It was the 17th of November 1978 in Speedway, Indiana. Jayne Friedt, 20; Daniel Davis, 16; Mark Flemmonds, 16; and Ruth Ellen Shelton, 18, were all working the night shift at the Burger Chef restaurant. However, when another employee came to the restaurant to visit the workers, they were shocked to discover that the 4 workers were not there.
The police were called as the money safe was open, the back door was found to be slightly open, and the restaurant was empty. Initially, the police didn’t think that it was a serious incident. They believed that the $581 that had been stolen from the safe was taken by the workers to go partying that night, and because there was still over $100 in cash in the tills, it was a plausible theory at the time.
The next morning, workers cleaned up the restaurant which got rid of any potential evidence that could have been used by the police. No photographs of the crime scene had been taken before the clean-up, so any possible evidence had been completely destroyed.
In the words of Buddy Ellwanger, a police officer who was eventually put on this case: “We screwed it up from the beginning.”
The next day, the 18th of November, Jane’s car was found partially locked in the town of Speedway. This concerned the police and started to make them believe that this case wasn’t so simple.
On the 19th of November, 1978, the bodies of Jane, Mark, Ruth and Daniel were discovered in the woods of Johnson County, which is just over 20 miles (32 kilometres) away from the restaurant.
Daniel and Ruth had been shot execution-style a number of times with a .38 calibre gun. Jane had been stabbed twice in the chest, the handle of the knife had actually come off and the blade was recovered during her autopsy. Mark had been bludgeoned to death, possibly with a chain, and died from choking on his own blood. All four victims were still wearing their uniforms.
As money and their watches and jewellery were found with all the victims, it is possible that robbery was not the only motivation behind the murders.
Some people theorise that this was a robbery gone wrong and that the victims were kidnapped and killed after one of them recognised one of the robbers. Investigators speculate that it may have been Mark who recognised the killers, as he was covering that shift for someone else, so he wasn’t supposed to be there.
Newspaper Article of the Murders. Credit: Indy Star
One eyewitness told investigators that she saw two men in a car outside Burger Chef just before closing that night. Both men were white and in their thirties. One man had a beard, and the other man was clean-shaven with light-coloured hair.
In 1984, Detective Mel Willsey received a call from inmate Donald Forrester, who was serving a 95-year sentence for rape. He claimed that he was involved in the murders, and would confess to them under the condition he wouldn’t be transferred to Indiana State Prison.
Forrester led police to the woods, correctly showed them the crime scene and described the positions of the bodies. He also knew that the knife handle had come off the knife, something which was not publicised.
According to Forrester, Jane’s brother owed money on a drug deal, so he and three other men had gone to the Burger Chef to threaten her. But things turned bad when Mark stepped in to protect Jane, as a fight broke out which eventually led to Mark falling over and hitting his head.
Forrester and the other men presumed Mark was either dead or dying following his fall, so they kidnapped and then killed the others to get rid of any witnesses. He said that he was the one who shot Ruth and David and then told the police the names of the three men involved in the murders.
He led police to a river where he supposedly got rid of the gun, but after searching the river police were unable to locate the weapon. He then told police he drove home and flushed the casings down the toilet. Detectives searched the septic tank of the house, which now belongs to someone else, and they managed to find several .38 calibre casings.
Sadly, after someone leaked details of Forrestor’s cooperation, he recanted his statement and said it was coerced. With no further evidence or statements, Forrestor could not be charged in connection with the murders. He died in prison aged 55 from cancer.
As of 2021, this case remains open but unsolved. A reward of $25,000 is offered by Burger Chef for any information that leads to the arrest and prosecution of the murderers.
The Burger Chef Murders, Speedway, Indiana, 1978, the 1970s, Unsolved Murders, Unsolved Homicides, Murders, Homicides, True Crime, Real Crime, Unsolved Case, Unsolved Mystery, Cold Case, On-going Investigation