In 1967, during the time of peace, free love, and hitchhiking, nineteen-year-old Mary Terese Fleszar was last seen alive walking home to her apartment in Ypsilanti, Michigan. One month later, her naked body—stabbed over thirty times and missing both feet and a forearm—was discovered, partially buried, on an abandoned farm. A year later, the body of twenty-year-old Joan Schell was found, similarly violated. Southeastern Michigan was terrorized by something it had never experienced before: a serial killer. Over the next two years, five more bodies were uncovered around Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, Michigan. All the victims were tortured and mutilated. All were female students.
After multiple failed investigations, a chance sighting finally led to a suspect. On the surface, John Norman Collins was an all-American boy—a fraternity member studying elementary education at Eastern Michigan University. But Collins wasn’t all that he seemed. His female friends described him as aggressive and short tempered. And in August 1970, Collins, the “Ypsilanti Ripper,” was arrested, found guilty, and sentenced to life in prison without chance of parole.
Written by the coauthor of The French Connection, The Michigan Murders delivers a harrowing depiction of the savage murders that tormented a small midwestern town.
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About the Author
In 1956 Keyes coauthored, with Al Schact (the Clown Prince of Baseball), My Own Particular Screwball, and in 1969, he collaborated with author Robin Moore on the bestselling thriller The French Connection, which was adapted into an Academy Award–winning film of the same name. He is the author of the Edgar Award–nominated and New York Times–bestselling true crime book The Michigan Murders; Double Dare, a suspense thriller set in New York City based on the true story of an undercover police informant; and Cocoanut Grove, a spellbinding, minute-by-minute account of the fire that destroyed Boston’s Cocoanut Grove nightclub in November 1942.
Keyes and his wife and partner, Eileen Walsh Keyes, raised seven children in New Rochelle, New York. He spent his final years retired in San Diego, California.
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The Michigan Murders
By Edward Keyes
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1976 Edward Keyes
All rights reserved.
Ypsilanti, Michigan. July 10, 1967. Hot, quiet, stagnant.
Marilyn Pindar's younger sister Sheila received the call. It was Nanette Langois, Marilyn's roommate. Had the Pindars heard from Marilyn? She had not come back to the apartment on Sunday night and had not shown up for work yet on Monday morning. Probably nothing to worry about, but ...
Sheila Pindar, an alert, vivacious eighteen-year-old, was alarmed. She and a couple of friends had dropped by the apartment a little after 7:30 the previous evening, to find her sister out, and after waiting for a few minutes, had left, asking to have Marilyn call home when she got in. Now she learned that Marilyn had returned to the apartment ten or fifteen minutes later, puttered about for a few minutes, and then gone out to get some air. Nanette had not seen or heard from her since. Neither, it now began to appear, had anyone else who might have been expected to.
Sheila pondered this, then decided to tell her mother. Margaret Pindar got into her car at once and sped the seven miles north to her daughter's apartment building at 413 Washtenaw Avenue, a tree-lined street in the heart of Ypsilanti, only a few blocks from the campus of Eastern Michigan University, where Marilyn and her roommate were students.
As Mrs. Pindar drove into the tarmac parking area in front, she noticed that her daughter's Comet was not in its usual reserved space, but at the opposite side of the lot. Using her spare key — she liked to be able to drop in every so often when the girls were out, to straighten up or bring things they might need — she went through the apartment with a mother's practiced eye and noted that her daughter's belongings seemed in order. Then she picked up the phone and called Nanette at the university's Field Services Office, where she and Marilyn worked part-time. Marilyn still had not reported in. Mrs. Pindar asked what she was wearing when she went out last on Sunday evening. Nanette said it was the orange tent dress with white polka dots and her leather-and-straw sandals. Mrs. Pindar checked Marilyn's closet. The dress and sandals were not there. Also, there was no sign anywhere of either her apartment keys or her car keys. Yet she had not taken her purse containing her driver's license.
Margaret Pindar next telephoned her husband at the bronze plant in Flat Rock, where he was director of engineering.
Charles Pindar listened quietly. He suggested that Margaret telephone the police first, then go to Ypsilanti headquarters personally. He would leave the plant at once and join her there.
At police headquarters the Pindars' concern turned to frustration. Marilyn Pindar had been missing less than twenty-four hours. Police are not aroused to quick anxiety over a young person dropping out of sight for a day or two — particularly in a town like Ypsilanti.
Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor, Michigan, are university towns. Ypsilanti harbors Eastern Michigan University, which in 1967 had an enrollment of some 13,000 students. Just to the west, comprising a significant part of the city of Ann Arbor, is the University of Michigan, with almost three times as many students as E.M.U. Thus together, within a range of barely ten miles, the two communities swarmed ten months of the year with close to 50,000 young people, mostly transient, plus additional thousands of high-school age and younger.
In such environments, the typical missing persons case usually turns out to be some restless student taking off on a lark or to shack up somewhere for a couple of days. The local police had become so used to this that often they were hard put not to spell it out in plain language to distraught parents or guardians who descended to hound them about a son or daughter who had not been heard from in a day or so.
The desk officer and his sergeant, after dutifully asking routine questions of the Pindars and jotting a few notes, finally moved to cut the session short by suggesting with weary candor that, after all, there really might be less to the situation than met their eyes.
Mr. and Mrs. Pindar caught the inference and protested: Their daughter was definitely not the type of girl to just go off. Besides, she had left behind the car her father had just given her — a blue '63 Comet she prized. If she were off on a lark, wouldn't she have taken it? And then there was the matter of her belongings, which were still at the apartment. Except for the car keys and her apartment key, Marilyn had left everything behind except the clothes she'd been wearing. It was unlike Marilyn to take off with just the clothes on her back, even for a night — and particularly without her handbag.
The officers listened to all this without comment. They had heard stories like this from distraught parents a hundred times — and the kid usually showed up the next day. There was little that Margaret and Charles Pindar could do but return home and wait — and hope for a call that would dispel their foreboding.
The Pindars were a close-knit, deeply religious family of Polish-German stock. They lived in a spacious two-story house of pale yellow brick in Willis, just south of Ypsilanti. It is an area of manicured rolling farmland broken by dense wooded groves, with straight paved roads lined with tall, symmetrical shade trees and unpretentious but prosperous-looking houses.
There were seven children, the eldest a twenty-one-year-old son. Marilyn was next at nineteen, then Sheila, two younger girls and two boys. Much as Mr. Pindar would try, he never was quite able to disguise that Marilyn, his first-born daughter, was something of a princess to him. There had always been a bond between them that was just a little special, probably stemming from Marilyn's frailty as an infant. But it was honest and endearing enough so that none of the other children seemed resentful.
Marilyn was, perhaps, the most studious and homey of the children. She had won a four-year scholarship to E.M.U., where she had just completed her sophomore year and was working part-time to earn extra money. Self-assured but reserved, she applied herself with vigor both to her studies and to outside activities that especially interested her. She possessed unusual musical gifts and was proficient on the organ, piano, violin, and guitar. The guitar had become her favorite, and she could lose herself equally by entertaining family and friends with old favorites or by curling up alone in her room strumming rhythmic chords.
She was petite, scarcely five-two and 104 pounds, and her figure was neatly proportioned for her frame. Her face was pleasant, especially when smiling, which distracted from the plain rimless eyeglasses that tended to give her a bookish look. Still, while on the whole not unattractive, she was not generally regarded as pretty, much less sexually provocative.
All things considered, then, Marilyn Pindar did not seem the type of young woman who should remain long unaccounted for.
Following her disappearance, however, the Pindars showed themselves to be people of extraordinary self-possession. Except for their determined dogging of the police, they remained on the surface unruffled. The father returned to his job, the mother to her normal household routine. Following their parents' lead, Marilyn's brothers and sisters likewise went about their daily activities without skipping too many beats. No one would have guessed from the family's outward calm that under the surface gnawed an agonizing premonition of disaster.
But Charles Pindar felt it the first night, after the younger children had gone to their rooms and the older ones out. He and Margaret were sitting opposite each other in the comfortable living room, its end tables and fireplace wall crowded with framed photographs and portraits of each of the children, and the two of them were silent, each lost in private thoughts.
It did not come upon him with any sudden sense of chilling clarity. He just acknowledged that it was there, inside him, as though it belonged there. Marilyn was dead. His Marilyn. They would never see her alive again. He glanced over at his wife. She had been watching him and now looked away again. They'd been married a long time. Did she know what he was thinking? Was she thinking it herself? Neither said anything.
By Wednesday, after two days of the Pindars' insistent contention that their daughter must be in some kind of trouble, the police, too, were at last sufficiently concerned to clack out a missing persons advisory:
WCT BC 30268 YPSILANTI PD TT 737 7/12/67
MARILYN PINDAR 413 WASHTENAW AVENUE YPSILANTI W/F 19 YRS DB 12/4/47 HEIGHT FIVE-FEET-TWO 104 POUNDS. DK BRN SHORT HAIR GREEN EYES WEARS GLASSES. WAS WEARING ORANGE COLORED POLKA DOT SUN DRESS WHEN LAST SEEN. MISSING SINCE 7/9/67 AFTER SHE LEFT APT TO GO FOR A WALK
The Marilyn Pindar missing persons case was picked up the next day by Detective Lieutenant Vern Howard. A commanding six-foot-four two hundred pounder, the fifty-three-year-old Howard was marking his twenty-fifth anniversary as a cop with the Ypsilanti Police Department, the last seventeen years as a detective. After a quarter of a century of such work there can be few surprises left and few excitements. Least of all, missing girl cases.
But Vern Howard, for all his impenetrable veteran-cop exterior, was as compassionate as the next man. He had a twenty-year-old daughter himself, so he could sympathize with people like the Pindars. He started by interviewing the family, then Marilyn's roommate, a few of her friends, some of her coworkers at the university who had seen her most recently, and finally residents of the immediate neighborhood in which Marilyn lived in Ypsilanti. Soon he was able to piece together a fabric of the missing girl's last known movements on Sunday, July 9, the day she disappeared.
She arose that morning about 6:30, showered and dressed in the loose orange tent dress and sandals and went out. She walked two blocks north to Cross Street and entered St. John's Church just after the start of the seven o'clock mass. After mass, she walked west up Cross Street to the university, stopping on the way for a cup of coffee, and arriving at the Field Services Office just at eight.
Field Services was an arm of the school administration that organized and coordinated extracurricular activities, both for E.M.U. students and in consortium with other schools elsewhere. This day, there was to be registration for a week-long course in cheerleading. Registration was heavy and continuous, and the processing of schedules and living accommodations piled up. At midday Marilyn scarcely had time to break for a quick snack. Later her sister Sheila telephoned to say that she and a cousin of theirs, Joanie, and a boy Marilyn used to date, Larry Busch, were going up to Silver Lake and would meet her there later if she could get away. Marilyn said she'd like to. She couldn't go swimming because she was having her period, but it would be nice to get away anyway.
The traffic was heavy on Sunday afternoon, and Marilyn didn't arrive at Silver Lake until after 5:00 P.M. There were no parking spaces left, and the state trooper guarding the entrance waved her away.
Marilyn drove on to Half Moon Lake, another five miles or so west. Though smaller, Half Moon usually wasn't as crowded as Silver Lake. If Sheila and the others hadn't been able to get into Silver Lake either, they might have tried this beach.
Half Moon was open. Her guitar slung across her back, Marilyn wandered through the park, from the wooded slopes with their picnic tables scattered beneath tall pines down to the rich open lawns that reached to the lake's edge, to the modern pavilion, and across the narrow curve of beach to the white metal lifeguard stand where Leo Glover, a boy she knew, was on duty. She asked about Sheila and her friends, but he said he hadn't seen them. Then she strolled down to the water's edge. After wading about aimlessly a bit, she made her way back to shore, took up her guitar, and went over to the lifeboat beached a short distance from Leo's stand. She sat down on the aft seat and began fingering low-key, melancholy tunes. Soon children were gathering around, and she picked up the tempo.
The impromptu concert lasted a half hour, until about 6:30. Then her young audience started to break up. By a quarter to seven, she sat alone in the lifeboat. Nobody remained in the water. Leo left his stand and busied himself gathering equipment for stowing back at the pavilion. The last he saw of Marilyn, she was walking slowly across the beach toward the parking field.
It could not be determined whether Marilyn Pindar had stopped anywhere between Half Moon Lake and her apartment in Ypsilanti. It was known only that she arrived back at 413 Washtenaw Avenue a little past eight, having just missed her sister Sheila, their cousin Joanie, and Larry Busch.
The three had in fact been at Silver Lake all afternoon and were unaware that the park had been closed to new arrivals from about three o'clock on. Figuring that Marilyn just had not been able to get away, they'd stopped by her apartment on their way home to Willis to say hello and pick up a book that Marilyn had been saving for Joanie.
But only Nanette Langois and her boyfriend, Mark Tanzi, were there. Sheila and the others sat around waiting for about ten minutes, trying to manufacture conversation, then murmured excuses and left. Sheila was relieved to be gone. Nanette was all right, but she did not much care for Tanzi, a swarthy, rawboned young man with a brooding manner, who seemed almost always to be there and sometimes acted as if he owned the place. Sheila knew that her sister was unhappy with the situation, and that, though she'd not said anything yet to Nanette, Marilyn was thinking of moving out, perhaps back home.
Marilyn returned about fifteen minutes after the others had gone, to find Nanette's boyfriend making himself at home in the small apartment. She poked about by herself in the small kitchen, flipped without interest through a magazine, then, about twenty past eight, said she was going out for some air. Nanette and her boyfriend scarcely paid any attention.
At first it appeared to Lieutenant Howard that Marilyn's roommate and her boyfriend were the last people to have seen the girl. But after a few more days of checking, he learned that at least three others had seen her approximately a half hour to forty-five minutes after she had left her apartment.
At about 8:45 P.M., an E.M.U. campus policeman, patrolling the Cross Street perimeter of the university, had seen her on the opposite side of the street, alone, strolling toward Hamilton. He'd recognized her not only as a student who worked somewhere in the university, but also because he had helped her start her car once when it had stalled on a campus driveway.
Five or ten minutes after that, a man relaxing on the darkened porch of his house on Hamilton Street, between Emmet and Washtenaw, had noticed her walking alone toward Washtenaw. He worked in Ypsilanti with an uncle of Marilyn's, and he and the girl had occasionally exchanged hellos and chatted since she'd moved nearby.
He watched her go past, apparently on her way to her apartment on the next corner. But then he witnessed something peculiar. Just as Marilyn passed his house, a car cruised up on Hamilton and slowed abreast of her. The driver, who appeared to be a young man, leaned toward her and said something through the open passenger-side window. Marilyn paused, shook her head, and kept walking. The car accelerated and wheeled around the corner at Washtenaw. Moments later, the man was surprised to see the same car race past his house again. It caught up with the girl farther up the block, where with a sharp turn it pulled across the sidewalk just in front of her and stopped halfway into a private driveway, blocking her path. The driver seemed to be trying to talk her into getting in. By the uncertain light of a street lamp, the car appeared to be a bluish gray, a fairly late model, possibly a Chevy. Again Marilyn shook him off, detoured around behind the vehicle, and continued walking. The car backed out of the driveway, then with an angry screech accelerated south on Hamilton and roared out of sight.
The man on the porch watched anxiously as Marilyn reached the corner of Washtenaw, but by the time she'd crossed toward her building on the far corner and was lost to his view, the car had not, so far as he could tell, come back.
As a result of this painstaking legwork, Lieutenant Howard could verify through two separate accounts that, at some time before nine o'clock on Sunday night, July 9, Marilyn Pindar was still alive, presumably well, and in close proximity to her place of residence. As to the third person who could place her at that time and location — the driver of the blue-gray automobiles — he was all but uncheckable, since the description of the car was too hazy and the witness had been unable to distinguish plate numbers. The lieutenant could only wonder whether the driver might have been the last to have seen her.
Excerpted from The Michigan Murders by Edward Keyes. Copyright © 1976 Edward Keyes. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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