Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

John Norman Collins: The Co-Ed Killer


In trying to decipher the personality traits of an unknown homicidal predator, many things are taken into consideration, including victim background, time and place of the murders, method of abduction, murder weapon used, degree of planning, and evidence of overkill.

A relatively recent development in the profiling field is the analysis of a suspect's geographic patterns — victim selection area, where the crime was actually committed, travel route for body disposal, where and how he dumped the bodies, and the degree of isolation of the dump site. It tells something about the suspect's mobility, method of transportation, potential area of residence, and ability to traverse barriers, such as crossing state lines.

Familiarity is part of one's comfort zone and many murderers begin their crime spree in areas where they live, with victims with whom they feel relatively safe. In the case of the coeds, it was likely — and proved to be the case — that the murderer lived near the EMU campus. Collins, in fact, resided in Ypsilanti, a few blocks from campus, and went to school there.

In this case, there were many geographic similarities. Several victims lived near the EMU campus or disappeared from there. Many were students, which indicated that he prowled the campuses. Six of the seven bodies were found in rural areas between Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, and five body dump sites formed a tight circle. Only Jane Mixer's body was found outside the area (which some thought eliminated her as a Collins victim, but given the overwhelming evidence of his involvement in the case in California, there is no reason to believe he would only use the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti border as a dump site). The five dump sites close together indicate that he traveled this way back and forth and knew the area well. In fact, one obvious murder site, an abandoned farmhouse, showed evidence of at least two of the victims having been killed there, possibly more.

Police search for bodies
Police search for bodies

The killer left most of the bodies out in the open, in lover's lane-type areas, where they would be discovered fairly easily, except for Mary Fleszar, who lay in the weeds for a month before discovery. However, Collins returned and apparently moved her around, as if to make discovery easier. She was dumped 150 feet from a road. Joan Schell appeared to have been stored in some kind of root cellar (perhaps the farm site) before being dumped 12 feet from a road and covered with grass. After that, Collins made no effort, as if he wanted these bodies to be found.

Clearly the suspect had a car of some type to transport bodies. He also crossed state lines. Roxie Phillips was found in some weeds, dumped in a Canyon near Carmel, after being picked up near Salinas, where Collins was staying. He had cruised the area the day before, making himself familiar with it and engaging girls in conversation before making his move on Phillips.

Thus, he was organized and calculating, preferring to grab victims where he was comfortable, and dumping them in wooded areas away from where he killed them. Often they were left in ways that made discovery easy, and he apparently killed more than one in the same place.