Depending on whom you ask, he may be called the “Michigan Murderer,” the “Co-Ed Killer,” or the “Ypsilanti Ripper,” but no matter who gives you an account of the crimes attributed to John Norman Collins, it will sound like something straight out of a slasher film–or perhaps even more brutal.
Between 1967 and 1969, seven young women between the ages of 13 and 23 went missing in and around Washtenaw County, Michigan. Several were students at Eastern Michigan University or the University of Michigan, giving the unidentified killer the nickname of the “Co-Ed Killer.” Each woman was later found dead and badly mutilated; several had been raped and tortured before their deaths, with police officials describing the havoc inflicted upon the young women’s bodies as among the worst they had ever seen.
The first victim of the Michigan Murderer was found on August 7, 1967–almost a full month after she was last seen alive. The body of Mary Terese Fleszar was found by two 15-year-old boys near a farm in Superior Township, but the body was so heavily mutilated and already so badly decomposed that it wasn’t formally identified until the police were able to compare dental records the following day. In fact, when the boys first discovered the body, they weren’t even sure that the remains were human, and the first investigators on the scene had difficulty discerning whether they were dealing with the remains of a man or a woman.
The body of Mary Terese Fleszar bore all the signs of what would become the calling cards of the Ypsilanti Ripper. She had been badly beaten and stabbed approximately 30 times, and investigators believed that she had also been raped, although the heavily deteriorated condition of the body made it impossible to know for sure. She had been killed around the time of her disappearance, but her body had lain undiscovered for most of a month, and there were signs that her remains had been moved several times during the interim.
In one of the many strange occurrences that would surround the series of brutal crimes, a young man claiming to be a friend of the family arrived at the funeral home that was holding Mary Fleszar’s remains for burial and asked to be allowed to take a picture with the body, as a keepsake for her parents. The receptionist turned him away and was unable to provide the police with a detailed description, though there is reason to believe that the young man in question might have been none other than John Norman Collins, who was a student at Eastern Michigan University majoring in elementary education at the time.
Over the next two years, six more bodies were found in the same small area: each belonging to a young woman and each the victim of a brutal murder. There were enough similarities across all seven victims for authorities to conclude that they were dealing with a serial killer, and a particularly brutal one at that.
In an ultimate act of irony, the final victim of the Ypsilanti Ripper may, in fact, have been killed in the basement of State Police Sergeant David Leik. Leik was Collins’ uncle and had asked his nephew to housesit for him while he and his family were away on vacation. Upon returning from their trip, the Leik family noticed strange differences in their home—a missing bottle of ammonia; a missing can of spray paint; odd stains on the basement floor.
Then clippings of hair were discovered.
Investigators scoured the scene and analyzed the evidence; the hair clippings found in Leik's basement matched those recovered from the body of the most recent murder victim, 18-year-old Karen Sue Beineman, whose remains were found in late July 1969.
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It wasn’t long until John Norman Collins was brought in for questioning. While he maintained his innocence, evidence linking him to the victim, as well as forensic evidence found in his uncle’s basement, was enough to convict him of the murder of Karen Beineman.
Collins, who had been studying to become an elementary school teacher, clearly had a dark side. Locals and fellow college students remember Collins hitting on women in relationships, aggressively pursuing those who were not interested, and expressing disgust toward women in general. It seems that this eventually tipped over into assault and murder.
While the district attorney opted not to charge Collins with the murders of the other six girls in order to ensure his conviction in the case of Karen Beineman, authorities were convinced that Collins was the so-called Ypsilanti Ripper. The murders came to a stop after his arrest. He is currently serving a life sentence at the Marquette Branch Prison in Marquette, Michigan.
After his arrest, Collins was also linked to the death of a 17-year-old girl in Salinas, California, but several attempts to extradite Collins to California to stand trial for the death after his conviction in Michigan were blocked by Collins’ attorney. The crimes have been covered in several books, including the Edgar Award finalist The Michigan Murders, written by Edward Keyes just a few years after the murders were committed.
Featured photo: Murderpedia; Additional photos: Alchetron