An Urban Legend From Columbia, Missouri is Known Worldwide


I’ve mentioned dozens of times that I live in Columbia, Missouri. It is a college town with a population of 110,000 to 150,000 people depending on whether classes are in session or not and how attendance is doing. Not only do we have the home base for the University of Missouri, but we are the headquarters for a private college that has campuses all over the world – Columbia College and we still have one of the few female only colleges left in the US Stephen’s College. However, we could be known for a crime that happened in the 1940s and 1950s has made its way into urban legend status the world over.

The story is the one where the babysitter is getting creepy phone calls and when she has the number traced, the calls are coming from inside the house. The phone creepy calls can be chalked up to fictional license. The murders not so much. There were at least 2, one in 1946 and one in 1950. And a series of babysitter rapes that happened between 1945 and 1951 that police believed were all the work of the same person.

It is much harder to find records about rapes pre-1980 than murders, so my information will concentrate on the two murders, but I did find some stuff about the rapes. In late 1945, a 19 year old woman babysitting for two kids down the street told police a man broke into the house by smashing a window, tied her up and raped her saying he would kill the kids if she woke them by screaming.

In July 1946 Mary Lou Jenkins, a 20 year old woman, was found murdered by the children she was watching. She had been sexually assaulted and strangled. A window at the back of the house had a pane broken out and the window had been raised.

Between 1945 and 1950, there were at least a half dozen rapes with similar details reported, all of them by young women who were raped while babysitting and who said that he would kill the children if they woke. In 1947, a young woman reported to police that a man had broken into the house where she was babysitting and had raped her. He had then tried to strangle her. When she fell unconscious, he left. She was sure he had left her thinking she was dead.

In March 1950, a family returned home around 1 am to find their babysitter, 12 year old Janett Christman had been raped and murdered. The two children she was babysitting were found unharmed in their rooms. Someone had broken a window during a thunderstorm to gain access to the house.

A man named Robert Mueller who had harassed Christman was arrested and convicted of her murder. He eventually won an appeal and a lawsuit against the State of Missouri for wrongful conviction and left the area.

However, if Mueller wasn’t the right man, then the right man was paying very close attention. Once Mueller was arrested, no more babysitter rapes happened.

The reason the urban legend is thought to be based upon these specific crimes is because in the urban legend, the babysitter goes upstairs to check on the kids after the caller asks if they are alright. And the babysitter rapist used threats of violence against the children in the babysitter’s care as a means to control them.

2 thoughts on “An Urban Legend From Columbia, Missouri is Known Worldwide

  1. This account is factually incorrect on several points, though the conclusion is still probably correct. Janett was 13 (a few days shy of her 14th birthday) when she was murdered, not 12 as stated here. She was babysitting one child, a 3 year old named Greg, not two children. The window was broken, but it’s unclear whether that was done before or after the crime as Robert Mueller, who was never arrested or convicted of the crime the circumstantial evidence suggests as the most likely perpetrator, knew Janett and likely gained access by simply knocking on the front door and asking Janett to let him in.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I can’t remember what newspaper articles I accessed to get the information, but if I had to guess it’d be something in the files at the Library… I heard the story originally when I worked at the Boone County ahistorical Society, one of the volunteers told me, that was a teen around the time. Who knows how high parts I mixed up that were her story and what I read in newspapers. Thanks for correcting it.

      Like

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