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Serial Killer

20070708: The Elmer Fudd killer MI Ann Arbor Serial Killer News
Jane Mixer always seemed like an orphan among the sad sisterhood of young women slain by a serial killer near Ann Arbor, Mich., in the late 1960s.

The Coed Killer was believed to have done his demented work seven times over two years.

The first murder, of college freshman Mary Fleszar, was on July 10, 1967. The last, of Karen Beineman, also a freshman, was on July 23, 1969.

The third victim was Mixer, 23, a free-spirited law school student at the University of Michigan.

But her slaying stood apart from the others, who were raped, beaten and stabbed in classic acts of sexual rage.

The murder of Mixer was different.

Her body was found March 21, 1969, in a cemetery west of Ann Arbor.

She had been garroted with a nylon stocking - not her own - and shot twice in the head with a .22.

The killer had pulled up Mixer's jumper to reveal her underwear, then carefully covered the body with her yellow raincoat and positioned it atop a grave. The persnickety murderer had neatly set Mixer's shoes and her copy of "Catch 22" near the body.

She had not been beaten or sexually molested.

But proximity prompted police to lump the Mixer murder with the other six.

DNA offers new theories

The case was unofficially regarded as solved when serial killer John Collins, a clean-cut frat boy at Eastern Michigan University, was arrested in 1970, convicted in the Beineman murder and sentenced to life without parole.

But in 2002, a new generation of Michigan state detectives had begun perusing old cases for possible DNA testing when Sgt. Eric Schroeder was struck by the obvious deviations from Collins' modus operandi in the Mixer murder.

Lab technicians tested the residue from three drops of sweat on the victim's pantyhose and a single drop of blood on her hand - evidence saved for more than three decades.

The techs found a revelation in the sweat: The genetic code it held matched not killer Collins but a grandfatherly former nurse from southwestern Michigan.

In the fall of 2004, Sgt. Schroeder paid a visit to the Gobles, Mich., home of the man, Gary Leiterman, 62.

"I did not do this," Leiterman firmly declared.

Leiterman grew up outside Detroit and lived near Ann Arbor as a young man. After a stint in the Navy, he had worked as a traveling pharmaceutical salesman in that region in the late 1960s.

As spring break approached in March '69, Jane Mixer posted a note on a college ride-share bulletin board, seeking a lift across the state to her hometown of Muskegon. She told her father she would be traveling with a student named David Johnson, who had replied to her posting.

She never made it home. Besides the evidence with the body, police found only one clue: a phone book in a Michigan dorm on which someone - the killer, presumably - had written the words "Mixer" and "Muskegon."

Based upon DNA evidence, Leiterman was charged with being that someone.

He seemed an unlikely murderer.

A bald, big-bellied Civil War buff and former school board member, he had had a 27-year marriage and had helped raise the two children of his Filipino wife.

Jane Mixer's niece, a poet, wrote that Leiterman seemed more cartoon character than killer when she saw him in court.

"Where I had imagined I might find the 'face of evil,' I am finding the face of Elmer Fudd," she wrote.

But this Fudd had a secret or two.

Leiterman was arrested in 2001 for passing a forged prescription. In his car, cops found a stack of prescription blanks stolen from the Kalamazoo hospital where he worked.

He was charged him with illegally obtaining painkillers, including Vicodin and Lorcet. Leiterman, who said he lapsed into addiction after a bout with kidney stones, was allowed to plead guilty when he agreed to enter drug rehab.

As a felon, he was required to give a DNA swab under a state law that took effect just three days before his conviction. The test led to his murder arrest.

Police made a creepy discovery while searching Leiterman's home. They found concealed in his study two Polaroid photos of a 16-year-old South Korean girl who had lived with the Leitermans as a foreign exchange student.

The images showed the girl - drugged unconscious - lying on Leiterman's bed with her clothing pulled back to expose her genitals. Authorities said the pose was an eerie echo of Jane Mixer's corpse.

Leiterman pleaded guilty to possession of child pornography before his murder trial in 2005.

Too much evidence

The 36-year-old homicide case was a difficult prosecution.

The scribble from the phone book was linked to Leiterman's handwriting, and his roommate from 1969 testified that the suspect owned a .22-caliber gun and kept a peculiar archive of stories about the Coed Killer serial murder case.

But DNA was the star evidence, and it turned out police had too much of the stuff.

Although the sweat stains were linked to Leiterman, a test of the blood found on Mixer's hand was linked through DNA to John Ruelas, a Detroit man serving life in prison for an unrelated murder.

The prosecutor was forced to admit that Ruelas was 4 years old in 1969.

Defense attorney Gary Gabry insisted the state police lab had somehow contaminated the samples. While the lab boss could not explain the Ruelas foulup, he swore to the validity of the Leiterman results on the sweat stains.

The jury believed him. After just minutes of deliberation, jurors took a vote and convicted Leiterman of first-degree murder.

Sobs resounded in the courtroom - from both Mixer's loved ones, including her 90-year-old father, and the wife and stepchildren of Leiterman.

On Aug. 30, 2005, Judge Donald Shelton handed down the mandatory sentence: Leiterman would spend the rest of his life in prison.

From behind bars, he continues to proclaim his innocence and is appealing based on the curious DNA results.


20050715: Prosecutor: The killer showed compassion Serial Killer News

The killer of a law school coed 36 years ago demonstrated a sense of "compassion" for his victim that distinguishes him from a serial killer who targeted young women during the same time period, an investigator testified at the murder trial of a retired nurse.

Former state police assistant commander Earl James, who led the task force examining the spate of seven murders in the college towns of Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor in the late 1960s, said the quick, relatively painless way Jane Mixer was killed and the meticulous arrangement of her body in a cemetery showed tenderness absent from the other killings.

"A coat had been used to cover her body, almost as if she were alive to keep her warm," James told jurors hearing evidence against Gary Leiterman, a 62-year-old linked by DNA testing last year to the 1969 killing.

"It almost looked like the perpetrator of that murder had compassion for the victim," he said.

Leiterman's defense claims the DNA match is the result of lab contamination and has suggested the real killer is John Norman Collins, who is serving a life sentence for one of the murders.

The killings stopped after his arrest in 1969, and James and others in law enforcement believe he is responsible for most of the murders.

James noted that while other victims were tortured with sexual assault, beatings and stabbings, Mixer's only injuries were two point-blank bullet wounds to the head.

When her body was found, her dress was pulled up to reveal her genitals, but she was otherwise fully dressed. The others were found naked or partially clothed and in more remote areas, including garbage dumps, a ravine and an abandoned farm.

"They were just dumped, whereas it appeared that Mixer had been placed in the cemetery with care," he said.

The 23-year-old vanished on March 20, 1969, after accepting a ride with a stranger to her parents' house in western Michigan for spring break. She was planning to tell them she had become engaged to a graduate student.

Signs of a serial murder?

On cross-examination, however, James conceded that there were some similarities between Mixer's death and some of the others.

A woman killed three months after Mixer was also shot with a .22-caliber gun. She was seen in the company of Collins on the night of her death.

He also agreed that others had garrotes around their neck, such as the stocking wrapped around Mixer's neck. A medical examiner said the silk stocking was placed on the law student's neck after she died from the gunshots and did not contribute to her death.

James also acknowledged that police in 1969 did not follow proper procedure when storing evidence related to the case. The items related to the murders were kept together in a bomb shelter at the police station, which could have led to contamination.

James, who spent 24 years with the state police, said he had continued studying the case since his retirement in 1979. He listed the dates and circumstances of each murder without looking at his notes.

As he described the youngest victim, a 13-year-old from Ypsilanti named Dawn Basom, James stared at the ceiling and his voice shook.

"That little girl was running home on April 15 [1969] along the rail tracks and disappeared," he said. "She was taken to a farmhouse. She was raped and strangled with a copper wire and then placed alongside a road ... she was stabbed in the left chest probably to make sure she was dead after she was murdered."

James was one of four retired police investigators to testify.

Lab questions

Jurors also heard from two forensic technicians from the state police crime lab.

The issue of contamination at the lab is key in the case. DNA from Mixer's pantyhose and the silk stocking matched Leiterman, but technicians matched a blood drop from her hand to a convicted murderer who was just 4 years old at the time of the murder.

Evidence from that man's murder case was being tested in the lab at the same time and the defense contends the finding is proof of contamination.

Sarah Thiabault, a lab technician, said she tested the man's clothing, but never handled evidence from the Mixer case. She said she worked on a sterile surface and only used her own personal tools. More technicians are expected to testify later.


Copyright 1995-2006 by Elisabeth Wetsch
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