Michigan Murders: 50 years ago, terror reigned in Ypsilanti

Image 1 of 4

Before the term 'serial killer' was common on nightly crime shows, before Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, or Jeffrey Dahmer, there was the Michigan Murderer, the Co-Ed Killer, the Ypsilanti Ripper. Whatever you want to call the killer, he terrorized Eastern Michigan University for two years.

At the end of July 1969, seven women had been killed. They were all shot, strangled, stabbed or subjected to terrible acts. Almost all of them had been raped and mutilated. 

FOX 2 Detroit hasn't always been known as FOX 2. WJBK-TV 2 signed on in October 1948 and we were a CBS station until the 1990s. As WJBK-TV 2, we covered the Eastern Michigan murders. We tapped into our extensive archives for a special look back at the two years of terror that gripped the area.

Much of what you'll see in the video hasn't been seen since it aired originally on Channel 2, half a century ago. We revisited the scenes and the people who lived through the terror - and we also talked to some who never spoke about their encounters with a savage killer on television before.

PEACE AND LOVE

When you think of 1960s America, you probably think of hippies. On campus at Eastern, some students were into fraternities, some were into flower power. But regardless if you were a frat or a 'freak' or a TV reporter, the entire area was in the middle of a manhunt for a monster.

Karen Sue Beineman was 18 years old and a freshman at Eastern, and was missing. Everyone feared she would be the latest victim in a brutal murder spree. 

It was July 23, 1969.

She was the last victim.

THE FIRST VICTIM

The killing started exactly two years earlier, in July '67, when Mary Fleszar disappeared. The 19-year-old devout Catholic took an evening walk from her apartment near campus. 

Greg Fournier lived nearby and spotted neighbor her as she was being cat-called by a young man. Fournier said the cat-caller screeched to a stop and seemed to be trying to get her in the car to take a ride.

"He put his car in front of her while she's walking down the street," Fournier said.

Fournier is very familar with the story. Besides watching the cat-calling, he wrote the book 'Terror in Ypsilanti,' which chronicles the murders. The author recalls he watched the cat-and-mouse game for a while until Mary was eventually out of sight. 

Mary Fleszar was never seen alive again.

Her body was found about a month later, near Leforge and Geddes Roads. She'd been repeatedly stabbed in the chest. Police said she had not been killed where her body was found.

State police said the killer returned to the scene at least three times and moved her body. They also said he had apparently mutilated her further each time.

"Many were veterans on the force and had never seen anything quite that horrific," Fournier said.

There would be more horror.

ONE YEAR LATER

Almost a year to the day later, 20-year-old Joan Schell left her home on Emmet Street and walked a block over to a bus stop on Washtenaw Avenue. She missed the bus and was hitchhiking to Ann Abor.

Her friend said she got into a car with three young men.

Joan was never seen alive again.

A few days later, her body was found off Earhart Road in Ann Arbor. In 1968, the neighborhood that's now standing there was just being built. Joan had 25 stab wounds when she was found.

She, too, was killed somewhere else and then dumped in what's now somebody's back yard.

'UNSPEAKABLE THINGS'

By March 1969, Maralynn Skelton was 16 and was a rock-and-roll party girl. Her brother dropped her off at the Arborland Mall, but she wanted to get to her boyfriend's place in Ypsi. He was a drummer in a band, one his bandmates, named Ed, was probably one of the last people to talk to her.

"She had called me from Arborland Shopping Center out on Washtenaw and (was) looking for a ride to our place. I didn't have a car. I said 'sorry Maralynn, I can't come and get you,'" Ed said.

Like Mary and Joan, Maralynn had been killed somewhere else and her body dumped outside Ypsilanti. Unlike Mary and Joan, however, she was not stabbed to death. 

"She was the most brutally murdered and he did really unspeakable things to her," Fournier said. 

While she was killed in another manner, her body was dumped just yards from where Joan had been found. Doug Harvey was a Washtenaw County Sheriff at the time and remembers the grim details.

"He would always shove something up her vagina. That was one of his calling cards," Harvey said. 

Marlalynn's 16-year-old body had been found violated with a large tree branch.

THE WORST WAS YET TO COME

The youngest victim was only in eighth grade. Dawn Basom was just 13 and was last seen walking along railroad tracks as she took a shortcut home. She never made it.

Retro Kimmer is a blogger who wrote about the murders in detail and says that shortcut is still being used.

"It's a lot closer than if you go down here to Leforge, and she'd have to go all the way down and back to her house. This is a shortcut to her house. She'd cut over the railroad tracks and then there's her house," she said.

Dawn took that shortcut and was just a few hundred yards from home when she vanished in April 1969. 

Cheryl was a good friend of Dawn's and still remembers her today.

"She was tough. She was generous and sweet," Cheryl said.

The morning after the sweet girl was missing, Sheriff Harvey was on Vreeland and Gale Roads where her body was dumped. He remembers the horrible sight when he looked under the sheet.

"Here was a young little girl. It tore us apart. Seriously. It had an affect on us. On every one who had seen this," Harvey remembers today.

"I went to the funeral home and Dawn's mother asked me to sit next to her," Cheryl said.

Dawn's funeral was a heart-wrenching affair as the frantic search for the killer continued.

NEAR ESCAPE

"At first it was college students being victimized and everybody was horrified at that but when he took a little kid..." Kimmer said. 

Like the first three victims, Dawn had been murdered somewhere other than where her body was found. 

Washtenaw deputies searched the handful of miles between her abduction and where her body was discovered, and found her orange sweater and the signs of a deadly struggle between Dawn and her killer.  

"He took her to that abandoned house up on Leforge Road. She was in the basement of that house. They found glass in her elbows and knees. She had gotten out of there and got across the yard and back toward the barn and that's where she was attacked and murdered," Cheryl said.

Both the house and barn were abandoned buildings. The killer must have known no one would be there and it was clear he knew the area.

After the scene was cleared, the killer returned to the scene. Items including Dawn's missing earring were found in the abandoned barn, weeks after her murder.

LAST RIDE

By June 1969, Alice Kalom was a graduate student at the University of Michigan and was going to a birthday party in Ann Arbor.

Someone reported seeing her on the back of a motorcyle leaving the Depot House, a club in Ann Arbor. The weather was perfect for a ride for the 22-year-old. It would be her last ride.

"Her neck was slit from ear to ear. I remember that. They found her out on Territorial Road," Sheriff Harvey said.

The only thing there was a lone abandoned barn.

2,000 MILES AWAY

Just a few weeks later, on the other side of the country, 17-year-old Roxie Phillips was brutally killed in California. No one could have possibly connected the crimes, at first.

Roxie was last seen returning from mailing a letter when a shiny Cutlass pulled to the curb and cut her off in Salinas, California. The car stood out becase it had Michigan plates and witnesses saw it unfold.

"There were two people that saw her in that car," Fournier said.

The car also stood out because the driver pulled away screeching his tires and almost hit another driver.

"The woman in that car had seen enough of the dress that Roxie had on. (She) said it was kind of a red dress and had a floral print on it, which is what she was wearing," Fournier said.

Roxie was found in Pecadero Canyon outside of Salinas. She had been beaten and strangled with the belt of that floral-patterned dress and then dumped in the canyon. 

BACK TO MICHIGAN (THE FINAL VICTIM)

Just 10 days later, a freshman at Eastern Michigan didn't return to her dorm for the night.

That freshman was Karen Beineman.

She had walked into a wig shop on Washington Avenue in Downtown Ypsi and made a comment that didn't sit well with the store's owner.

"She said I've just done two things that I haven't done in my life: I'm buying a wig and I accepted a ride on a motorcycle with a stranger," sheriff Harvey said.

Shop owner Joan Goeshe and her assistant stepped outside to watch the 18-year-old. They saw a clean cut young man sitting on a shiny Triumph motorcycle. When he noticed the women looking at him, he turned away.

At the chocolate shop next door, the shopkeeper couldn't help but notice the nice looking bike and she watched as a young woman walked out and hopped on to the back, sitting behind the man. 

It was Karen Beineman and it was her last ride.

PUTTING A FACE TO A KILLER

In part two, another grisly discovery is made and the reign of terror is finally ended. But how did they track down the suspect? We'll talk about the desperate measures used to try to stop the killings. We'll also meet the rookie Eastern Michigan University cop who came face-to-face with the killer - someone he knew. 

Continue reading Part Two here: Michigan Murders: 50 years ago, terror in Ypsilanti ends