The 1978 Murder of Four Burger Chef Employees Remains Unsolved — Here Are Some Theories

The detective working on the Burger Chef murder case as of November 2017 grew up hearing about it.

Jennifer Tisdale - Author

Jun. 24 2024, Published 9:38 a.m. ET

Not many people know this, but there are a lot of FBI files available online. For example, you can take a peek at everything the Federal Bureau of Investigation has on Jeffrey Lionel Dahmer. This is all courtesy of the 1967 Freedom of Information Act which "provides the public the right to request access to records from any federal agency."

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Not every case on the FBI's website is as well-known as Dahmer's. Some are equally as interesting but have been slightly lost to history, like the Burger Chef murders. In November 1978, four employees of a Burger Chef location in Speedway, Indiana were abducted then killed. To this day no one knows what happened — but there are a few theories. Could one of them be the truth? We'll let you decide.

Before we get into the Burger Chef murder theories, here's what happened.

According to the FBI files, on Nov. 18, 1978 at approximately 12:30 a.m., a Burger Chef employee who was not scheduled to work that night stopped by the Speedway location only to discover no one was there and the back door was slightly ajar. Upon entering the establishment, he noticed all four cash drawers were open and mostly empty, apart from the change. However, two currency bags remained in the safe which, was also open. They also stumbled upon the purses of two female employees who were working that night.

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The IndyStar reported that the bodies of the four employees on duty that evening were later found in a "remote, wooded area in Johnson County, about 40 minutes away." Ruth Shelton, 17, Daniel Davis, 16, Jayne Friedt, 20, and Mark Flemmonds, 16 had been murdered though only two deaths were similar. Shelton and Davis had been both been shot while Friedt was stabbed and Flemmonds choked on his own blood after being knocked unconscious. It was a gruesome scene.

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To this day, the State Police building in Indiana still houses all of the evidence gathered for this case, and it's a lot. All four victims were still wearing their Burger Chef uniforms, which are still covered in dry blood. After a sketch was made of two suspects, detectives asked Purdue University's art department to create two 3D busts, which are sitting next to the uniforms.

There are also "hair samples, blood samples, fingerprints, bullets recovered from Davis' and Shelton's heads, the knife blade from Friedt's chest, and cigarette butts from Friedt's 1974 Chevrolet Vega," said the outlet. Not to mention the fact that there 24 three-ring binders filled with notes from law enforcement as well as numerous cassette tapes featuring police interviews. It's a lot, and it's more than enough to cobble together some theories.

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The Burger Chef murder theories are all over the place.

As of November 2017, Indiana State Trooper William Stoney Vann was the only person still responsible for this case. He thinks the people behind this were a group of five men who were committing robberies in that area around that time. "The crimes were similar in that they came in through the back door at closing time," he told the IndyStar. Though others had thought of them, Vann paid closer attention. He's of the mind that one of them was recognized, which escalated the robbery to murder.

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Only two of those five men were still alive in 2017. One had died of a heart attack, another was killed, and the third took his own life. Perhaps he felt guilty about something? When asked why he hasn't approached the two living men, Vann said there isn't enough evidence: "If we could prove it, we'd have proved it a long time ago."

Others, like Mel Willsey, a detective with the Marion County Sheriff's Department, have a different theory. He and fellow officer Gary Maxey got a tip from Donald C. Forrester who was "imprisoned at the state prison in Michigan City for rape in November 1986, and confessed his involvement to Willsey and Maxey." When he was asked to show them where the murders occurred, Forrester brought them right to the spot.

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They also spoke with Forrester's ex-wife who said they had just visited that area days before the killing and were aware it was a popular spot for lovers. She told Willsey and Maxey that he pulled out several shell casings from the creek which prompted authorities to dig for more. Even though it had been nine years, they were able to recover more shell casings. Sadly Forrester recanted his confession and died of cancer in 2006. This was after he failed two polygraph tests.

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It didn't help that there were a rash of unsolved murders happening in Speedway close to the Burger Chef murders. People were on edge and were willing to believe anything from groups of motorcycle gangs to drug deals gone wrong. Only two months prior, the "detonation over several days of six bombs around the town," just made things worse. No one died but two people were severely injured.

Vann handed the case over to Detective Nicholas Alspach whose father and grandfather were Indiana state troopers. You could say it was in his blood. "I grew up hearing about this case. Now I'll see what I can do," he said.

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