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Cold Case: Teen Murders in Home of Indianapolis 500
Thirty-five years ago, John and Rachel Shelton received the type of phone call dreaded by parents worldwide.The Indiana State police told them that their 17-year old daughter was missing. Ruth Shelton, along with co-workers, Daniel Davis and Mark Flemmonds, both 16, and assistant manager, Jayne Friedt, 20, had been abducted from their jobs at a Burger Chef restaurant which was located in the small town of Speedway, Indiana.
Four Young Workers Missing
The four young adults were on the clean-up crew that cold night in November 1978. Police theorize that one or more of the employees opened the back door to take the daily garbage out.
Unfortunately, they may have let more garbage in. A few minutes after midnight, an off-duty employee rode by the fast food restaurant and discovered the back door open and the cash registers empty.
Speedway police would later find the manager's office had been ransacked. They discovered two empty cash bags and both girls' purses. Approximately $600 was missing. Also, missing -- a white Chevy Vega belonging to the assistant manager. Police organized a massive search for the missing teens.
The parents begin a prayer vigil. Mrs. Selton recounts, "I was on the verge of falling apart. The main thing I remember asking him was, 'Lord, put your arms around Ruth Ellen and let her know you are there with her."
The next day, the police found the missing Chevy; it was parked about a mile from the Speedway police department. Police begin to receive leads on the case.
One 16-year-old boy provided credible information. He and his girlfriend had seen two suspicious men parked outside the restaurant the night of the kidnapping. Both were young -- perhaps in their 30s. One had a dark beard; the other light-brown hair. The beaded man had addressed the couple and cautioned the young man to "take his girlfriend home." He added that there had been a lot of vandalism in the area lately. The boy said the man had kept his face ducked down and partially obscured by a handkerchief as he talked. He was able to provide a description for a composite.
On Sunday, two Johnson County residents, taking a walk on their wooded property, happen upon a grisly crime scene -- four lifeless bodies.
Daniel and Ruth Ellen had been shot many times. Jayne Freidt had been stabbed to death with such force, the knife handle had snapped off. Mark Flemmonds had suffered blunt force head injuries -- later it was determined he had been beaten with a chain. He had choked to death on his blood. The victims were about 40 miles away from the Burger Chef restaurant.
State Police detective, Ken York was assigned to the case. He felt that two to four people were involved in the crime. Detective York began shifting through the leads. One man bragged of participating in the killings during a drinking spree at a local Greenwood bar. He was questioned and later passed a polygraph test. He denied any participation in the crime, but offered additional information on the possible killers.
He led police to two other men he said were involved in fast food restaurants robberies. The first bore a striking resemblance to the bearded suspect. And, the police would later discover, the bearded man's next door neighbor was suspected of several robberies involving a shotgun. They would later refer to these two as the bearded man and shotgun man.
Prosecutors offered plea bargains to the shotgun and fair-haired suspect if they would provide information on the Burger Chef killings. They declined and the bearded man even shaved his beard when threatened with a line up. The two were convicted of crimes unrelated to the killings and were sent to the Indiana State Penitentiary.
Trail Grows Cold
Years later, the bearded man would die of a heart attack. Later, his son would tell the police that his father had admitted an involvement in the crime prior to his death. The man whose initial drunken bragging led to the suspect would commit suicide. In 1996, inmate Donald Forrester, who was serving a 95-year prison sentence for sexual assault, confessed to the 1978 crime. His confession was met with skepticism by the police who consider the crime still unsolved. Supposedly, the shotgun man and fair-haired suspect still live in Indiana.
Detective York has since retired. "I've said many times, down through the years, unless someone confesses, or some policeman proves differently, I''ll go to my grave still believing that they killed those kids," he says.
And their parents must wrestle with the fact that the killers went unpunished -- at least in this life. Mrs. Shelton relies on her faith for guidance and sustenance ". . . in this life the wicked do not always fail," she quotes. She says she hopes one day the guilty will confess . . . not to man, but to God.
Recent information suggests that these murders may be linked to a series of fast food robberies in the Indianapolis areas. Sergeant Bill Vance has discovered that Assistant Manager, Friedt,had worked previously at another Burger Chef in Plainsfield, Indiana. He wonders if the robbery of the Speedway Burger Chef escalated to murder after Ms. Friedt recognized one of the robbers from the previous robbery. The case remains open with the $25,000 reward established by Burger Chef unclaimed. Contact Sgt. Bill Vann at the Indiana State Police -- 317-899-8508 -- if you can provide information on this case.
Speedway is a small city on the outskirts of Indianapolis and is home to the renowned Speedway racing track, home to the Indy 500. The Burger Chef franchise of 600 stores was based in Indianapolis, The franchise was acquired by Hardees.