There is an urban legend that you have probably heard of called the babysitter and the man upstairs. In this urban legend, the babysitter puts the kids to bed before she starts to receive phone calls. The caller, a man, simply asks her “have you checked the children?”. She hangs up, only for him to call back with the same message. After numerous calls, the police trace the call, informing the babysitter that the call is coming from inside the home. In the urban legend, the kids and babysitter are all murdered by the man upstairs. This version is truly an urban legend. However, it is based on a very true story. This is the story of The Babysitter Murder: The Janett Christman Story.
On the night of March 18th, 1950, Janett Christmas was supposed to attend a party with friends. However, the thirteen-year-old had purchased a burgundy pants suit on a payment plan for Easter and wanted to pay that off herself to save her parents’ the expense. For this reason, she declined the party invite, instead agreeing to babysit for a couple that was friends with her parents. Ed and Anne Romack lived in a remote part of Columbia, Missouri, with their three-year-old son Gregory. Janett had babysat for the couple before and was excited to earn the money to pay off her suit.
Janett Christman was born March 21st, 1936, in Boone County, Missouri, to Charles and LulaMae Christman. Janett was the eldest of three daughters. In 1950, the family was living in Columbia, Missouri. Janett was a few days away from her fourteenth birthday the night she babysat for the Romack family. Janett was an eighth-grade student at Jefferson Junior High School. She played the piano and sang in the choir as well as being very involved in her church. Janett was mature for her age, making her an ideal babysitter.
On the evening of March 18th, the Columbia area was experiencing some freezing rain and sleet, with temperatures dropping into the 20’s. Around 7:30pm, Janett arrived at the Romack’s house. The Romack’s were planning a night out with their friends to play cards, something they hadn’t done in a while due to a move to the rural home and Anne’s pregnancy. Anne explained to Janett that Gregory was already sleeping, so it should be a relatively quiet night for Janett. Ed directed Janett on how to load, unload, and fire a shotgun that the couple kept near the front door for security. The couple advised Janett that if someone knocked on the door, she should turn on the porch light and should only open the door for someone she knows. Janett expressed understanding, and the couple left for a much-needed night out.
Around 10 pm, Anne called the home to check in on Janett and Gregory. The call went unanswered, but Anne brushed it off. She decided Janett probably fell asleep. At 10:35 pm, a call came into the Boone County Sheriff’s Department. On the other end of the line, the Sherriff could hear a young woman screaming and begging for help before the line went dead. Unfortunately, the call was too short to be traced. Technology in 1950 was very different from today, which unfortunately met the police could do nothing unless the caller placed another call.
Around one o’clock in the morning, the Romack’s returned to their rural home. Immediately, they felt something was wrong. The porch light was on, something they instructed Janett to turn on only if someone knocked on the door. A sawhorse was noted outside a side window as well, which had not been there when the couple left. When they approached the front door, they noticed it was unlocked. Upon entering their home, the Romack’s found a truly horrific scene.
On the living room floor was the lifeless body of thirteen-year-old Janett Christman. She was lying in a pool of her own blood, which had saturated the carpet. Her legs were spread apart, and her skirt pulled all the way up. She had a severe head wound, multiple small circular puncture wounds to her face and scratches to her face and arms. She had a cord from an electric iron wrapped tightly around her neck. A few feet away was the phone, which was off the hook and lying next to Janett. She had apparently tried to call for help.
Like any parent would, Anne rushed upstairs to check on her young son. Gregory was soundly asleep, safely in his bed. Meanwhile, Ed Romack was downstairs calling the police. The Columbia Police Department responded promptly, although the Romack house was technically outside of their jurisdiction. The Boone County Sherriff’s department also responded to the call. The two departments began their own investigations, refusing to cooperate with each other as a joint task force.
The scene inside the home was horrific. Janett had clearly fought her attacker and had defensive wounds. There were blood smears and fingerprints throughout the living room and kitchen. Bloodhounds were immediately brought in and were able to trace a scent from the scene but lost the scent about a mile away from the home. Footprints, fingerprints, and blood samples were collected from the scene. The autopsy determined Janett had been strangled and sexually assaulted.
Police noticed that the side window of the ranch style home was broken with a garden hoe. There was a sawhorse situated just outside of this window. One of the departments believed this indicated that the perpetrator entered through the window. However, the Romack family stated the garden hoe was normally kept inside the home, which added doubts to this theory. The other department believed that the porch light being on and front door being unlocked indicated that the perpetrator was someone who knew Janett and she let him in. The shot gun, kept near the front door, was untouched.
Police spoke with Janett’s friends and family, but no suspects were identified this way. Several black men in the area with questioned, demonstrating a racial bias indicative of the times. There was some thought that the murder may be connected to another that occurred four years earlier in Columbia. This was the murder of Marylou Jenkins, who was murdered inside her own home in 1946. Marylou’s murder occurred less than a mile from Janett’s murder scene.
Marylou Jenkins was twenty years old when she was killed in an eerily similar fashion to Janett. Marylou was a quiet attractive blond girl who was very close to her family. She had been raped and strangled with an extension cord. Her body was found in a pool of blood on the living room floor. Neighbors had heard screams that night, but believed the noises came from their rabbits. This crime rocked the Columbia, Missouri, community, putting enormous pressure on police to solve the case.
Just weeks after the murder of Marylou Jenkins, Floyd Cochran shot his wife Mae int eh shoulder and neck with a 12-gauge shotgun. He then attempted to commit suicide but was unsuccessful. Police found him and brought him in for evaluation. He was committed to Fulton State Hospital related to the suicide attempt. Only then, did they discover Mae was dead inside the Cochran home. Despite there being no evidence of a connection to this case and the murder of Marylou Jenkins, police began to question Floyd about the crime.
Police interrogated Floyd, who was black, without a lawyer for two straight days. Meanwhile, a mob formed outside the police station ready to lynch the black man accused of raping and murdering a white girl. Floyd’s only connection to Marylou was that he worked as a garbage man, servicing her residence. After hours of interrogation without a lawyer, Floyd confessed to Marylou’s murder. He later recanted his confession, stating he only confessed because he was threatened by the police and mob outside the stations. Floyd Cochran had significant mental and intellectual challenges. These challenges were so severe he was rejected from the draft during World War II.
On May 7th, 1946, Floyd plead guilty to murdering his wife and was sentenced to fifteen years in prison. On May 27th, he stood trial for the murder of Marylou Jenkins before an all-white jury and white judge. The defense team argued that the confession was coerced, asking it to be thrown out. However, the judge disagreed, and the jury was allowed to hear testimony regarding the confession. Floyd had an alibi that night, but the jury did not believe his family. There was no evidence aside from the confession linking Floyd to the murder. Despite this, he was found guilty and sentenced to death.
Floyd was transferred to death row at the Missouri State Penitentiary. He ordered a T-bone steak, French fries, scalloped corn, cream gravy, bread, butter, cake, and coffee for his last meal. However, he did not eat a bite. With a blindfold over his eyes, Floyd was led to the gas chamber where he muttered his last words, “Mr. Stewart?”, the name of the warden, before dying. He was executed September 26th, 1947.
Despite Floyd Cochran’s execution, multiple sexual assaults and peeping incidents occurred between 1947-1950 in the Columbia, Missouri area. Another black man, Jake Bradford, was arrested in 1949 after being caught peeping. He confessed to the rapes in the area and was convicted. However, the conviction was later overturned due to evidence that police had threatened him, causing a coerced confession.
Following Janett’s murder, citizens and law enforcement officers started to question the conviction and execution of Floyd Cochran. Marylou and Janett were killed in very similar fashion and within close proximity to one another. Soon, a different suspect emerged that seemed to fit the bill for both crimes: Robert Mueller.
Robert Mueller was born February 7th, 1923. He had been friends with Ed Romack since high school and was an Army Air Corps Captain in World War II. In 1950, Robert was living with his wife in Columbia and working as a tailor. He was then twenty-seven years old. Janett had babysat for the Mueller’s on multiple occasions. Additionally, Robert Mueller knew Marylou Jenkins from high school. Upon speaking with the Anne Romack, she shared that Robert Mueller had made sexual comments about young Janett’s figure. Ed Romack told police that Mueller often spoke of fantasies of defiling young virgins.
Anne Romack stated that on the day before Janett’s murder, Robert was helping her hem a dress as he worked as a tailor. He was in the sewing room where the iron used to strangle Janett was kept, something a random intruder would have had a hard time finding in the home. Anne said Mueller tried to grope her breasts that day and made her very uncomfortable. Anne described Mueller as a man who “doesn’t use words, he uses his hands”. Because he was a tailor, Mueller also carried a mechanical pencil in his front pocket.
The morning of Janett’s murder, Robert Mueller called Janett and asked her to babysit for his children that night. He and his wife were attending the same card game as the Mr. and Mrs. Romack. She declined, explaining she was already committed to the Romack family. He knew where she was that night. To make matters worse, Mueller left the card game for about an hour around ten pm the night of the murder, stating he had to go tend to a sick child. Upon investigation, detectives determined Mueller never went back to his home that night where his children were until he returned home with his wife.
Ed Romack reported that the morning after the murder, Robert Mueller called him and asked if he needed help cleaning up the house after the horrific crime. The only issue with this is that the crime had not been reported publicly yet, so it was unclear how Mueller even knew about the murder. Mueller later told Ed Romack that he believed the killer did not enter through the window because it would have made too much noise. He went on to say the window was probably a ploy by the killer to throw investigators off. He said that he thought it would have been much easier for the killer to just knock on the door and say that Ed had sent him to get poker chips. If Robert Mueller was speaking of himself, this would have been plausible to young Janett.
In May of 1950, police used this circumstantial evidence as grounds to question Robert Mueller. They did not go through the process of getting a warrant however, and instead brought Mueller out to a farmhouse where he was questioned overnight. Following a night of questioning without a lawyer, Mueller was brought in for a polygraph examination. He passed the lie detector test, indicating he was not involved in the crime. However, testing determined that his mechanical pencil was consistent with the circular wounds found on Janett. It is unclear if Mueller’s foot and fingerprints were compared to those from the scene. A grand jury was convened, but the jury felt there was insufficient evidence to charge Robert Mueller with Janett’s murder.
Robert Mueller later sued the investigators for defamation and violation of civil rights, seeking more than $300,000 in compensation. Police claimed, “we did not get a warrant because of the public notoriety and embarrassment that may have resulted” (Kansas City Star, 1952). He lost this lawsuit. Afterwards, he relocated with his family to the west coast. Robert Mueller was never charged in the murder of Janett Christman and detectives refused to admit they likely convicted the wrong man in the case of Marylou Jenkins. It is quite possible Robert Mueller killed them both. Robert Mueller died in 2006 in California at the age of eighty-three.
The Romack family also moved away, unable to continue their lives in the shadow of such a tragedy. Anne died in 1980 and Ed died in 2016. Ed’s obituary lists four children. Gregory survives and lives in Alaska. Janett was buried on her fourteenth birthday, wearing the burgundy suit she bought for Easter. Janett’s family remained in Columbia, where her father died in 1974 and her mother in 2009. Janett’s sisters survive. Janett’s murder has never been solved and is an almost seventy-three-year-old cold case. The case inspired the urban legend as well as movies including When a Stranger Calls and Halloween.
Greaney, T.J. (2010). Who killed Janett Christman?. Columbia Daily Tribune.
Kansas City Times. (1950). High school girl slain in Columbia, Mo. The Kansas City Times. 20 Mar 1950
Kearns, J. ( 1950). Fingerprints found in killing of baby sitter in Columbia, Mo. St. Louis Post Dispatch. 20 Mar 1950
Kansas City Times. (1950). Fight Libel Suit. The Kansas City Times. 22 Dec 1950
Kansas City Star. (1952). Custody as a shield. The Kansas City Star. 14 May 1952