Terror in Ypsilanti: John Norman Collins Unmasked by Gregory A. Fournier

Publication Date: September 5, 2016


Terror in Ypsilanti: John Norman Collins Unmasked by Gregory A. Fournier takes place between 1967 and 1969, when a number of young women between the ages of 13 and 21 disappeared from the streets in Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor, Michigan, many of them co-eds at Eastern Michigan University and the University of Michigan. John Norman Collins was initially only charged with the murder of Karen Sue Beineman, an 18-year-old EMU student, but his links to other murders, including one in California; seemed straightforward for authorities. In Terror in Ypsilanti, Fournier dives into the crimes of Michigan serial killer, John Norman Collins. 

To be upfront, I was born in Ypsilanti, Michigan 3 months after Collins was formally sentenced for the murder of Karen Sue Beineman. Collins was the story moms used to scare children about why they should never walk alone. the local urban legend road, Denton Road, was known as a place that Collins’ dumped the body of Jane Louise Mixer, a 23-year-old University of Michigan law student (she was later found not to be a Collins’ victim when DNA matched Gary Leiterman to the crime in 2004). The spot where the body was left was included by friends in my surprise 15th birthday party which my mother did not allow me to attend. My friends went anyway and, as teens do, other teens jumped out and scared them. Sounds like it was a great time if, looking back, perhaps quite disrespectful for a final resting place. 

Like Fournier and some of the victims, I’m was a student at and am a graduate of Eastern Michigan University. 

Fournier makes the same mistake in Terror in Ypsilanti: John Norman Collins Unmasked that many true crime authors do—his book is all about the killer. Not only is the book all about the killer but it is very light on new information or indeed; interviews 40 years on with families of the victims and investigators on the case. The murders themselves are the background to the legal procedural/investigative nature of the narrative. The book seems to have been written solely from publicly available documents. The leg up that this book has on Keyes’s The Michigan Murders is that real names are used but was written nearly half a century after its predecessor which Keyes wrote in the wake of the disappearances of the women and likely while Collins’ was still appealing his conviction. I’m sure the families of his alleged victims appreciated the discretion. 

There are quite a large number of errors in Terror in Ypsilanti: John Norman Collins Unmasked that could have been resolved with a good editor. The feeling of the nature of the errors (duplicate pages, procedural errors, etc.) is that perhaps there was a rush to publish. Out of curiosity, I looked up to see if something was going on with Collins in 2016 but the only articles that I found were about the release of Fournier’s take on the story. 

So, you may ask, this book was released in 2016 and you’re from Ypsilanti. Why didn’t you review it until now? I bought the book when it was released and had followed Fournier’s progress with interest on his blog (click here for his blog).  My Dad, who moved to Ypsilanti around the time of the murders to work at the Willow Run Plant, had read it and really enjoyed a look back at what had been all over the news at the time. He’d been worried for his sister, who had moved to Ypsilanti for the same reason, before him. He appreciated the rehashing of the case and not the murders. 

Talking with my Dad, I had the sense that if you already have a good background on the case, you will really enjoy Terror in Ypsilanti: John Norman Collins Unmasked. I have a good background but found the book a bit of a slog so put it down and didn’t pick it back up until hearing Fournier on the Most Notorious podcast talking about the case. Am I happy to have picked it up? No. Do I feel better informed? No. I also wonder how many things in the book are wrong just based on what I know to be wrong.

Fournier does go into what happened with Collins after he was tried which is interesting but just filler. I’m not going to recommend that my non-Ypsilanti followers buy this book. If you want to know about the case, The Michigan Murders is a better read. The names have been changed and some of the facts of the murders are altered to protect the families of the victims facts about the actual case are easy to find online – or if you’d like what you can find online in one place, buy Fournier’s Terror in Ypsilanti: John Norman Collins Unmasked.


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