other, had a knife, and worked in gardens. He also said there would be more victims. Reluctantly, the police later met with Harkos in Michigan, and he provided to them accurate descriptions of some of the crime scenes, including details not previously released, but none of the information provided new leads for the police to pursue.
At 11:15 p.m. on Wednesday, July 23, 1969, Karen Beineman, a nineteen-year-old EMU student, was reported missing after curfew at her dorm. Her roommates were the last to see her. She had left school to go to downtown Ypsilanti to a wig shop, Wigs by Joan, that afternoon. The police went to the wig shop with a photograph of Karen, and two ladies who worked at the shop remembered that Karen had been there and left with a guy on a motorcycle. They described this man as “kind of nice-looking—neat, clean-cut, short dark hair, early twenties . . . nice build, maybe six feet, and . . . had a striped shirt . . . short- sleeved . . . green and yellow.”2 The bike was “big, loud, and shiny.”3 The police put out an all-points bulletin for the missing girl, had a composite sketch drawn of the man last seen with her, and got a list of registrations for all motorcycles in the Ypsilanti area. The police located another witness who had seen the girl on the motorcycle, and this second witness said the bike was definitely a Triumph.
Meanwhile, a new Ypsilanti police officer who had just graduated from EMU received a briefing on the missing girl and remembered that he had seen a man in a striped shirt on a motorcycle talking to a girl on the street on the afternoon in question. He did not remember the man’s name but knew he was associated with the Theta Chi fraternity. He decided to go to the fraternity house and ask some questions. He learned from the other guys at the house that a person by the name of John Collins matched the description but did not live at the house anymore. The officer went to the location John was said to live and found John working on one of four motorcycles in the garage. The officer asked John if he had seen anyone that looked like him driving around picking up girls that Wednesday afternoon. John said that he had seen nothing of the sort. Before leaving, the officer wrote down the license plate numbers of each of John’s motorcycles, and John got angry, demanding, “What the hell are you doing that for? . . . Bug off and play policeman someplace else.”4 Then the officer found a girl that he knew was a friend of John’s and asked her if she had a photo of John he could borrow. She did, and the officer took it to the wig shop. One of the ladies said
that the man in the photo was definitely the guy seen on the motorcycle with the missing girl; the other lady said the photo was pretty close. With this positive identification, John Collins became a prime suspect in the disappearance of Karen Beineman.
Within minutes of John Collins being identified as a suspect, the nude body of Karen Beineman was discovered in a residential area of Ypsilanti, approximately twenty feet down a gully embankment. The discovery was treated as top secret. Based on previous crimes, the police believed the killer often returned to see the dead bodies, and they hoped he would do so again. The police removed the body, replaced it with a store mannequin, and set up Operation Stakeout. They hoped this stakeout would work better than the last one. As it grew dark on that hot, rainy night, the police hid in the nearby bushes and waited for the killer to return. After a few hours, an individual was seen by the police running from the area, but before the police could notify each other as to what was seen and the direction in which the man was running, the person had vanished. Thinking that maybe the person had been able to get close enough to touch the body, the police checked for fingerprints on the mannequin, but the only ones recovered were those of the district attorney who had set the mannequin in place.
The autopsy on the body revealed that Karen had been dead for about three days and was probably killed on Wednesday at around 3:00 p.m. (she was seen riding away on the motorcycle at about 1:00 p.m.). She had been strangled and savagely beaten, and semen was present. Her chest and breasts had been severely mutilated, as if they had been burned with some type of a liquid or acid. It appeared she also had been bound, as evidenced by ligature marks on her wrists and ankles. Burlap material was found in her throat. The victim’s underwear were recovered from her vagina. On closer examination of the underwear, a most interesting discovery was made: tiny head hair clippings. Where did they come from? Had Karen Beineman been killed in a barber shop?
Meanwhile, the police maintained surveillance on their prime suspect, John Collins. Other young women came forward to the police and said that the man pictured in the composite had tried to get them to go for a ride. Another said John had offered her $50 if he could take pictures of her. With the evidence mounting against John, two young Ypsilanti police officers took it upon themselves to question him.
They accused him of Karen’s murder, and, in the process, told him what they knew about the crime. John provided an alibi to the officers and told them that his uncle, David Leik, a Michigan State Police officer, would not be happy they were making such accusations about him. This premature questioning of John Collins turned out to be another big mistake— one of many in the investigation.
During the next several days, the police spent time verifying John’s alibi for the date and time of the disappearance and murder of Karen, and it seemed to hold up. Why? Was it true? Or did he have time and forewarning enough to create an alibi? The police continued to uncover evidence that at least indirectly suggested John was the coed killer. The task force, however, was in turmoil, and it was believed by many that the investigation was being poorly managed. As a result, just as the case was about to break wide open, the governor of Michigan assigned responsibility of the investigation to the Michigan State Police. The Detroit Free Press headline read, “The Keystone Kops Get Help.”
At about this same time, David Leik’s wife went to the basement of her Ypsilanti home to do the laundry after a twelve-day vacation out of town. She noticed something quite strange—dried black paint on the basement floor and also on a ladder. Several small, brownish spots were found on a shirt hanging in the basement. She also noticed other items either missing or out of place. She wondered if John, her nephew, had any knowledge about the condition of the basement, as he was the only one with access to the house while the Leiks were on vacation. She called David at the state police office and told him about the basement. Shortly thereafter, David was told by his supervisor at the state police post that John was a suspect in the murder of Karen Beineman. Although he found this nearly impossible to believe, David told his supervisor what his wife had found in his basement. They agreed that the crime lab should examine the basement, just to be sure.
Upon examining the basement, investigators carefully scraped the black paint off the floor, expecting to discover blood underneath. An initial test was immediately conducted on the drops visible under the paint, and they were determined to be . . . not blood! David then remembered that a varnish stain was on the floor, dripped there while he was doing a project a long time ago. Then, while on his hands and knees on the basement floor, one of the investigators looked under the washing machine and found several
blonde head hair clippings, clippings that were similar, it seemed, to those found in Karen’s underwear that were recovered from her body. Next, several drops of blood were recovered from the shirt hanging in the basement. The police finally had what they believed was a good crime scene, and John Collins was the only one who had had access to it. Evidence was falling into place. The hair clippings were in the basement because that was where Mrs. Leik always trimmed her children’s hair. The police reasoned that Karen had been in the basement, and while she was being tortured and killed, her underwear had been on the floor. The hair got in her underwear, and John then put the underwear in her vagina. Then, when cleaning the basement after he killed Karen, John had noticed what he thought was a stubborn stain of blood and, unable to remove it, had decided to paint over it. John made a mistake; the stain was varnish, and it had been there previously. When John was questioned and confronted with his mistake, he “drew a sharp breath that caught in his throat, and then, as though a plug had been dislodged, the tears spilled out and ran down his cheeks.”5
John Collins was arrested, and a search warrant was issued for his apartment and car. A black paint spray can, .22 caliber shells, and several knives were recovered from his apartment, but the police did not find what they were really hoping to find. All along, the police believed the killer had been taking and keeping souvenirs from his victims, but they found nothing of the sort in John’s apartment. Later it was learned from one of John’s roommates that after being prematurely questioned by the two officers, John had carried a box out of the apartment that could have contained items that belonged to the victims. The police conducted a lineup for the purpose of having the wig shop workers identify John as the man seen with Karen. The police interrogated Donald Baker, a friend of John’s, and Donald provided information that destroyed John’s alibi and portrayed him as a thief who committed burglaries and stole motorcycle parts. Donald also said that John often carried a knife on his motorcycle.
The trial of John Collins for the murder of Karen Beineman began June 2, 1970. The prosecution had three primary objectives—three points to prove. First, the prosecution sought to prove that Karen had last been seen with John near the wig shop on his motorcycle. The eyewitnesses were used to establish this point. Second, prosecutors needed
to establish that Karen had been in the basement of the Leik house and probably killed there. The primary evidence used to establish this link was the hair found in the basement and the hair in Karen’s underwear found in her vagina. Third, it needed to be established that John had been the only one with access to the home at the time the crime had occurred there (see Exhibit A.1).
The defense offered three counterpoints. First, they questioned the procedures used by the police to identify John as the man last seen with the victim. It was argued that the lineup identification of John was invalid because the witnesses had earlier been shown a single picture of John as the perpetrator. It was argued that this biased the witnesses’ perceptions and identification. Second, the defense raised questions about the actual whereabouts of John during the critical time period in question and argued, through witnesses, that John had a valid alibi and thus could not have possibly have committed the crime. Finally, the defense questioned the methods used to confirm that the victim had, in fact,
been in the basement. They questioned the results of the hair and blood comparison analysis (remember, this case took place before the discovery of DNA analysis). The trial lasted seventeen days, and fifty- seven witnesses provided testimony. John Collins did not testify. After five days of deliberation, the jury found John guilty of the murder of Karen Beineman. He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Some people question why John Collins was never tried for any of the other homicides believed to be part of the series. The probable and most likely reason was that the prosecutors did not believe they had enough evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that John committed these crimes. There was little physical evidence that associated John with the other murders. It has also been reported that the prosecutor held back some evidence and did not pursue the other homicide charges in the event John was found not guilty of the murder of Karen Beineman or he successfully petitioned for a new trial, which he did indeed request in 1988.
Eyewitnesses at the wig shop who saw Collins with Beineman
Hair found in basement of house and in
underwear of Beineman
Collins was the only one with access to
Crime Scene: Leik House
The Triangle of Evidence in the Investigation and Prosecution of John Collins
At least one of the seven murders was not committed by John Collins. On November 25, 2004, Gary Leiterman, sixty-two, was charged with the murder of Jane Mixer, the victim who had arranged for a ride with “David Hanson” and whose body had been found at the cemetery. Leiterman was subsequently found guilty and sentenced to mandatory life in prison for this murder. The conviction was made possible by advances in crime technology. Upon prompting from the victim’s relatives, authorities had entered the DNA profile of Jane’s killer into the Michigan State DNA database. The DNA was obtained from evidence recovered from the victim that had been stored for many years. The print matched that of Leiterman,
whose DNA profile was in the database because of an earlier conviction for prescription fraud. It is not clear if DNA evidence is still available for analysis in any of the other homicide cases.
John Collins maintains that he did not commit the murder of Karen Beineman or any of the other murders in which he is suspected. In 1980 he changed his name to John Chapman. Since being imprisoned, he has attempted to escape at least twice. He remains incarcerated in Michigan. See http://mdocweb.state .mi.us/otis2/otis2profile.aspx?mdocNumber=126833 or search for “John Collins, MDOC number 126833” on the Michigan State Department of Corrections Web site for the current status of John Collins.
Questions for Discussion and Review
1. Previously in Criminal Investigation it was explained that there are often several basic problems with criminal evidence: (1) At the time evidence is collected, it is unknown if it relates to the crime; (2) at the time evidence is collected, it is unknown if the evidence is accurate; and (3) the evidence is not always as it seems to be. Provide an example of each of these issues being present in this case.
2. As discussed, there are various forms and functions of evidence in criminal investigations. Provide an example of each of the following in this case: (1) corpus delicti evidence, (2) identification evidence, (3) behavioral evidence, and (4) associative evidence.
3. In the investigation of the murder of Karen Bieneman, the police identified John Collins as the suspect, Karen as the victim, and the Leiks’ house as the place where Karen was killed. What specific pieces of evidence linked these people and this place?
4. In the investigation of the murder of Karen Beineman, give examples of direct evidence and circumstantial evidence. Also give examples of inculpatory and exculpatory evidence. Was there any direct evidence to allow one to conclude that John Collins had killed Karen Beineman?
5. If you were the defense attorney for John Collins, what alternative explanations for the evidence would you have developed to suggest his innocence?
6. During the investigation, the police discovered what they thought to be two crime scenes. Identify these two places. One of the scenes was much more useful (and valuable) than the other. Explain why.
7. These crimes and their investigation occurred in the 1960s, prior to the discovery of DNA and DNA profiling for criminal investigation purposes. Consider and discuss how this investigation may have differed if it took place today, with the availability of DNA profiling. What might have been different about the investigation? Be specific. What important aspects of the investigation would have likely remained unchanged?
8. Discuss how other technology available today, besides DNA, could have affected this investigation if it was conducted now.
9. How was John Collins first identified as a prime suspect in the murder of Karen Beineman? How was his name developed, and how was he linked to the missing girl? John’s name came up in the investigation prior to his becoming a suspect in the murder of Karen. Explain what evidence led to this development.
10. This investigation occurred prior to the widespread understanding of psychological profiling. Based on the crimes that were committed and how they were committed, what could have been inferred about the characteristics of the killer? What value might this psychological profile have been in the investigation?
11. As discussed, a psychic was used in the investigation. Was any of the information that he provided accurate? Was it relevant? What value, if any, did he provide to the investigation?
12. Identify the most significant mistakes that John Collins made in committing the murder of Karen Beineman. Explain.
13. Identify and discuss the mistakes detectives made in investigating these murders.
14. Identify and discuss the one primary dimension of this investigation that would have differed the most if it was conducted today rather than in the 1960s.
15. Based on the evidence collected throughout the investigation do you think John was guilty of the murder of Karen Beineman? Any or all of the other girls? Why or why not?
Notes 1. Edward Keyes, The Michigan
Murders (New York: Pocket Books, 1976).
2. Ibid., 189.
4. Ibid., 203–204.
5. Ibid., 283.