Writer delves into infamous Graceland murder
John Oller hopes interviews will reveal new info about woman's 1975 killing
Christie Mullins, a 14-year-old sophomore-to-be at Whetstone High School, wasn't supposed to be at Graceland Shopping Center when she met her death Aug. 23, 1975.
A murder trial worthy of Perry Mason more than two years later led to the acquittal of the only person ever charged in connection with the case.
To this day, her bludgeoning death remains unsolved.
John Oller would love to change that -- and he's hoping some contemporaries of Christie can help. An attorney who stepped down from active practice in 2011, the Manhattan resident has turned his hand to writing nonfiction, and a book about the Christie Mullins murder is his next project.
Oller, brother of Columbus Dispatch sports reporter Rob Oller, was a journalism student at Ohio State University at the time of the crime, which he believes ranks as the second-most sensational unsolved murder in the state, behind only the Sam Sheppard case.
"It was a huge thing," John Oller said in an interview last week. "Certainly, anyone who was a teenager or older in central Ohio or Columbus at the time will remember it."
"There's never been a book written about it, but it deserves one," he wrote in an email covering his reasons for taking up the challenge.
Mullins, whose family lived on Rosslyn Avenue, had been swimming with another 14-year-old, Carol Reeves, in a pool at the Broadmeadows Apartments the day of her death when Christie Reeves, Carol's 10-year-old sister, stopped by to say someone had called the Reeves home several times wanting to speak with Carol.
According to later testimony, the caller said he was a disc jockey and that there was to be a cheerleading contest behind the Woolco department store at Graceland Shopping Center. Tickets to the Ohio State Fair would be awarded the winner.
Carol Reeves met Mullins on the way to Graceland, but when no contest appeared to be taking place, Reeves went into the store to check on the time.
Mullins was gone when she got back.
In spite of two alleged eyewitnesses and a confession, the only man to be charged with using a length of board to fracture the girl's skull, Jack Carmen, had his guilty plea withdrawn, due to a new defense team; doubts cast on his guilt by many, including the parents of the murdered girl; and a major investigative piece written by Jim Yavorcik and Rick Kelly, colleagues of Oller's at The Lantern, Ohio State's student newspaper.
"I was working on The Lantern at the time the story broke, and the story was largely broken by a couple of Lantern reporters," Oller said. "They were kind of a Woodward and Bernstein investigative team, coming on the heels of Watergate. It made a huge splash on campus, even though the story itself really had very little to do with Ohio State, as such. I didn't personally work on the story ... but those two guys became almost celebrities overnight."
During a trial that began 28 months after Carmen was taken into custody, his lawyers sought to prove that the man with a development disability had an alibi, in that he was at the Volunteers of America facility on West Broad Street where he lived at the time of the murder.
They also argued he simply wasn't intelligent enough to have committed the crime, and that one of the two alleged eyewitnesses who said they saw him striking the girl with the board was actually the guilty party.
In an email, Oller wrote he is not necessarily hoping to solve the case.
"The story is powerful enough that it will make a good read, regardless of whether the case is 'cracked' after all these years," he wrote. "That said, it would be great if the book were to lead to a new focus on the case by law enforcement authorities, such as Columbus police cold-case unit, and greater yet if somehow it could be solved.
"There are new technologies, such as DNA testing, that weren't around in the late 1970s, and with changes in relationships between some of the key witnesses, and the deaths of others who can no longer instill fear into those who talk, who knows what might result from publication of a book on the subject?
"My guess is, as in any community, the teenagers know the real deal that's going on a lot better than the adults and their parents," Oller said in an interview. "I suspect that a lot of these people were never interviewed by the police back then, because the police quickly concluded that Carmen was the murderer."
Oller has been in touch with some adults who were students with Mullins at what was then Dominion Junior High School and Whetstone High School, but he said he wants to speak with more.
He's established an email address, firstname.lastname@example.org, for people who would be interested in communicating with him.