Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

John Norman Collins: The Co-Ed Killer

Collins Speaks Out

John Norman Collins talked in the courtroom only once during his trial. He addressed the judge with the words, "I never knew a girl named Karen Sue Beineman. I never took her for a ride on my motorcycle. I never took her to my uncle's basement. I never killed Karen Sue Beineman."

Lockdown at Southern Michigan State Prison, where Collins was incarcerated
Lockdown at Southern Michigan State
Prison, where Collins was incarcerated

After that, except to reiterate this denial a few times, he maintained his silence. Then in October of 1988, 18 years after he was convicted, he agreed to appear on a Detroit-based talk show, "Kelly and Company," that was devoted to his case. It was his hope to set the record straight on his side of the story. Also appearing were Sheriff Doug Harvey; defense attorney Neil Fink; Marlene Thompson, who served as a spiritual counselor to Collins; Jackie Kallan, who had written several newspaper stories on him; and Eric Smith, a reporter for the Detroit Free Press who had covered the case (but who ultimately contributed nothing to the show).

The show's hosts were John Kelly and Marilyn Turner. At first, they were going to have a camera set up to have Collins come on live, but arrangements were made instead to have Turner interview him at Marquette in the prison. Clips of that interview were shown throughout the program whenever they raised key issues on which Collins had spoken.

Turner's first question to him in prison was, "Did you kill Karen Sue Beineman?"

He was quick to say, "No, I never met Karen Sue Beineman."

"Doesn't it bother you to be called a serial killer?" she asked.

"Yes, it does," he admitted. "It's bad enough being convicted of one thing you didn't do without being labeled for other things you haven't done." His assessment was that back in 1969 the police had fed reporters with ideas that while it couldn't be proven that he had killed all seven women, they knew that he had. The media had then reported these comments as being from anonymous but authoritative sources. That set the idea in the public mind, creating damaging pre-trial publicity. True crime writers afterward picked up on this same theme.

Collins also stated that he believed it was the pressure exerted by the governor taking over the investigation and calling the FBI that made local law enforcement agencies move in to arrest him. They did not like this trespass on their territory.

"But you were identified as the man on the motorcycle (who picked up Beineman)," Turner countered.

Collins had a response. It was obvious that he understood those points that had been made against him in the media and was quick to show Turner (and her audience) why these issues were more involved than people realized.

The two women who had noticed the man with Beineman, he said, worked in the wig shop where the victim was last seen. They had come together to do a composite description of this man, "but they couldn't agree on the hair." One said that the man had curly hair, and since her livelihood as a beautician made her an expert, it would have been unlikely that she would get such a detail wrong. Collins also pointed out that she had said that she and her husband had been looking that weekend at Hondas with square mirrors, which she identified as the same bike the man was on. "I had a Triumph with a round mirror," he said. More significantly, the woman wore glasses for seeing things at a distance and had admitted that she had not been wearing them. These things had come out in the trial, but not in press reports.

 

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