The Burger Chef murders of 1978
Four young people were abducted and later found slain. The crime remains unsolved.
By Michael Jesse
At 11 p.m. on Nov. 17, 1978, four young people were closing up a Burger Chef restaurant at 5725 Crawfordsville Road in Speedway.
Jayne Friedt, 20, was the assistant manager on duty that night. The other employees were Ruth Shelton, 17, Daniel Davis, 16, and Mark Flemmonds, 16. They were scheduled to stay a couple hours past closing to clean up and get things ready for the morning shift.
The Burger Chef chain doesn't exist anymore, but at the time was an Indianapolis-based company with about 600 restaurants nationally. In the early 1980s it was absorbed by Hardee's.
Around midnight, one of them opened the back door to take out the garbage. What happened next is not fully known, but none of the kids made it home that night.
In the first day's news reports police were treating it as a kidnapping, though it seemed unusual because none of the families were wealthy and no ransom call had been received.
Friedt's car had been parked outside the restaurant and the robbers commandeered it. Police said there had to be more than one robber; maybe three or four, and they would have needed two cars. Friedt's car was founde abandoned not far away, probably where the robbers had left another vehicle parked.
Two days after the abduction the victims' bodies were found in a hilly, wooded area in Johnson County near Center Grove High School. That was about a 40-minute drive from the restaurant where they'd been abducted.
The robbers took their captives to a remote Johnson County area near Center Grove High School.that at least one of them was probably already familiar with. That's where they killed them.
The bodies lay there undiscovered for two days, until some hikers came by on the afternoon of Nov. 19. Ruth Shelton and Daniel Davis were lying side by side and had been shot execution style. Jayne Friedt had been stabbed several times, the knife still in her chest. Mark Flemmonds had been struck hard in the head and choked to death on his own blood.
Police theorized it was a robbery gone bad. Maybe one of the robbers was recognized by one of the kids, or maybe it was something else that made the robbers decide to eliminate the witnesses. They took $581 from the safe, but left hundreds more in change and didn't bother to rob the employees themselves.
As it happened, Indianapolis residents were learning about the Burger Chef murders on the same day they were learning about the mass suicides in Guyana at the 'Jonestown' compound of the Rev. Jim Jones, who had originally formed his People's Temple cult in Indianapolis. The front pages of the two Indianapolis newspapers were dominated by these two tragic stories.
For the next few weeks Speedway and Indianapolis police chased every lead they could find, but came up empty each time. A few prison inmates claimed to know something, but nothing they said panned out.
Many also speculated that the killings might be connected to a series of bombs that went off in Speedway that summer, or to a recent murder in Speedway only a short distance from the Burger Chef. Police chased those theories also, to no avail. Although a suspect was eventually convicted in the Speedway bombing case, police found no evidence suggesting it was connected to the Burger Chef case.
Burger Chef offered a $25,000 reward and The Star set up a way for potential informants to keep their identities secret while still being eligible for the reward.
Nothing came of it and the case went cold. It remains unsolved.