September 15th, 1987. Clare County, Michigan. 15-year-old Randy Laufer had last been seen walking to a friend’s house after school but he never made it. He also never made it home. It was initially reported that Randy had an argument at home and authorities assumed he had simply run away and would return a few days later. Days became weeks and weeks to months with no suspects jumping out to authorities.
Months continue to pass by without word until Clare County receives an unexpected call from authorities in Brevard County, Florida. They had called inquiring on the whereabouts of a Clare County resident who goes by John McRae and if they had any boys go missing recently. Detectives questioned McRae on the disappearance of Randy Laufer and McRae maintained innocence before leaving the state, packing up and moving his family to Arizona. Despite being the Clare County’s top suspect, very little evidence pointed at McRae besides his history of violence towards young boys. Randy had yet to be found, but detectives refused to give up on Randy.
John McRae’s history of violence dates all the way back to 1950. September 9th, 1950, Saint Clair Shores, Michigan, 8-year-old Joey Housey was roaming the neighborhood. He had been playing with a new headlamp before he was either abducted or lured away by a 15-year-old McRae. McRae used a straight razor to mutilate the innocent child, attacking the throat and genitals. After the boy failed to return home, the neighborhood quickly formed a search party, McRae found it appropriate to volunteer his time as well in an effort to appear concerned, pretending to look through tall grass and abandoned cars for the young child. After Two weeks, another search was formed shortly after a strong rain. One of the volunteers had taken a short break, sitting down near some broken concrete when he noticed a hand peeking out from underneath the cement. The body would be found feet from the McRae home, which happened to be the home of not just Joey’s killer but his former kindergarten teacher as well, John McRae’s mother.
Joey was collected and the missing person’s case quickly became a homicide investigation. After the body had been found, it was alleged that John McRae had approached his father about a dream he had of killing young Joey. Most parents would do the right thing, albeit tough by contacting authorities. However, John's father suggested he go across the river to Canada and never return. John would take his father’s advice, stealing a boat and making his way to Canada. He was captured, confessed shortly after that and returned to Michigan where he was tried and convicted of the murder of young Joey Housey. He was sentenced to a life in 1951.
The next 20 years of McRae’s life would be behind bars however he made quite an impression on prison staff. After reviewing McRae’s prison record and because he was a teenager during the crime, he was deemed eligible for parole and was subsequently released on February 2nd, 1972. The family of the victim was not made aware of McRae’s release. Once McRae’s probation was up in 1976, John decided to leave Michigan for Florida where he would become a prison guard at Brevard Correctional Institute. The following year, another child would be reported as missing.
April 28th, 1977. Cocoa Beach, Florida. 14-year-old Keith Fleming was returning from his girlfriend’s house. He reported that he would hitchhike home and was never heard from again. His body would never be recovered. Very little evidence is present in the Keith Fleming case. The only true ties authorities have is that McRae has admitted to frequenting the same beach that Keith surfed at. He claimed to enjoy watching boys surf there.
March 27th, 1979. 12-year-old Kip Hess of Merritt Island, Florida, would fail to make it to school that day. A note was left behind by Kip stating simply: "Goodbye, Mom and Dad." Was Kip intentionally leaving home or was it a nice gesture towards his parents? What ties Kip to McRae was their encounter at a church fair where McRae was working security. Kip was at the fair because of his boy scout troop. It was agreed upon that the troop could camp there if they agreed to clean up the area once the fair had ended. Kip somehow left his group and met John McRae and his son, Martin, who he hung out with for the rest of the evening. Like previous cases, a search party was formed with the hopes of finding the young child. Once the search was underway, John McRae insisted he join the group and assist with the search. Kip would never be found. A flyer for Kip would later be found within McRae’s locker.
December 12th, 1979. Brevard Correctional Institution in Sharpes, Florida. 19-year-old inmate Charles Collingwood was serving a sentence for car theft. He had been assigned landscaping work and requested a bathroom break. Charles was never heard from again. McRae was a guard at the correctional facility and interacted often with Collingwood. It was soon alleged that the two were engaged in a sexual relationship. Talk of the affair started to reach other guards and it is alleged McRae helped Charles escape by being the getaway driver. Like the previous two case, Collingwood’s body has never been recovered.
In 1980, McRae started to come under suspicion of being involved with the missing Florida boys and was questioned by detectives, he packed up his family and went back to Michigan shortly thereafter.
For the next 7 years, McRae maintained a relatively quiet life until the disappearance of Randy Laufer in 1987. Soon afterwards is when he moved, or fled to Arizona. Over the next 10 years, McRae remained the top suspect in Clare County and Brevard County. Some felt McRae may walk forever until a break in the case in 1997. McRae’s trailer had been removed and replaced with property that cared for animals. A huge chunk of concrete remained next to where McRae’s trailer once stood and the new owner decided to have it removed. Shortly after the work started a human skull was discovered. Tests would later confirm what many had already suspected, the remains belonged to Randy Laufer, found just feet from McRae’s former residence. Randy had been bound, gagged and stabbed multiple times in the neck and back.
In 1998, John McRae and his son, Martin McRae, were arrested in connection with the murder of Randy while they were both living in Mesa, Arizona. John’s wife has maintained his innocence in a number of different quotes but he was still charged with Randy’s murder in 1998. In 2004, a retrial was granted on the grounds that McRae’s rights were violated when a friend of his, who was also a cop, questioned him about the missing boys. Officer Dean Heintzelman arrived in uniform late in the evening and asked McRae if he had done it. According to Dean, John simply hung his head and said “Dean, it was bad. It was bad.” After the retrial was granted, McRae was found guilty and sentenced to life once more in 2005.
Despite some closure in the Michigan deaths, families are still left wondering what happened to their children in Florida. McRae was offered complete immunity if he just let authorities know where they couldn't recover the boys’ remains. McRae insisted he had nothing to do with the crimes and maintained his innocence.
John McRae died in prison shortly after his retrial for the murder of Randy Laufer on June 28, 2005 at the age of 70. He died from intestinal ulcers and gastrointestinal bleeding