Thursday, February 9, 2012

Frankford Slasher

Train Yard Murder

Stacked Railroad Ties
Stacked Railroad Ties
The corpse lay between the rows of stacked railroad ties at the SEPTA train yard in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, at Penn and Bridge Streets in the lower northeast section of the city known as Frankford.  Transit workers found the dead woman around 8:30 A.M. on the morning of August 26, 1985, but it was not clear who she was.  (In both of his books, Michael Newton says it was August 28, but the Philadelphia Inquirer sets the incident two days earlier.)
Penn & Bridge Streets, body discovered
Penn & Bridge Streets, body discovered
The victim was nude from the waist down, according to Newton, and she had been posed in a sexually provocative position, with her legs open and her blouse pulled up to expose her breasts.
By the next day, August 27, investigators had identified the victim to the Philadelphia Inquirer: Helen Patent, who lived in Parkland, Pennsylvania, a town in nearby Bucks County.  She was 52 when she died, and while it was clear to the police that she had been stabbed many times, it took an autopsy to determine the official cause and manner of death.  Helen Patent had been sexually assaulted and had died from 47 stab wounds to her head and chest (Newton contends that the number of stab wounds was actually 19).  She had also been stabbed in the right arm, and one vicious and deep slash across her abdomen had exposed the internal organs.
Creating a time line of her final hours, detectives determined that Patent was last seen at her home on August 19, as reported by Kermit Patent, her former husband.  Kermit Patent identified the body and affirmed that the murdered woman was Helen.  Despite the fact that they were no longer married, they lived together in their Bucks County home, although Patent claimed that his wife had left the week before without mentioning where she was going.  That was not unusual, as they lived separate lives.   (In fact, those who knew her around the Frankford area were surprised to learn that she had a home outside the city.)
There was no immediate motive, but she may have been killed simply to keep her quiet .   According to reports, Patent frequented the bars in the area and might easily have met a stranger and been raped and murdered.  The newspapers did not discuss the possibility of prostitution, but as more such incidents unfolded, this was considered a possibility.  Over the next year and a half, three more victims were linked to Patent’s killer, and the local newspaper would devise a name for this mysterious fiend: the Frankford Slasher.

Hit and Miss

1400 block of Ritner Street, near Methodist Hospital, where Anna Carroll’s body was discovered
1400 block of Ritner Street, near Methodist Hospital, where Anna Carroll’s body was discovered
 Early in 1986, on January 3, the next stabbing victim was found.  Anna Carroll, 68, lived in another Philadelphia neighborhood, on the 1400 block of Ritner Street.  The door to her apartment was standing open on that cold winter day, and she was found lying on the floor of the bedroom.  As Newton notes, she was nude from the waist down, and she had been stabbed only six times in the back, with one gaping postmortem wound going from breastbone to groin, as if the killer intended to gut the body.   A kitchen knife had been left in her.
While this scene was ten miles from where Helen Patent had been found, the brief time that had elapsed between the incidents and the similarity of the condition of the bodies, as well as the incidents’ timing — both had occurred during the night —made authorities consider the possibility of a predator common to both victims.   But they did not actively investigate them as such.
Anna Carroll, too, had been seen in Frankford’s area bars, as noted in the Philadelphia Inquirer, as had the next victim, who turned up murdered nearly a year later, on Christmas Day, when neighbors found her door open.  In fact, all three had been seen at “Goldie’s,” as the Golden Bar was known, situated at the 5200 block on Frankford Avenue.    It was near the elevated train terminal.  Susan Olszef, 64, was also found in her apartment and had also been stabbed six times in the back.  She lived on Richmond Street, which was closer to the scene of the first murder by seven miles.
The 5200 block of Frankford Street, "Goldie’s" Bar
The 5200 block of Frankford Street, "Goldie’s" Bar
Frankford began as a town older even than Philadelphia, writes Linda Loyd in the Inquirer, and was famous as the winter headquarters for traveling circuses.  The neighborhood supported a symphony orchestra and a football team, which eventually became the Philadelphia Eagles.  The El (elevated train) arrived in 1922, bringing prosperity and industry as the larger city subsumed the town, but by 1980, the place was a crime-ridden slum populated by prostitutes, junkies, and independent businesses struggling to survive.  Newton mentions that Sylvester Stallone selected this rundown area as a setting for his film, Rocky.  Frankford Avenue, once known as the King’s Highway, comprised a 13-block strip of diverse storefronts that sat in the El’s shadow.   Commuters disembarked at the busy station but scattered quickly to their homes.
Among the problems that hindered the murder investigation was the fact that many people were drawn to the Frankford Street area because of its nightlife.  One can grab a doughnut or newspaper, or buy a drink at any time, and that made it a busy area.  An anonymous murder could be committed easily.  Another problem was that the police did not yet accept the three murders were linked, because they had occurred in different areas of the city.  They had no hard leads after three killings, but they were about to get another nasty surprise.
By 7:30 A.M. on January 8, 1987, the fourth victim had turned up.

City of Brotherly Love?

Jeanne Durkin’s body, discovered west of Frankford Ave.
Jeanne Durkin’s body, discovered west of Frankford Ave.
 Jeanne Durkin lived on the streets, mostly in the doorway of an abandoned bakery two buildings away from Goldie’s.  She was 28 and a potentially easy victim for rape or murder.  Her body was found by a restaurant employee beneath a storage truck (according to Newton, however, she was found beneath a fruit and vegetable stand) on a Pratt Street lot west of Frankford Avenue owned by a fruit vendor, and she had been stabbed in the chest, buttocks, and back 74 times.  This was one block from where Helen Patent had been killed.  Lying in a pool of blood, Durkin was nude from the waist down, and her legs were spread.   Blood was spattered against a fence and the side of the truck.   An autopsy indicated that she had been sexually assaulted.
The Serial Killer Files, by Harold Schechter
The Serial Killer Files, by Harold Schechter
Once she became victim #4, the newspaper began to pressure the police to solve these crimes.  It was clear by now that Philadelphia had a serial killer on the loose.  In fact, between 1985 and 1989, the City of Brotherly Love experienced three separate series of brutal murders.  While the crimes of the Frankford Slasher were being investigated, the police learned from a woman who had escaped about an eccentric man who was holding females prisoner in his house on North Marshall Street.  Harold Schechter tells the story in The Serial Killer Files.  One captive had died from hanging in chains for several days and one had been killed.  The police invaded the home and found three more nearly dead women chained in a filthy basement.  A man named Gary Heidnik had used them as sex slaves.  After his arrest, he admitted to eating pieces of one victim and feeding some to his other prisoners.
Gary Heidnik in custody
Gary Heidnik in custody
Then, on a sweltering August day in 1987, Harrison “Marty” Graham was evicted from his north Philadelphia apartment because of obnoxious odors.  He left, but the smell worsened, so the police went in.  They discovered the decomposing corpses of six women, with the remains of a seventh.  Graham tried to claim that the bodies were there when he moved in, but then confessed to strangling them all during sex.  Despite his insanity plea, a judge convicted him in every case.
Harrison "Marty" Graham
Harrison "Marty" Graham
The authorities quickly formed a task force to canvass the Frankford Avenue neighborhood to see if they could find anyone who had witnessed anything related to the victims.  They questioned a female bartender at Goldie’s for several hours because she had seen the women, and even knew that Durkin often came in during the winter to get warm.  They also talked with many other customers, past and present.  The bartender, Dee Hughes, told Thomas Gibbons from the Inquirer that she figured the killer was a customer.  “I honestly believe it was someone that comes in here and got to know them.”  She indicated a man whom she suspected, but could not offer anything that she had actually seen.  Olszef had been in the bar only three days before she was murdered, and she talked to people, but Carroll generally kept to herself and bought her own drinks.According to the interviews, those who knew the fourth victim did not believe she could have been overwhelmed easily.  At one point, when six policemen had tried to arrest her, she struggled so much that they gave up.  That led investigators to believe that she may have known her attacker, and that he had used cunning, not strength, to get her into a vulnerable position.  A woman named Michelle Martin, who also frequented the Frankford Avenue bars, had argued with Durkin over a blanket just the night before, but nothing more actually tied Martin to the victim.  In and out of mental institutions, Durkin had been living on the streets for the past five years.  She was savvy and independent.  Some people felt the same about Helen Patent, believing she would never have gone with a stranger to the train yard.   Police were stumped.
On January 20, fifty people from the neighborhood brought candles to the El to pray for the victims and alert the killer that they were on the lookout for him.  Many wept for the street woman, the mother of four, who had been a part of their community.  Among them was a man who had hoped to marry her by summer.  In Israel, two trees were planted in her memory.
By January 1988, as recorded in the papers, the police had tentatively decided that the killings might not be related, despite the similar circumstances.  But over the next year, they had to rethink this position.

Sightings

As reported by Robert Terry and Thomas Gibbons in the Inquirer, Margaret Vaughan, 66, was found lying in the foyer of an apartment building in the 4900 block of Penn Street.  She had once lived in an apartment there but had been evicted that same day for nonpayment of rent.  Stabbed 29 times, Newton writes, she had been killed just three blocks from where Jeanne Durkin was found earlier in the year.
Police sketch of suspect
Police sketch of suspect
A barmaid recalled that Vaughan had been in the bar the evening before her death with a Caucasian man with a round face who walked with a limp and wore glasses.  They had been drinking together.  The witness was able to provide enough details for a police artist to make a sketch, which was distributed around town.  Yet no one came forward to identify him.
Theresa Sciortino was discovered in her apartment on Arrott St.
Theresa Sciortino was discovered in her apartment on Arrott St.
Then on January 19, 1989, Theresa Sciortino, age 30, was found in her apartment, stabbed twenty-five times.   She lived alone in her Arrott Street apartment, three blocks from the fifth victim and a block and a half from Frankford Avenue.  Like Durkin, she, too, had been in several psychiatric institutions and was currently an outpatient under treatment.  When she was discovered, she wore only a pair of white socks, and she had been left in a pool of blood on her kitchen floor, lying face-up.  Again, the attacker had used a sharp knife to slash her twenty-five times in the face, arms, and chest, and had also used a three-foot piece of wood to sexually assault her.  He placed the bloodstained weapon leaning against the sink, and according to Newton, left a bloody footprint behind.  A neighbor had heard a struggle the evening before, along with a loud thump, as if a large object had been thrown to the floor.  Detectives confirmed that the condition of the apartment indicated that an intense struggle had occurred there, moving from one room to another. Blood was spattered everywhere.
Sciortino, like the other victims, had frequented the Frankford Avenue strip and often entertained male companions.  One of her neighbors said, “She had a lot of company.”  Questioning confirmed that she was last seen alive at the Jolly Post Tavern, at Griscom and Arrott Streets (erroneously famous for being one of George Washington’s overnight stops).  Someone had seen her in the company of a middle-aged white man just after 6:00 in the evening.  Not long afterward, her neighbor heard the scuffle in her apartment.
Philadelphia police patch
Philadelphia police patch
Detective Lt. James Henwood told reporters that with this sixth victim in the Frankford area, they had returned to the possibility that a serial killer was operating in the neighborhood, but medical examiner Paul Hoyer had accepted the common but mistaken notion that serial killers kill much more frequently, with only a few weeks between their attacks.  Yet the facts were clear: All of the victims had been white women, and while their ages differed dramatically from 28 to 68, they had frequented the same area, had been viciously stabbed, and had been killed in ways that left little evidence and no witnesses.  Detectives pointed to boxloads of transcripts from interviews they had done with employees and patrons in the area, which hadn’t turned up a single lead.  They searched sewers and trash bins in the area of Sciortino’s apartment in the hope of finding a murder weapon, but did not comment on the results. (Later, it was revealed that they had found nothing.)Yet given the possibility of a serial killer, the police had reviewed some older files and had decided that a 1987 murder might well be connected to these six.  Catherine M. Jones, 29, had been found on January 29, frozen, covered in snow, and partially clad on a sidewalk in the Northern Liberties section of the city.  She worked as a waitress and had been a patron of the Frankford Avenue bars.   While she had been bludgeoned to death, and there were circumstances in her background that offered leads to indicate that her murder was not related to the others, she could not be ruled out of the series, either.  Her jaw was broken and her skull crushed.  (She is often left out of the lineup of victims in later accounts, so it may be that she did not end up in the official final tally for the Frankford Slasher.)
The victims’ families felt it was urgent that the killer be caught before he had the chance to kill anyone else.  They did not get their wish.

One More

4511 Frankford Ave, Newman’s Sea Food
4511 Frankford Ave, Newman’s Sea Food
 On April 29, 1990, at nearly 2:00 in the morning, a patrol officer discovered the nude body of Carol Dowd, 46, in an alley behind Newman’s Sea Food at 4511 Frankford Avenue.  Her head and face were battered and she had been viciously stabbed 36 times in the face, neck, chest, and back.  In addition, her stomach was cut open, allowing her intestines to spill out through a long wound, and Newton reports that her left nipple was removed.  She also had defensive wounds on her hands, as if she had warded off her attacker.  The officer who found her had been checking the area due to a prior burglary, and it was estimated that Dowd had been murdered some time after midnight and before 1:40 A.M.
Police sketch of suspect
Police sketch of suspect
She had resided not far from the scene, and a witness told the police she had seen Dowd walking with an older white man only a few hours before.  Her clothing was found near her body, and her open purse was in the alley, with its contents spilled partly onto the ground.  Because nothing had been taken, robbery was ruled out as a motive (although it would later be reconsidered).Her brother told reporters that Dowd’s life had been uneventful until the late 1960s, when their brother died and she began hearing voices.  She was then diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and institutionalized.  After being released into a community-based program, she moved into an apartment, where she was raped. Lately, however, she had been living in a community facility where she appeared to be happy.
The police immediately suspected the same killer from the seven previous cases in that area.  They hypothesized that he had followed each of his victims after they left area bars at night, or grabbed them before they got to some destination.  Asking around, they interviewed the employees of the fish market, and Leonard Christopher, who worked there and also lived nearby, told reporters that the store had been burglarized several times recently.  When he had seen the police in the alley that morning, he said, “I just thought they broke in again.”  Either that, he mused, or they were busting someone for drugs or prostitution; both activities were a frequent occurrence in the alley.  When he learned that the police were in fact investigating a murder, he talked with them and admitted that he also had known one of the earlier victims, Margaret Vaughan.
His apparent acquaintance with the area and the victims soon placed him under suspicion.  When asked where he was during the evening before, he claimed he was with his girlfriend, but she told detectives that she had spent the night alone at home.    That inconsistency triggered more intense questioning, and investigators located a witness who had seen Christopher with Dowd in a bar on the same night that she had been killed.  A prostitute who had initially lied finally admitted that she, too, had seen them together outside the bar, while another placed him coming out of the alley by the fish store.  She said that he had been sweating and had a large knife in his belt.
A search of his apartment turned up clothing with blood on it.  Christopher called a friend at the store to tell them that the police suspected him.  That person, who remained anonymous, told the newspaper that their boss had told Christopher to clean up blood in the alley, so of course he had blood on his clothing.  Others who worked with him vouched for his good character and humanitarian nature, feeling that it was wrong to pin the murders on him.  Christopher’s landlord confirmed these positive impressions, saying only that he sometimes made too much noise.
Although he was a black man and not the middle-aged white man seen with other victims, on May 5, Christopher was arrested and arraigned on charges of robbery, abuse of a corpse, murder, and possession of an instrument of a crime.   He was ordered held without bail.  Yet even as he sat in jail, another woman in the Frankford Avenue area was about to receive the same treatment as the other victims.

The Frankford Curse

On June 20, Leonard Christopher was ordered to stand trial for the Dowd murder, since the evidence was deemed sufficient.  Two women who knew him said they had seen him that night.  One, Emma Leigh, said that he had walked into the alley behind the fish store around 1:00 A.M., and she heard a woman scream.  She left with a man in a car (Newton says a date, the paper indicates it was a client picking her up), so she did not witness any other event.  Linda Washington, the second woman, claimed to have seen Christopher leave the alley carrying his shirt over his arm and sporting a knife in a sheath hanging around his waist.
Christopher’s defense attorney, Jack McMahon, stated that the witnesses had contradicted each other and their testimony would not stand up in court.  Neither would the robbery charge, because Dowd’s purse, while open, still had cash in it.  It might simply have been dropped during the attack.
Defense Attorney Jack McMahon
Defense Attorney Jack McMahon
Despite the fact that the suspect had not been proven guilty, the residents of the Frankford Avenue area were relieved to know that someone had been caught.  They felt certain that their neighborhood could return to normal.  They were wrong.Christopher, jailed without bond, was safely locked away on September 6, 1990, when Michelle Dehner was found murdered (Newton calls her Michelle Martin, as do later newspaper reports).   She was 30 and lived in a fourth-floor efficiency apartment on Arrott Street, not far from Frankford Avenue.  Once a suspect in the Durkin murder for having fought over a blanket, she was now officially off the suspect list.  She was a victim.
The police, called to the scene that Saturday afternoon, found her lying on the floor.  She had been stabbed 23 times in the chest and stomach.  Once again, it appeared to be the work of the Frankford Slasher.  There was no sign of forced entry, as was the case with the other indoor assaults, and no obvious murder weapon found at the scene or discarded nearby.  This murder scene was only three blocks from where Carol Dowd had been killed, and it was on the same street as the 1989 murder of Theresa Sciortino.
Dehner/Martin was described in the Inquirer as a hard-drinking, paranoid loner, and was even called “Crazy Michelle” by people in the neighborhood.  She was considered somewhat unconventional, sometimes barricading herself into her apartment and other times just tossing things out the window, no matter who might be standing below.  Single and hard-edged, she frequented the same bars where the previous murder victims had often gone.  A large blonde, she was often seen in sloppy sweatshirts and jeans, and spent her time wandering from one bar to the next.  Sometimes she sold soft pretzels on the street, but usually she just drank all day.  Neighbors indicated to reporters that she was not very friendly, and one person said that she did not often bathe.  A day and a half before her death, she had left the bar with a white man (Newton says this was on the evening of September 6, but that’s the day she was found murdered).  In fact, people had seen her bring men home on several occasions.

Neighborhood Watch

Now people thought that perhaps the police had arrested the wrong man.  After all, Christopher did not resemble the middle-aged white man seen with two other victims shortly before they were killed, and plenty of people had vouched for him as a decent, friendly sort.  If the police had falsely arrested him, that meant the real killer had been free all this time and had likely struck again.
Pennsylvania, with Philadelphia locator
Pennsylvania, with Philadelphia locator
 On October 27, fifty citizens of Philadelphia solemnly marched the rain-soaked streets of Frankford, following the routes they imagined the killer of nine potential victims had taken.  It was windy and cold, but no one seemed to mind.  “Past the fish market,” the newspaper reported, “behind which one body was found butchered with a knife; past a bar that four of the dead had patronized, and along Arrott Street, where the latest victim was found stabbed to death early last month.”  They lit candles, sang hymns, and prayed, creating a tribute to “the women who couldn’t be here.”  They also read from the Bible and spoke out against the violence in their neighborhood.
In fact, homicide detectives patrolled the streets, watching those women who went in and out of the bars who looked like potential victims.  They hoped to get a glimpse of a man who might act or look suspicious.  Having investigated more than fifty men who were seen leaving the bars with women, they had two men under surveillance and leads on a third.  Yet with no clear pattern to the killings in terms of a timeframe or victim type, they were working blind.
They found it surprising that in each and every case, no one had seen a man with blood on him in the streets.  All of the victims had been viciously stabbed.  Their attacker must have had quite a lot of blood on him.  They had a composite picture from witnesses, and while they had received many calls, no one had turned in a person who seemed a viable suspect.  It was the usual: Numerous elderly women had pointed to their SEPTA bus drivers, and neighbors with a grudge had guided police toward someone who made them angry.  Psychics provided empty assistance, and one tip offered witchcraft as a motive.  In fact, a cult did practice in a park close by, so that lead was not entirely discounted.
The best clue investigators had was an identification of the manufacturer of the shoe that had left a footprint at one of the murder scenes.  They did find a man who had similar shoes that were the right size, who knew that victim but ultimately was not linked to the crime (according to Newton, this person was the victim’s boyfriend).
Some people called for Leonard Christopher to be released, but in November, his murder trial began.


The Trial

In the Court of Common Pleas, a jury heard the opening statements on November 29, 1990, shortly after Thanksgiving.  Christopher was dressed in a gray suit and black horn-rimmed glasses, looking, as the papers reported, “studious.”  He seemed a far cry from the demented killer thought to be running around in Frankford, raping and killing women over the past five years.
Assistant District Attorney Judith Rubino
Assistant District Attorney Judith Rubino
Assistant District Attorney Judith Rubino declared that Christopher was a vicious killer who used a “Rambo-style knife” to slash and kill Carol Dowd in the alley behind the fish market where he worked.  She admitted she had no witnesses to the actual murder, but she had people who saw things on the street. These witnesses would provide sufficient circumstantial evidence to prove the defendant’s guilt.  Christopher was seen with Dowd in the alley, and a witness heard a woman scream.  He was seen leaving the alley, and Dowd was found dead immediately afterward.  He was seen with a knife, and his clothing had blood on it.  In addition, he had lied about his whereabouts that night and had made other peculiar statements about the murder.Defense attorney Jack McMahon told the jury that Christopher was known as a mild-mannered person, was well-liked and had no history of violence.  He indicated that since the police were under pressure to solve the case, they might have rushed to judgment.
The prosecutor objected to this, and Judge George Ivins cautioned McMahon not to stray from the facts.  McMahon continued with his argument, indicating that there were six cases prior to Dowd’s murder that bore enough similarities to be judged the work of a serial killer, but the prosecutor again objected to this line of reasoning.  Clearly McMahon was going to go for reasonable doubt by talking about the murder that had occurred while Christopher was in jail awaiting trial.
The judge ordered a sidebar, and the attorneys began to shout at each other, but McMahon was allowed to continue his line of reasoning: “Pressure sometimes presents unreliable results.”  McMahon said that the police had relied on evidence that, in stronger cases, would have been discarded, and that had been a mistake.  The witnesses were prostitutes and junkies, with lengthy arrest records each and nine aliases between them.  He could not imagine anyone urging the jury to believe them beyond a reasonable doubt.  In fact, Leigh had admitted to lying twice to police about the incident, initially denying that she knew anything because she liked the defendant.  But that made her an unreliable witness.
When the police arrested Christopher, McMahon pointed out, there were no injuries on him, and no physical evidence linked him to the crime scene.  No murder weapon was recovered, no so-called Rambo knife.  There was no reason to view him as a murderer.
But it wasn’t as simple as that.

Wrap Up

Prosecutor Rubino countered McMahon’s presentation with the fact that when the store opened on the morning after the Dowd murder, Christopher had reported to his boss, Jaesa Phang, that a white woman about forty-five years old had been murdered in the alley, but the police had not revealed those details to anyone.  In fact, just a few days after the stabbing death, he had also made a strange comment to Phang:   “Maybe I killed her.”  Although he quickly recanted, it was a remark that his employer would remember, especially because he seemed not only quite serious about it, but remarkably curious about the incident itself.  Christopher, Phang said, had gestured with the motions of gutting a person as he described the crime.  He claimed to have seen a white man on the street at 1:00 A.M., but no one else had reported that.   Instead, the only witnesses that police had from the streets that night had all seen Christopher.
Philadelphia District Attorney logo
Philadelphia District Attorney logo
Phang testified on December 3 that Christopher had told her about five days after the murder that he had been unable to sleep well because he had witnessed a murder.  His speech was rambling and his manner agitated.  He said that he thought a white man who knew he’d seen it was trying to kill him.  He believed that the man could get into his apartment and would hide in the closet.  The next day, Christopher was arrested.For physical evidence, the prosecution had found a tiny spot of blood on Christopher’s trousers, but it was too small to type, and DNA analysis at that time was still being challenged in many courts.  It was also not yet available for such minute amounts of biological evidence, and was quite expensive.   The police had also found a bloodstained tissue that proved to be Type O—Dowd’s blood type—in a driveway next to the building where Christopher’s apartment was.  But Christopher had told police in statements read to the jury that while he was at his girlfriend’s apartment, he had seen a well-dressed white man in his forties outside that night wiping his hands on something that looked like a handkerchief or tissue.  The problem was, Christopher had not been in that apartment.
The trial was short, and closing arguments came quickly on December 11.  McMahon emphasized Christopher’s good character and the fact that such violence of which he was accused was completely out of character for him.  The prosecution had offered no motive, no weapon, and no solid evidence.    And his statement about the white man on the night of the murder fit the description given by other witnesses about men they had seen with earlier victims.  “It just doesn’t make sense,” McMahon said about the prosecution’s scenario.  He told reporters on December 11 after it went to the jury, “The case stinks.  It’s garbage.”
But ADA Rubino asked what motive the witnesses had for lying.  In fact, some of them were friends with Christopher, including the one who had lied on his behalf to the police.  There was no reason for that witness to ultimately change her story other than wanting to finally tell the truth.  In addition, Rubino reminded the jury that she had presented two other witnesses who had seen Christopher talking to Dowd in a bar at midnight of the night she was murdered. She had also offered testimony from Christopher’s girlfriend, Vivien Carter, that he had not been with her that night, as he had claimed.  Rubino closed with an emotional appeal that included what Carol Dowd must have experienced as she was being attacked with a knife and slashed to death.  She knew her death was coming.  The cuts to her hands told the story.
Once the arguments were done, the judge instructed the jury.  They deliberated for more than four hours before he ended the session and sequestered them for the night.  By the next day, it was apparent that the jury believed the prosecution’s case.  On December 12, after four more hours of deliberations, they convicted Christopher of the first-degree murder of Carol Dowd.  A few members were visibly upset.
SCI Huntingdon, where Leonard Christopher is incarcerated
SCI Huntingdon, where Leonard Christopher is incarcerated
 “Christopher showed no visible reaction,” wrote Linda Loyd in the Philadelphia Inquirer, but “his defense attorney shook his head in disbelief.”  Although the prosecutor had asked for the death penalty, Christopher was sentenced to life in prison, but his own reaction was that he had been railroaded by “pipers” (prostitutes cajoled into testifying by the police).  Apart from his strange admission to his boss, he had confessed to nothing.  McMahon indicated that “the real killer [whom Christopher referred to as the Northeast Stalker] may still be out there.”
Was he right?

Unsolved

Newton lists the Frankford Slasher case as unsolved in his books, although he’s aware that Leonard Christopher was convicted of at least one murder.  Still, he raises issues with the conviction and points out that there was no evidence tying Christopher to any of the other killings.  (While he correctly says that the prosecutor offered no motive and no weapon, he does not include a full account of the evidence against Christopher.  Pang’s statements, at any rate, are compelling.)  In Still at Large, Newton interviewed a Philadelphia investigator who said that Christopher is still a suspect in the other murders, but there are other suspects as well. 
Still at Large, by Michael Newton
Still at Large, by Michael Newton
Antonia Mendoza does not include the Frankford Slasher in his own book about unsolved serial killings, although the victim count is certainly significant enough to do so.  He buys the outdated and admittedly erroneous FBI statistic that there are between 35-50 serial killers at loose in the U.S..  While it is true that a number of murders that appear to have a predator in common are unsolved, it’s generally not a good idea to just accept that they must be the work of a serial killer.  The bungled Boston Strangler case is a good one to keep in mind.  There are good suspects for many of those eleven murders and, technically, we could still consider at least some murders in that “series” unsolved.  At any rate, the semen found on the last Boston Strangler victim, Mary Sullivan, did not match Albert DeSalvo, who was considered to be the Strangler.  In addition, his description of her murder, as well as what he said about some of the other crimes, was full of errors overlooked by investigators in their rush to close a frightening case.
Albert Desalvo in custody
Albert Desalvo in custody
In short, while at least seven (or eight) of the Frankford Slasher murders remain unsolved as of this writing, and one did take place while Christopher was in jail, we cannot discount a copycat or the possibility that not all of the killings are related.  Even in the event that they were all the work of a single killer and Christopher was not the attacker, there appears to have been no more of these particular crimes in that area since 1990.  Yet  significant questions remain regarding the quality of evidence used to convict Christopher and the fact that he did not match witness reports of a white man seen with other victims.  In many respects, it seems clear that someone got away with murder.Today, the Frankford area is poised for renovation and rebirth as an arts community.  People want to forget its seedy past and get on with expansion and expression.    In 2000, the Inquirer claimed that statistics showed Frankford as one of the safer places in the city.  While the Frankford Slasher gave the area a sense of menace, citizens today believe that reputation is undeserved.

Bibliography

The primary source for this piece was the coverage in the Philadelphia Inquirer, August 1985 – July 2000, along with supplements from the following books.
Mendoza, Antonio.  Killers on the Loose: Unsolved Cases of Serial Murder. Revised and updated. Virgin, 2002.
Newton, Michael.  Still at Large: A Casebook of Twentieth Century Serial Killers Who Eluded Justice.  Loompanics Unlimited, 1999.
Newton, Michael.  The Encyclopedia of Serial Killers.   Checkmark, 2000.
Schechter, Harold.  The Serial Killer Files.  New York: Ballantine, 2003.

Article was written by
Katherine Ramsland
Katherine Ramsland
 
Katherine Ramsland, Ph.D., holds graduate degrees in forensic psychology, clinical psychology, and philosophy, and is working on a master's degree in criminal justice. Currently, she teaches forensic psychology and criminal justice at DeSales University in Pennsylvania. She has published nearly 1,000 articles and thirty-eight books, including The Forensic Psychology of Criminal Minds, Beating the Devil's Game: A History of Forensic Science and Criminal Investigation, The Human Predator: A Historical Chronicle of Serial Murder and Forensic Investigation, Inside the Minds of Serial Killers, Inside the Minds of Healthcare Serial Killers, Inside the Minds of Sexual Predators, and Inside the Minds of Mass Murderers. She has been published in ten languages. Her background in forensic studies positioned her to assist former FBI profiler John Douglas on his book, The Cases that Haunt Us, and to co-write a book with former FBI profiler, Gregg McCrary, The Unknown Darkness. She also co-wrote a book with Henry C. Lee, The Real Life of a Forensic Scientist. Ramsland speaks internationally about forensic psychology, forensic science, and serial murder, and has appeared on numerous documentaries, as well as such programs as The Today Show, 20/20, Montel Williams, NPR, Larry King Live and E! True Hollywood. She was the recurring expert for the American Occult series on the ID network, and her latest book is The Mind of a Murderer: Privileged Access to the Demons that Drive Extreme Violence.
 










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