MICHIGAN CITY — In December 1984, an inmate at the Pendleton Correctional Facility in Madison County told authorities he had information about an unsolved quadruple homicide.
Donald Forrester, who was serving a 95-year sentence for kidnapping and rape, said he had also been involved in the mass murder of four fast food employees in Speedway, Indiana, in 1978. While his confession did not result in any resolution to the cold case, which turns 42 years old this year, and did not result in charges against him, it did have two effects:
It muddled the investigation and popular conceptions of the crime
It delayed Forrester’s transfer to the Indiana State Prison in Michigan City by almost two years, a result which some contend had been his plan all along
And this connection to Michigan City is something retail reporter Áine Cain and attorney Kevin Greenlee say is often understated, despite its effects on the investigation.
It’s also one of the aspects they highlight in a six-part miniseries on the case – “You Never Can Forget” – for their podcast, “The Murder Sheet,” which premiers Tuesday, Nov. 17, on Apple, Spotify, Stitcher and other podcasting platforms.
Cain, who has a background covering big box stores and retail crimes, said the murder case piqued her interest when she discovered its many twists and turns while studying cases of violence against fast food employees. She eventually wrote a feature on it for Insider.
Greenlee, on the other hand, was an intellectual property law attorney who became involved after seeing Theresa Jefferies, one of the victims’ sisters, interviewed on TV, and became her family’s attorney.
“Oftentimes the cliche … is that you refer to a cold case as a rabbit hole, right? You fall down this rabbit hole,” Cain said. “I would say Burger Chef is this rabbit hole with a million little tunnels leading off this way and that, and it feels often like an insurmountable puzzle in terms of possibilities as to what could have happened.
“Once you crack the surface you start to see the different tangents and you start following them and it becomes something you’re driven to figure out.”
One of those tangents, she said, is Forrester.
It began Nov. 17, 1978, when four night shift employees – between ages 16 and 20 – went missing at the Burger Chef in Speedway. Two days later, their bodies were found in a wooded area in Johnson County.
“Two of the victims were shot in the back of the head, another one of the victims was stabbed twice in the heart – stabbed with such force that the blade of the knife actually broke off inside her body; and the fourth victim, Mark Flemmonds, was beaten pretty severely, and fell in such a way that he ended up chocking to death on his own blood,” Greenlee said.
“These are brutal, horrible murders, and they still haunt the families, understandably.”
No one was ever charged.
Then, in 1984, Forrester entered the picture.
According to Cain, Forrester had just begun a 95-year sentence for the 1979 kidnapping and rape of a woman, who escaped by jumping out of a moving vehicle. Forrester was incarcerated in Pendleton, and facing a transfer to Michigan City, when he announced he had information about the unsolved murders.
“And it’s basically because he is scared to go to Michigan City,” Greenlee said. “And he figures if he comes forward with what he knows about Burger Chef, he can use that as a way to stay in Marion County longer. So this whole thing is because of his fear of going to Michigan City.”
Greenlee said the gambit worked. The transfer was delayed, and after he was hurt in a riot at Pendleton, Marion County investigators had him moved to safer lodgings in Marion County Jail.
Cain said Forrester unrolled his confession over a period of months, at first implicating others. But unfortunately for Forrester, one of those people turned out to have been in federal prison at the time of the murder. So to further stay his transfer, Forrester was forced to implicate himself in November 1986, she said. Then, after a media firestorm, he recanted, and was sent to Michigan City.
Greenlee said Forrester was a tempting suspect because he was violent, abused drugs (drugs were believed to be a possible motive), lived in the Speedway area at the time, and his accomplice in the rape lived across the street from Burger Chef. He also possessed knowledge of the crime that did not necessarily come from news reports.
But Forrester’s connection doesn’t end there.
According to Cain, Forrester stayed in Michigan City for two years before he showed signs he wanted to talk to authorities again. Then in early 1989, he confessed a second time.
“Basically I’ve heard from police sources that it was likely Forrester was being sexually assaulted in Michigan City after he was transferred there,” Cain said. “It’s important to note he was a guy who certainly preyed upon people who were physically weaker than him all his life. But in Michigan City, suddenly, he’s kind of a smaller guy and he’s now the prey.
“... He starts reporting he’s hearing voices in his head constantly. He accuses Indiana State Prison officials of performing surgeries on him to implant a device to control his thoughts. At one point he’s sent to the psych ward at the Westville Correctional Facility and remains there for a number of weeks …. And once he agreed to take medication, he’s basically returned to Michigan City.”
Greenlee said Forrester must have realized his first confession delayed him going to Michigan City, so he probably figured another confession might help him get out.
“He was like a rock star trying to recapture his former glory by playing one of his greatest hits,” Greenlee said.
But it didn’t work, and he stayed in Michigan City until he died in 2006. However, his attempts to curry favor with authorities didn’t stop there, Greenlee said.
He pointed out a crazy twist involving Forrester years later. That’s when prosecutors recruited him to testify as a jailhouse informant in the second trial of David Camm, an Indiana State trooper accused of killing his family.
Camm served time with Forrester in Michigan City, and Forrester testified that Camm told him he still heard his son saying, “Daddy, daddy, help me, please.”
Greenlee said no one pointed out that Forrester’s prior confessions in the Burger Chef case were considered unreliable.
“And it’s kind of interesting that the prosecution and the defense attorneys did not bother to research Donald Forrester, this is a guy who perhaps has a reason to have a grudge against Indiana State Police,” he said.
Camm was convicted, but later acquitted after a third trial.
“Why Donald Forrester remains so important, even though he was never charged with this crime, is he remains this sort of bogey man where people in the community remember his face in the newspaper, remember all this reporting done on his various confessions, and police theories on his potential involvement,” Cain said.
“And they think this case is basically solved. They think that, ‘Oh, we know who did it. It’s that Forrester fellow we read about’.”
But the case was never solved. And though investigators think they know who did it, Cain pointed out investigators they’ve talked to don’t agree on who that is.
According to Cain, “You Never Can Forget” – whose title is based on a Burger Chef jingle – will take a holistic view of the case, exploring the many different theories about the crime.
“And we think that because the Burger Chef murders are such a tangled, knotted case, that having those different threads will really be a boon to people who want to understand the case in all its complexity and all its chaos,” she said.
Cain said subsequent episodes of the podcast will investigate other homicides involving restaurants, bars and other eateries.
For more information on The Murder Sheet, visit @murdersheet on Twitter and Instagram, or msheetpodcast on Facebook.