As the summer comes near its end and fall is just right around the corner… I can’t help but reminisce about all the summertime fun I had… I hope you all had fun too. During one fun, warm summer night a few friends and I sat around a campfire and chatted about old urban legends and stories from our childhood.
One particular story made me want to do research on its origins. The story was, Call Is Coming From Inside The House… Not only did I discover a movie was made based on this story, but it is actually based on a true story.
The urban legend of the babysitter and the man upstairs has been traced as far back as the 1960s. The story always varies depending on who’s telling it and what country you may be in. But the story loosely goes something like this.
A teenage girl is babysitting a few children at night. The children have been put to bed upstairs and the babysitter is downstairs, watching tv. The phone rings; the caller tells her, “Check the children.” The teen dismisses the call as a prank and goes back to watching television.
The anonymous caller calls back multiple times. Eventually, the babysitter calls the police, who state they will trace the next call. After the stranger calls again, the police return her call, advising her to leave immediately.
She leaves the home and the police meet her outside. They explain that the calls were coming from inside the house and that the unidentified prowler was calling her after he had killed the children upstairs.
While that tale is unnerving to anyone, it especially terrified teens who babysat on dark nights when all the adults were away. If you remember this urban legend, it’s about to get even more terrifying.
You see, it was loosely based on a true-life crime. The murder of Janett Christman.
Janett was born March 21st, 1936 to Charles and LulaMae Christman. Janett was the oldest of her 2 sisters, who loved to play the piano and sing the choir and was very involved within her church. She was in the 8th grade at Jefferson Junior High.
Janett was just a few days from her 14th birthday and was very mature. She would often be selected as a babysitter because of her maturity.
On March 18th, 1950, 13-year-old Janett Christman was asked to babysit for Ed and Anne Romack, in Columbia, Missouri, the same town she lived in.
Though it was raining and extremely cold out the couple wanted to enjoy a night out playing cards with friends. Janett excepted as she was eager to earn some extra money.
Janetts father dropped her off at the Romack’s home around 7:30 pm, the temperature had dropped into the 20s.
Anne Romack explained that their child was already asleep, so it should be quiet. Due to their home being in a very rural location, Ed Romack showed Janett how to load, unload and fire his shotgun that he kept near the door. The couple explained that she should not open the door to anyone she did not know and to turn the porch light on so she could be sure to see who was at the door.
Anne Romack called home to check in on Janett and her son Gregory, but there was no answer. Anne assumed Janett had fallen asleep.
But the local police department received a call around 10:30 pm.
The call came from a young woman.
She was screaming into the phone, particularly, screaming for help. Her last words to the police were, Come quick before the phone line went dead.
In the 1950s technology was not advanced and police departments did not have the capability of tracking phone calls or their locations. The police department could only hope and wait for the young woman to call again.
The Romacks returned home around 1 am. They noticed the porch light was on and they had left it off, instructing Janett to only turn it on if someone knocked on the door. They also noticed a saw horse right outside one of the windows.
Once at the front door, they realized the door was unlocked. Once inside, they found Janetts lifeless body. She was laying in her own blood, with a severe head injury and puncture wounds on her face.
Her legs had been spread apart and her skirt pulled up. There were scratches on her face and arms and the cord from an electric iron was wrapped around her neck.
Just a few feet from her body was the phone. It was off the hook and lying on the floor. This must have occurred while she called the police. Anne Romack checked on their son, who was safe, and Ed called the police.
But because the Romacks home was outside of the Columbia police department’s jurisdiction, the Boone County Sheriff was also brought in. These two departments refused to work together on this investigation.
The scene of the crime was horrific. It appeared Janett had fought for her life and had several defensive wounds. Blood was smeared throughout the kitchen and living room. Dogs were brought in to track any scent and fingerprints were taken.
Once the autopsy had been performed it was determined that Janett had been strangled and sexually assaulted.
During the investigation, one law enforcement agency found a side window had been broken out with a garden hoe and the sawhorse was sitting just outside this window. Though the Romack family stated that the garden hoe was kept inside the home, so the perpetrator couldn’t have used it to break the window. The other agency believed that Janett must have known the perpetrator as the porch light was on and the door was unlocked.
And the shotgun next to the front door was untouched.
With no suspects and weeks of questioning family and friends, authorities had no way of knowing who murdered Janett. Though some believed it was connected to a murder that occurred in a similar fashion four years prior.
Marylou Jenkins was murdered in her own home in 1946, which was a mile from where Janett was murdered.
Marylou was 20 years old and was killed a very similar manner as Janett. She was raped and strangled with an extension cord, she also was found in a pool of her own blood.
Anxious to solve the case or blame someone, police believed Floyd Cochran was the suspect because he had shot his wife in the shoulder and neck with a 12 gauge shotgun and then attempted suicide, but was not successful.
Police interrogated Floyd for two whole days without a lawyer.
Floyd was a black man and word had traveled fast that he was Marylou’s murderer. Angry mobs formed outside the police station ready to lynch Floyd… A black man, who killed a white girl.
The only connection he had to Marylou, was that he was the garbage man that serviced her neighborhood. Floyd confessed but later recanted his confession and stated he was scared of the mobs and police.
It’s important to note that Floyd had significant mental challenges, so severe that he was rejected from the draft in WW II. Floyd was put on trial for the murder of his wife and also stood trial for the murder of Marylou, he was put to death on September 26th, 1947.
There were others that were listed as possible suspects but only one really stood out to me.
He had been friends with Ed Romack since high school. In 1950 Robert lived in Columbia with his wife and worked as a tailor. He was 27 yrs old and had Janett babysit for him a few times. Though the real connection here is that Robert also knew Marylou Jenkins from high school.
Anne Romack stated that Robert often made sexual comments about Janetts body and told Ed Romack that he had fantasies of defiling young virgins.
The day before Janetts murder, Robert assisted Anne Romack in hemming a dress as he was a tailor. He assisted her in her sewing room where her iron was kept. Anne remembered that Robert had actually tried to grope her breasts that day and she was extremely uncomfortable.
Remember Janett was strangled with the cord of that same iron. A stranger may not have known exactly where the iron was kept to be able to retrieve it and use the cord. It’s also noted that Robert carried a mechanical pencil in the front pocket of his jacket as he used it often as a tailor.
This might explain the strange puncture wounds Janett had.
The morning Janett was murdered, Robert called Janett and asked her to babysit for him, but she was already committed to the Romack family. She told him they were going to a friend’s to play cards.
Robert also attended the card game but left around 10 pm for about an hour. He stated he needed to tend to a sick child at home, but detectives determined he had never gone home to his wife and child during that time.
The morning after Janetts murder, Robert called Ed and asked if he needed help cleaning up the crime scene. This was odd as the news of the horrific scene had not been disclosed to the public yet.
Robert passed a lie detector test and even though the mechanical pencil he had was consistent with the wounds on Janetts body, a grand jury felt there just wasn’t enough evidence to convict him.
Robert Mueller went on to sue for defamation and violation of his civil rights asking for more than $300,000. He lost the lawsuit.
Robert was never charged with Janetts murder and authorities refuse to believe they convicted the wrong man in the murder of Marylou Jenkins….
For now, I suppose we leave this to the realms of the unexplained.
While this is a horrible true story, it did inspire a few movies. The first:
The 1979 film When A Stranger Calls, was directed by Fred Walton and starred Carol Kane and Charles Durning.
And then the 2006 remake. You can find both on YouTube.
What do you think? Do you think Robert Mueller committed both crimes? Maybe leave your thoughts in the comments on our website or on one of our social media accounts.