By: Lexi Kakis and Andrea Cipriano, MAFP
On Friday, November 17, 1978, four employees of a Burger Chef restaurant in Speedway, Indiana, went missing. Originally it was believed that this was a simple case of petty theft that scared away the employees. However, the next day, it became clear that this robbery-kidnapping escalated into a quadruple homicide.
By Sunday, November 19, 1978, the murdered bodies of Jayne Friedt, Daniel Davis, Mark Flemmonds, and Ruth Ellen Shelton were discovered in the rural woods of Johnson County — 40 minutes away from the restaurant.
This week marks the 44th anniversary of this tragedy.
Who were the victims?
Forty-four years ago on that fateful night, four young employees were going through the closing routine at the Burger Chef at 5724 Crawfordsville Road. Three of the workers were still in high school, probably talking amongst themselves about upcoming projects and homework they still had to complete for class.
It was about 11:00 pm when the perpetrators slipped through the back door and ambushed the four employees present.
November 17, 1978
Little is known about what went on inside the restaurant when the two perpetrators broke in, but investigators have come up with a substantial timeline regarding what else happened that night.
The Burger Chef restaurant closed at 11:00 pm like usual. The four employees were still scheduled to stay a few more hours to go through the closing routine, clean, and prepare the restaurant for the next day’s opening shift.
Initially, Mark Flemmonds was not scheduled to work but decided to cover his co-worker, Ginger Anderson, who went on a date with another employee, Brian Kring.
By 11:45 PM, Brian and Ginger were in the area, so the pair drove past the restaurant and noticed Jayne’s car wasn’t there — despite the lights and the back door being ajar. At first, Brian didn’t think anything of it, so he proceeded to drop Ginger off back to her house, and then drove back to the Burger Chef location to check up on his friends and co-workers.
Upon his arrival, Brian noticed that all four employees were nowhere to be found.
Walking through the restaurant, he saw that the cash register was on the floor — empty — and there were the personal affects of his co-workers left in the office. Brian knew something was wrong, so he called the police. When investigators arrived, a report was filed, but the scene was never properly processed. Since Jayne’s 1974 Chevrolet Vega was not in the parking lot and the register was cleaned out, the investigators assumed that the employees skipped out on work, banned together to steal money, and got into Jayne’s car to make a “clean getaway”.
So, instead of processing the scene and treating everything as suspicious, the restaurant was cleared to open for business the next day. The investigators failed to consider the essential clues like the employees’ belongings left behind, and the back door to the restaurant being left open… a door that was rarely ever used by employees.
Any vital evidence of what actually took place was accidentally destroyed in the cleaning process, and no photos were taken that night because they simply didn’t believe it was a crime scene.
“We screwed up the investigation from the beginning.”
To add insult to injury, we know the only photo taken of the restaurant was one that morning shift employees took after the restaurant was wiped clean before customers began arriving.
The Subsequent Investigation
By 4:00 AM that following morning, Jayne’s unlocked car was discovered near the Speedway Police station, filled with unusual cigarette buts. Suddenly, the police begin to suspect foul play, and a widespread search was launched.
It isn’t until November 19, 1978, two days later, when the bodies of all four victims were discovered near Johnson County Woods by a couple who lived in White River Township, located approximately 15 miles from the Burger Chef location.
Each of the young adults were still wearing their brown-and-orange polyester Burger Chef uniforms… with the blood on them all dried up.
Ruth and Danny were found lying facedown just off a gravel path. Both had been shot execution-style in the head and neck with a .38 caliber revolver. They were discovered side-by-side, indicating to officers that they were killed at the same time.
Police theorize that after Ruth and Danny were shot, Jayne and Mark ran for it.
Jayne’s body was found 50 to 75 yards away. She had been repeatedly stabbed so violently that the knife’s blade broke off inside her chest — with the handle nowhere to be found.
Mark was found farthest from the others, and closest to the main road. He was on his back near a creak. Mark had sustained blunt force trauma to his face and ultimately choked on his own blood. The police believe Mark was disoriented and may have ran into a tree, accidentally stunning him before being beaten with an unknown chain-like object.
Police have been wrestling with what would turn the perpetrators from trespassers to thieves, to kidnappers, to killers. Did one of the workers recognize one of the men? Was this premeditated or a crime that spiraled out of control?
Interestingly, the crime scene investigation team found watches and money still on all of the victims, leaving police to wonder if there was another motive beyond robbery.
There are still too many questions left without answers.
Answers in an Unlikely Place?
By November 23, Indiana State Police created a designated tipline which created an outpouring of tips but not of them were credible leads.
However, the police had one thing to go off of — an anonymous eyewitness came forward and gave descriptions of the two men they saw suspiciously hanging around the Burger Chef restaurant before the attack. The next day, police released clay busts of the two potential suspects. This marked the first ever time that Indiana State Police used this method to aid an investigation.
Then, in 2018, Indiana State Police released an image of the knife’s blade that was used in the crime.
While there were several suspects and arrests made during the investigation, the case remains unsolved.