On November 17th, 1978, the small town of Speedway, Indiana, was shaken to its very core. Until then, there had only ever been two homicides on record in the city of Speedway. That was before the tragedy that occurred on this fatal night. This is the disturbing story of the Burger Chef murders.
A Brief History of Burger Chef
Burger Chef was a popular fast food chain founded in 1954 in Indianapolis, Indiana. The chain was successful until it folded back in 1996, roughly 25 years ago. At its peak, Burger Chef had over 1,000 locations across the United States and Canada. In 1982 the general food corporation sold the Burger Chef trademark to Hardy’s.
The Burger Chef Murders
At around 11 pm on Friday, November 17th, 1978, four young employees were closing the restaurant for the night in Speedway, Indiana. They were preparing to head home after finishing their work. Their names were Jayne Friedt (age 20), Daniel Davis (age 16), Mark Flemmonds (age 16), and Ruth Ellen Shelton (age 18). Another employee named Brian Kring shows up at the Burger Chef right around midnight. He notices that his co-workers are nowhere to be found. Upon his arrival, Kring began looking around and soon realized that the entire restaurant was empty. He also noticed that both the safety and the back door had been left open. Concerned, he immediately called the police.
Kring would later be quoted saying, “one of the employees called in and said that their van broke down, I vividly remember that, and I guess because of that, I told them that I would come back by and help them close.” He would also go on to say, “I drove around to the back of the building, I guess to go around to the other side to park, and when I pulled around to the back, the first thing I noticed was the back door was cracked open, and I decided to go in the back door.”
The police arrived at the scene shortly after receiving the call but did not take the employee seriously.
Due to a lack of early investigation in the case, the Burger Chef manager was able to enter the restaurant. Perhaps unknowingly, they cleaned up the crime scene. Police could have had a chance to capture and preserve any evidence that would lead them to the missing employees’ whereabouts. However, that chance was diminished when they declined to investigate further. They believed that the case was likely a case of embezzlement. And to make things even more tricky, all the employees had left behind their belongings.
What Could Have Happened?
In a statement about the investigation, Speedway police officer Arthur “Buddy” Ellwanger said, “We screwed it up from the beginning. The crime scene was not only cleaned up, but there were no photos take of the scene before it was cleaned.”
The following morning, November 18th, all four employees should have shown up for work. That same day, Jayne Friedt’s car, a 70s Chevy Vega, was found across town with the doors partially locked. At this point, the town began to worry that something terrible had happened on the previous night. However, officials still had no clue what could have happened.
On Sunday, November 19th, a couple of hikers roughly twenty miles away from the Burger Chef in Johnston county discovered the bodies of all four employees dead in the woods.
Daniel Davis and Ruth Shelton had been shot with a .38 caliber firearm multiple times, execution style. Jayne Friedt had been stabbed twice in the chest. She was stabbed so hard the second time that the knife broke off and remained stuck inside her chest.
All four victims were still wearing their Burger Chef uniforms and still had all of their valuables on them, which implies that this wasn’t a robbery. There was something more disturbing going on here.
Then Things Went Cold…
On the night of the murder, a 16-year-old eyewitness claimed to have seen two suspicious white men in a car outside of the Burger Chef. The men appeared to be white and were in their early to late 30s. According to the witness, one of the men had a beard, and the other was clean-shaven. During the initial investigation, a lineup was done, but nothing had ever come from it.
After the bodies of the four employees were discovered in the woods, the investigation was at a standstill. At the time, the leading theory was that this was a robbery gone wrong. It was possible that one of the victims, specifically Mark Flemmonds, might have recognized the perpetrator(s). Mark was not originally scheduled to work that night and was picking up a shift for another employee. So investigators believed that the perpetrator(s) didn’t plan on Mark being there, and when they saw him, their plan changed.
Other Possible Theories of Murders
Aside from the theory that this was a botched robbery gone wrong, a few theories, in this case, are worth mentioning. There is one theory in particular that involves a man named Donald Forrester. In 1984, Forrester told Detective Mel Willsey that he was involved in the murders and that he was willing to confess. He made this offer on the condition that he wouldn’t be transferred to an infamously violent Indiana state prison.
Forrester, who was living in Speedway at the time of the murders, confused to shooting and killing Daniel Davis and Ruth Shelton. Forrester also led the police to the scene where the bodies were found. He described in great detail how the bodies were found and how each person was killed. He mentioned the knife stuck in Jayne Friedt’s chest.
Donald told the police a story about how Jayne Friedt’s brother, James Friedt, owed money to someone because of a drug deal. He claimed that James and three others had gone to the Burger Chef to threaten her. According to Forrester, shortly after they arrived and he confronted Jayne, Mark Flemmonds intervened in an attempt to protect her, and that’s when a fight broke out.
Mark was knocked to the ground during the fight after hitting his head on the car’s bumper. And at that point, Donald claimed that they thought Mark was already dead, so they kidnapped and killed the employees to ensure no witnesses were left behind.
This theory could make sense because the DEA arrested James in March of 1981 on charges related to cocaine. However, James denied involvement in his sister’s death and was never arrested in correlation with the Burger Chef Murders.
Burger Chef Murders Remain Unsolved
Another theory or possibility is that it wasn’t Donald Forrester. A Burger Chef employee wanted to rob the place but was caught in the act and maybe got spooked into killing their co-workers in the process.
Unfortunately, since the police didn’t close off the crime scene when they first arrived and they allowed Burger Chef to keep running as usual, any evidence left behind got cleaned up in the process. And after Forrester stopped talking to the police before eventually passing away, there wasn’t much else to go on.
Was this a botched robbery gone wrong? Was this an inside job? Or was this a drug deal gone wrong? Despite these theories, the $25,000 reward that Burger Chef offered, and all the effort that went into this case throughout the years, the Burger Chef Murders remain unsolved.