The Burger Chef Murders

Lori Johnston
11 min readMay 28, 2020
Burger Chef circa 1978

In 1954 Burger Chef was founded in Indianapolis, Indiana, featuring flame broiled burgers, a direct competitor for Burger King. The company quickly expanded throughout the United States, focusing on franchises in small towns. They offered not only a double burger and quarter-pound hamburger but also a toppings bar where patrons could customize their burgers. Burger Chef was second only to McDonald’s in locations, something no other franchise has managed to do.

By November of 1978, the mad expansion had slowed considerably but Burger Chef was still a major player in the fast food empire. In Speedway, Indiana, a small town of 12,500 residents, Friday, November 17 was a gloomy, cool day with rain drizzling throughout much of the day. The closing shift for the Burger Chef on Crawfordsville Road consisted of four employees: Jayne Freidt, Ruth Ellen Shelton, Mark Flemmonds, and Daniel Davis.

Jayne, at 20 years old was not only the oldest member of the crew that night but the assistant manager. She had worked for Burger Chef for three years and had been at the Crawfordsville road location since the spring of 1978. While professional, she was known to have a zesty and zany sense of humor and a ready smile.

Ruth was 17 and a junior at Northwest High School. An honor student, Ruth had a heavy workload in the hopes that it would guarantee her acceptance into a good college, where she hoped to study computer science. She realized how vital computers would become to us in the future. In the limited spare time she had, Ruth enjoyed macramé and was active in her church.

Mark, 16 years old, was the youngest of seven children and a sophomore at Speedway High. He had struggled in his first year at the high school but had managed to find his footing by that fall of 1978. Encouraged by his success, Mark’s father agreed to let him work at Burger Chef. The Flemmonds family lived close enough to the restaurant that Mark could walk to and from work.

Danny, also 16 years old, was a junior at Decatur Central High School. A jokester who enjoyed a good laugh, he also loved photography and had a darkroom in his home in which he could develop his own photos. He planned on enlisting in the Air Force after graduation due to his fascination with aviation. Friday, November 17, 1978 was his first Friday night shift.

Lori Johnston

Writer, reader, margarita drinker. Currently looking for a “dare to be great” situation.