The following is the first chapter from the book “True Crime Storytime: 12 Disturbing True Crime Stories to Keep You Up All Night Volume 5”
The Ypsilanti Ripper
The motto “tune in, drop out” may have been popular in the sixties, but college campuses were booming. However, the student body was still predominantly male, white, and affluent. Many campuses were co-ed, but women were the minority. It could have been this undercurrent of male superiority that fueled a campus killer named John Norman Collins.
Raised with rotating father figures and homes filled with domestic violence, he developed some sinister traits – particularly narcissism, chauvinism, and necrophilia. However, John was a master at concealing these characteristics, allowing him to hide in plain sight as he preyed on the co-eds of Eastern Michigan University.
John Norman Collins
Photo Credit: wikipedia.org
A Cold-Blooded Killing of a Co-Ed
Mary Fleszar’s roommate was worried. Mary, a fellow nineteen-year-old college student and friend, had not returned home in over twenty-four hours. Eastern Michigan University had its fair share of parties that could stretch from one day into the next. Still, it wasn’t like Mary to simply vanish. So, on July 18, 1967, she contacted Mary’s parents, who promptly notified the police. After a quick review of the apartment, the police noted that all of Mary’s possessions were left behind, making it unlikely that she had planned to leave for any length of time.
A neighbor recalled a blue-gray Chevrolet approaching Mary not long before her disappearance. Mary had been out for a walk in an unmistakable bright orange tent dress covered with bold white polka dots. As she was nearing her apartment, the male driver stopped alongside her and seemed to ask her a question. The small, five-foot-two girl shook her head, pushed her glasses up her slender nose, and continued walking. Not even two minutes later, the same scene played over again, except this time, when Mary shook her head, the driver drove off angrily, screeching his tires as he backed out. The neighbor had found the exchange mildly concerning but lost sight of Mary as she continued around the corner.
Russell Crisovan Jr. and Mark Lucas, both fifteen, had heard the reports of the missing girl. Russell’s father owned a farm not far from campus. A month after Mary’s disappearance, they were getting ready to plow a field when they heard a car door slam, then another. Making their way toward the sound, believing they were about to catch a pair of secretive lovers in the act, the boys were startled to find nothing but fresh tire tracks and a stomach-turning smell. A leathery mass with blackened skin appeared to be the source of the odor. Creeping closer to the decomposing carcass, Russell and Mark noticed the maggots and flies burrowing into it, the stench suspended in the hot summer air. One of them leaned in for a closer inspection. His eyes grew wide when he made out a familiar shape on the lumpy, unrecognizable head – a human ear.
Photo Credit: aadl.org
State Police immediately identified the corpse as human, though it was missing quite a few parts and was in a severe state of decomposition. The body lay on its side, stripped of clothing, missing one forearm and hand, the fingers of the opposite hand, and both feet. A later autopsy would reveal that this body was that of a female who had been dead around one month. Her remains appeared to have significant bruising, blunt force trauma, and various animal bites and claw marks. Thirty stab wounds, twenty of them from a knife or sharp object, covered her chest. Her lower leg bones, where both feet had been severed, were shattered just above the ankles.
The crime scene, which was the site of an old farmhouse at the end of the road, held more clues. The body had been moved three times, either by the killer or by scavenging animals. First, it lay on top of a heap of bottles and cans before moving five feet south, then three more feet. The tire tracks of the car the boys heard had pulled up right alongside where the body lay, indicating that whoever it was had only one objective that day – to see her.
A discarded leather sandal, a vibrant orange and polka dot dress under some trash, and dental records were all identified as belonging to Mary Fleszar. A man arrived at the parlor just before her funeral, parking his bluish-gray Chevy right out front. He told the director that he was a family friend and had come to view Mary one last time. However, he wanted to take a picture of the corpse as a keepsake for her parents.
The director steadfastly refused, to which the man replied, “You mean you can’t fix her up enough so I can at least get one picture of her?” Again, the director told him this was impossible. The man stormed off, leaving the director to recall only later that he didn’t even have a camera with him. When he brought it up to the Fleszars later, they said they had never met such a person. He never returned to the burial or the funeral, leaving police to believe that the mysterious photographer was probably their murderer.
The Michigan Murders
Mary would be the first in a series of at least seven murders. The second victim didn’t appear until a year after Mary’s burial.
On July 2, 1968, the roommate of twenty-year-old Eastern student Joan Schell was experiencing a similar situation as Mary’s roommate. Joan had gone out for a walk and had not returned. Joan’s parents and the police were alerted, but they wouldn’t have to wait long to discover what happened to the young woman. Five days later, a construction crew in Ann Arbor discovered Joan’s body at their worksite. She had been raped, beaten, and was left decomposing in the summer sun. Like Mary, Joan had been stabbed at least forty-seven times by a sharp object. Her time of death was close to her disappearance, but the killer had dumped her body at the worksite less than twenty-four hours before its discovery.
Photo Credit: wikipedia.org
However, this time, police had more to go on than just a vehicle description. Two friends of Joan’s reported that they saw her walking with another Eastern Michigan University student by the name of John Norman Collins. Collins lived right across the street from Joan at 619 Emmett in Ypsilanti. Police were quick to question him. The personable and clean-cut John told officers that he was at his mother’s house in Center Line, Michigan, the night of the disappearance. Satisfied with this alibi, investigators took his word and left.
Nine months later, yet another co-ed was found. Jane Mixer lay in Denton Cemetery, a few miles outside Ypsilanti. She hadn’t attended Eastern but the nearby University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Her body wasn’t riddled with stab wounds but possessed a single bullet hole. In addition, she had been strangled, and the killer had positioned the novel Catch-22 along with her shoes at her side. The police were confounded; in some ways, this case matched the details of the recent slayings, but there were marked differences.
Photo Credit: wikipedia.org
That same month a younger girl would meet a similar fate. Beaten to death, sixteen-year-old Maralynn Skelton was discovered soon after. Friends told police that she frequented an apartment that happened to be next door to an apartment owned by a male Eastern Michigan University student. That student was good friends with none other than John Collins, who had been seen spending time there. The ferocity with which Maralynn was attacked appalled the police. Not only had her skull been crushed, but she had been sexually assaulted with a stick, and her body appeared to show signs of flogging.
A few weeks later, the body count increased while the victim’s age decreased; thirteen-year-old Dawn Basom was found half-naked, strangled, with an electric cord still wrapped around her throat, her body discarded in a field. Dawn had last been seen walking alone down a dirt road. John Collins was spotted riding his motorcycle up and down the same dirt road.
A nearby abandoned farmhouse turned up the girl’s sweater. When police returned to search the house again a few weeks later, they would find more women’s clothing not belonging to Dawn.
A little less than a month later, the house was mysteriously set ablaze.
As if the public wasn’t incensed enough, not long after the teen’s murder, yet another body of a young girl was stumbled upon by a pair of teenage boys roaming through an empty field. University of Michigan graduate student Alice Kalom had been stabbed, shot, and had her throat violently cut.
As spring turned to summer, tensions were rising. Investigators had no killer, much less any leads, and the body count continued to climb. July 23, 1969 – a situation all too familiar to police played out once again. Student Karen Sue Beineman had gone missing. She had been seen leaving her dorm and heading to a wig shop.
Inside the shop, she told the store owner, “I’ve just done the most foolish thing of my life, accepted a ride from a total stranger.” Outside, a handsome man sat astride a Triumph motorcycle waiting for Karen.
A witness told police that the same man on the motorcycle had offered her a ride, but she had refused. It was a shame Karen hadn’t done the same. In a wooded gully, her body was found – strangled and beaten. Her chest and stomach were scalded by a caustic liquid. Her underwear had been crumpled and shoved inside her; they were covered with short hairs not belonging to the victim.
Dawn Louise Basom
Photo Credit: : wikipedia.org
A Break in the Brutal Case
State Police Corporal David Leik and his family returned home to Ypsilanti three days later. His wife’s nephew, John Collins, had agreed to house-sit for him, and Leik was not impressed. Black paint splashes dotted his basement floor. Checking back into work the following day, his wife’s nephew came up again, this time as a questioned suspect in the co-ed killing spree.
Leik painstakingly scraped up the black paint in his basement, uncovering brown spots beneath. Lab analysis proved the stains were simply varnish, but it turned out investigators didn’t need them as incriminating evidence. When Leik moved the washing machine to clear the final paint stains, he found hair clippings, mistakenly swept under the machine from the family’s haircuts before vacation. Forensics found that these clippings were identical to those on Karen’s underwear. The slain college student had been in Leik’s basement.
John was born in Ontario, Canada, to Richard and Loretta Chapman. However, Richard wouldn’t stick around for long. Within John’s first nine years of life, he would be introduced to three father figures, almost all of them fond of domestic violence. Despite a tumultuous upbringing, John did well in school. He was a good-looking kid with quite a few friends, often described as an “All American Boy.” His teachers praised him for his hard work and academic skills, referring to him as bright and gifted. All his efforts paid off when he was accepted to Eastern Michigan University in the fall of 1966.
Eastern was nestled in the small town of Ypsilanti, Michigan. Just outside of Ann Arbor, it boasted a beautiful landscape and a hometown feel. After arriving at the University, John quickly joined the Theta Chi fraternity house. But his “All American” facade rapidly cracked. His grades slipped, he hung around the wrong crowds, and became involved in petty theft. After more than one incident, Theta Chi kicked him out. John then rented an apartment in a house one block south of the campus. Aside from his minor crimes, he was well-liked around campus. The personable, clean-cut, and charming young man told his professors that he was studying to become a teacher.
Victims linked to Michigan Murder
Photo Credit: wikipedia.org
But it was his extracurriculars that concerned the police. With the damning evidence of the hair clippings, they quickly arrested John Collins for the murders of the slain girls. Though he denied all involvement, authorities uncovered suspicious events from his past. Not only was he a chronic thief, but he had a penchant for violence against women.
Once, as a teen, he found his pregnant and married sister with another man. He beat her so severely that she had to be hospitalized. Others who knew him said he had been long obsessed with gore and mutilation and was known to harass women sexually. Witnesses were effortlessly able to positively identify John. From the girl he had offered a ride to before picking up Karen to the wig store owner, they instantly recognized him. Leik’s neighbor reported hearing strange sounds coming from the home prior to Karen’s death and seeing John leave with a large laundry detergent box the following day. John’s roommate noted to police that he had seen the same box in John’s room – containing miscellaneous female belongings.
Conviction of the Co-ed Killer
A jury swiftly moved to find John guilty of Karen’s murder – sentencing him to life in prison without the possibility of parole. He was also named in a grand jury indictment in a case in Monterrey, California. Shortly after killing Alice Kalom, he had offered a ride to young Roxie Phillips, who was on her way to mail a letter when he was vacationing there. Her tortured and mutilated body turned up in Monterrey Bay several days later. A scrap of fabric matching the dress she was last seen wearing was found inside John’s car.
John is cited with killing at least seven girls, though some believe the count is much higher. Jane Mixer, the victim from the cemetery, is not accredited to John Collins. In 2005, a former nurse by the name of Gary Leiterman was convicted of her murder.
Nevertheless, the Ypsilanti-Ripper, now known as John Norman Chapman after a name change, terrified the university town in the 1960s. Preying on young female students while hiding in plain sight as a charming and clean-cut college student.
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