Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

John Norman Collins: The Co-Ed Killer

The Investigation

On July 10, 1967, Mary Fleszar was reported missing from her apartment near Eastern Michigan University. On August 7th, her badly decomposed body was found near the foundation of a farmhouse two miles north of Ypsilanti, Michigan. She had been stabbed to death, and her feet and one hand were missing, along with the fingers of her other hand. She was nude and her clothing was found under a pile of trash. The only clues to her murder were the sighting of a bluish-gray Chevy that had pulled up to her as she walked home the night she disappeared, and a young man whom nobody seemed to know who showed up at the funeral home to take photos of the corpse (which was refused). There were no leads.

Almost a year later, on July 6, 1968, Joan Schell was found on a construction site, stabbed to death, five days after she got into a car with three young men who offered her a ride. One of them was a tall, trimly-built, clean-cut young man with dark hair who wore a green EMU T-shirt. Schell's apartment was only three blocks from Fleszar's. Although she had been dead for five days, her body had been in the place where it was found less than 24 hours. Part of the body was still fresh, as though it had lain in a root cellar and been preserved, while the upper part was black and leathery, as if exposed to the elements. There was evidence that she had been raped, and her clothing was bunched up around her neck. The grass was trampled, as if someone had been there recently.

Some students had seen Schell in the company of an Eastern Michigan University student named John Collins, who lived across the street from her, but he claimed to have been with his mother in Detroit for the weekend. He also said he'd never met Schell. He was a personable, clean-cut young man with the goal of becoming a teacher, so no one thought seriously that he might have had something to do with this brutal murder. He sent the detectives on their way with a friendly, "Sure, hope you catch that guy."

Schell's boyfriend, AWOL from the army, was under heavy suspicion, but he passed a polygraph test and was released to the MPs.

During that fall semester, a rumor went around the campus of Eastern Michigan University that psychic Jeanne Dixon had predicted a string of murders, with a death toll of some fifty young women on four Michigan college campuses. Ms. Dixon denied making any such prediction and assured the students, ironically, that they could feel safe.

Then a 23-year-old law student, Jane Mixer, was found on March 25th, 1969, fully clothed in a cemetery in Denton township. She had been shot twice in the head, strangled, and then covered with a yellow raincoat. Her skirt was rolled up and her pantyhose pulled down, but a sanitary napkin still in place indicated no sexual attack. Her last message to her parents was that she had succeeded in getting a ride to their home in Muskegon and would be there for the weekend.

Police looked unsuccessfully for a young man named "David Johnson," with whom she supposedly got this ride home. They compiled a list of 16 men by that name who had some association with the universities, but none checked out.

 

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