Jayne Friedt, Ruth Shelton, Daniel Davis, and Mark Flemmonds Murders: Who Killed Them? – The Burger Chef killings happened on the evening of Friday, November 17, 1978, at a Burger Chef restaurant in Speedway, Indiana, in the United States. Four teenage employees went missing in what was initially believed to be a small-time theft of cash from the restaurant’s safe. By Saturday morning, it was obvious that they had been kidnapped and robbed, and by Sunday, when their bodies were found, it was clear that they had been killed. Even though investigators think they have located some or all of the criminals, they are unable to bring charges against the living suspects in the absence of physical proof.
How Were Daniel Davis, Mark Flemmonds, Ruth Shelton, and Jayne Friedt Killed?
Four employees of the Burger Chef restaurant at 5725 Crawfordsville Road vanished between closing time between 11:00 p.m. and midnight (23:00 and 24:00 EST) on November 17, 1978. They were assistant manager Jayne Friedt, 20, Daniel Davis, 16, Mark Flemmonds, 16, and Ruth Ellen Shelton, 18. The restaurant was empty, the safe was open, and the back door was ajar when a different worker stopped over around midnight to check on the four people. Next to the open safe, the police discovered two empty cash bags and an empty roll of tape.
Police did not initially view the incident as significant because there were no apparent signs of a struggle, and just about US$581 ($2,414 in 2021) had been reported missing from the safe by management. It was assumed that it was a petty theft case and that the teens had gone out that night to party with the stolen money. Coins worth more than $100 were still in the registers. Although the missing women’s jackets and handbags had been left at the store, the theft scenario initially appeared to be the most plausible, and workers cleaned the scene early on Saturday morning.
After being given the case, Speedway police officer Buddy Ellwanger acknowledged, “We screwed it up from the beginning.” In addition to being cleaned up and permitted to reopen, the restaurant was not photographed prior to that, essentially erasing any potential evidence at the murder scene.
Concerns increased when the four did not show up the following morning, and Friedt’s Chevrolet Vega was discovered half-locked in the city. It became clear that the young people had been taken while the restaurant was being closed for the evening, and that the attack may have started as they were taking trash bags out the back door.
The bodies of all four youths were discovered on Sunday afternoon by hikers in a Johnson County wooded area, some 20 miles (32 km) away. Friedt had been stabbed twice in the chest, while Davis and Shelton had both sustained several gunshot wounds. The knife’s handle was broken off and gone, but an autopsy later turned up the blade. Later, it was discovered that Flemmonds had been beaten, maybe with a chain, and had choked to death. The Burger Chef garb was still on all four victims. The fact that the slain victims had money and watches on them suggests that the murders may not have been committed solely for robbery.
Investigators’ primary idea is that the four victims were abducted following a failed robbery, and maybe one of them was recognized by the victim. Flemmonds was not scheduled to work that night and was filling in for another employee, which led investigators to surmise that perhaps he was the one who recognized the murderers since they had not anticipated his presence.
Who Killed Mark Flemmonds, Daniel Davis, Ruth Shelton, Jayne Friedt, and Ruth Shelton?
Later, in 1978, a man boasted about having been engaged in the murders in a Greenwood pub. After being questioned by police, he passed a polygraph test and claimed not to have been involved. As a result, police could not press charges for any other reason. Investigators thought that the individual might have been engaged in the case when he gave the names of other people he claimed belonged to a fast-food robbery gang.
Officers in Franklin were pursuing these leads when they came across a man who was strikingly similar to the “bearded man” composite. The night before he had to appear in a lineup, the man, who had been called, shaved his beard, which he had worn for the previous five years. His neighbor, who had been mentioned by the Greenwood suspect but had not been seen by the initial witness, was eventually sentenced to prison for armed robbery.
The second accomplice mentioned by the Greenwood suspect, who matched the description of the fair-haired man, was later detained for more armed robberies of fast food outlets. Nevertheless, without confessions—despite offers of plea bargains to any suspects who were not personally accountable for the deaths—and without concrete proof of the suspects’ involvement in the killings, the police could not make any arrests.
At the time, there was some conjecture that the killings had anything to do with other heinous acts that had outraged the community in the months before. Like the bombs at the Speedway and the murder of Julia Scyphers. The bombings’ culprit was still at large at the time. However, it was later discovered that there was no connection between these crimes and the Burger Chef slayings.
Investigators kept following leads that pointed to potential suspects in cities including Cincinnati, Milwaukee, Chicago, and Dallas, among others. However, they could not track down any additional viable leads or the evidence they thought would have been most helpful: the gun, the knife’s handle, and the chain used in the killings.
Police have not received any admissions from the culprits, but the son of the bearded suspect has told them that his father confided in him that he had been involved before his own passing. Ken York, one of the original detectives in the case, noted that the deaths of the Greenwood suspect and the bearded suspect, one who committed suicide and the other who suffered a heart attack, occurred suspiciously close to the time the armed robbery was named.
In 1984, Donald Forrester, a prisoner at the Pendleton Correctional Facility, called Detective Mel Willsey of the Marion County Sheriff’s Department. To escape being sent to a state prison with a reputation for violence, Forrester claimed to have been involved in the killings and was eager to confess. When Forrester was brought to Marion County under a court order, he admitted to shooting Davis and Shelton. He then guided police to the crime scene in the woods, where he gave precise directions to where and how the victims had been when they were discovered.
He was also aware of the knife’s shattered handle, which was not widely reported. Forrester claims that Friedt’s brother James owed money on a heroin deal, so he went to the restaurant to threaten her with it. However, when Flemmonds stepped in to defend Friedt, a fight broke out, and Flemmonds fell and banged his head on a car bumper. Forrester and his accomplices planned to kidnap and kill all the employees to get rid of all the witnesses to their crime because they thought they were dead or dying.
In addition to claiming responsibility for shooting Davis and Shelton, Forrester named the three people he believed killed: Flemmonds and Friedt. Then he escorted the law enforcement officers to a location where he said he had thrown the gun into a river. The area was thoroughly searched, but no weapons were discovered. Willsey spoke with Forrester’s ex-wife, who said that he had taken her on a trip to a wooded area soon after the killings, where they had found several shot shells that he then flushed down the toilet.
After obtaining a warrant, Willsey searched the home’s septic tank, discovering many spent .38 calibre shotshells. Forrester abruptly reneged on his confession and claimed it was forced when someone in the sheriff’s office revealed information about his cooperation. Forrester was never charged because he stopped cooperating, and there was no proof that he was the murderer. He passed away from cancer at age 55 while incarcerated.
The Burger Chef offered a reward of $25,000 to anyone who could find the murderers or information about their whereabouts, but the perpetrators were never brought to justice, and the matter is still unresolved after hundreds of hours of the police inquiry. The Indiana State Police apparently looked at the usage of DNA-tracing methods that have been developed since the first investigations and are still actively pursuing the case.
The Speedway neighborhood, along with the victims’ families and friends, gathered funds to plant four red oak trees in their memory during the course of the 2018 summer. A plaque with a brief biography of one of the victims is placed on each tree. With the extra money, a marble bench was erected and dedicated to their family and friends. A small dedication ceremony for relatives and friends was held at the memorial site at Leonard Park in Speedway on November 10, 2018, one week before the fortieth anniversary.