The Burger Chef Murders: November 17, 1978

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Burger Chef murders, a 25-year-old mystery

Who did it? Who robbed the Burger Chef restaurant? Who murdered four employees?

"That ended up, as of today, the only unsolved major case in my career." Ken York, former detective with the Indiana State Police, is one of the original investigators on the Burger Chef murder case.

He's retired now, a private investigator.

The case may be unsolved, but York thinks he knows who did it. "Unless someone proves differently or someone confesses between now and then, I'll go to my death bed believing I know who killed those kids."

It happened in November 1978 at the Speedway Burger Chef. A Friday night. Four employees on duty disappear; 16-year-old Daniel Davis, 16-year-old Mark Flemmonds, 20-year-old Jayne Friedt and 17-year-old Ruth Shelton.

"I worked on it from the very first day before the bodies were even found." Reporter Paul Bird, who covered the story for the Indianapolis News, said the crime shook the town of Speedway. "It left an entire community in panic. Everybody could relate to their children being abducted from a Burger Chef."

The Sheltons' daughter was one of the victims. They remember getting the phone call 25 years ago. Rachel Shelton recalls, "John woke me up telling me that they thought our daughter had been kidnapped."

John Shelton says, "I thought we'd never see her again alive."

Rachel reads from her diary the emotions she felt that night. "I was on the verge of falling apart."

The family clung together, hoping and praying. "The main thing I remember asking him was, 'Lord, put your arms around Ruth Ellen and let her know that you are there with her," says Rachel.

Initially, police in Speedway didn't have much to go on. Since there was $500 taken from the cash register some investigators thought the employees may have taken the money and went out for the night.

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Next In Line: The Burger Chef Murders

An empty safe. A missing car. Four dead. After 40 years, the unsolved Burger Chef Murders that rocked Indianapolis during one of its most tempestuous years still puzzle investigators—mostly because some believe They cracked the case decades ago.


They are four digits that Mel Willsey can instantly recall. The sequence is of no practical use to him like, say, an ATM PIN or a coworker’s phone extension within the Marion County Sheriff’s Department. And yet they are somehow more significant—if only because they torment him.

The numbers live somewhere in the back of the detective’s mind, among the scraps of memory from more than five decades of investigating criminal cases. Whether triggered by a new assignment, an article in the news or on TV, a passing utterance, or just the quiet reflection that can settle over the clean desk of a 72-year-old career cop approaching retirement, they seem to frequently find their way to the surface of Willsey’s consciousness. The numerals especially haunt him each November, as the wind begins to bite and the last brown leaves fall. That’s when Indy natives of a certain age remember November 17, 1978, and four fast-food workers who were kidnapped, murdered, and left cold in the remote woods of Johnson County that night. Willsey’s phone comes alive with reporters and filmmakers and general citizens wanting to commemorate the crime now widely known as the Burger Chef Murders; and his voicemail box was particularly full this year, on what will be the grisly crime’s 40th anniversary.

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There's still a detective assigned to 'Burger Chef murders' — 39 years later

Even if you did not know that the two life-size human heads fashioned from clay were likenesses of cold-blooded murderers, you could suspect as much.

They exude violence. They stare straight ahead wide-eyed. They purse their lips.

They are the property of Indiana State Police Post 52 on East 21st Street: They are artist's renderings of two men seen outside a west-side fast-food restaurant the night of Nov. 17, 1978.

40th anniversary of Burger Chef case brings fresh inquiry

SPEEDWAY, Ind. - The enduring mystery of the murders of four young Burger Chef employees, abducted from their Speedway fast food restaurant 40 years ago this weekend, has stretched all the way to Australia, where a film crew has planned a trip to Indianapolis to uncover clues to the unsolved killings.

“I guess it was just the fact that it was four young people their lives cut short in the prime of their lives and it just spoke to me just looking at those photos,” said producer Luke Rynderman. “And just the time period and the fact that there hadn’t been any inroads and there were suspects but nobody was brought to justice.”

Rynderman and his partner, Adam Kamien, attended a briefing by Indiana State Police detectives who announced new techniques in their probe of the quadruple murder.

Artificial Intelligence, “machine learning” and DNA testing will be employed to examine the thousands of pages of files and few scant pieces of evidence that still exist four decades after the heartbreaking crime.

In the past, investigators have theorized that it was late on a Friday night, November 17, 1978, when at least two men entered the back door of the Burger Chef at 5725 Crawfordsville Rd., took command of the four employees and later drove them away, only to slay their hostages in a wooded area off Stones Crossing Road and SR 37 in Johnson County.

Manager Jayne Friedt was stabbed to death, a broken four-and-a-half inch knife blade buried in her chest.

Daniel Davis and Ruth Shelton died side-by-side, both teenagers shot to death.

Some distance away, the body of Mark Flemmonds was discovered dead of asphyxiation near a tree.

In 1978, a crew of young men was robbing and shooting its way across Indianapolis.

Several Burger Chef restaurants were hit late at night, indicating the robbers may have had inside knowledge of the chain’s closing-time routines.


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Podcast miniseries released on 42-year local unsolved murders case​

A podcast investigating new details of the murders of four employees of a Speedway Burger Chef 42 years will be released on the anniversary of the day the young adults disappeared.

“We’re hoping to give listeners a bird’s eye view of the case and hope that they have a full understanding of the crime and its many theories,” Cane said. “We feel we’ll be providing our audience with new details they may not have heard before. We’re hoping to provide a real overview of the case that’s not just focusing on a single theory of the investigation.”

To listen to the podcast’s trailer, go to The miniseries starts Tuesday, Nov. 17. For more information go to, or

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