On Friday November 17th, 1978, four Burger Chef employees mysteriously disappeared from the Speedway restaurant. Police initially ruled out foul play, thinking the youth had simply taken the nights proceeds for a jaunt on the town. The discovery of Jayne Friedt’s Chevy Vega the next day changed that theory. Police began to receive leads on the missing workers.
A 16 year old boy had a story for the authorities. On that Friday night he and his girlfriend had encountered two men parked outside the restaurant. He gave a fairly accurate description: in their 30s, one had a dark beard, the other clean shaven with light brown hair. The bearded man, making a conscious effort to keep his face concealed, had told the teenager to “take his girlfriend home.” “It’s a bad neighborhood,” he said.
A composite of the two men was created from the teen’s description. Two three dimensional clay busts of the suspects were created from these composites – something quite unique for the time. These busts still reside at the Indiana State Police headquarters.
On Sunday afternoon, November 19th, two Johnson County residents were taking a walk on their property. Back in the late 70s this property at Stones Crossing Road, just east of State Road 37 – the major corridor to Martinsville and Bloomington to the south – was very much out in the country, dark and isolated. As the couple made their way into a field they made the discovery: the four Burger Chef employees were found!
Daniel Davis and Ruth Shelton, lying side by side, had been shot multiple times – execution style.
Jayne Friedt lay nearby, stabbed twice in the chest. The handle of the knife was nowhere in sight; the blade still in her body and recovered at autopsy.
Mark Flemmonds was a little farther away than the other three. He had suffered a blunt force head injury. Police theorized he might have tried escaping from his captors and ran into a tree in the dark. It was later determined he had been beaten prior to his death, as some of the bruising on his head and shoulders was estimated at being one to two hours old prior to his actual passing. Flemmonds asphyxiated on his own blood when he fell with his head downhill.
On Monday, November 20th, the Indianapolis Star’s morning edition front page headlines dominated two tragedies of interest to Indianapolis residents: one – 4 Speedway Kidnap Victims Found Dead in Wooded Area – reporting the fate of the missing youth: the second was the discovery of bodies in Guyana, the result of a suicide pact led by Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple. Jones had established the Peoples Temple in Indianapolis.
Indianapolis residents seemed to be more focused on the crime of closer nature. Reported Paul Bird, then with the now defunct Indianapolis News, stated plainly – “I worked on it from the very first day before the bodies were even found.” He proclaimed that the murder shook the small town of Speedway, Indiana to its core. “It left an entire community in panic! Everybody could relate to their children being abducted from A Burger Chef!”
Of course, the theories began. No evidence…no suspects apprehended. Why kill the employees? Why not just take the money and run? Had one of the victims recognized one of the kidnappers? Had one or more of the victims fought off their attackers and as a result been taken away and killed? The employees themselves had not been robbed, and rolled change had been left behind?
Had the criminals used Jayne Friedt’s vehicle to initially abduct some or all of the workers, and then abandoned it a short distance away? Were there more than just two men involved? One would think to handle four terrified and adrenaline pumped youth would have required additional help.
Were the abductors familiar with that secluded stretch of State Road 37? Or was it a wayward, by chance, final destination?
And what of the weapons used used in the execution of the crime? It would seem something would show up…but it never did.
There were so many questions, but answers were lost in the thick fog of uncertainty of what truly happened on that November night to the four Burger Chef employees. They were four youth, with years ahead of them – dreams and aspirations… of the kind of person they would become and a life they would live. All brought to a sudden halt – quickly and without mercy, at the hands of their executioners!
Life shouldn’t go in this direction, but sometimes it does. Life is always a learning experience…you pick up the pieces, learn from your mistakes and go on. Life is about absorbing what is around you and relishing each passing second!. Life is falling in love, making car payments, the satisfaction of your first apartment and independence, paying your dues and just experiencing as the years roll on that progression forward. Those four kids never got the opportunity!
On that Friday night, so many years ago, they were at their job…a stepping stone toward moving forward in workplace history and a quick journal entry in their book of life experiences. They were also at the wrong place at the wrong time! Their journey came to an end that night and they became an entry in the book of nefarious Indiana murders.
Next: The suspects