Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

John Norman Collins: The Co-Ed Killer

The Trial I

A search of Collins' rooms failed to turn up any further evidence, except for what Arnold Davis was able to tell them about the box. He also revealed that Collins was a thief who ran his four motorcycles off stolen parts — and one of the bikes had recently been stolen. He had been committing burglaries with a former roommate, Andrew Manuel — and burglaries are quite often the precursors to sexual crimes.

Manuel had just gone with Collins to California at the end of June, and it was soon learned that a 17-year-old girl named Roxie Ann Phillips had vanished in Salinas, California after a friend who had walked away from her house had met a man cruising around named John from Michigan. Collins and Manuel had been staying in a rented camper-trailer, which they had stolen and left in the backyard of Manuel's grandfather, who lived in Salinas. Phillips' strangled and battered body was discovered July 13 in a ravine near Carmel. Manuel, who had left Ypsilanti hastily when Collins was being questioned, was found in Arizona, but he denied knowing anything about the murder. He was charged with theft. During the trial, he was not pressed much about his background, which was probably due to the defense wishing to downplay Collins' association with him.

Attorneys for the defense, Neil Fink (left) and Joseph Louisell
Attorneys for the defense, Neil Fink (left)
and Joseph Louisell

Collins' trial began on June 30, 1970 in Washtenaw Country before Judge John Conlin. Witness slection took nearly two weeks. The prosecutor, William F. Delhey, focused only on the murder of Karen Sue Beineman, for which there was the most physical evidence. The defense lawyer was Joseph Louisell from nearby Detroit. Collins' mother originally had hired a lawyer named Richard Ryan, but Ryan had begun having doubts about his client and had asked for an off-the-record polygraph test. Collins agreed to it and Ryan refused to disclose what it had revealed — a good indication that he was not pleased by the results. He suggested a change in Collins' defense tantamount to a diminished capacity plea. Collins' mother was outraged and fired him on the spot, replacing him with the more expensive and canny Joseph Louisell, with his partner Neil Fink.

Fink outlined the prosecution's strategy as thus: establishing that the accused had been cruising in Ypsilanti on the afternoon of July 23, that he had been positively identified by witnesses as riding off with Beineman between 12:30 and 1:00, that her time of death was established at no later than 3:00 that afternoon, and that trace evidence had confirmed Beineman's presence in the basement of the Leik home, to which only the accused had access. The defense strategy was to attempt to get evidence and testimony thrown out, and to establish an alibi for Collins for that afternoon.

Evidence was heard starting on July 20. There was little rebuttal of Collins out cruising that day. Between 11:30 and 12:30, seven young women had been approached by him on his motorcycle. Time of death was also resistant to challenge.

Key witnesses were the wig shop owner, an employee from The Chocolate House, and the office supply girl, all of whom had identified Collins as the man who had picked up Beineman the day she disappeared. Arnold Davis also testified about the box he had seen Collins removing from his room and that Collins had pressured him to give an alibi that he knew to be false. A former girlfriend spoke about the motorcycles that Collins owned. The defense challenged several witnesses on eyesight and memory, but failed to make a dent in their respective testimonies. The one problem the prosecution faced was evidence of police harassment and manipulation of witnesses. Still, they proved credible.

In all 57 witnesses were called for 17 days of testimony.

 

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