Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

John Norman Collins: The Co-Ed Killer

No Leads

Only four days later, another construction worker found Maralynn Skelton, 16, beaten to death and left not more than a quarter of a mile from where Joan Schell's body had been found. She had been brutally battered about the head and left exposed in a rape position, with a tree branch jammed into her vagina. Her body was covered with welts, as if she had been hit with a large-buckled belt. Imprinted across her breasts were marks that could have been from straps. Her clothes (except underwear) were piled beside her body, her shoes next to her feet, and a piece of dark blue cloth was stuffed into her throat. Since she was a known drug abuser, police felt that she might have been running with a bad crowd. She had been hitch-hiking the day she disappeared.

Police search the area on horseback
Police search the area on horseback

Once again, the boyfriend was questioned, but proved a dead-end. Known drug-users were interrogated, but there were still no leads.

Then 13-year-old Dawn Basom was discovered by the roadway on April 15th. She wore only a white blouse and bra, pushed up around her neck. Her arms were bent over her head. She had been strangled with an electrical cord, and her breasts and buttocks were viciously slashed. A handkerchief or piece of her blouse was stuffed back in her mouth.

Sheriff Doug Harvey, in charge of the Washtenaw County investigation that by now involved six law enforcement agencies, ordered a news blackout so they could do a stake-out, but a journalist had already leaked it.

One of the victim's shoes was found about 50 yards away, and then the other was located across the road in a ditch, as if the killer had just tossed them out the window as he drove. Harvey extended the search for her clothing over a wider area. One deputy was sorting through some rubble in an abandoned farmhouse not far from where the girl had lived and only half a mile from where Mary Fleszar had been dumped. He found the orange sweater she had been wearing. He also found pieces of her blouse, and in the barn, a length of cord like that with which she had been strangled. Further investigation revealed fresh blood. For the first time, they had located one of the actual murder sites. Even so, there were no clues as to who the killer was, but they continued to comb through the rubble in the house.

A week later one of Maralynn Shelton's gold-plated earrings was found at the site, along with another scrap of material from Basom's blouse, and the police were certain these items had not been there previously. The feeling was that the killer had returned to taunt the investigators. Then two weeks later, the barn at the site burned down. A reporter looking over the smoking ruins discovered five purple lilac blossoms, freshly cut, lying nearby. One for each murder, it seemed. An arsonist was arrested for setting the fire, but no one could explain the flowers.


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