Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Dr. Steven Egger: Expert on Serial Murder

First Encounter

In a farmer's field just outside Ypsilanti, Michigan, the body of a young woman was discovered in August 1967. She was badly decomposed, so her identity was initially a mystery, but authorities soon learned that she was the co-ed from Eastern Michigan University who had been missing for three months. A suspect was developed, but leads fizzled out and the case remained unsolved.  No one realized it was the first in a series that would terrorize the area for the next two years.

Peter Hurkos
Peter Hurkos

The following year, another co-ed was murdered and unceremoniously dumped, and then in 1969 there were five more female victims, the youngest of which was only 13. Newspapers linked all seven, pressuring area police to arrest someone and bring this spree to an end. Whoever was perpetrating these crimes had clearly stepped up his pace, raping, stabbing, shooting, and mutilating girls who lived near, worked at, or attended EMU or the nearby University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. It was possible that one person had committed the crimes, but no one was sure.

Most of the bodies were left out in the open where they would be easily discovered, and eerily, while the police were investigating the burned-out barn foundation associated with two of the killings, someone placed flower blossoms close by, corresponding to the number of victims. It could have been a prank or it could have been the killer.

John Norman Collins
John Norman Collins

Fed up with the police, a citizens' group scraped together funds to invite nightclub psychic Peter Hurkos to come and solve the mystery, and he predicted another murder would occur, although he could not say just when it would happen. Shortly after, the body of 18-year-old Karen Sue Beineman was dumped within a mile of Hurkos's hotel, as if in defiance of his visit. A few weeks later, the police arrested a young elementary education student, John Norman Collins.

"I had been a police officer for about a year," Egger recalls, "and they asked me to be a press liaison between the police department and the sheriff's department, and thereafter I was assigned as an investigator to the case. We had two more deaths before we had the Beineman murder and that's when we arrested Collins. It wasn't even called serial murder at the time.  I think the media called it mass murder or multiple murder."

Karen Sue Beineman
Karen Sue Beineman

Hair samples from the victim's clothing matched clippings from Collins' car and the floor of the crime scene, which influenced the jury's decision to convict Collins of Beineman's murder. The state of California suspected him in an eighth murder as well, for which there was strong physical evidence from a trip he'd made there, but they declined to extradite him, so he received life in prison in Michigan. Egger saw him face to face when they initially arrested him.

"I was in the same room when they brought him in for an interview," he says. "He never confessed to the crime. We had fibers from his uncle's basement, who turned out to be a corporal in the State Police." When asked for his impression of Collins, Egger remarks, "I just felt that he was deranged." He would eventually learn more about such killers and come to understand the nature of a psychopath, but with this initial case, he also had an experience with the psychic.

 

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