The Murder of Janett Christman

Listen Now

The story of the babysitter & the man upstairs is an urban legend that dates back to the 1960s; it’s the story about a teenage girl who is babysitting children & begins receiving phone calls from a stalker, continuously asking her to “check the children.” This story line has been used in a number of movies, including the 1979 horror film, When a Stranger Calls. The story you’re about to hear is commonly cited as a source of the legend.

Janett Christman was born on March 21, 1936 in Boonville, Missouri; she was the oldest daughter of Charles & Lula Christman. She had two sisters, Reta, who was 18-months younger & a newborn sister, Cheryl. Janett was described as fun-loving, cheerful, exceptionally hard working & played the piano in choir

The family of five lived in Boonville before relocating to the small, college town of Columbia, Missouri, home of the Mizzou Tigers & lived on the top floor of the business they owned, Ernie’s Cafe & Steakhouse.   At the time of this story, in 1950, Janett was 13-years-old & an 8th grader at Jefferson Junior High.  Despite being only 13, Janett was very independent for her age & self driven to work toward her goals.

On the chilly day of Saturday, March 18, 1950, a dance party was being held for the students of Janett’s junior high. Several of her friends invited her to attend the dance though Janett declined as she had plans to babysit. She was consistently babysitting for two area families that were well acquainted with each other, the Romacks & the Muellers.

On the night of March 18, only three days from her 14th birthday, Janett was babysitting for Ed & Anne Romacks

3-year-old son, Gregory. Janett had her eyes set on a burgundy suit she planned to wear for the upcoming Easter holiday & was determined to save money to purchase it. 

Jannett arrived at the Romacks’ home at 7:30pm; they had recently moved to a rural, isolated home on 1015 Stewart Road, on the outskirts of Columbia. The couple planned to spend the evening with friends, playing cards; Anne was pregnant at the time & looking for a night out after their recent, exhausting move.

When Janett arrived, Anne told her that Gregory would be no trouble that night; he was sleeping & loved having the radio play as he slept. Ed placed a shotgun near the door & showed Janett how to load, unload & fire the weapon just in case something transpired.  He also instructed her to turn on the porch light if anyone came to the door; as he & his wife headed out for the evening, Ed instructed Janett to lock the door behind them.

That night, the weather began to take a turn for the worst as wind, rain & sleet picked up & the temperatures dropped to the mid-twenties. At 10:35pm, the Boone County Sheriff’s Department received a frantic phone call; when officer Ray McCowan answered, he heard the voice of a female, shouting in sheer terror, “come quick!” With that, the line was disconnected though there was nothing officer McCowan could do; the call was too short to trace & the caller offered no information of where she was calling from. 

A short time later, Anne Romack called home from the Moon Valley Villa where she, Ed, the Muellers & other friends were hanging out. There was no answer & Anne assumed that Janett had fallen asleep. At approximately 1:15am, the couple began their journey home. 

At 1:35am, they arrived home, the rain still pouring down. They noticed the porch light was on as Ed had instructed & the blinds were wide open. As Ed rifled through his set of keys to come through the front door, he realized it was already unlocked, despite having told Janett to lock the door after they left. As Ed & Anne entered the home, they were met with a horrifying scene. Janett was sprawled out on her back on the living room floor, a pool of blood saturating the shag carpet. Her legs were splayed open, one shoe off, the other hanging off her left foot. She had a head wound from a blunt object, multiple puncture wounds from a mechanical pencil & an electrical cord from an iron had been cut & wrapped around Janett’s neck & her cause of death was asphyxiation. Janet had not only been murdered but also viciously raped. 

A few feet away from Janett’s body was the landline phone, hanging off the hook; police are sure she was the caller that night, desperately calling for help before she was attacked. Anne turned & ran upstairs to check on 3-year-old Greg, who she found peacefully asleep, completely oblivious to the horrific scene downstairs. As Anne checked on their son, Ed called the police; Sheriff Glen Powell from the Boone County PD was dispatched to the home, arriving with multiple detectives & bloodhounds. Lieutenant Joe Douglas arrived from the city police, a different jurisdiction as the Romacks lived 100 yards outside of city limits & soon a leadership battle began, the separate agencies uncooperative with one another. 

The scene of the crime showed that Janett put up a struggle & fought her attacker; blood smears & fingerprints were found throughout the living room & kitchen; the back door was unlocked & found ajar. Bloodhounds followed the killer’s trail out the back door & one mile up from Stewart Road to West Boulevard & across West Ash Street before the trail was lost. Adult men’s footprints were discovered near a side window that had also been shattered by a garden hoe & it was believed that this is where the killer gained entry. Muddy papers were also found on the nearby piano. 

The two police jurisdictions did not agree on how the killer gained entry into the house; some detectives believe that Janett may have known her killer & allowed him entry into the home. Afterall, Ed had instructed Janett to turn the porch light on if someone came knocking & the light was on. The loaded shotgun sat untouched where Ed had left it & the person knew where to find the iron that the cord had been cut & wrapped around Janett’s neck.

Law enforcement worked 12 hour shifts to try & track down the killer; they also sought help from the public, asking that anyone come forward with any information. Friends, family, students & teachers were questioned though soon, racial bias became apparent as the majority of men brought in & questioned  were black men in the community who were unwarrantedly deemed suspicious. As time went by, police were no closer to finding Janett’s killer.  

Janett’s rape & murder was not an isolated incident; four years earlier, 20-year-old Marylou Jenkins had been home alone on the frigid night of February 5, 1946 in Columbia, Missouri. She was less than a mile away & only two blocks over from where the Romacks lived. Her mother was only two houses away that night, helping an elderly couple while her father was out of town on business. Marylou’s mother told her daughter to turn on a light, raise the shades & place a phone call if anything was amiss while she was gone. 

Later that night, her mother noticed the shades up & a light on though she hadn’t received a phone call so she believed that all was well at home. The next morning, she returned home & found her daughter on the living room floor, raped & strangled to death by an extension cord. The scene was eerily similar to how the Romacks found Janett four years later. 

Only two weeks later, a 35-year-old man, Floyd Cochran tried to commit suicide unsuccessfully after murdering his wife; he was taken into custody & admitted to his wife’s murder. Boone County police interrogated Floyd for ten hours until he confessed to Marylou’s crime after supposedly making incriminating statements. There was, however, no evidence tying him to Marylou’s murder.  Floyd was sentenced to death on September 26, 1947 via the gas chamber. Only hours before his execution, he recanted his alleged confession, stating that he had been coerced into giving a false confession. Nothing came of this statement & Floyd remained pinned to Marylou’s murder. 

In the following years, a series of prowlers & peeping Toms emerged & in the late months of 1949, not only did this activity increase, but also included a string of sexual assaults with the first rape occuring several days before Halloween. This included a 16-year-old girl who was babysitting on East Sunset Lane; a man wearing a homemade mask with holes cut as eyes broke into the home & raped the girl in the living room. 

The next month, on November 29, 1949, an 18-year-old Stephens College student, Sally Johnson, was home alone, one block away from where the previous victim had been attacked. Sally was dozing on the couch as she watched TV, when an unknown man broke into the home & attempted to rape her. She fought back & was thankfully left unharm; the man panicked & ran from the home. 

The following day, November 30, a University of Missouri student was on a date with her boyfriend, parked at Hinkson Creek, also known as lover’s lane. While in their car, a man draped in a white hood ordered them out of the car at gunpoint. He forced them several yards away, bound & robbed the male & ordered the female to walk; he raped her & then fled from the scene. 

Days later, on December 4, 1949, a 26-year-old black man named Jake Bradford was arrested after he was seen peeping into a young woman’s window. He was in jail for a week & ended up confessing to the 16-year-old girl’s rape at the end of October as well as the attempted rape of Sally Johnson. However, when Sally was brought in & asked if he was the perpetrator, she was unable to definitively answer. 

After Bradford’s arrest, the reports of prowlers & rapes did diminish so police felt confident they had the right man & local residents breathed a sigh of relief. This was, until, Janett Christman was brutally raped & murdered on March 18, 1950. Janett’s rape & murder was so similar to that of Marlou Jenkins which now made local residents doubt that Bradford was the perpetrator. 

As police continued their investigation into Janett’s murder, they began to suspect 27-year-old Robert Mueller who had been friends with Ed Romack since high school. He was very well acquainted with Janett since she babysat for his children on multiple occasions. After serving in World War II as an Army Air Corps Captain, he returned home to Columbia, Missouri & worked as a tailor as well as helping at his father’s restaurant, Virginia Cafe. He was known to be a sharp dresser as well as always carrying a mechanical pencil in the front pocket of his jacket. 

According to Ed, Mueller was very attracted to virgin women & spoke about his fantasy of defiling one. He specifically spoke of his attraction to 13-year-old Janett’s well-developed hips & breasts. Anne Romack reported feeling uncomfortable around Mueller who had made uninvited sexual advances on her. Only one day before Janett’s murder, Mueller was at the Romack house, helping Anne hem a dress when he reportedly tried to touch her breasts. Anne gave a formal police statement that Mueller was a man who “doesn’t use words, he uses his hands.” 

On the morning of Jannett’s death, Mueller contacted her, asking her to babysit his children though she declined as she was already obligated to the Romacks. Mueller was with the Romacks that night though left the gathering for two hours, claiming he had to meet a doctor who was tending to his son. When police questioned the doctor, he had never gone to the Mueller home that night. 

The morning after the murder, Mueller called Ed Romack who was at his father’s home; he asked Ed if he needed help cleaning up the blood throughout his home. At this point, he would have had no way of knowing of the murder since the Romacks hadn’t told anyone & the crime hadn’t been printed in the newspapers yet. 

Ed also claimed that Mueller would later speak to him about his theories of how the crime had been committed. His opinion was that breaking into the side window would have been too loud & noticeable & it would have been much easier to go to the front door & say, “Ed sent me here for poker chips.” 

In May of 1950, two months after Janett’s murder, law enforcement compiled all the evidence against Robert Mueller & came to his house to speak with him though rather than following normal procedures with an arrest warrant & interview procedure, they brought him to a farmhouse outside city limits where they interrogated him throughout the night. Mueller was  then taken to Jefferson City where he was given a polygraph test that he passed. 

With this, detectives had to let Mueller go free but due to the strong evidence, judge W.M. Dinwiddle arranged a grand jury to investigate the case further. Because of the way Mueller had been investigated, Mueller was never charged with Janett’s murder. He ended up suing the police department though lost the case; he moved to Tucson, Arizona with his family & passed away at age 83 in 2006.

The Romacks moved to Idaho Falls, Idaho, perpetually tormented with Janett’s murder & the fact that her killer had never been arrested. Anne passed away in the 1980s & Ed remarried & passed away at age 93 in 2016. His son Gregory, who Janett was babysitting that night, has been successful  & settled in Alaska. 

The Christman family stayed in Columbia & continued to run their restaurant. Charles Christman, Janett’s father, passed  away on September 24, 1974 at age 60. Lula moved to Kansas City after his death where  she stayed until her death in 2009. Their oldest daughter, Reta got married & had a family & Cheryl, the youngest, who had only been an infant when Janett was murdered, moved to Florida. 

It’s been more than 72 years since the frigid, rainy night when sweet Janett Christman chose to skip her school dance in favor of saving money for an Easter outfit. Janett would be 86 today if her young life hadn’t been stolen for her before she had the chance to turn fourteen. The Romacks & Christman families believed that Robert Mueller was responsible for Janett’s murder but sadly the case remains unsolved to this day.


  1. Merriam-Webster: Urban legend
  2. Wikipedia: The babysitter & the man upstairs
  3. True Crime Articles: The Unsolved Murder of Janett Christman
  4. Swati Suman: The True Crime Story Behind the Movie “When a Stranger Calls”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: