Thomas Wolfe once wrote "You Can't Go Home Again." Well, I did, and how sweet it was! Thanks, Detroit!

For more about Claudia Whitsitt and her books, visit her website at

To find out more about my novel Zug Island, check out