Sheila Jean Collins
Iowa State University
Murder and Date
Last seen in Ames, Iowa
January 26, 1968
Body found in rural Colo, Iowa
January 28, 1968
Cause of Death: Bludgeoned With Pipe and Strangled
By Nancy Bowers
Written January 26, 2013
Today on the 45th anniversary of the murder of Sheila Jean Collins, it is with sadness I add her case to the pages of Iowa Unsolved Murders: Historic Cases, knowing that yet another year has passed without resolution, without answers.
Sheila Collins is an especially significant and important person to me and has been in the full center of my thoughts for four years.
Since 2009, Story County Sheriff Paul Fitzgerald has given me the extraordinary privilege of closely examining her case in every detail.
The encouragement and support Sheriff Fitzgerald and his deputies Jeff Dodd and Rodney Bunn have afforded me continue to be an honor I regard with awe and respect.
Also humbling has been the collaboration and assistance provided by Michigan State Police Detectives Eric Schroeder and David Eddy, who maintain a case file on the Collins case because of its similarity to a 1969 homicide in their own state.
The common goal we all share is to gather as much information as possible and to employ sources and technology unavailable in 1968 to find justice for Sheila.
My four years of research have provided an acquaintance with Sheila as thorough as is possible for a researcher examining the life and death of a stranger.
As Sheila’s life unfolded for me, I learned to love and cherish her like a friend — a fellow student in her sociology course, a floor-mate who danced and laughed alongside her at dorm mixers, someone she’d meet between classes for cokes or coffee in the ISU Memorial Union.
I know her killer as well, an organized and conscience-less man who methodically stalked coeds from the campus directory and Union ride-board, lurking amongst them until his opportunity was right and his victim isolated and vulnerable.
When others ask me how someone could murder Sheila — or any innocent victim — I remind them that just by asking that question we acknowledge that as normal people we lack the ability to even imagine such pathology is possible.
If I had the power, I would unspin the world and go back to that street corner where Sheila stood at 8:30 on the night of January 26, 1968 and tell her, “No, don’t open that door. Don’t get into that car.”
Of course, that’s impossible. But I can honor her memory and the thoughts of what might have been by continuing the search for justice which has eluded her so far.
What follows is merely a condensed summary of the barest facts and details of my research, a skimming of the surface.
Eventually, I will be able to share all that I have learned — the interviews, the articles, the investigation, the photos — but now is not the time. Nor is it my right to do so until law enforcement is satisfied that her killer can be arrested.
For the moment, it is enough to say that Sheila Jean Collins was a wonderful young woman — attractive, intelligent, friendly, honest, and kind. And that her life ended much too soon.
☛ Typical College Coed ☚
In January of 1968, Sheila was a second quarter freshman at Iowa State University in Ames. It was her first time away from her loving family and home in Evanston, Illinois.
The 18-year-old was an excellent student, a member of the ISU synchronized swimming team, and a dishwasher in her dorm cafeteria.
Friends were drawn to her bright personality and outgoing manner. She loved music and dancing, drank only moderately, did not use drugs, and did not participate in radical politics.
Sheila had a boyfriend, a sophomore studying teaching at University of Northern Illinois in DeKalb. Though separated by distance, they wrote, phoned, and tried to get together as often as possible, given their busy college schedules.
At the time of her death, Sheila was in the process of transferring to his university; and, although she was not aware of it, he was planning to propose to her in the spring of 1968.
Her boyfriend scheduled a visit to Ames on Friday, January 26 during his university’s semester break, which he was spending at his parents’ Skokie, Illinois, home.
However, he worried that his car might not make the trip to Iowa and that his finances might not allow it.
He phoned Sheila from Skokie late on the afternoon of January 26 with the bad news that he wouldn’t be able to come. Sheila was crestfallen, but cheered up when they sat a new date for his trip.
☛ Fateful Phone Call ☚
During the Fall Quarter of 1967-68, Sheila — as many students did then — placed her name, hometown, and phone number on the ISU Memorial Union “Going My Way?” ride-board.
She hoped to share expenses with someone traveling to the Chicago area on breaks, holidays, and long weekends.
Just after she and her boyfriend hung up, she received a phone call. She excitedly told her Elm Hall dorm-mates that it was from “a guy” who got her name and phone number off the Union ride-board. He offered to take her “right to the door” of her parents’ home.
Thrilled at the prospect of arriving in Evanston and surprising her boyfriend, she accepted the stranger’s offer of a ride and agreed to meet him at a street corner near her ISU dorm.
The man wanted to leave immediately, so Sheila hurriedly packed and called her parents to let them know she was coming.
She asked some of her friends if one would walk with her to the corner, but all had plans or wanted to stay in for the night.
Sheila was last seen about 8:30 p.m. standing with her suitcase at the busy intersection of Beach Avenue and Lincoln Way. Some witnesses say they saw her get into a small dark car, perhaps a blue Volkswagen.
She never arrived home.
☛ Terrible Discovery ☚
At 2:00 p.m. Sunday, January 28, a fox hunter and his young son discovered Sheila’s body — covered with her green coat — in a ditch near a snow bank along a name-less gravel road near Colo.
She had been struck on the head and strangled. Her belongings were found in a field across a fence from her body.
Sheila borrowed two dollars from a dorm-mate to make the trip; only one dollar was left in her purse. Nothing else was gone from her purse or suitcase, so robbery was an unlikely motive.
The crime scene strongly suggested a sexual crime, but the autopsy did not seek or preserve evidence that would establish that.
☛ Good Investigation Gets Side-Tracked ☚The Story County Sheriff’s Office, the Ames Police Department, and the Iowa Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI) thoroughly worked the case, interviewed witnesses, and followed leads.
Unfortunately, the Story County Attorney had political aspirations and strongly imposed himself on the investigation, even questioning and photographing witnesses.
He had been trying to build a name for himself by raiding local stores that sold what he believed was “obscene” literature and by ferreting out drug users in the Ames Community — a small number at best.
He leaked false information to the press that Sheila was a “student radical” and involved with drugs — both assertions were patently not true.
By making it appear that Sheila’s death was part of a “drug ring,” he believed he could advance his career. Six weeks after her death, he ran in the Republican Primary for Iowa Attorney General and lost. Within a few years, he abruptly resigned his position.
But, the irreparable damage he did to Sheila Collins and to a successful investigation and prosecution of her killer was already done.
By following false and, in some cases, fantastical and absurd leads, he led the investigation so far away from the facts that it went cold and the murder remains unsolved.
☛ Life of Sheila Collins ☚
Sheila Jean Collins was born August 2, 1949 in Elmhurst, Illinois, to Muriel and James Ray Collins. She grew up in Evanston and attended Evanston Township High School, where she was an active club member, swimmer, and superior student. She was also an excellent seamstress. She was survived by two younger sisters, Lee Ann and Patricia Lee Collins.
A memorial service was held for Sheila on February 1, 1968 at St. Michael’s Episcopal Church in Evanston.
Please note: Use of information in this article should credit Nancy Bowers as the author and Iowa Unsolved Murders: Historic Cases as the source.
- ☛ “3 Murder Cases Remain Unsolved Mysteries, Iowa” by Sue Anderson, Cedar Rapids Gazette, June 27, 1968.
- ☛ “3 Recent Iowa Murders Still Unsolved” by Sue Anderson, Waterloo Courier, June 27, 1968.
- ☛ “Believe Sex Deviate Killed Iowa State Coed,” Estherville Daily News, January 31, 1968.
- ☛ “Brutal Murders Of 3 Iowans Still Unsolved,” Muscatine Journal, June 27, 1968.
- ☛ “Check leads from public,” Ames Daily Tribune, January 30, 1968.
- ☛ “Clairvoyants Aid Police In Slaying,” Des Moines Register, February 9, 1968.
- ☛ “Confers with FBI in Coed Death Probe,” Cedar Rapids Gazette, January 31, 1968.
- ☛ “Heads Home, ISU Student Is Murdered,” Waterloo Daily Courier, January 29, 1968.
- ☛ “Hope For Break In Slaying Case,” Burlington Hawk-Eye, March 7, 1968.
- ☛ “House mothers told to advise on rides,” Ames Daily Tribune, February 2, 1968.
- ☛ “‘Hundreds’ questioned in Collins case, reward set,” Ames Daily Tribune, February 1, 1968.
- ☛ “Iowa Coed, 19, Found Strangled,” Edwardsville (Illinois) Intelligencer, January 29, 1968.
- ☛ “Iowa State Coed Was Strangled,” Cedar Rapids Gazette, January 29, 1968.
- ☛ “ISU coed murdered: Seek person who offered her ride home” Ames Daily Tribune, January 29, 1968.
- ☛ “Iowa State Coed Was Strangled,” Cedar Rapids Gazette, January 29, 1968.
- ☛ “ISU Coed Strangled, Left In Ditch,” Estherville Daily News, January 29, 1968.
- ☛ “I.S.U. Coed’s Death Called ‘Sex Crime,’” Des Moines Register, January 30, 1968.
- ☛ “Leads Lacking in Slaying Of Coed From Iowa State University,” Muscatine Journal, January 30, 1968.
- ☛ “Michigan U., ISU Slaying Link Studied,” Cedar Rapids Gazette, August 8, 1969.
- ☛ “News Conference Set,” Muscatine Journal, March 1, 1968.
- ☛ “No Help From FBI,” Muscatine Journal, February 1, 1968.
- ☛ “Nothing new in Collins case,” Ames Daily Tribune, February 3, 1968.
- ☛ “‘Progress,’ But No New Reports In Collins Case,” Ames Daily Tribune, February 5, 1968.
- ☛ “Quiz Suspect In I.S.U. Death,” Des Moines Register.
- ☛ “Reservoir Murder Among 3 Major Unsolved Crimes,” Iowa City Press Citizen, June 27, 1968.
- ☛ “Seek clues in death of Iowa State coed,” Columbus (Ohio) Daily Telegram, January 30, 1968.
- ☛ “Sex Deviate,” Oelwein Daily Register, January 31, 1968.
- ☛ “Six Men Working 16 Hours Daily on ISU Slaying Case” by John Armstrong, Cedar Rapids Gazette, February 20, 1968.
- ☛ “State agents join probe into death of ISU coed,” Ames Daily Tribune, January 31, 1968.
- ☛ “Suspects ‘Sex Deviate of Some Kind’ Killed Coed,” Waterloo Daily Courier, January 31, 1968.
- ☛ “Three Iowa Slayings,” Cedar Rapids Gazette, June 27, 1968.