Thursday, October 1, 2015

A Crime to Remember--John Norman Collins Episode--"A New Kind of Monster"

In early 2013, I was asked to participate on a new Investigation Discovery Channel series named A Crime to Remember. One of the producer's staffers had read a number of my Fornology blog posts on John Norman Collins and the Washtenaw County murders of 1967-1969. At Discovery Channel's expense, I was flown to New York for my first television appearance. What a thrill!

Also included in the program to provide commentary were former Washtenaw County Sheriff Douglas Harvey, forensic psychologist and author Dr. Katherine Ramsland, former Eastern Michigan University campus patrolman Larry Mathewson, and reporter Marti Link. The episode is entitled, "A New Kind of Monster."
After almost five years of research and interviewing people connected with these cases, my treatment of this subject matter has the benefit of close to fifty years of hindsight and should be completed early next year. In addition to the seven murders and the restored court proceedings (trial records were purged by Washtenaw County officials) my book will include for the first time ever, John Norman Collins' prison years and his attempts to circumvent his life sentence without parole.

"A New Kind of Monster" was the second most popular episode of the Emmy winning first season of the series. It can be accessed at the link below, or it can be seen On Demand and at YouTube, Amazon Prime, IMDb, and Netflix.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Ann Arbor Mallet Murder

Pauline Campbell was a nurse at St. Joseph's Mercy Hospital in Ann Arbor, Michigan

Saturday, September 15, 1951, had been a hot day in Ann Arbor, but near midnight it was pleasantly cool. Pauline Campbell (34) had just finished her evening shift working the maternity ward at St. Joseph's Mercy Hospital. She crossed Observatory Street kitty-corner and headed down Washington Heights, a narrow, darker street towards where she lived several houses away. 


Only four nights before, a man had slugged a nurse with a blunt instrument while walking home from University Hospital in this same neighborhood. 

Bill Morey, Max Pell, and Dan Meyers were recent Ypsilanti High School graduates. On Wednesday night, they drove to Milan and bought two six-packs of beer at a tavern known to sell to minors.

Dan Meyers owned the car but didn't have his license yet and allowed Bill Morey to drive his car that night. They were cruising Ann Arbor, according to Dan, because they wanted to steal some hubcaps they could sell or trade for an echo can--a fifteen inch chrome exhaust pipe for his car.

Rather than steal hub caps on a quiet, shadowy street, Bill drove towards the well-lit University Hospital area. The three of them were tipsy, and Bill decided he wanted to pick up some girls. On the way over, Max and Bill began talking about snatching a nurse's purse. Later in court, Dan testified it was mainly Bill's idea.

"Let's hit somebody over the head and rob them," Bill said. There was a 12" crescent wrench among some loose tools they used to steal car parts under the front seat.

"This should do it," he said, striking his open palm to test its heft.

The street was busy, but when they saw a nurse walking up a deserted street alone, Bill said, "I'm going to hit her and drag her into the car."

In court, Dan Meyers claimed he kept telling Bill not to do it, but he did not hold Bill back nor did he shout out a warning to the nurse.

Bill got out of the car swiftly and walked up behind the unsuspecting nurse and swung the wrench. He hit her--but she didn't fall down--she screamed and ran. Bill jumped back to the car, and the three teenagers drove away laughing about the failed attempt.

Shirley Mackley was able to describe her attacker for police: five feet, ten inches tall; about one-hundred and seventy-five pounds; and young--possibly twenty years old. She was not seriously hurt. Her attacker had wanted to stun her and drag her into the car, so he held back a fatal blow. That would not happen again.


Four nights later, Bill Morey and Max Pell were out cruising again, but this time with Dave Royal, someone they recently met. Max was driving his beloved car that night.

They talked Dave into paying for the beer because he worked construction and had money. Max bought a case of beer, and they split it between themselves and two "wild" girls Bill knew from Milan. Dave was the odd man out and drank alone in the car.

They drank most of the beer and dropped the girls off at their homes at about eleven. The inebriated trio headed into Ann Arbor. That's when Bill told Max Pell, "Go up around the hospital."

There was a rubber mallet with a foot long wooden handle in the car that Max's father used to repair household furniture. They spotted a lone nurse leaving Mercy Hospital. She crossed Observatory Street kitty-corner and starting down the hill on Washington Heights Street which was narrower and darker.

Max turned off his headlights and Bill said, "Let me out here behind the nurse." 

With Bill on foot, Dave asked Max if Bill intended to assault and rob the nurse. "I know he had it on his mind, but I don't know if he is going to do it."

Wearing moccasins, Bill gained on the nurse, rushed her from behind, and knocked her unconscious. Bill struck her several more times, then he called out to Dave to help him drag her limp body to the car. 

They got only as much as her head in the car when Max told them, "Don't put her in the car!" They dropped her body in the street and drove off leaving her unconscious. She died soon after in the hospital where she had just finished her shift.

The young thugs took Huron River Drive back to Ypsilanti, but not before Bill went through the victim's purse. In it was a cigarette lighter, a watch, and a dollar and a half. From a bridge, they threw her purse into the Huron River. Afterwards, they bought ninety-four cents worth of gas, ate sandwiches, and drank coffee to sober up at a truck stop called the Fifth Wheel.


After the first nurse attack, Bill confessed to his good friend, Dan Baughey, who was on probation at the time, that he was the person who hit the nurse. When Dan heard about the killing of the second nurse, he was urged by his priest and his father to tell the police what he knew.

At 3:00 PM on Wednesday, September 19, Dan Baughey reported to police, and the three suspects were apprehended. On their drive from the Ann Arbor police station to Lansing to take lie-detector tests, Bill chatted with detectives about police cars. That's all he talked about. Dave Royal did not say much for most of the ride

But Max Pell was worried chiefly about his car which had been taken into evidence. He told the police that he recently put a new engine in it and asked them not to drive it over fifty miles an hour.

The young toughs confessed when they got to Lansing. Max Pell was the first to break down when police told him they were going to cut up his car's upholstery to check for blood evidence.

"You don't need to tear my car apart. I'll tell you. It's blood."


The victim, Pauline Campbell, was an orphan born in Ohio and raised by a farm family. She worked her way through college as a housemaid and later as a nurse's aide. She was single, quiet, tidy, and rather slight of build said her landlady.

Less than six weeks after the arrest, the case went to trial. The courtroom as packed with local teenage girls, some who managed to get their pictures in the paper and later got in trouble for skipping school. When the defendants entered or left the courtroom, Bill was always first, then Max, and then Dave. 

In his summation, Washtenaw County Prosecutor Reading told the jury that "...on the night Miss Campbell was killed she, unlike the three teens, had been working and working at a task that benefits other people." He asked the jury to bring forth a first degree murder conviction for all three defendants.

Bill Morey's aunt, mother, and father at arraignment.

Bill Morey and Max Pell were found guilty of murder one and given life sentences. Dave Royal was convicted of second degree murder and got twenty-two years to life for his part. Dan Meyers was sentenced to serve one to ten years for his complicity in the attack upon the first nurse who survived. 


After the trial, the community of Ypsilanti felt that the finger of shame was being pointed at them for letting their kids run wild and get out of control. This was true from the Ann Arbor News perspective and the Detroit newspapers also.

The city of Ypsilanti went into a defensive mode. One former Ypsilanti policewoman, Mrs. Dellinger, was quoted as saying, "The community has committed itself to a hush-hush policy. My feeling is that there will be another episode just as horrifying before this community can be awakened."

Sixteen years later, the first of the Washtenaw County Murders struck the Ypsilanti community. This time a serial killer was on the loose, and the rubber mallet murder had long been forgotten.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Harry Bennett's Role in the Ypsilanti Torch Murders of August 11, 1931

The Torch Murderers protected from the lynch mob outside by Washtenaw County Police and Harry Bennett's Ford Motor Company "Servicemen." 

The Torch Murders were among the most horrific crimes in Ypsilanti history to that date. On August 11, 1931, three young men who had been drinking whiskey at a local speakeasy decided to go out on a prowl in their car and rob somebody. In the early morning hours, robbery was the least of their crimes.


The City of Ypsilanti prospered before and during World War I. The Huron River provided a good source of reliable water power, and local industries provided mercantile goods for the war movement. The train station in Depot Town helped make Ypsilanti a thriving farm and light industry center. But that wasn't to last long.

The Roaring Twenties saw some fundamental changes in the thinking of young Americans and Ypsilanti wasn't immune. Many family farms, the traditional backbone of Ypsilanti's economy, were no longer being handed down from father to son. 

Once the farm boys joined the infantry and went to France, it was hard to keep them on the farm. The automobile was still relatively new and created new opportunities for people. It changed the way most people lived. Americans were intoxicated with their new sense of freedom, courtesy of Henry Ford's inexpensive Model T.

Like the rest of the country though, Ypsilanti went dry during Prohibition. Right! The Huron River was a highway for booze, smuggled into Detroit from Windsor, Ontario. Society was undergoing a fundamental shift in the Twenties; then, the Great Depression struck the country with a vengeance and knocked the stuffing out of the economy. Ypsilanti was hit hard.


In 1931, scratching for a living must not have been easy for the three shiftless young men looking to commit a simple robbery for a payday. They pulled their Model T Ford into Peninsular Grove along a dirt road bordering the north edge of the Huron River. The area was well-known and well-used as a lovers lane. Today, it is known as Peninsular Park off of LeForge Road.

Two teen-aged couples were parking when they were surprised by three shadowy figures. The four teens were beaten and robbed; the two girls were raped; all were murdered. The final indignity was their bodies were soaked in gasoline and torched in their car at another location.

Site of Torch Murders - Tuttle Road
The horrific nature of the crime caught the attention of Mr. Henry Bennett, known to his friends and foes alike as Harry, Henry Ford's head of Ford Motor Company's security division and UAW union-busting thug. 

Bennett had a chateau-like home built on the north bank of the Huron River off Geddes Road between Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor. The property was bordered by a concrete and iron reinforced wall, courtesy of FoMoCo.

Henry Ford also had a private railroad spur built leading onto Bennett's property, so his security chief could travel to Detroit in record time if he needed to. This was before Interstate 94 was built, and Michigan Avenue was the most direct route into Detroit.

Bennett also had a speedboat with a hefty inboard engine that was all gassed up and ready to go at a moment's notice. The Huron River ran southeast to the Detroit River, just south of the island of Grosse Ile where Bennett kept another safe house.

Seems like being in the security business was pretty lucrative for Mr. Bennett. Sarcasm aside, this shows how important Henry Ford believed Bennett was to his organization.

After the untimely death of one Joseph York, a Detroit gangster who tried to kill Harry Bennett in his home, Bennett had Ford architects design and build several strategically located crenelated gun towers on the roof of his home, staffed around the clock by Ford Servicemen. The entire area surrounding the Bennett Castle for many miles was known as a no-mans' land for criminal activity. Then the Torch Murders happened almost on his doorstep.

Harry Bennett's Castle

In a book published in 2003 with the dreadful title of Henry Ford: Critical Evaluations in Business and Management, Vol. 1, authors John Cunningham Wood and Michael C. Wood wrote about Harry Bennett's role in the Ypsilanti Torch Murders. 

"The last crime of any consequence in the area occurred in 1931 (These authors obviously hadn't heard about John Norman Collins) and Bennett cleared it up within forty-eight hours. It was a thoroughly horrible affair. It involved rape and murder, and the incineration of two young couples in a car parked along a road not far from the estate.

"Bennett was invited to participate in the case by a local sheriff, and he soon had his Servicemen swarming the countryside. Under the noses of the state troopers and the county officials, he shifted the scene of the crime a few feet to bring it into the jurisdiction of a hanging judge (note: Michigan has never been a death penalty state).

"Then he uncovered two informers who named a couple of possible suspects. Taking one of the suspects in tow, Bennett, together with Robert Taylor, the head of the Ford Sociological Department,

Ford Servicemen in action.
and one of his towering Ford Servicemen, took the young man to the basement of his fortified house. There, while one of his companions created an enormous racket with an electric (weight) reducing machine, Bennett undertook to get a confession out of the suspect.

"(Bennett) interrupted this job occasionally to dash upstairs and pour a beer for the county sheriff who visited him inopportunely before his guest had begun to talk. He tactfully neglected to advise the sheriff what was going on below, and it was not until he had results that he turned his captive over to the police.

The Torch Murder Case--as it became known--was rapidly brought to a successful conclusion. Bennett's captive and two others were sent to Marquette Penitentiary for life. While they were being transported to jail, the prisoners were protected from a lynch mob by Bennett and his Serviceman as well as the police."

After the speedy court proceedings, the accused were indicted, pleaded guilty, and were sentenced in the same proceeding. They were hustled down the back stairs of the courthouse and shoved into the backseat of a souped-up Mercury, driven by Harry Bennett himself, with a three car police escort and delivered alive to Jackson Prison--sixty miles west of Ypsilanti.


For a much more detailed account of The Torch Murders, consult Judge Edward Deake's account found in the Ypsilanti Historical Society's publication Ypsilanti Gleanings:

For more information on Harry Bennett, check out a previous post on this blog:

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Ypsilanti History--The Town and the Gown

Three forward-looking American businessmen with thick billfolds bought up the French land claims along both sides of the Huron River in 1825. They surveyed the cleared farmland for a new town they named Ypsilanti. Although odd and difficult to pronounce for people unfamiliar with the name, Ypsilanti is unique and has served the city well. The proper pronunciation is /ip'si-lan-tee/ but never /yip'sil-lan-tee/. Visitors might want to refrain from using the term Ypsitucky. Many residents consider the word offensive.

The City of Ypsilanti came of age with the founding of Michigan State Normal School in 1849. Classes began on March 29, 1853, with the completion of their newly constructed, three-story classroom building. The school building was destroyed by fire in October 1859 but was rebuilt and ready for classes six months later.

Michigan's system of education was patterned after the German system. The mission of normal schools was the "normalization" of teaching standards and practices. Normal schools trained teachers for the common schools which were popping up around the state. In 1899, Michigan State Normal School was the second normal school in the nation to adopt a four-year curriculum and earn the distinction of college.

When World War Two ended, the passage of the Servicemen's Readjustment Act (the G.I. Bill) helped Michigan State Normal College expand with new buildings and new departments offering a broader range of offerings to accommodate the increased enrollment of veterans. 

The Normal College became Eastern Michigan College in 1956, but that was short-lived. When Eastern Michigan established its graduate school in 1959, it was upgraded to university status.

Today, Eastern Michigan University offers degrees and programs at the bachelor, master, specialist, and doctoral levels. Since 1991, Eastern Michigan is the largest producer of educational personnel in the country. We are everywhere.

The City of Ypsilanti and Eastern Michigan University's Board of Regents have a one hundred and sixty-five year shared history. They have survived catastrophic fires, angry storms, and devastating winds. They have been witness to every American war since the Civil War, weathered the Great Depression, and grieved over the political assassinations of the 1960s.

A two year reign of terror stalked Ypsilanti from July 1967 through July 1969. Seven young women--three of them EMU coeds and one an Ypsilanti teen--were wantonly murdered by a serial killer. This sustained nightmare left an indelible impression on residents. Both the city and the university were bound by fear and helplessness. 

A lot of water--and history--has flowed past the Peninsula Paper Company dam on the Huron River. Political insiders and local historians say there have been a number of Town and Gown spats over the years, but overall, the relationship between the city and the university has been mutually beneficial. EMU is currently Ypsilanti's largest employer.

Looking down West Street Cross Street
Unlike the University of Michigan campus which is inseparable from the City of Ann Arbor, Eastern Michigan's campus is set apart from Ypsilanti's downtown--with one notable exception--EMU's College of Business on Michigan Avenue. The university and the city need to find more ways to work together to promote each others shared interests.

Ypsilanti has untapped potential to once again be a place to go, rather than a place to avoid or drive past on the Interstate. Ypsilanti needs some can-do people with vision. If a mass transit scheme can be worked out--like a commuter rail stop in Depot Town--the city's economic development department needs to capitalize on it.

Thank you to James Thomas Mann. Much of the information used in my last three Ypsilanti posts was adapted from his two volume photo study, Images of America: Ypsilanti - A History in Pictures.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Ypsilanti History--The Boom and the Bust Years

In 1851, frontier downtown Ypsilanti burned down and was rebuilt with red common brick. By the late 1880s, many Michigan rural communities began erecting ornate water towers responding to their increasing populations and industrialization after the Civil War. Sanitation and drinking water improved, while increased water pressure made fire-fighting more responsive and successful.

Ypsilanti Water Tower - 1889
These nineteenth century water towers were landmarks and symbols of civic pride, but none was as iconic as the Ypsilanti Water Tower, built across from Eastern Michigan University on Ypsilanti's highest point. This public-funded water supply system took only ten months to build and was finished in February 1890. It consisted of seventeen miles of feeder pipe, one hundred and thirty-two fire hydrants, a pumping station, and a one hundred and forty-eight foot tall tower. The octagonal cupola on top was removed in 1906 because of fears strong winds might undermine it and send it toppling below.

At the turn of the twentieth century, Ypsilanti was a thriving farming community surrounded by thousands of acres of fertile land under the plow. The area was also known for its orchards and wooded tracts teeming with wildlife. The city boasted having some of the best representations of Victorian architecture in Southeastern Michigan. The town prospered. 

Daniel Quirk mansion today.

World War I transformed America overnight from a rural farming country into an urban one. When the weight of the Great Depression hit the heartland, many of the family farms in Ypsilanti fell into disrepair or were simply abandoned. In fundamental ways, Ypsilanti was a microcosm of the American economy. Its fortunes waxed and waned with those of the country. Things were tough all over.

With another World War looming, automobile magnate Henry Ford and his son Edsel did their part for the war effort by quickly building the world’s largest and most modern airplane factory. The Willow Run B-24 Liberator Bomber Plant was built on orchard land just east of Ypsilanti owned by the Ford family.

After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941, the United States experienced a wave of patriotism, and Ypsilanti was no different. There was yet another drain of manpower for the war effort—the second time in twenty-seven years. Another generation of Ypsilanti’s finest answered the call to serve their country.

At peak production, the Willow Run plant could produce one plane every hour.

But that left Henry Ford desperate for workers to run the Willow Run B-24 bomber plant, so the company recruited heavily from Kentucky and West Virginia to help make up the manpower shortage. In the most dramatic demographic shift in the area since the white man drove the red man west, Ypsilanti went from a rural sunrise-to-sundown farming community to a round-the-clock factory town. 

Ypsilanti became a boom town. Suddenly, downtown was beset with unattached men who had money in their pockets looking for a good time—some were single and some were not. Michigan Avenue bars did a box office business attracting thirsty and bored customers from the plant.

Because the bomber plant ran three shifts, the bars had customers all day long. Drunken brawls were not uncommon among rowdy plant workers, but problems also broke out between the workers and townspeople--often over women.
This tense atmosphere gave downtown Ypsilanti an edge changing its character.

Residents bemoaned the changes to their town and called the newcomers Ypsituckians. The east side of town quickly became the blue collar residential area, as it was nearest to the bomber plant.

Because of the immediate need to house these men, some residents rented out bedrooms in shifts. Many of the beautiful old period homes were subdivided into small apartments or became boarding houses. In Willow Run, barracks-style housing was hastily thrown up to address the desperate situation. Some people worked double shifts and lived out of their cars until they could get situated.

Thirty-fourth President of the United States
Almost as quickly as they began, the boom days ended when the war did. Ypsilanti went into a postwar, economic slump. In 1956, the Dwight D. Eisenhower administration established the Federal Interstate Highway System. I-94 was built a mile south of downtown Ypsilanti. This changed traffic patterns and hurt the main street business community. By the 1970s, downtown Ypsilanti and Depot Town showed signs of neglect.

More details about Ypsi's Water Tower:

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Ypsilanti, Michigan History - What's in a Name?

Dimitrios Ypsilantis
Where the ancient Native American trail crossed the narrows at a bend of the Huron River, Gabriel Godfroy--a French-Canadian fur trader from Montreal--established his Indian trading post in 1809. Fifteen years later, Judge Augustus B. Woodward of Detroit with two local land speculators--William Harwood and John Stewart--laid-out a town on land they purchased from the original French settlers.

Judge Woodward was a Grecophile who wanted to name the town in honor of Greek war hero Demetrius Ypsilanti--a general famous for successes in his country's war for independence against the Ottoman Turks. This struck a chord with Woodward. America had waged its own war for independence against the British not so very long before.

Ypsilanti Woolen Company

His partners had a different idea with more commercial potential. They favored a name like Waterford or Waterville which highlighted the water-power feature of the Huron River to attract manufacturing business. Judge Woodward--being the major investor in the land project--had the final word. In 1824, the new town of Ypsilanti spanned both sides of the Huron River on the old Chicago Road (soon to be renamed Michigan Avenue). An area which began as a frontier trading outpost eventually became downtown Ypsilanti.

The east side of Ypsilanti developed when the Michigan Central train line began rail service in 1838, making the city an important economic hub for the area’s growing light-industry and agricultural concerns. A lovely, three-story train depot said to be the nicest depot between Detroit and Chicago was built in 1864. A two block long commercial district grew up along both sides of East Cross Street—aptly named Depot Town.

Original Ypsilanti train depot with landscaping.
The Depot Town businesses on the ground floors catered to the needs of weary travelers and light manufacturing. The upper floors were used for lodging, warehousing, or residential use. Depot Town was a destination for the Underground Railroad before and throughout the Civil War. Soldiers of the 14th and 17th Michigan Regiments left for the South from the Ypsilanti train station platform.

Depot Town Today
A fire destroyed the tower and the upper floors of the depot in May of 1910. New owners--Pennsylvania Central Railroad--decided to rebuild only the ground floor. Amtrak ended passenger service in 1982.

There may be some life in the old girl yet. Depot Town could be a stop on the proposed Ann Arbor to Detroit commuter rail line which would bring more activity into the area. Restoring the Depot Town train buildings preserves a remnant of Ypsilanti's history which could be re-purposed on the interior to increase the commercial value of the property.

I can envision a fine dining, Victorian-styled restaurant. Maybe a seafood restaurant. How about a sushi bar or an Asian noodle shop? Something that doesn't take business away from Frenchie's Sidetrack Bar & Grill or Aubrey's Pizzeria & Grill. Ypsilanti's very own Gandy Dancer or something similar would be nice.