The Burger Chef murders
A bungled robbery. Four abducted then murdered. But who did it?
How can a crime be solved when no physical evidence pointing to a single suspect or person of interest has been found and linked? That’s the dilemma investigators continue to face in an unsolved decades-old crime known as the Burger Chef murders, in which four young employees from a local fast-food burger joint were all discovered missing and later found murdered.
Friday, November 17, 1978
At some point between 11 p.m. (closing time) and midnight, the four employees at the restaurant (located at 5725 Crawfordville Road), all vanished for reasons still not entirely clear.
Google Maps view:
Burger Chef murders in Speedway, IN (Google Maps)
Burger Chef murders (Google Maps). “Burger Chef murders” is a phrase used to describe a series of events that began…
- Jayne Friedt (20 years old); described as a leader with a sense of humor and a heart of gold.
- Daniel Davis (16 years old); described as a talented photographer, who made loved ones smile.
- Mark Flemmonds (16 years old); described as friendly and selfless, with a sense of style.
- Ruth Ellen Shelton (18 years old); described as a creative, honest and kind with love for music.
By midnight, another employee stopped by the restaurant to visit the four when he discovered that no one was around and that the back door was strangely left ajar. The employee promptly raised the alarm.
Police Get Involved
Police did not take the case seriously, as management had reported the loss of only approximately $500 from the safe, and also because there were no apparent signs of a struggle. As such, the case was thought to be petty embezzlement, with the assumption that the four missing employees stole the cash to go party that night, even though the purses of the two missing female employees were notably left behind at the scene.
Frustratingly, due to operating under this belief at the time, the crime scene was cleaned up by other employees early Saturday morning.
By that Saturday morning, the four failed to show back up, and the discovery of Friedt’s white and blue Chevrolet Vega parked on the street near the Speedway police station, a short drive from the restaurant, also showed no signs of her. After this discovery, that’s when concerns for the whereabouts of the four of them were raised. The new theory as to what happened was that the four were abducted while removing trash bags out the back door near closing time.
Furthermore, later that year, a man in a bar in Greenwood bragged about having been involved in the murders. After subsequently being questioned by police, the man, while passing a polygraph on the grounds of claiming not to be involved, and with officers left unable to charge him on any other grounds, the man provided the names of several individuals. The man suggested that the alleged people belonged to a fast-food robbery gang, whom investigators suspected was responsible.
Following up on these leads in Franklin, a man was spotted bearing a strong resemblance to the composite of their bearded suspect. As a result, they had the man in question brought in for a lineup. However, when he showed up, he had shaved his beard the previous night (apparently he had it for the last five years).
A neighbor of this bearded suspect, while not spotted by the original witness, but named by the Greenwood suspect, consequently went to prison for strong-arm robberies committed with a shotgun.
Another associate named by the Greenwood suspect, fitting the description of the fair-headed second man spotted by the original witness, was also later imprisoned for other armed robberies of fast-food restaurants.
Despite these factors making it look like investigators had found their suspects, there were several issues:
- No confessions — despite offers of plea deals to any suspects not directly responsible for the murders.
- No physical evidence tied any of these suspects to the murders, thereby leaving officers unable to arrest any of them in connection to the crime.
At the time, much speculation abounded that the murders were tied to other crimes, shocking the town over the months preceding the incident. In particular, the death of Julia Scyphers and the Speedway Bombings, the latter of which, at the time, the perpetrators of were still on the loose.
Despite the fears, the perpetrators of the bombings were later found to be unconnected to the murders of the burger joint employees.
On Sunday afternoon — November 19th, the bodies of all four missing employees were discovered by hikers over 20 miles (32 km) away in a rural, hilly, wooded area in Johnson County near a local high school; They were all found about a 40-minute drive from the restaurant where they’d been abducted.
- Daniel Davis and Ruth Shelton — found first — were both shot execution-style in the head multiple times with a .38 caliber firearm.
- Jayne Friedt was found nearby, having been stabbed twice in the chest. The handle of the knife was discovered broken off and missing; with the blade itself later recovered during the autopsy.
- Lastly, Mark Flemmonds — found 75 yards away — suffered a blunt-force head injury, which he presumably sustained as a result of having the misfortune of running into an unknown heavy object — possibly a tree trunk — while fleeing from the abductors, knocking himself unconscious in the process, before falling downhill and then choking on his blood. Furthermore, before Flemmonds’s death, it was later on determined that — he was bludgeoned with an unknown object — possibly an iron chain.
Although the events preceding to and during the alleged abduction is still unclear, the most plausible scenario is that the four employees were kidnapped following a botched robbery. Also, it’s possible that they were abducted after one of them recognized one of the perpetrators.
Eyewitnesses and Sightings
On the night of the employees’ disappearance/murders, a 16-year-old eyewitness stated that they saw two suspicious men in a car outside the restaurant just before its closing time. When asked to describe the two men physically, the witness described one man has having a beard, while the other was clean-shaven with a light/fair-colored hair.
Other leads officials followed relating to possible suspects stretched as far as Cincinnati, Milwaukee, Chicago, and Dallas. However, none of those leads proved promising. The weapons used: the firearm, the handle of the knife used or the supposed chain has yet to be found; none of the perpetrators made confessions to the killings, though the son of the bearded suspect did tell police of his father confiding in him of his involvement, before his passing.
One of the original investigators of the case, Ken York, has noted that the death of the Greenwood suspect, from an apparent suicide, and the death of the bearded second suspect, from a heart attack respectively, came suspiciously close in timing since it was after the release of the armed robber named by the Greenwood suspect.
In spite of the thousands of hours put into the investigations, as well as Burger Chef offering a reward of $25,000 to anyone who could capture the murderer or otherwise provide any legitimately useful information regarding their whereabouts, the attackers were never prosecuted. The case remains open, with the use of new DNA-tracing techniques developed since the initial investigations bringing fresh hope for justice.
November-December of 2018 marks the 40th anniversary of the unsolved quadruple murders, and as such investigators recently released a photo of the severed blade of the knife used in the killings.
- Neither the handle to the knife, the .38 firearm or the chain have been located yet.
In addition to releasing a photo of the blade from the knife used, authorities also released a photo of the official timeline of the crime that they mapped out:
As for the restaurant itself, it was eventually closed down and became a Cashland, a loan provider before that too apparently closed down.
Upon reading that restaurant was never processed adequately as a crime scene and cleaned up frustrates me to no end. At the same time, no one can be blamed for that decision since no one could have known or realized what had transpired. Still, while its hard to say what the chances are that the case has in being solved, hope must always be had for this case and others similarly cold as it.