I love Urban Legends, and looking into the truth behind them – if you do some digging there’s almost always a bit of truth to be found! The case we’re talking about today has sparked several well known horror movies including “When A Stranger Calls” and “Halloween”. Fair warning, you will see crime scene photos in this article.
Every teenage girl has heard this story, it usually involves a babysitter watching television while the children are upstairs asleep. The teenager begins to receive creepy phone calls from a strange man in which he advises her to run upstairs and check on the kids; finally the girl picks up the phone to call the cops. Police trace the calls and discover that they’re coming from inside the house, the lunatic has already murdered the children and has been trying to lure her upstairs so he can do the same to her! While there are a few cases of murdered babysitters throughout the years, it’s thought that this particular legend originated with the heinous murder of 13-year-old Janett Christman.
Janett is remembered as a sweet and loving eighth grader who had really enjoyed playing the piano and singing with her church’s choir. Her parents, Charles and Lula Christman, had been well loved restaurant owners in their town of Columbia, Missouri, and they’d been raising three daughters of which Janett had been the oldest. She was known as outgoing and fiercely independent for a girl of just 13 years; earning her own money had been important to Janett, and she was known to pick up jobs such as babysitting whenever possible.
On March 18th of 1950 Ed Romack and his pregnant wife, Ann, had decided to go out for the night; the couple often hired Janett to watch their 3 year old son, Greg. The Romacks hadn’t at all been concerned with Janett’s maturity or child caring capabilities; still, Ed had been a bit worried about other things.
Just a few blocks away from the Romack home, in February of 1946, a beautiful 20 year old college student named Marylou Jenkins had lost her life. Marylou was afraid of staying alone all night, but her mama, Dorothy, had been required to nurse for an elderly couple just down the street. Mother and daughter came up with a plan: if anything were to happen, they’d open up the window shades, turn on the lights, and make a phone call. As Dorothy had peered upon her house during the night she’d taken note that her daughter’s lights were on and that the shade had been raised, but since Marylou hadn’t called she just assumed that all was well.
Once relieved of her duties the next morning, Dorothy arrived home to find that the screen door had been unlocked even though she’d distinctly remembered locking it – the front door was, however, locked. Dorothy knocked and knocked but Marylou never answered. After breaking into her own home, Dorothy discovered her daughter laying on the floor. Marylou was bloody and bruised, nude from the waist down, and a lamp cord had been wrapped five times around her throat. The teen had been beaten, raped, and murdered.
This crime was ultimately pinned on a mentally handicapped black man named Floyd Cochran. Floyd, who had the mental capacity of a ten year old, had shot and killed his wife then tried to commit suicide just two weeks after Marylou was murdered. Sleep deprived from being interrogated two nights in a row, Floyd had confessed to both murders. Though the confession absolutely had been given under duress, and he’d later sworn to have never harmed Marylou, in September of 1947 Floyd met his maker via gas chamber.
Despite the supposed rapist and killer having been caught and put to death, the town was still experiencing some serious trouble. Multiple young women had been sexually assaulted by a masked man, and at least one victim had been babysitting while attacked. A peeping tom, another black man, had recently been caught and was sitting in jail. While the town of Columbia seemed a bit safer, Ed was still concerned. Since their home had been sorta secluded, Ed not only showed Janett where he’d kept his shotgun, but he made sure the teen knew exactly how to use it before he left home for the evening.
A few hours after being left alone on this cold and stormy night, around 11 pm, emergency services received a phone call from what the operator could only describe as a young girl screaming for help at the very top of her lungs. Sadly, back in 1950 it hadn’t been so easy to trace a phone call; police didn’t know where to go, and help never came for poor Janett. Just before 2 am, Ed and Ann came home to find that their living room window had been busted out with a gardening tool; the front door was unlocked, the back door had been left ajar, and the telephone was hanging off the hook.
Janett was discovered on the living room floor, near the piano. Her skirt was hiked way up, she was terribly bruised and bloody; the teenager had been beaten, sexually assaulted, stabbed multiple times with what was believed to be a mechanical pencil, and strangled with a cord. Janett had fought hard for her life, and signs of the struggle littered the home. Ed’s rifle had not been moved that night; instead of running for the shotgun, the teenager had gone for the telephone. The cord which was found wound tightly around Janett’s neck had been taken from an iron in one of the bedrooms, cut with scissors kept nearby. Evidence pointed towards the killer having been familiar with the place; since Ed had a very solid alibi for the evening, the culprit must have been someone they knew.
The man who Ed and Anne had believed to have been the killer was an old school chum named Robert Mueller; Bob had been a Captain in the Army who had fought in World War 2. He had been known to visit the Romack’s home often enough, much to Ann’s disgust; the man had often made passes at her, and he’d usually found reasons to touch her. As a matter of fact, Bob had been at their house just the day before Janett was killed, and had groped Ann’s breast!
Yes, according to many of the women who had been unfortunate enough to know the man, Bob was very much a pervert. Ed had gone on to inform the police that Bob had brought Janett up in conversation more than once, that he’d spoken of how well developed the teenager was for her age, and that he’d seemed to be fixated on her virginity. Then, the morning after the murder, Bob had phoned Ed at his parent’s house with an offer to clean up the blood left at the crime scene! This is particularly incriminating as the news of Janett’s murder had not broken yet. He’d also told Ed that he hadn’t believed the killer had entered through the busted window; Bob claimed that anyone could’ve gained entry to the home by knocking at the door and simply saying, “Ed sent me for poker chips.” Moreover, Bob had often used the iron and scissors which had been used in the murder, the man knew Janett would be babysitting little Greg that night, and he was known to always carry a mechanical pencil on his person.
Bob’s alibi for the timeframe in which Janett had been killed was going to be a lie, and the man was arrested. During interrogation he did admit to having thought of committing the crime, but he denied going through with it. Sadly, the Romack home was right in between jurisdictions, and the detectives who had worked the case were more concerned with egos and making names for themselves than they’d been with working together to solve this murder. In the end Bob passed a polygraph, and since police hadn’t any hard evidence, Bob was released back into society.
Most who look at the case today tend to believe that, though Floyd Cochran probably did kill his wife, it’s very unlikely that he was guilty of attacking Marylou. It’s very probable that the serial rapist and murderer had been one and the same, and that man was likely Robert Mueller. Bob lived to be 83 years of age, and he passed away in 2003.