Unsolved: Burger Chef murders
It's one of the state's most heinous crimes. 35 years later, the Burger Chef murder case is still unsolved. Now, Eyewitness News has uncovered a new theory connected to the investigation that focuses on another Burger Chef restaurant.
10:00 pm, Friday night, November 17th, 1978: A deliveryman arrives at the Burger Chef restaurant on Crawfordsville Road in Speedway to find the doors unlocked but no one inside. The four young people working at the restaurant that night are gone.
The restaurant was clean, with no signs of a struggle. About $500 was missing from the cash register. Police initially brushed it off as "odd." Even though the women's purses and a jacket were still in the restaurant, police didn't process the Burger Chef for evidence.
The restaurant was cleaned and reopened the next day.
"The scene was never really processed as a crime scene," said Indiana State Police detective Sgt Bill Vann. It was a critical mistake that haunts the investigation to this day.
It was a crime scene. Assistant Manager Jayne Friedt's car was found abandoned in the morning, a few miles away from the restaurant – parked near the Speedway police station.
Two days later, a couple found the four young people murdered. Their bodies were discovered in a wooded area off State Road 37 in Johnson County. Found in WTHR tape archives, this announcement from investigators, "The Speedway Police Department and Indiana State Police announce the bodies of Jayne C. Friedt, age 20, Mark S. Flemmonds, age 17, Daniel R. Davis, 16 years old, and Ruth E. Shelton, age 17, have been discovered late this afternoon in Johnson County, Indiana."
The bodies of the four young people were found in three different areas of the field, killed three different ways. The handle from the hunting-knife used to kill Jayne Friedt was never found. The gun fired to kill Ruth Shelton and Daniel Davis was also missing.
Mark Flemmonds was brutally beaten, possibly with a chain. None of those pieces of evidence were ever recovered.
A Sister's Pain
It's been 35 years but Theresa Jeffries can't forget losing her older sister, Ruth Shelton.
"When fall hits and the weather starts getting cold. The day after she was buried was Thanksgiving," said Theresa Jeffries. "That's the last family picture of us together," said Rachel Shelton, Ruth's mother.
(Eyewitness News talked with Rachel Shelton about her daughter's murder several weeks ago. Sadly, Rachel passed away before our story aired – never knowing who killed her daughter.)
The women saved the dress Ruth wore in the last family photo and Ruth's high school ring.
"She was my only sister," said Jeffries, "I idolized her. I wanted to be as happy and go-lucky as she was."
Jeffries told Eyewitness News she still has nightmares thinking about how her sister and the three other Burger Chef employees were brutally murdered.
"I honestly believe it will never be solved," she said.
The Investigation and a New Theory
"I think we are getting closer and closer," said Sergeant Bill Vann. Sgt. Vann, with Indiana State Police, is the lead detective on the case. Over the years police have questioned a number of people.
"These two pictures here are two people of interest seen near closing time at the Burger Chef in Speedway," said Sgt. Vann, holding sketches of two suspects in his hands. The sketches were made from witness recollections.
Clay busts of the men were later made to show the public those suspects, labeled by police as the clean-shaven man and the bearded man. The clay busts are still at State Police Headquarters – a reminder of the unsolved crime. Sgt. Vann believes the two men were part of a group of robbers targeting Burger Chef restaurants. In fact, some of the same people questioned were convicted of robbing a Burger Chef on the near east side after the murders.
The detective believes at least three people in that group were involved in the murders.
"I believe one of them did know the kids." Now, after years of investigating this cold case, Sgt. Vann is working off a new theory- a twist to why the crime was committed.
"I believe one of the victims recognized one of the robbers and possibly instead of getting caught and going to prison that group of robbers was not willing to do that so they had to eliminate the witnesses," explained Sgt. Vann. The new theory focuses on another Burger Chef restaurant, just a few miles down the road in Plainfield. A Hardees is now located at the site.
Sgt. Vann believes the bearded man recognized Jayne Friedt. Friedt worked at the Plainfield Burger Chef in the past and Sgt. Vann believes the suspect frequented the restaurant as a customer. Vann does not believe the suspect knew Friedt had moved locations to the Speedway Burger Chef.
"That's when the crime escalated from robbery to murder. It would be nice to confirm that recognition," said Vann.
The bearded man, who was a suspect in the murders, has passed away, according to the detective. Vann now wants anyone who used to frequent or work at the Burger Chef in Plainfield in the mid-1970s call State Police.
"It doesn't mean it will solve the case, but it means another piece in the puzzle, one step closer," said Vann.
Ruth Shelton's family says with each passing fall season, their hope for closure fades but their memories do not.
"She was a good person. She was well liked. If you know anything, let them know. I want whoever did this not be available to do this to others," said Ruth's sister.
If You Know Anything
State Police now want anyone worked at or frequented the Burger Chef in Plainfield on US 40 and Dan Jones Road in the mid-1970's to share information that may help solve this cold case.
Call Indiana State Police to share tips. The number is 317-899-8508.