While attending St. Clement Catholic, John Norman Collins was an honors student, tri-captain of the football team, president of the C-Club, and star pitcher on the baseball team. At Eastern Michigan University, he became the “Co-Ed Killer.”
The “Co-Ed Murders” were a string of highly publicized murders in the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti area between 1967 and 1969.
Collins’ classmate at St. Clement, Hall of Famer and former Buffalo Bill, Joe DeLamielleure, was shocked- to hear the news, along with most that knew Collin’s from his days at the Center Line private school.
“No one could believe it, he was such a great guy: handsome; a good student. He was my wife Gerri’s paperboy,” DeLamielleure said.
Collins was a two-sport star for the St. Clement Crusaders: a pitcher for the baseball team and a defensive end in football.
“John is the second most famous athlete to come through St. Clement behind DeLamielleure,” former St. Clement Athletic Director Victor Michaels said.
While DeLamielleure was never teammates with Collins, he recalls his time on the field astutely.
“He was a great player. He was no. 27, I still remember that! That’s how good of a player he was,” the Hall of Fame guard said from his Charlotte home.
Al Baumgart doubled as both football and baseball coach in Collins’ days at St. Clement.
“John was a hard worker, we never expected anything like that to happen. He had all the ingredients: he was good looking, brilliant, over a b average and a nice kid,” Coach Baumgart said.
“One time he broke his ankle and still wanted to play. He was a very tough kid and just wanted to hang in there. He was a good kid.”
Born June 17, 1947, in Center Line, Mich., Collins dated regularly and many people that knew him described him as a quiet, polite, respectful and nice young man. He was abandoned by his father, leaving his mother a single parent until she remarried an abusive alcoholic, for whom Collins took his first name. She divorced him by the time Collins was four.
Widespread fear haunted the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti community for more than two years as seven young women were stalked, raped, mutilated and murdered by the Co-Ed Killer.
The first killing took place on July 9, 1967, after Mary Fleszar, a 19-year-old from Willis, went for a walk near the EMU campus. She told her roommate she wanted to get a bit of fresh air to escape the summer heat. Fleszar studied accounting at the university, working as a secretary. Her body was not discovered until August 7, 1967, and was severely decomposed. She had endured several stabbings and her fingers and feet had been cut off. Police theorized that she had been raped, but could not confirm due to the condition of the body.
Twenty year old E.M.U. student Joan Schell’s murder vaulted the community into terror. Schell was last seen hitchhiking on June 30, 1968, in front of Eastern Michigan’s student union. Her body was found one week later near Glacier Way and Earhart roads by construction workers. Schell was stabbed five times and her throat was slashed. She also had been sexually assaulted and found with her blue mini-skirt wrapped around her neck. She was killed elsewhere and dumped there.
Collins was living directly across the street from Schell at 619 Emmett. When questioned by the police Collins claimed he was with his mother at her house in Center Line, Mich. at the time. Police took him at his word.
The third victim in the Co-Ed Murders was 23 year old Jane Mixer, of Muskegon, Mich. Her body was found in a cemetery just inside Wayne County. Mixer was a highly intelligent University of Michigan law student. Dissimilar to the previous murders she was shot twice in the head with a .22 caliber gun. She was fully clothed, except her shoes which were carefully placed next to the body. She had also been killed elsewhere, and a stocking was twisted around her neck.
Sixteen-year-old Maralynn Skelton, of Romulus, was a high school dropout last seen hitchhiking in front of Arborland Shopping Center on March 24, 1969. Her body was found the next day on Pemberton Drive in the Earhart Hills subdivision in Ann Arbor. Her skull was cracked in three places and she had been brutally whipped with a belt and sexually molested. She was also killed elsewhere and dumped there. Her body was found just a quarter mile from the body of the second victim, Joan Schell. Police reported that this was the most sadistic murder to date.
Despite the massive combined efforts of the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti police departments, along with the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Department and Michigan State Police, the fifth victim was found on April 19, 1969, at Gale and Vreeland roads.
Thirteen-year-old Dawn Basom, of Ypsilanti, Mich. was found strangled and slashed near Gale and Vreeland Roads. A handkerchief was stuffed into her mouth and her blue stretch pants were missing.
The sixth victim, 23 year old Alice Kalom, of Portage, Mich. accelerated the pace of the murders. Her death occurred on June 7, 1969. Kalom was a University of Michigan graduate in the fine arts, enrolled in graduate school. Her naked body was discovered near North Territorial Road and U.S. 23 near an abandoned barn. She had been shot once in the head and stabbed twice in the chest, as well as raped. Similar to the previous murders she had been killed and moved elsewhere. Three days after her body was found, officers located the site of her murder while patrolling outlying areas. They discovered Kalom’s shoes and coat buttons, along with bloodstains at Earhart and Joy road.
At this point in the investigation, officers were not convinced the murder of Jane Mixer was connected to the other murders because she was the only victim to be shot. It wasn’t until Kalom’s killing that the authorities believed all six murders were committed by the same person.
Panic began to set in following the Kalom murder. Governor Milliken announced in a press conference that Col. Frederick Davids, commander of the State Police, was personally in charge of the Michigan State Police portion of the investigation. Governor Milliken’s 21-year-old daughter was a junior at the University of Michigan.
Desperate for a break in the case, the officers investigating the murders discussed contacting a criminologist who was a nationwide expert in the field. According to the Ann Arbor Police Department Online History Exhibit Chief Krasny said:
“It’s apparent we need a new, fresh look at the crimes. It’s possible a trained, competent criminologist can, through his experience and training, give us a fresh approach. I’m certainly willing to try it.”
Eighteen year old Karen Sue Beineman, of Grand Rapids, was discovered on July 23, 1969, in what would be the final Co-Ed Murder. She was an EMU freshman attending summer classes. Beineman had just sent a note to her parents assuring them she was being careful, but then accepted a ride on a motorcycle from a man she did not know. Beineman was found on Riverside Drive in Ann Arbor Township. She was strangled and nude, her face beaten beyond recognition.
A clerk in the Ypsilanti store was the last known person to have seen Beineman alive. She overheard her say she had done two foolish things in her lifetime. One was buying a wig and the other was accepting a ride from a stranger on a motorcycle. Beineman then exited the store and left with this unknown man on a motorcycle. The motorcycle was believed to be a Honda 450, very shiny with a lot of chrome. Investigators began the tedious process of attempting to find the killer through a list of all Honda 450s in the state.
The investigation endured and the break which solved the murder of Karen Beineman came in the most peculiar way. Michigan State Police Corporal David Leik was going on vacation and had his nephew, John Norman Collins watch over the family home for the two weeks he was away.
Upon returning from vacation Corporal Leik was suspicious of how Collins left the house. He passed this information to the detectives in charge of investigating the murders and Collins became the primary suspect. Insufficient evidence prevented Collins’ immediate arrest, but he was placed under surveillance and picked up for questioning on two occasions.
It was suspected that Beineman was killed in Corporal Leik’s basement by Collins. Blood spattered on the basement floor when the murder took place. Collins painted over the area in which the killing took place to cover his tracks. When Leik returned from vacation he became immediately suspicious, curious why his basement floor had been painted. After discovering what appeared to be blood under the paint, but later determined varnish, Leik reported his suspicions to his superiors at the state police.
Technicians were sent to further investigate and discovered blood spatters near the washing machine. A fingerprint set in wet paint was determined to be Collins and this was the evidence used along with hair samples to arrest him. After Collins was arrested, lab technicians discovered blood and hair in his 1968 Oldsmobile Cutlass, which matched Beineman’s.
Investigators identified Collins as the person she was with after they spoke to the clerks at the wig shop where Beineman was last seen. Another Eastern co-ed identified Collins, as he had attempted to give her a ride on his motorcycle.
On July 31, 1969, Collins was placed under arrest for the murder of Karen Sue Beineman. Collins was a senior at EMU at the time, studying elementary education. Collins was 22 years old at the time of his arrest. A composite was made of the man observed giving Beineman a ride on the motorcycle after she was reported missing. This composite very closely resembled Collins and Corporal Leik told investigators that Collins did own a motorcycle.
Collins was convicted for the killing of his seventh victim, 18-year-old Karen Sue Beineman, but was implicated superficially in fifteen murders, with eight and nine very likely his.
He went to trial, and on August 19, 1970, was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment without possibility of parole, for Beinemen’s vicious slaying. When it was all said and done Collins’ murder trial became the longest trial in the history of Washtenaw County.
Similar to Ted Bundy, most of his victims were young co-eds with long-brown hair and pierced ears. Several of the victims were on their periods, which is another suspected motive for Collins. He was head strong and often taunted dates: he questioned to see if he could get a rise out of them if he said he was the killer. Collins frequently claimed that men got what they wanted and found women’s monthly cycles disgusting to the point of being openly repulsed by it.
Characteristics of his murders were strangulation, beating to the head (dehumanization), articles of clothing missing, nude or semi-nude bodies, evidence of sexual assault, disappearance without a struggle, and disposal of bodies to ensure discovery.
Collins’ girlfriends described him as nice and respectful, but oddly angry most of the time. He was a bit of a loner and sexually aggressive, which was another possible motive for the killings.
There was speculation that the Co-Ed Killer may have been the “real” Boston Strangler, as a lot of people believe Albert Desalvo wasn’t the real strangler. Similar to Collins’ victims, the Boston strangler used very complicated nautical knots when strangling his victims.
Collins is now in his mid-sixties and serving his life sentence in the Marquette Branch Prison in Marquette, Mich. in the Upper Peninsula.
In 1979, Collins attempted to escape from the maximum security prison at Marquette. Along with six other inmates, Collins dug a two-foot-wide tunnel over 19 feet underneath the prison. The prisoners needed only 25 more feet to dig for freedom but were thwarted by a guard who discovered the tunnel entrance.