Murder in the Backyard

Twenty-four years ago, I read a book and it scared me half to death. That's what'll happen, when you read about gruesome murders that took place right in your own backyard.

The book was titled "Michigan Murders," by Edward Keyes, and it chronicled---sometimes in gory detail---the killing spree of one John Norman Collins in and around Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti in the late-1960s.

Collins, who's still in prison up in Marquette, was only convicted of one of the murders---that of Karen Sue Beineman---but it's widely believed that Collins was responsible for the deaths of up to six girls, mostly college students from Eastern Michigan University.

What made the book so stark in its reality was that I was foolish enough to read it while attending EMU, in my senior year.

Many of the events took place in Ypsilanti, near the EMU campus, and Keyes describes them in detail---sometimes with addresses---so it was damn near impossible not to get the creeps reading it, considering I was very familiar with many of the venues.

Collins was a member of Theta Chi fraternity, and while I attended school from 1981-85, a nasty little ditty was still being uttered.

"Be a Thet, kill your date."

Lovely, eh?

Keyes gives the address of one of the houses Collins lived in while he was killing girls, and it just happened to be a house I would drive by frequently in my travels around campus.

My good friend Cory Bergen's parents knew the Michigan State Trooper uncle of Collins. And it was in that trooper's home that Collins allegedly murdered one of his victims. Cory told me he'd been inside that home many times as a child.

The "Eww!" factor.


Collins during his 1970 trial


Collins much more recently


I brought on some of the creepiness myself.

Once I trudged over to the campus library and dragged out old yearbooks, having learned by reading the book that Collins was a member of the ski team for a time.

It didn't take me long to spot Collins in a group photo of the ski club, smiling broadly. Turns out that when that photo was taken, Collins had already likely killed several girls.

More "Eww!" factor.

Collins' modus operandi was pretty much this: he'd charm a girl, sometimes on his motorcycle, and offer her a ride. Then he'd kill her---under one strange condition.

If the girl was menstruating, Collins killed her. He apparently was disgusted by a woman's monthly period.

Yeah. I know.

During the investigation of Collins, who emerged as a key suspect because he was the last one to be seen with Beineman while she was alive, it was discovered that Collins had a nasty history of what we today call sexual harassment, and violence against women.

Another ghoulish thing was that Collins apparently liked to go back to where he dumped the bodies and just hang out by them. Some cigarette butts and other items indicating someone had been spending time were found by several of the victims.

Beineman, the poor thing, was confirmed to have said, upon agreeing to hitch a ride with Collins on his bike, "I must be either the bravest or stupidest girl alive."

Sadly, it was the latter.

The families of the other victims of John Norman Collins, a Warren kid, didn't get the closure that Beineman's family did, because Collins was only tried on the one crime.

"The Michigan Murders," strangely, never used anyone's real name---including Collins himself. He was called James Nolan Armstrong. Not sure why---the book was clearly a depiction of Collins' crimes.

But to read a book of such real-life horror---Keyes details the decomposition of several victims when they were found---and then to remind yourself that it all took place in and around your burg is pretty freaking creepy.

Still, it was a gripping experience, reading "The Michigan Murders." In a bizarre way, I'm glad I read it while still living near campus.

Guess we all like to have the excrement scared out of us from time to time.

Comments

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