Editor’s Note: This is not the typical story we run, but being a parent, it’s a story I would want told and told until it was solved.
By Mary Giorgio
Friday, November 17, 1978. 11 PM.
Four teenage workers were closing up the Speedway Burger Chef restaurant. They were never seen alive again.
The Speedway Burger Chef was part of a large fast-food chain headquartered in Indianapolis. It had numerous locations across town and over 600 nationwide. The chain was bought by Hardee’s in the 1980s.
Restaurant employees Jane Friedt, Ruth Shelton, Daniel Davis, and Mark Flemmonds locked up the restaurant at 11 PM. The four teens were scheduled to stay late and clean up before leaving. Shortly before midnight, a friend stopped by to visit and found the place empty, with the back door ajar.
The teen called the police, who responded to the scene. The safe was open, with over $500 missing. The cash registers were full, and the employees’ personal effects were still in the restaurant. Police wrapped up their investigation, assuming it was no more than petty theft by the four employees, and allowed Burger Chef management to clean up and reopen the next day.
But the four weren’t seen again. Families, friends, and then police joined in the search. When four bodies were found in rural Johnson County, police realized they had a grisly murder on their hands.
Few details of what happened between the hours of 11 PM and midnight are known. Investigators surmised that the robbers must have hidden near the rear exit, waiting for someone to take out the trash. From there, they must have forced their way into the building. A witness later remembered seeing a suspicious car with two men parked outside the Burger Chef near the time of the robbery.
One theory floated by investigators was that one of the victims must have recognized an attacker, prompting the horrific crime. Regardless of the reason, the four victims were taken from the restaurant alive and driven out to a wooded area in Johnson County. There, they were brutally killed.
Police chased down numerous leads, but were never able to make an arrest. A gang of four robbers who had been active in Indianapolis that fall became prime suspects. Several other Burger Chef locations had been hit. Some members of that crew were later convicted of other robberies, but police were never able to find forensic evidence linking them to the murders.
Additional frustration stemmed from the fact that the murder weapons were never found. Police searched in vain for a knife handle, gun, and chain thought to be used to commit the killings. Lack of progress on the case eventually led investigators to offer a $25,000 reward for an anonymous tip leading to an arrest. Still, no one talked.
Today, it has been more than 40 years since the Burger Chef murders took place, and the crime remains unsolved. Such is the fascination with the case that in 2018, a film crew from Australia visited Indianapolis to search for clues. The crimes may never be solved, but those involved in the investigation still hope to one day bring closure to victims’ families.