Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; home of the Phillies and the Eagles and nicknamed, “The City of Brotherly Love”. For those that are familiar with my blog you already know that here, the word “love” probably isn’t going to be the topic we will be discussing. Founded in 1682 I’m sure that this great city has earned its popular nickname but through research I’ve found several incidents in Philadelphia’s history that paralyzed the citizens of this city in fear as well as horrified the nation.
In my book, ”The Darker Side of Evil” we analyzed the exploits of some of the most prolific serial in modern American history. One of the subjects of the book was Harrison Graham, “The Corpse Collector,” a 28-year old mentally retarded drug abuser who lived in a slum district of Philadelphia and rented a third floor apartment. In August of 1987, Graham engaged in a heated argument with his landlord concerning the neighborhood’s complaints of an intolerable stench emanating from his two room apartment. Later Graham left the apartment but not before nailing the entry door shut. Afraid of what may be causing the overwhelming odor police were enlisted to gain access to the residence. Once inside, the officers found two strangled women’s bodies, three more skeletons beneath a mound of garbage on the floor, another tied up in the closet. Further investigation yielded the skeletal remains of victim number seven on the roof of Graham’s building. On August 14, another skull and partial skeleton were excavated from the dirt floor of a row house three doors down from Graham’s building. He surrendered two days later and confessed to seven murders since the winter months of 1986.
In March of the same year police apprehended Gary Heidnik. Heidnik is often referred to as a serial killer, although having been convicted of only two murders. This fact does not lessen the depravity of his crimes. Gary Heidnik held 6 women captive in the basement of his house of horrors located at 3520 North Marshall Street in North Philadelphia. The captives were sexually abused, beaten, and tortured in front of each other. The first off the two women that Heidnik was convicted of murdering died of a combination of starvation, excess torture, and an untreated fever. Sandra Lindsay was dismembered, ground with a food processor and mixed it with dog food, which he then fed to the surviving victims. Having a problem dealing with the arms and legs; Heidnik put them in a freezer and marked them “dog food”. He then cooked her ribs in an oven and boiled her head in a pot on the stove. The second woman that died, Deborah Dudley was fatally electrocuted. Heidnik disposed of her body in the New Jersey Pine Barrens. Convicted of two counts of murder in 1988, Heidnik was sentenced to death and incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution at Pittsburgh. Heidnik was executed by lethal injection on July 6, 1999.
These two cases caught my attention initially but after further research I found several other intriguing crimes out of this city. Mary Noe, born Mary Liddy on August 23, 1928 in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia met and married Arthur Allen Noe in 1948. From this union ten children were born, all of whom died between the ages of 5 days and 14 months. Oddly enough, it wasn’t until the book The Death of Innocents, was published in 1997 and an article in 1998 concerning the book’s subject matter that brought interest in this case. After receiving information concerning the death of the Noe children decades earlier police questioned Mrs. Noe. During her interrogation Mrs. Noe admitted to suffocating four of her children. She went on to state that she could not remember what happened to the other four children who died under similar circumstances. Noe was charged with first-degree murder and as a result of a plea agreement Mrs. Noe was convicted of eight counts of second-degree murder and in June 1999 she was sentenced to 20 years of probation.
I found the next case, known in Philly as, “The Boy in the Box” especially disturbing, even now, as I type, an uneasy feeling comes over me. On February 25, 1957; a boy approximately 4 to 6 years old was found in the Fox Chase community of Philadelphia. The boy was found nude, badly bruised and wrapped in a blanket inside a cardboard box. Police in 1957 took the fingerprints of the boy and were initially confident about a quick resolve to the boy’s identity as well as to his murderer. Hundreds of promising leads were tracked down and several likely suspects were identified and interrogated however 58 years later and having been adopted by the country as “America’s Unknown Child,” authorities are no closer to closing the case now than they were then. Since the child’s discovery, several theories have arisen. Accusations ranging from foster home abuse to the outright purchase of the child by a woman but to date, none has been proven. The boy was originally buried in a potter’s field but in 1998 the body was exhumed in hopes of retrieving DNA. The child was then reburied at Ivy Hill Cemetery in Cedarbrook, Philadelphia, which donated a large plot. The coffin, headstone and funeral service were also donated by the son of the man who had originally buried him in 1957. Sadly, since 1957, Philadelphia has had at least two other unknown children have been found murdered.
In 1982, the decomposed remains of a young girl were found inside a steamer trunk under the Platt Memorial Bridge in southwest Philadelphia. As in the Boy in the Box case, no one came forward to identify the victim. It took investigators five years to solve the mystery. She turned out to be a five-year-old West Philadelphia girl named Aliyah Davis who had been beaten to death by her stepfather in 1981, seven months before her body was discovered. The girl’s mother Maria Davis Fox and stepfather Charles Fox were charged for Aliyah’s death.
There was another unknown child who remained unidentified for more than a decade after his battered, decomposed remains were discovered stuffed inside a nylon duffel bag in a vacant lot in 1994. This unknown child came to be known as “The Boy in the Bag.” Buried in 2001 the child’s gravestone simply read, “unknown boy.” However in 2005 the boy’s name and how he died was In 1994, a four year old Jerell Willis, actually from East Camden, New Jersey; was beaten to death then stuffed into a duffel bag that was dumped in a trash-strewn lot in Philadelphia. For years, family members that inquired about young Jerrell’s whereabouts and well-being was given the run around by his mother and father. In 2005, the boy’s mother, Alicia Robinson was arrested at her Southwest Philadelphia home. During her interrogation Mrs. Robinson admitted to officers that she and her husband, Lawrence Robinson, also known as Jevon Willis; struck Jerell numerous times in their apartment. The boy became lethargic and then unconscious. The husband, Lawrence Robinson, during this time was incarcerated in Riverfront State Prison in Camden, serving the second year of an eight-year sentence for sexual assault. Alicia Robinson was sentenced to five years in prison in 2007.
Dolores Della Penna was born on December 13, 1954. The honors graduate from St. Hubert’s Catholic High School known for her quiet, friendly nature. Shortly before midnight on July 11, 1972 Dolores Della Penna was abducted from her home in the 4900 block of Rawle Street in Philadelphia. Witnesses informed authorities that they saw the young lady being beaten and dragged, apparently unconscious, into a car. It turns out that the 17-year-old Philadelphia schoolgirl was tortured, gang raped, murdered by dismemberment and beheaded. Della Penna’s torso and arms were later located in Jackson Township, New Jersey, while her legs were found in neighboring Manchester Township near the border with Jackson. The head has not been found.
This gruesome crime has remained unsolved over the years. However, one explanation has been constantly retold and reported to the police. It seems that a drug dealing biker gang fronted one of Della Penna’s acquaintances with drugs. The acquaintance blamed Della Penna for stealing a cache of those drugs and informed the dealers. In 1992 a Graterford inmate reaffirmed the story and added he actually witnessed the beating of Della Penna by drug dealers at a Kensington garage on the night of July 11, 1972. The inmate, who was 16 at the time of the murder, gave his account to a Graterford prison guard who passed the information on to authorities. In 1994 the witness, approximately 38 years old at the time described the homicide to detectives at Philadelphia Police headquarters and testified before the grand jury. In his testimony, the inmate confessed to witnessing the murder but out of fear for his own life decided to remain silent concerning the crime. Through this testimony and with the assistance of corroborators, detectives identified six suspects in the murder, three of which having died since the 1972 killing.
From 1972-1977 Ira Einhorn and Holly Maddux shared an apartment in Philadelphia. In 1977 Maddux broke up with Einhorn and moved to New York. On Sept. 9, 1977, Maddux returned to collect her things from the apartment and was never seen again. Weeks later during questioning, Einhorn claimed that Holly left the apartment heading to the store and never returned. During the following months several of Einhorn’s neighbors complained of foul smells emanating from his apartment. On March 28, 1979, police searched Einhorn’s apartment and were horrified to find Maddux’s decomposing corpse was found in a trunk stored in a closet. In 1981, just days before his murder trial was to begin, Einhorn skipped bail, and fled to Europe. Over the next 17 years Einhorn remained in Europe and began a new life, eventually marrying even. Unbeknownst to Einhorn, Philadelphia courts had tried and convicted the murderer in absentia. On July 20, 2001, after a lengthy extradition battle, Einhorn was returned to the states to serve his prison sentence of life without the possibility of parole.
Lastly, during Harrison Graham and Gary Heidnik’s reign of terror there was another serial killer on the loose in the streets of Philly. Dubbed “The Frankford Slasher” by the media, this perpetrator sexually assaulted and stabbed to death at least 9 women in and around the Frankford area of Philadelphia from 1985-1990. These murders as well as the exploits of Heidnik and Graham paralyzed the city with fear. In turn, Philly residents placed a great deal of pressure on the police to solve the crimes and put an end to the murders. Carol Dowd was one of the 9 women found slain during this time. On April 28, 1990 her body of was found behind a Frankford Avenue seafood market. As a result of an comment, fish market employee Leonard Christopher became the prime suspect. Despite witness’s testimony that several of the women were seen in the company of a middle aged white man before their disappearances, Christopher was questioned concerning all of the murdered women. Lacking evidence linking him to any murder, Christopher was tried and convicted of the murder of Carol Dowd and on December 12, 1990, sentenced to life in prison.
Every major metropolitan city in our country has endured its share of evil. Despicable acts that the residents care not to remember but will never forget. Wickedness of an unspeakable nature seeps in and unhinges communities while changing the lives of all parties involved; forever. The crimes reported in this post occurred in Philadelphia, PA and is forever a part of its history, however, in no way are they exclusive to this city nor are they indicative of the residents of this fine city as many of these acts and worse have occurred in cities across the country and around the world. To my readers in Philadelphia, Chicago and around the globe, I thank you for your time and implore you to let brotherly love continue.