Could it be? This whole time the identity of the I-65 Serial Killer has been known by a few? Known by those who covered it up to protect their own and arm chair detectives who “solved the case” from the comfort of their own home… It’s all just one hell of a big ass pill to swallow— political red tape and a police cover-up interfered with the investigation. There certainly is no dispute that incompetence and competition between law enforcement agencies(rivals??) have allowed the I-65 Killer to slip through the cracks.
We’ve all been there countless times. From that pet case that you’ve followed since the very beginning where you can name dates, times and places on the whim; or that recent one you just heard about it last week— you’ve immersed yourself in every last possible detail, read countless forums, blogs and message boards. Mobbed up against the heavies— the opposition whose brainwashed and not smart enough to understand how these things, the law and criminals work. You binged on two days worth of YouTube videos; covering twenty years of news stories & developments in just seven hours. You watched every 10 minute segment of a documentary considered the Holy Grail of the case uploaded over 12 parts (except part 3 which you can only find in Spanish). You listened intently on podcasts and commentaries from fellow Sleuthers both questionable and respected. You even dished out eighty dollars in subscription fees to get newspapers and to unlock content.
There was even that one day you crossed over, broke your own rules and delved into the realm of less reputable sources, those shady folks that the so-called “keepers of X case” told you to avoid at all costs. Through it all, there is just that one piece of information that connects the dots. One person, that one name you need… that nobody knows. The one bit of information police have refused to share or victim’s family members who won’t comment.
That folks, is exactly how legends are born and myths become facts. In reality, the truth is blurred. Those who’ve reached that point in the rabbit hole, looking for anything— that one piece of information that in their moment of desperation, makes sense. One person with a following or who is considered reputable, takes that piece and just explores it. In an instant, that very moment its validated. I’d like to just take a moment for the sake of transparency and make one thing perfectly clear. My intent and the purpose of this article is simply to inform those interested in either how the bearded man came to be or how in the hell this bearded man ever got injected in the I-65 Serial Killer case. While I’ve read dozens of articles, spoke to those very familiar with this case, watched vlogs and listened to podcasts about the Burger Chef Murders, my intent is not to cover the theories, dispel another person’s theory or attempt to piece this case together for you. There are people that have a lot of knowledge and many others that have pretty much covered every possible angle of facts both known and assumed, I really don’t have anything of substance to offer in that regard.
First, who exactly is the Bearded Man and does he have any connection to the Hotel Clerk Murders in the late 80’s and early 90’s?
A Legend is Born
Speedway, Indiana, is a small town with a population that has hovered around 12,000 for the past four decades. If you haven’t heard of Speedway, you probably picture a farming town in America’s heartland. If the name doesn’t ring a bell or you haven’t put two and two together expecting a riddle yet, you already know right where it is. In a strange way on the surface, it’s what makes this story a bit more deceiving even at second glance. The town of Speedway is an enclave situated in the west side of Indianapolis, made famous for being home to racing’s Mecca— The Indianapolis Motor Speedway which hosts formula racing’s annual Indianapolis 500 every Memorial Day weekend and NASCAR’s Brickyard 400.
There is something else that put Speedway on the map apart from racing, at least in the True Crime community. A string of bombings and the now infamous ‘Burger Chef Murders’.
On the evening of Friday, November 17, 1978, between 11:15 and 11:30 p.m. a 16 year-old boy from the west side of Indianapolis and his girlfriend were sitting behind the Burger Chef restaurant located at 5725 Crawfordsville Road in Speedway, when two “shabbily dressed white men”, both estimated to be in their thirties approached them. The first man was “clean shaven” and “fair haired”, but acted suspicious as he kept looking down while trying to conceal his lower face with a handkerchief/bandanna. The other man was much more assertive and abrupt, he had a beard and approached the teens and asked to see their identification. Just as quick as the men arrived— they told the teen couple to leave because “a lot of vandalism has been going on” in the area. The teens did as they were told and obviously didn’t think much of the encounter until later.
At that moment, they didn’t know how lucky they were. The encounter with the two men, if completely true, likely saved their lives. They were just within a few feet and quite possibly minutes from pure terror. Around 12:15 a.m., an off-duty employee stopped by to meet up with one of the closing crew members and found the delivery door open and entered to find no one inside— something wasn’t right. Something was wrong. Like anyone with common sense, the employee called the manager and then the police.
That’s where it all began. That very statement by police to the media, became the entire basis of “the Bearded Man”. From there we would get “Shotgun Man”, “Fair Haired Man” and every fucking man without a name except “Frosty the Snowman”.
What happened next is really a combination of some facts, many theories and some common sense.
Scheduled to close that evening was twenty year-old Assistant Manager Jayne Friedt and crew members Ruth Ellen Shelton, 17, Daniel Davis & Mark Flemmonds, both 16. Sometime between the restaurant’s closing time of 11 p.m. and 12:15 a.m., investigators would later believe that at least two men had entered the Burger Chef by either knocking on the back delivery door, or entered it after one of the employees left it ajar to empty the trash or after s/he had returned.
When the Speedway Police Department arrived at 5725 Crawfordsville Road in the early morning hours of Saturday, November 18, 1978, they had every reason to believe that Mark, Daniel, Ruth and Jane were in grave danger. Inside it looked as if they had just vanished while preparing for next day’s business. A couple of their jackets still there, but both Freidt and Shelton’s purse were still inside. Speedway Police Department deduced that Freidt and her crew embezzled $581 from the safe that was left open and left in her car to joyride and party in those early morning hours.
As the sun rose that Saturday morning, Jane Freidt’s white 1974 Chevy Vega would be found abandoned just a block-and-a-half from the Speedway Police station, and still none of them had showed up. As their families grew increasingly worried, Speedway police had only just started to suspect that a robbery and abduction may have occurred late Friday night. Regardless, it was too late. The Burger Chef would be cleaned up by the morning shift and opened for business.
We’ll never know if the four would still be with us or at least had more time had Speedway Police Department acted from minute one. What we do know, that would be the first and certainly not the last of what would become a series of egregious errors and ongoing demonstration of gross incompetence. Some have even suggested that police may have intentionally handled the case in this manner as some kind of twisted inside joke. Should evidence ever surface that this was the case, I cannot say that I’d been shocked.
Sadly, we already know the outcome. The four were taken to a remote location in Johnson County, Indiana, and horrifically executed. Ruth Shelton and Daniel Davis were laying face down in the ground next to each other when they shot in the back of the head. Mark Flemmonds who was very athletic and agile, is believed to have tried to escape in his final moments and ran into a tree, knocking himself out and choking to death on his own blood. It has been said that had his head tilted the other way, he may have been a living witness. Jane Freidt had a 4 & 1/2 inch knife plunged into her chest with such force that the handle broke off.
Sometimes sticking with the bare bone facts is just easier. Over the years there has been plenty theories and speculation on why the killers did this, how exactly were the four contained, controlled & taken out to rural Johnson County; and who exactly was behind the robbery, abduction and quadruple homicide. Theories have varied, covering every possible angle, each theorist claiming to have “inside information” regarding: drug dealers attempting to recover money from Mark Flemmonds, racists wanting to kill Jane Frieidt and Mark over an interracial kiss, biker gangs, armed robbery crews, organized crime and police officer’s nephew or son being involved.
One individual, one man has remained a constant in this case and that is “the Bearded Man”. So who is this man and how did this man ever get connected to the Hotel Clerk Killer or I-65 Serial Killer?
Now you have it.
Enter, The Bearded Man
Aside from the horrific violence that ended the lives of four young people, probably the most disgusting aspect was the investigation itself. We certainly could rehash and speculate & excuse how the Speedway Police Department responded to a scene where four employees were missing on a cold night, with a couple jackets still hanging up, both Jane and Ruth’s purses still there, the safe open with $581 missing and the store wasn’t ready for next day’s business.
The scene, according to police; screamed that four young people out joyriding with booze and drugs purchased with the money from the safe. Incompetence, laziness, inexperience or they just didn’t give damn? It’s all worthy of debate. Problem is, forty years later not much has changed and that discussion is for another day.
Numerous police agencies and investigators, both original and more recent investigators believe they know who is responsible. One of those men?
The Bearded Man, This man is not just a composite, but rather an actual man and investigators believe, most with complete certainty in who that man is.
The Johnson County Sheriff’s Office believes the Burger Chef Murders were committed by a crime family that dealt cocaine. This theory is based squarely on a rumor one of Mark Flemmonds’ classmates started. Perhaps some of the heavies that pieced this case together will argue that there is a lot more to it than a rumor. Problem is, the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office got the idea from that individual. That individual was telling people Mark Flemmonds, just 16 years-old— was neck deep in drug debt, to the tune of $7,000 from narcotics he was given on consignment. They will also argue that Mark Flemmonds’ brother later went to prison for dealing drugs. Problem is, not one shred of evidence suggests $7,000 was owed. There is no evidence that Mark Flemmonds was moving that kind of weight. For those who will argue that he was just getting”in the game”, crime families don’t hand drugs over to 16 year-old kids.
Two of the biggest names in the Burger Chef Murders, the most vocal investigators are Ken York and Stony Vann from the Indiana State Police. These men are certain that it was a robbery gang that was operating in the Indianapolis area. This gang had hit several other Burger Chefs, which it is believed they knew store operations and protocols during robberies. The gang targeted other fast food restaurants. In fact, while serving a warrant on one of these individuals known as “Shotgun Man”(I will not give his real name), his next-door neighbor who was mowing the lawn, happened to had a beard. On that basis alone, York and Vann decided this was “The Bearded Man”.
Marion County Sheriff’s Department investigators Mel Willsey and Gary Maxey are certain it was a man named Donald Forrester. Forrester is a rather popular suspect among followers of the case. They, like Willsey and Maxey like to point out that Forrester bore a strong resemblance to the composite if he had a full beard on Friday, November 17, 1978. Forrester would confess to the Burger Chef Murders, however, this is believed by more rational observers to be a false confession.
The Speedway Police Department over the years has zeroed in on another suspect whom I’ll call “Nick Pratt”(not his real name). He is considered by some to be an “identical” match to the Bearded Man. This individual would be identified later by whom I believe is the 16 year-old witness that night in the Burger Chef parking lot. In fact, “Pratt” has in many ways “injected” himself in the Burger Chef Murders case.
The police had models of the suspects created in clay to assist the investigation For decades many have attempted to locate this individual, or at least get his name. Oddly enough, a decade later the I-65 Murders occurred and suddenly the rumor mill has perpetuated that the Bearded Man was also responsible for the murders of hotel workers, more specifically Jeanne Gilbert and Mary “Peggy” Gill. We were only able to get a composite of I-65 Serial Killer based on a surviving witness description provided to Columbus Police Department that early morning. When his DNA matched the DNA obtained from the Gill and Gilbert murders, another more “accurate” composite was produced.
As you can see, numerous agencies are “certain” who is responsible and who “The Bearded Man” is. It shows their basis of who is responsible is nothing more than guesswork. Worse? It also shows how certain they are that the “The Bearded Man” is one of the men responsible, when nothing indicates a bearded man was involved in the robbery, abduction and murder of the four. A witness seen two men, one with a beard in the Burger Chef parking lot shortly after the restaurant closed and told the witness to leave. I’m certain those more familiar with the case could add a lot more or have their own theory in how the witness sighting in completely factual. I’ll admit right now, while it’s possible that one of these men were involved in the Burger Chef Murders— none of them could have been the I-65 Serial Killer.
But how did “The Bearded Man” get involved in the I-65 Serial Killer case?
Forcing Puzzle Pieces, ADD, Chat Rooms and the Art of Being Right
Late 2001, America Online was the go to place for those with unique interests to meet others and discuss things for hours on end that is important to you, but you don’t personally know folks with your weird interest. The world ceased to be a little bit less lonely knowing you’re not the only one with a strange addiction.
Welcome to the fringe!
Long before Twitter, Facebook, group messaging and all this fun stuff, chat rooms were the place to be to find others with similar interests. Sadly, no chatroom was free from every other line reading A/S/L please? It was a world that Chris Hansen would become infamous and it was rampant. Other than AOL’s Terms of Service, there were no laws really protecting individuals. Today everyone is just “out there” like the world is one big reality show and you’re the star. Twenty years ago it was all about anonymity. That was the idea and how the system was designed. Ultimately, that was how the internet was used and abused. Most folks took liberty in that— you could be whomever you wanted to be. Stolen Valor was rampant. Superstars were everywhere.
There was a darkside, yet… something else that was amazing.
Aside from every sexual deviant claiming to be 25 years-old and younger, trolls and a very strange man from Warren, Michigan, trying to start a cult (he found Jesus in a bowl of cereal. Yes, seriously(Gospel of Timothy)…He’s still around) and some trolls using names with some variation Bin Laden and whichever Al Qaeda’s “current number 2” was in charge; just to rile up the room. There was something else though. A place where people who had similar interests gathered, people from all over that at times could help you. Without a doubt, there were several True Crime chat rooms, some focusing more on the Unsolved Mysteries cases, another would focus on Missing Persons and so on. One case in particular dominated the community and many others- the West Memphis Three. There were message boards at IMDB, on the WM3 site, there were several “non”-supporter boards as well and many others in comment sections of articles and the list goes on. I do believe it was the first “in depth” case that many in the True Crime business today got their start. Perhaps it has led many to believe evidence is only questionable if it fits into our beliefs and vise-versa.
The Days Inn Murders was something that bothered me since I was seven year-old boy. I remember when it occurred— as the news spoke about it, my mother became anxious and worried, we had an aunt (her aunt, my great aunt) who worked at a hotel off I-65 in Southern Indiana. Mom tried to get a hold of her to see if she knew what was going on. Fortunately nothing did, however, this horrific crime. Then something strange happened one day.
Not long after 9/11 an individual came into one of the chat rooms and started speaking about the I-65 Serial Killer and Burger Chef Murders. The I-65 Serial Killer was something I had told only a couple of the regulars. Then out of the sky comes this individual telling us he knows who this man is. Allegedly he had just spoke with Lt. James Cramer about the Burger Chef Murders and Days Inn Murders connection while doing a ride along with police, so people couldn’t see he “cooperating with police and had figured the connection to the I-65 Serial Killer. Problem was, James Cramer seemed to not care about the I-65 Serial Killer. To be perfectly honest— I had never heard of Burger Chef at the time, as Burger Chef occurred three years before I came along and derailed everyone’s lives. Then this individual claimed he almost fell victim to the Burger Chef killers. He told us he was a witness to the crime and thinks “Nick Pratt” was connected to the murder. He told the room (maybe a dozen regulars) about this, not long afterwards he said that “Nick Pratt” came and confronted him about talking to Cramer, as he, Cramer, had told “Nick Pratt” either to just get him killed or to cover up for his
So, is it true that a reliable informant contacted the Indiana State Police detective assigned to the horrific Burger Chef Massacre in Speedway, Indiana, James Cramer; and let him know that one man suspected of being the Bearded Man was likely the I-65 Serial Killer?
Over the course of the next year, this individual would carry on with others about popular cold cases and such. That really was the end of the stories in the chat room. Did he repeat it a few times here and there when he wanted attention? Sure. Then a few years later I read the same story in a comments sections of an article covering this case. In the last ten years or so, the Burger Chef Murders have gained more moment in True Crime circles, several podcasts have covered the tragedy and once again, the legend suddenly gained momentum. This individual showed up on Websleuths and numerous other discussion boards, posted that he in fact contacted law enforcement about the Bearded Man suspect in the Burger Chef Murders and the I-65 Serial Killer.
From Websleuths posted on January 2, 2012:
The FBI needs to thoughly question past Detective Jim Cramer of the Indiana State Police about his family’s involvement in this case. As it appears now, There were three men involved initially in this crime. I say initially, One of the men was driving a 73-75 Green Van with bubble windows and was seen arguing in the parking lot,with another person , The bearded man, I believe graduated or went to Avon high school with Jane Friedt. The third man is possibly a close relative to Det. Cramer and the gun used, came from this mans’ father. I believe he was who moved Jaynes car. He may have worked at that Burger King and had tried to date Jane, the story is, she told him to take a hike. Police comprise the other two if there were not more. All are still alive. The bearded man is also a suspect in the I-65 murders/rapes at the Days inn, Merrillville and Remington Rape and attempted abduction at Columbus In, And the murder/ rape of a hotel clerk in Elizabethtown Ky.
-SNIP- to a subsequent post a short time later the same day:
The first 11 years, I either called the State Police or went to the Post Road ISP every year asking if they wanted the information. I was told by people at Indy star and all the news stations that if they wouldnt talk to me, the info was probably no good. When I suspected ,in 1989 the Remington and merrillville rape /murders were committed by the bearded man, I called because at the time ,I had a suspect for them. 1 or 2 days prior to the 11th year anniversary of the BC killings. Det Jim Cramer, contacted me. I thought it was about at that point the remington /merrillville suspect. He refused to take any info I had on the Bearded suspect. He only wanted to know about Burger Chef. I drove around with him and he taped and asked mundane questions about what I saw that night at the Burger Chef. But , he refused to ask about the I-65 murders. About three days later, the man who drove the Green van started approaching me asking about ,Why was I talking about him, to the police.”? At that time, in all those years I had only mentioned his name to Det .Jim cramer. He had infomation that only was on the tape Jim cramer had taped at the time in the police car. I know two of the men ,the other I just happen to run into , in Nov/89 The Ky state police was also offered this info when I found out the Elizabethtown murder was related, to this day there has been no calls or emails from them either. And, that is the basic facts of the story
So he told at the time Lt. James Cramer during a car ride, that this individual was or at least should at least be suspected in the I-65 murder?. Allegedly, this individual claims that after he told law enforcement, the Bearded Man actually approached him about his trash talk and “threatened him”. Now, this individual named this man, because yes, this man was a suspect in the Burger Chef Murders. Yes, some law enforcement do believe he may be involved. Was he also involved in the I-65 Serial murders?
So, just who is this individual? Something is not right. Did you catch it? Lt. James Cramer wanted to know “what I saw that night at Burger Chef, but he refused to ask about the I-65 murders”
Just the basic facts of the story? Or is it just a bunch of bullshit?
The individual he is speaking about is in fact “Nick Pratt” (again, not his real name). What this poster fails to comprehend is that Pratt was a suspect in Burger Chef almost from day one, simply because he told police he was there. Now, some speculate that he was attempting to get some reward money, hoping he relayed just enough of what he heard to get the reward money. Others speculate that “Nick Pratt” very well could be involved.
What we know for a fact about the I-65 Serial Killer— according to two separate witness descriptions that were identical and gave three very distinct descriptors yet the two weren’t connected until 2013. In fact, the Rochester, Minnesota, was linked after this individual’s claim on Websleuths. At the time of the Columbus Assault in 1990, the witness described the man as 35 to 45 years-old(closer to 45), with “striking green eyes, the right one lazy”. This was the same descriptions provided by the Rochester, Minnesota, Assault Victim in 1991, but not connected until 2013- “Lime green eyes, one of them lazy”. According to my source, the Rochester Victim provided a composite to police around the time of the attack and it was never released to protect the victim, however, it is said to be eerily similar to both composites provided by the Columbus Assault victim.
The above is EXACTLY what is wrong with the Sleuther community and yet many don’t understand why they get called “arm chair detectives” and don’t get taken seriously when they continue to call the FBI tip line with “another” suspect they cooked up. This has been a major problem in recent high profile cases over the last few years. A perfect example- the East Area Rapist/Original Night Stalker case. Numerous men were named publicly by individuals all because they found a voice on a video that sounded similar to a recorded call of what is presumably to be Joseph Deangelo’s muffled and disguised voice harassing one of his victims years later. Others used photographs to compare with composite drawings, yes composites— and worse, some of those photos were of men from grade school and were still compared against composites.
Analysis: A Case of Mistaken Identity?
If you’ve followed this case at all, you’d know that “The Bearded Man” really boils down to three different individuals. It seems the lines were drawn by law enforcement as well.
“Nick Pratt” doesn’t match the description of striking green eyes and one of them lazy. In 1990, Pratt would have been about 31 or 32 years-old. This subject was initially described to be about 40 to 45 years-old, however, police know it’s not entirely impossible to have a younger suspect look older.
I think we’ve covered “Nick Pratt” in length.
Our next “Bearded Man” is Donald Forrester, who is believed with a high degree of certainty by the Marion County Sheriff’s Department to be the Bearded Man described by the witness, the witness that thinks Nick Pratt was the man. It would be impossible for Forrester to be the I-65 Serial Killer. Forrester was in Indiana State Prison in Michigan City prison long before the murder of Vicki Heath in 1987 and remained there until his death in 2006.
If that isn’t satisfactory enough, going back to the composites of both witnesses of the I-65 Serial in both 1990 and 1991 are virtually identical descriptions, “pepper colored beard, striking greens eyes (almost yellow) and one of them lazy”. Again, one witness couldn’t have been corrupted by the other since the cases weren’t linked until 2013. Forrester doesn’t match that description.
The final “Bearded Man” was never really a serious suspect in the “Burger Chef Murders”. Remember, he was only suspected to be involved in the murders solely on the basis that he had a white/gray beard and lived next door to “Shotgun man”. When York and Vann were serving a warrant on “Shotgun man”, they saw the man mowing his lawn, he had a beard and he immediately was a suspect.
A couple of things to take into consideration. There is a high probability that “Nick Pratt” was in the parking lot the night and did encounter our witness. Was he involved in the Burger Chef Murders? I cannot say for certain. I don’t believe so. After talking with those familiar with the Burger Chef Murders, many of them don’t either.
1 thought on “Legend of the “Bearded Man””
very interesting article, such a saddening