Deadly Ride

After 30 Years, A Suspect Is Charged In Coed's Murder

Extra: Unraveling a murder mystery 04:26

Jane's body ended up 14 miles from Ann Arbor in an old out-of-the-way cemetery. Her killer left her out in the open atop a grave just steps from the gate. The next morning, a woman in a nearby home noticed and called the police.

"When we arrived there, it was 10:30 in the morning, and it was a cold, crisp morning," remembers Detective Donald Bennett, now retired. "You could very quickly see that she'd been shot in the head. And then around her neck we could see a nylon hose, so she'd been strangled also."

There was no apparent sexual assault, but Jane's pantyhose had been pulled down. During the autopsy, Bennett scraped a single drop of blood off Jane's left hand.

"It probably grabbed my attention because it was a singular round spot of blood dried," says Bennett.

Three decades later, that tiny drop of blood would become a controversial piece of evidence, but back in 1969 there was little the police could do with it, so they searched for other clues.

On the night of the murder, a green station wagon was seen careening away from the cemetery. But it was never tracked down.

Police searched Jane's dorm room and found a phone book that had a mark next to the name "David Johnson." But that David Johnson, a University of Michigan student, had an iron clad alibi. He was acting on stage the night of the murder and said he had never offered Jane a ride.

The cops checked out other David Johnsons in the area as well as Jane's acquaintances, including her fiancée.

"I was too numb to really care. I was much more concerned about dealing with the death of someone I was about to get married to," says Phil.

Police were stymied and concerned. This crime seemed to fit a disturbing pattern: Jane Mixer was the third young woman in the area to turn up dead in the past two years. And four days later, the pace picked up when a fourth body was found.

By the end of July, there were seven victims. Most were brutalized before they were killed.

"They have young women being murdered and nobody can find the guy and stop him. That's just something that had never happened here," says Katherine Ramsland, who teaches and writes about forensics. Her latest book, The Human Predator, is about serial killers. In 1969, she was living near Ann Arbor.

As body after body was recovered, the Mixer family retreated but the community was clamoring for action.

Barbara Nelson says the murder of her little sister left her numb. "It was shock and horror and being scared," she says.

Ramsland says the killings continued for two years, and back in 1969, the killer seemed unstoppable. "We did not know much about serial killers in those days. We didn't even use the word serial killer."

It wasn't until the seventh victim was found that the police finally had a break in the case. When they made an arrest, it was a real shocker.

Police arrested John Norman Collins for the murder of Karen Sue Beineman. Collins was an education major at Eastern Michigan University and had no known criminal record.

A witness claimed she had seen Collins with Beineman shortly before her death.

And while it was widely assumed that he was responsible for all seven murders, Collins stood trial and was convicted for only one: Karen Beineman.

"Pretty much all they had against him was circumstantial evidence. I think when you put together the fear at that time and the need for the police to resolve it, I don't think there was going be any other verdict than that one," says Ramsland.

Although Collins maintained his innocence in Beineman's murder, he was sentenced to life. He has never been charged with the murder of any of the other six victims. Still, back in 1969, people in Michigan breathed a collective sigh of relief.

"Investigators gave the media the sense that, even if we can't prove he killed all of them, we know he did," says Ramsland.

Barbara says the Mixer family came to accept that Collins killed Jane. "The murders stopped. So there was this sense of relief. I mean, I think that's what made so many of us think that, 'Yeah, they got the man.' They stopped."

Still, Barbara harbored a deep-seated fear from those days. And years later, her daughter Maggie would pick up on it.

"There was a lot of barricading of the doors, hysterical fear, a kind of fear that just doesn't feel like it's going to do you any good to hold onto it," recalls Maggie.

It was that fear that fueled Maggie's curiosity about her aunt's short life.

Barbara says she was surprised when her daughter started asking questions, "I felt like it was a book that shouldn't be opened. And then also wanted to say, 'Yes, Maggie, yes, go for it,' you know?"

Maggie, a professor of writing and literature, went for it in a big way. Her research would eventually become a book Jane: a Murder. It was about Jane's life. The book would also deal with the impact Jane had on other people, including Maggie herself.

Maggie began to understand how strong the bonds were between her mother and her aunt Jane. "To Barbara, here's to the hope that you'll never stop growing up. Not only for what you are, but what I am when I am with you. Myself. Gratefully, your sister, Jane," Maggie read from a 1966 entry in Jane's journal.

Barbara says she was extremely close to her sister by the time they were both in college, and dealing with Jane's death was "extraordinarily painful."

After the horror, Barbara got on with her life. But there were still unanswered questions.

Jane's case became inactive in 1970, when John Collins was convicted of Karen Beineman's murder. "He thinks there was a miscarriage of justice," says Ramsland, who in her research of the case has been corresponding with Collins.

Collins has been serving time in state prison for the last 35 years.

Ramsland says Collins has consistently denied killing anyone, including Jane Mixer.

On that one point, at least, Ramsland tends to believe him. She has never been convinced that Collins killed Jane. "Her murder just did not have the brutality about it that some of the others did," she says.

The killer had taken the time to cover up Jane's body and carefully arrange her belongings around her.