Murder Sheet

You Never Can Forget: The Robbers

December 22, 2020 Mystery Sheet Season 1 Episode 6
Murder Sheet
You Never Can Forget: The Robbers
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Murder Sheet
You Never Can Forget: The Robbers
Dec 22, 2020 Season 1 Episode 6
Mystery Sheet

Could the murders of the four young Burger Chef employees have gone down over a few hundred bucks? It's hard for some to believe, but it's the theory that former Indiana State Police detective Stony Vann came to hold after nearly two decades of work on the Burger Chef case.

In this week's episode, the Murder Sheet sits down with robbery gang theory expert and retired ISP detective Todd McComas of the 10-41 podcast. Together, we'll delve into the prolific robbery crew that targeted Burger Chefs in the months before the murders.

If you want to hear even more about this theory of the crime, listen to 10-41 on Apple, Stitcher, or wherever you listen to podcasts. McComas outlines the case in his first four episodes.

Follow 10-41 on Twitter at @1041podcast, and keep up with McComas at @toddmccomas.

Follow the Murder Sheet on social media for the latest on the Burger Chef murders and future episodes: 

And send tips to [email protected] 

 

Show Notes Transcript

Could the murders of the four young Burger Chef employees have gone down over a few hundred bucks? It's hard for some to believe, but it's the theory that former Indiana State Police detective Stony Vann came to hold after nearly two decades of work on the Burger Chef case.

In this week's episode, the Murder Sheet sits down with robbery gang theory expert and retired ISP detective Todd McComas of the 10-41 podcast. Together, we'll delve into the prolific robbery crew that targeted Burger Chefs in the months before the murders.

If you want to hear even more about this theory of the crime, listen to 10-41 on Apple, Stitcher, or wherever you listen to podcasts. McComas outlines the case in his first four episodes.

Follow 10-41 on Twitter at @1041podcast, and keep up with McComas at @toddmccomas.

Follow the Murder Sheet on social media for the latest on the Burger Chef murders and future episodes: 

And send tips to [email protected] 

 

Áine Cain: Standing at the front door of the prefab home, one dark evening last autumn, we waited and wondered if we should turn back.

Stony Vann, formerly of the Indiana State Police, worked the Burger Chef murders for about two decades. He is convinced the killers were part of a crew of robbers who seemed to specialize in hitting Burger Chefs. Two of them are still alive.

Neither of them has ever been charged in connection with the homicides.

One of them has cooperated with police, and has even given DNA. He insists he was not there that night. 

The other won’t talk with anyone. 

So we decided to go see him. He lives in a rundown rural area, a place crammed full of small residential structures on winding poorly lit roads. When we arrived, it was after dark and difficult to read street names and addresses. It was a challenge to find our way in — and out — of this place.

No one knew we were going to go try to visit this man. We didn’t know if it was a good idea. But we felt we had to try.

Áine Cain and Kevin Greenlee knock on a door.

Áine Cain: HI, MY NAME IS ÁINE CAIN. I’M A REPORTER. I’M LOOKING FOR [REDACTED].

Amigo: I’M NOT INTERESTED.

Áine Cain: WE’RE DOING A STORY ON THE BURGER CHEF.

*A door slams.*

Kevin Greenlee: Had we just come face to face with one of the Burger Chef killers — or is the robbery gang story just another lead that ultimately leads nowhere?

*Eerie music plays* 

Áine Cain: My name is Áine Cain.

Kevin Greenlee: And I’m Kevin Greenlee.

Áine Cain: And we’re the Murder Sheet. We’ll be taking a multi-part look into the Burger Chef murders. We’ll be presenting you with a new theory about what happened each week as part of our miniseries, “You Never Can Forget.”

On a weekly basis, you’re going to hear from figures you’ve never heard from before. You’re going to hear about facts that you’ve never heard before. And hopefully, you’ll walk away with a better understanding of the sheer complexity of this awful crime.

Kevin Greenlee: We don’t just rely on what we’ve been told or what we’ve read. We have worked this case ourselves. 

We decided to do this podcast so we can tell you what we’ve learned and even clear up a few misconceptions. In this miniseries, we will give you the top theories about the crime. After we’re finished covering the Burger Chef case, the Murder Sheet will continue to investigate different restaurant related homicides for the rest of season one. 

Áine Cain: We’re the Murder Sheet, and this is “You Never Can Forget: The Robbers.”

*Eerie music based on the Burger Chef theme plays* 

Kevin Greenlee: Let’s go back in time to the day after the four employees disappeared from the Burger Chef. It is not a murder case yet — their bodies won’t be discovered until the next day. Their families and friends still have hope.

Áine Cain: On that evening, a man named David Cathcart went to a bar in Greenwood, Indiana, which is on the southside of Indianapolis. He drank. And he talked. 

Kevin Greenlee: Now, so many years later, there are conflicts in the record about what exactly Catchcart said and to whom he said it. But one thing is clear — the people who heard him talk that night were left with the impression that he had direct knowledge of a robbery gang that was targeting Burger Chef restaurants and that this crew had been responsible for what happened at the Speedway Burger Chef the night before.

Áine Cain: Someone notified Richard Bumps, of the Indiana State Police. Since the robbers were alleged to have used a sawed-off shotgun — a federal offense — Bumps took the information to agent Dwight Rapp of the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms. 

Dwight Rapp: SO I GOT WITH THIS DAVID CATHCART AND GOT ALL OF HIS INFORMATION. 

Kevin Greenlee: Cathcart revealed he was part of a crew that was robbing area businesses, concentrating on Burger Chef restaurants. There were at least five of them in this crew but they usually did their robberies in groups of two or three men. Besides Cathcart, there were allegedly at least four other men in the group — John Defibaugh — the only member of the group convicted of shooting a person during a robbery — S. W. Wilkins — the county dog catcher who caused controversy by shooting some of the strays he corralled —  a man we’ll call Amigo because he was friends with all the members of the crew and another member code-named Inside Man. 

Áine Cain: If those nicknames sound familiar, then you’ve probably listened to Todd McComas’ podcast 10-41. McComas is a former ISP detective. He assisted Vann with the Burger Chef case, and it’s apparent that the murders of these four kids still affect him. He offered an authoritative look at the robbery gang theory on his show, and you should give it a listen if you’re interested in doing an even deeper dive into this particular theory. We’ve linked to it in our show notes. 

We spoke to McComas recently about the murders — and figured we’d borrow his code names for the living robbers, to keep things simple. Here’s McComas explaining how Inside Man got his nickname.

Todd McComas: WE CALLED HIM THAT BECAUSE HIS WIFE AT THE TIME WAS A BURGER CHEF EMPLOYEE AND ACCORDING TO HIM HAD UNWITTINGLY GIVEN THEM LOTS OF INTEL AND INFORMATION ABOUT CLOSING PROCEDURES AND WHERE SAFES WERE LOCATED. IT MADE IT CONVENIENT FOR THEM. AND HE KNEW INTIMATELY HOW THEY WERE STAFFED. THEY WERE ALWAYS STAFFED WITH YOUNG PEOPLE AND YOUNG PEOPLE THEY FOUND QUICKLY JUST DIDN’T RESIST. THEY COMPLIED EASY. THEY NEVER FOUGHT BACK. 

Kevin Greenlee: This is why the group robbed Burger Chef more than any other business: they knew more about how Burger Chefs operated. Cathcart’s revelations excited Rapp. 

Dwight Rapp: THE THING ABOUT IT THAT I THOUGHT, “MAN WE’VE GOT THE KILLERS BECAUSE THESE GUYS THAT WERE TALKING ABOUT THIS IN FRANKLIN — THE BODIES WERE FOUND IN JOHNSON COUNTY.” AND I’M THINKING WHOEVER DID THIS ON THE WEST SIDE IN SPEEDWAY THEY HAD TO — WHY WOULD THEY COME ALL THE WAY TO JOHNSON COUNTY UNLESS THEY KNEW THIS AREA? SO I WAS THINKING, “MAN WE’VE GOT THE MURDERERS.”  

Kevin Greenlee: Rapp sprang into action. His first step? Going after Amigo on gun charges.

Dwight Rapp: I GOT A FEDERAL SEARCH WARRANT FOR THE GUN. WE GO TO HIS APARTMENT DOWN IN GREENWOOD AND FIND THE GUN. AND I LOCK HIM UP. AND WE GOT HIM IN CUSTODY AND OF COURSE WE’RE INTERROGATING HIM ABOUT THESE MURDERS. AND HE’S NERVOUS AS HELL BUT HE SAYS HE DIDN’T DO IT. IT WAS JUST A COINCIDENCE. AND I REMEMBER STANDING IN THE MARSHALL’S OFFICE TALKING TO HIM ABOUT CHARGING HIM WITH MURDER AND HIS JUGULAR VEIN I LOOKED AT HIM AND IT WAS ABOUT READY TO JUMP OUT OF HIS NECK. AND AT THAT TIME STEVE GOLDSMITH WAS THE MARION COUNTY PROSECUTOR. 

Áine Cain: Amigo didn’t want to take a polygraph related to the Burger Chef case. Goldsmith was blunt with him.

Dwight Rapp: HE SAID, “YOU TAKE A POLYGRAPH AND PASS IT — IF YOU DON’T TAKE THIS POLYGRAPH, I’M GOING TO CHARGE YOU WITH CONSPIRACY TO COMMIT ARMED ROBBERY AND LOOK INTO THESE MURDERS AND EVERYTHING.” HE TOOK THE POLYGRAPH AND HE PASSED IT. SO THEY WERE KIND OF PUSHED ASIDE AS SUSPECTS. 

Kevin Greenlee: While Rapp moved on to other leads, Ken York of the Indiana State Police continued to work on the robbery gang angle. In the late nineties, Stony Vann of the ISP took over the investigation. Vann’s research convinced him that the robbers were the true culprits in the Burger Chef murders. We will share with you the case these men developed and let you decide where you think the truth lies. 

Áine Cain: To start with, let’s look at one of the crew’s non-Burger Chef robberies: a July 1977 robbery of a mini-mart. We’re highlighting this case because it is the one documented time where a member of the robbery crew shot someone. 

The victim in that case made a full recovery and provided a statement to the police about what happened. Kevin will read excerpts from it now. 

Beginning of robbery victim’s statement.

Kevin Greenlee: It had been a normal business evening at the store. There were three customers in the store taking their time selecting items they wanted to purchase. As two brought their items to the check out and I rang up their sales and they left, the third person had moved to a place directly across from the check out about 10 feet away from me. 

As the last customer went out the exit the third person swung around quickly, moving up to the checkout counter. Covering his face with his left hand and drawing a pistol from under his shirt, out of his belt in the front of his pants with his right hand. He turned his back to the front window and held the gun close to his body so no one outside the store could see that a hold up was in progress.

He stood up close to the cigarette displays on the counter which helped to further conceal or hide the weapon. As he got to the counter he said to me “I want your billfold and put it in a bag.” 

I, not quite registering this was a hold up, said “Put what in a bag?” His reply with some irritation was, “Your billfold and the money in the register and hurry up about it.” 

As I reached under the counter to get a paper sack he said, “Don’t do anything stupid and be careful about what your doing or I’ll shoot you.”

As I bent down to get a paper bag from under the counter my face was about 2 ½ feet from the gun. I thought, “My God it’s a .38 similar to one I had owned at one time — a revolver with a short barrel. But because of reflection of cigarettes on the counter it looked like it was bronze coated and had a hexagon barrel. 

But now I remember when he shot me ,it was definitely blue finish with a round barrel. In my amazement that this was a real hold up I then said, “Jesus I can’t really believe this is happening."

Which again irritated him and he said, “Hurry it up!” 

I started to put the bills in the bag at once $10.00 first 5’s next and then the $1.00 bills. 

During this time the first customer came in the door. He’s about 20 in a dark blue jog suit, dark blond hair. The hold-up man let him pass behind him, towards the back of store.

When the customer had gotten to the left of the hold up man, he turned towards him and instructed him to move toward the ice cream case to my right. And he instructed him to give him his billfold also. To which the customer raised his hands in the air and said he didn’t have one, he left it in the apartment. 

The hold-up man then instructed him to put his hands down and don’t move. He then turned back to me and said, “Hurry up.” By now I had the bills in the bag and had started to put the coins in it. The second customer came in the door. A young paper boy who is in the store often. 

The hold-up man ordered him back to his left, much as he did with the first customer but did not say anything about his billfold. By this time I had put coins in the bag — quarters, dimes. 

The hold up man said, “I don’t want the god---- change just the bills.” I said, “Then that is all there is.” He didn’t believe me and instructed me to lift the change till out of the register drawer and give him what money was under the drawer. 

I said there is nothing there but money orders. He said, “Raise it up d--- it.”

I did. He said, “Raise up the other part.” This being where the folding bills are kept. I told him it didn’t come out and showed him by pulling up on the section that it was fastened down. He then said, “Give me that bag.” 

I then moved to my left in front of him directly across the counter from him and handed the bag containing the money across to him. He lowered his left hand from his face to take the bag. 

He then stepped back one step, looked at the two customers, turned back to me, lowered the gun and fired, hitting me in the groin. 

In disbelief I grabbed my groin and said, “What the hell did you shoot me for?” He was on his way out the exit

End of robbery victim’s statement.

Áine Cain: Some investigators were struck by the similarities between that robbery and what happened at the Speedway Burger Chef. 

In both instances, the robber used a .38. 

Kevin Greenlee: At the Burger Chef, the teen witnesses — George Nichols and his girlfriend — observed one of the suspects covering his face with his hand. The robber in this case did that as well.

Áine Cain: In both instances, the robbers chose not to bother with loose change, leaving it behind. 

Kevin Greenlee: At the mini-mart, of course, a person was shot. The shooter, Defibaugh, claimed it was unintentional, an accident that happened as the bag of money was being handed off from one person to the other. But, at the very least, it shows the potential for violence when these men committed their robberies.

Áine Cain: If similarities like this existed when you look at only one of their robberies, what happens when you look at the whole set? The investigators got an excellent opportunity to do that when Amigo and Inside Man were arrested on another robbery and made what is called a clean up statement.

Todd McComas: YOU KNOW A CLEAN UP STATEMENT IS BASICALLY — THE PROSECUTOR SAYS, “HEY I’LL GIVE YOU THE CHANCE TO HELP LAW ENFORCEMENT OUT BY CLEARING THESE CASES THAT ARE OF NO MORE STIFF A PENALTY THEN THIS CASE YOU ARE BEING CHARGED WITH ANYWAY. AND IN EXCHANGE FOR THAT, AS LONG AS YOU’RE TRUTHFUL AND CLEAN UP THOSE CASES, THEN WE WON’T CHARGE YOU WITH THOSE DOWN THE ROAD, IN THE EVENT LAW ENFORCEMENT CAN PROVE YOU DID THOSE CASES.” AND YOU KNOW IT HELPS BOTH SIDES. IT’S A LITTLE QUID PRO QUO. AND THERE’S NOTHING WRONG WITH THAT.

Kevin Greenlee: In the clean-up statements, Amigo and Inside Man admitted to a string of robberies from 1978.

Áine Cain: In July 1978, they robbed a Burger Chef.

Kevin Greenlee: In August, they robbed two Burger Chefs.

Áine Cain: In September, they robbed a Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Kevin Greenlee: In October, they robbed another Burger Chef. 

And then, of course, on November 17, someone kidnapped the four employees from the Burger Chef in Speedway. 

Áine Cain: Investigators studied the clean up statement carefully. 

Todd McComas: THERE WAS A METHOD OF OPERATION COMPARISON DONE. SO THE COMMONALITIES THAT EXISTED BETWEEN KNOWN ROBBERIES — WHICH WAS FIVE BURGER CHEFS, THAT THEY HAD TOTALLY ADMITTED TO HAVING DONE. AND THE ONE IN SPEEDWAY. FIRST OF ALL, THEY WERE ALL BURGER CHEFS, OBVIOUSLY. THEN THEY ALWAYS HIT ON FRIDAY OR SATURDAY NIGHT BECAUSE THOSE WERE THE BUSIEST. AND THERE WAS THE MOST MONEY AVAILABLE DURING THE ROBBERY. THAT WAS A MATCH BECAUSE THE SPEEDWAY BURGER CHEF WAS ON A SATURDAY. THEY ALWAYS HIT AT CLOSING TIME. AND THAT WAS A MATCH WITH SPEEDWAY. THEY WOULD ALWAYS MAKE ENTRY THROUGH THE BACK DOOR. BY AMBUSHING AN EMPLOYEE THAT WOULD EITHER GO OUT FOR A SMOKE OR TO THROW AWAY TRASH. AND IT’S BELIEVED THAT’S WHAT WAS DONE IN THE SPEEDWAY BURGER CHEF, BECAUSE THE REAR DOOR WAS LEFT AJAR OR UNSECURED. AND THEN THEY ALWAYS USED TWO TO THREE MEMBERS AT A TIME. 

Áine Cain: Since the teen witnesses at Speedway reported seeing two men behind the restaurant, this detail also appears to be a match. 

There were other similarities.

Todd McComas: THEY HAVE THE .38 CALIBER HANDGUN. THEY ALWAYS USED A .38 THAT SOMETIMES THEY WOULD PASS IT AROUND, DEPENDING ON WHICH CREW WAS GOING OUT AND WHICH COMBINATION OF PEOPLE WAS GOING OUT TO ROB. AND WE KNOW THAT DANNY AND RUTH, OF COURSE, WERE KILLED BY A .38 CALIBER HANDGUN. AND THEN THEY ALWAYS LIKED — AND THIS WAS SOMETHING THEY REALLY SPELLED OUT AND WERE ASKED TO EXPLAIN IN DETAIL IN THESE CLEAN-UP STATEMENTS. WAS THAT THEY WOULD PARK THEIR GETAWAY CAR A SAFE DISTANCE AWAY, SEVERAL BLOCKS AWAY. AND THEN APPROACH THE RESTAURANT ON FOOT. THEY NEVER WANTED THEIR VEHICLE TO BE ASSOCIATED WITH THE AREA OF THE CRIME, THEN AFTER THE ROBBERY THEY WOULD OFTENTIMES STEAL AN EMPLOYEE’S CAR AND DRIVE IT FROM THE SCENE TO WHEREVER THEIR GETAWAY CAR WAS STASHED. NOW WE KNOW IN THE SPEEDWAY ROBBERY THAT JAYNE FRIEDT’S CAR WAS MISSING AND THEN FOUND SOME DISTANCE AWAY NEAR THE POLICE STATION, I BELIEVE. SO THE THOUGHT IS, “WELL WAS THAT WHERE THEIR GETAWAY CAR WAS?”

Kevin Greenlee: Of all the similarities in the robbers’ method, McComas felt that this business of moving Jayne’s car was the most important. 

Todd McComas: THAT’S THE MOST UNIQUE SIGNATURE. I’VE WORKED A LOT OF ROBBERIES AND BEEN AROUND A LOT OF PEOPLE WHO WORKED A LOT OF ROBBERIES AND THAT’S SOMETHING I NEVER REALLY HEARD AS PART OF AN MO BEFORE. IT’S KIND OF SMART, ON SOME LEVEL, BACK THEN. WOULDN’T BE SMART NOW BECAUSE YOU’RE PUTTING YOUR BODY IN PHYSICALLY TO A CAR THAT’S GOING TO BE RECOVERED BY POLICE. SO YOU’RE GOING TO LEAVE DNA AND TRACE EVIDENCE. BUT BACK THEN, THAT WASN’T A THING. SO IT WAS KIND OF A SMART MOVE FOR THE TIME.

Áine Cain: More than circumstantial evidence linked this robbery crew to the Speedway Burger Chef murders. Some eyewitnesses are said to have placed them there. George’s girlfriend, the teenage girl who saw the suspects behind the restaurant — whose description helped form the basis for the widely distributed sketches — was shown a mug book with pictures of a variety of offenders. 

S. W. Wilkins’ picture was in that book, and she allegedly identified him as the bearded man.

Kevin Greenlee: Ken York of the Indiana State Police tracked down two witnesses who were customers at the Burger Chef shortly before closing time on the night of the murders. One of them was from Ohio, the other from Tennessee. York said he showed them a mug book that contained pictures of 78 different suspects in the case.

According to York, each of the witnesses identified the same two pictures — and they were images of Wilkins and another member of the robbery crew. York went around telling reporters and fellow cops that an IUPUI math professor had said that the odds of two unrelated people randomly selecting the same two faces out of a group of 78 were 8 million to 1 against. 

Áine Cain: We’ll note that eyewitnesses can be pretty unreliable, and of course police don’t make arrests based on statistical analysis.

Still, the multiple identifications seemed compelling. And there is more. 

Todd McComas: AMIGO — AS I REFER TO HIM — HIS OWN ATTORNEY SHOWED UP AT THE MARION COUNTY SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT IN TEARS BECAUSE HE KNEW HE WAS MAYBE PUTTING HIS LIVELIHOOD ON THE LINE AND TOLD THEM, “HEY I CAN’T TELL YOU ANYTHING MORE THAN WHAT I AM ABOUT TO BECAUSE OF CLIENT ATTORNEY PRIVILEGE, BUT IF YOU’RE LOOKING INTO THE BURGER CHEF MURDERS, MY CLIENT AMIGO TOLD ME THAT HE CASED THAT VERY SAME RESTAURANT FOR THREE NIGHTS PRIOR TO THAT ARMED ROBBERY AND THE DISAPPEARANCE OF THOSE CHILDREN THAT ENDED UP MURDERED. AND I CAN TELL YOU THAT THERE WERE SEVEN PEOPLE THERE TOTAL THAT NIGHT.” AND THAT THE PERSON I CALL DOGCATCHER, WHO IS NOW DECEASED SO YOU CAN USE HIS NAME IF YOU WANT —

Kevin Greenlee: His name is S.W. Wilkins. McComas went on to discuss what else Amigo’s attorney had to say.

Todd McComas: “BUT THAT GUY DID IT. HE WAS ONE OF THE PEOPLE. I CAN’T TELL YOU THAT MY CLIENT DID IT BECAUSE THAT WOULD BE WRONG. I CAN ONLY TELL YOU THAT HE DID CASE IT FOR THREE NIGHTS. AND BY THE WAY DOGCATCHER LIVES NEXT DOOR TO AMIGO. THEY HAVE ADJOINING WALLS IN A DOUBLE IN FRANKLIN INDIANA AT THIS TIME.” SO THAT WAS MORE THAN ENOUGH FOR ME. 

Kevin Greenlee: It is — to say the least — highly unusual for an attorney to go to the police to make incriminating statements like that about one of his clients. 

Todd McComas: THAT SCREAMS OF JUST YOUR CONSCIENCE BATTLING WITH YOU. HE PROBABLY COULDN’T SLEEP ANYMORE UNTIL HE GOT THIS TO LAW ENFORCEMENT. LIKE I CAN’T SLEEP AT NIGHT WITH THIS INFORMATION. IT WAS JUST A MATTER OF HIS CONSCIENCE GETTING TO HIM. AND HEY IF IT COST ME MY CAREER, IT COSTS ME MY CAREER.

Áine Cain: A former prisoner who shared a cell with Amigo also reported that his ex-cell mate admitted that he and SW Wilkins had done Burger Chef and that Wilkins still had the gun. Prison informants are of admittedly limited investigative value but it is interesting that this informant knew enough to offer Wilkins’ name.

And there is still more.

Todd McComas: WILKINS — HIS SON — CAME FORWARD TO POLICE AND WASN’T JAMMED UP, AS FAR AS I REMEMBER. BUT I REMEMBER SEEING THE TRANSCRIPT OF THE INTERVIEW AND HE JUST FLAT OUT SAID, “HEY, MY DAD WAS AT A PARTY, WAS AT HIS NEIGHBOR’S HOUSE WHO LIVED ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE DUPLEX AND I WAS IN ANOTHER ROOM WITH MY GIRLFRIEND AND I HEARD THEM TALK ABOUT HAVING COMMITTED A ROBBERY IN SPEEDWAY. AND THEY MENTIONED BURGER CHEF BY NAME. AND THAT THINGS WENT BAD AND SOME PEOPLE GOT KILLED.” AND NOW FOR STONY, BY THE TIME HE GOT THIS CASE A LOT OF PEOPLE HAD DIED. AND THAT WAS ONE. THE SON HAD DIED AT AN EARLY AGE SO I THINK LEGALLY THAT WAS AN ISSUE WITH TRYING TO USE THAT STATEMENT.

Kevin Greenlee: There seemed to be a great deal of circumstantial evidence suggesting this crew could have been responsible for the Burger Chef murders — but one crucial question remained: What could have happened that could have turned the Speedway Burger Chef robbery so deadly?

*Podcast promo starts*

Let’s take a quick break from The Murder Sheet Presents: "You Never Can Forget” to tell you about a podcast investigating yet another unforgettable crime. 

The Orange Tree is a seven-part series about a 2005 homicide that happened near the University of Texas at Austin. The murder of 21-year-old Jennifer Cave, who was shot, dismembered, and left in a bathtub at her friend Colton Pitonyak’s apartment, continues to haunt the area to this day.

Kevin Greenlee: Like the Burger Chef murders, this case features plenty of twists and turns, including Colton’s flight to Mexico with another UT student Laura Hall. Both were later convicted in connection with the crime, although Colton has continued to appeal his verdict and claim innocence. The business student-turned-convicted-murderer now says that he doesn’t remember much about the night Jennifer died. 

Áine Cain: The Orange Tree is reported on and produced by Haley Butler and Tinu Thomas, who were both seniors at the University of Texas when they started the project.

Together, Haley and Tinu strive to piece together this tragic story in an in-depth podcast that features audio from courtroom scenes and interrogation rooms, prison phone calls, and exclusive interviews with both perpetrators and the victim’s family.

You can binge all seven episodes of The Orange Tree today on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts. And now, back to the Murder Sheet.

And now, back to the Murder Sheet.

*End of podcast promo*

Todd McComas: TO READ IT IS ONE THING BUT TO WATCH IT ON VIDEO.... STONY ASKED INSIDE MAN, “IN YOUR EXPERIENCE — YOU ROBBED A LOT OF BURGER CHEFS RIGHT AROUND THAT TIME FRAME — IN YOUR KNOWLEDGE, WITH YOUR EXPERTISE, WHY WOULD THIS CRIME HAVE TURNED TO MURDER?” AND TO WATCH HIM- I’LL NEVER FORGET THIS TO THIS DAY, I’M SEEING IT IN MY HEAD RIGHT NOW LIKE I’M WATCHING IT ON VIDEO. FOR HIM TO TURN TO STONY AND SAY, “PROBABLY BECAUSE SOMEONE GOT RECOGNIZED.” I WAS LIKE, “WOAH THAT’S SOMETHING.” AND I REMEMBER TALKING TO STONY AS WE WATCHED THAT AND THIS WAS A NEW REVELATION. AND IT’S POSSIBLY GIVING THE WHOLE REASON WHY THIS RESULTED IN FOUR MURDERS. 

Áine Cain: Was there a member of the robbery crew who could plausibly have been recognized by one of the Burger Chef workers? 

Todd McComas: THE PERSON WE CALLED DOGCATCHER ON MY PODCAST.

Áine Cain: Again, that would be S.W. Wilkins.

Todd McComas: WORKED AT A PLACE THAT WAS VERY CLOSE TO A BURGER CHEF RESTAURANT THAT JAYNE WORKED AT PRIOR TO COMING TO THE SPEEDWAY LOCATION. AND HE WORKED THE NIGHT SHIFT. AND THIS WAS ONE OF A VERY FEW PLACES OPEN LATE AT NIGHT OR REAL EARLY IN THE MORNING TO GRAB FOOD, TO GRAB SOME COFFEE. SO I THOUGHT THAT WAS KIND OF A COOL PIECE OF INFORMATION. IS IT CONCLUSIVE? NO. WE DO KNOW THAT BURGER CHEF NEVER GOT ROBBED, CONVENIENTLY. A LOT OF THEM WERE GETTING ROBBED AND THIS ONE DIDN’T. AND IT WAS ONE THAT MAYBE DOGCATCHER FREQUENTED OFTEN.

Áine Cain: There was another potential connection between Wilkins and Jayne. Her father worked at Conrail — so did Wilkins. 

Kevin Greenlee: McComas feels all this adds up to an inescapable conclusion. 

Todd McComas: CRIME MAKES SENSE, YOU KNOW. SOMETIMES YOU HAVE TO GET THE INFORMATION AS YOU GO ALONG TO HELP SOMETHING THAT ALREADY OCCURRED MAKE SENSE. BUT IT ALWAYS MAKES SENSE IN THE END. THERE’S VERY SELDOM IF EVER, I THINK THAT THERE’S A UFO AND ALIENS KILL SOMEONE UNDER CIRCUMSTANCES OR BY A MANNER WE CAN’T POSSIBLY COMPREHEND. IT’S HUMANS KILLING HUMANS SO IT ALL MAKES SENSE EVENTUALLY. THINGS ADD UP. TWO PLUS TWO ALWAYS EQUALS FOUR. SO WHEN YOU SEE ALL THESE THINGS — AND OBVIOUSLY THERE’S MORE — TO ME IT’S UNDENIABLE. 

Áine Cain: We’ve told you about a lot of tantalizing circumstantial leads regarding the robbery gang theory. Having looked through this, we understand McComas’ assertion that every other theory in the Burger Chef case is a waste of time. We don’t necessarily agree, but we definitely get why he thinks that. There’s a lot here, and it’s incredibly frustrating to think that the perpetrator of this crime might be still skulking around, getting away with it, year after year after year. 

If this is what happened — or even if a few elements of the theory are on the right track — then the Burger Chef crew was essentially beset upon by a group of vicious strangers. Four kids may have been killed just for doing their jobs. It’s a heinous crime no matter what happened that night in 1978. But with all the rumors swirling around about drugs being run through the restaurant, and some of the victims maybe owing debts to dangerous characters, we think that this may be the most gutting theory out there. That a bid to snag a few hundred dollars resulted in that carnage in the woods of Johnson County.

Kevin Greenlee: Next week, on the Murder Sheet, a homeowner makes a startling discovery the day after the Burger Chef employees disappeared. 

Jim Cramer: THIS GENTLEMAN MOWED HIS GRASS LATER THAT SAME DAY AND WHEN HE WAS MOWING HIS GRASS FOUND A HANDGUN LESS THAN FIVE HUNDRED FEET FROM THE BACK DOOR OF THE BURGER CHEF.

Kevin Greenlee:  Thanks for listening to this episode of the Murder Sheet Presents: "You Never Can Forget." Special thanks to Kevin Tyler Greenlee, who composed the music for the Murder Sheet, and who you can find on the web at kevintg.com.  

Áine Cain:
To keep up with the latest on the Murder Sheet, make sure to follow us on Instagram and Twitter @murdersheet and on Facebook @msheetpodcast or by searching Murder Sheet. For exclusive content like bonus episodes and case files, become a patron of the Murder Sheet on Patreon.

If you enjoyed listening to the Murder Sheet, please leave us a five star review to help us gain more exposure. And send tips, suggestions, and feedback to [email protected]. Thanks so much for listening.

And please stay tuned for word from our friend Nina at the podcast Already Gone — a great podcast you should be listening to. She actually introduced me to the Burger Chef case with her 2016 episode on the crime. 

*Melancholy music plays*

Nina Innsted from “Already Gone”: Murder, missing persons, unsolved mysteries — ”Already Gone” explores lesser-known cases from Michigan and the Great Lakes region. I’m Nina Innsted, the voice behind the “Already Gone” podcast. Join me for a look at stories that will have you looking over your shoulder and locking the doors at night. Listen to “Already Gone” on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or your favorite podcatcher.