Earlier this week I was watching YouTube videos instead of working as I’m sure many, if not most of us do from time to time. I came across a name; Michael Madison. According to the video I was watching, Madison is a serial killer from Cleveland that had recently been sentenced to death. As a true crime writer, this piqued my interest. As I read about Mr. Madison, I found that his death sentence came as a result of a conviction of murdering 18-year-old Shirrellda Terry, 28-year-old Shetisha Sheeley and 38-year-old Angela Deskins in a series of strangulations that occurred between October 2012 and July 2013.
Responding to reports of a foul odor, authorities investigated a garage leased by Madison. From the findings of the investigation, Madison was arrested on July 19, 2013. The body of Shirrellda Terry was found in the garage behind his apartment building on the corner of Hayden and Shaw avenues in East Cleveland. Authorities believe that 18-year-old Shirrellda Terry was his first victim. Madison originally lived with the corpse of Ms. Terry in the apartment with him until the smell overpowered him. At that point, Madison moved the body from the hall closet in his apartment to the garage. The bodies of Shetisha Sheeley and Angela Deskins. were also kept close to him. One corpse was kept in bushes outside and a third in the basement of a nearby vacant home. Wrapped in duct tape and garbage bags, all three bodies were visible from the second-floor balcony of his apartment.
I read on, taking in more and more information regarding this case and thought to myself, “serial killer in Cleveland, why does that seem familiar?” In amazement, (not like utter amazement, just a bit surprised) I realized that this was the second known serial killer in Cleveland in a matter of fewer than five years. I’d suddenly remembered Anthony Sowell.
Anthony Sowell, the Cleveland Strangler was arrested in October 2009 after the bodies of eleven women were discovered by police. Sowell was raised in East Cleveland. After a seven-year stint in the Marines, Sowell was convicted for kidnapping and rape in 1989. On September 22, 2009, Latundra Billups reported to police that after a few drinks Sowell became angry, hit, choked and raped her. On October 29, police arrived at his home with a warrant for Sowell’s arrest. Authorities did not find Sowell at home; however, what they did find shocked Cleveland to its core.
Police found the bodies of two women buried in a shallow grave in the basement. The remains of four other women were found on the 3rd floor of the home, in crawl spaces in the house. After more digging in the backyard, the corpses of three women were found as well as the partial remains of a fourth. A bucket inside the house containing a skull brought the body count to eleven victims. Sowell, arrested two days later; was charged with eleven counts of aggravated murder and 74 counts of rape, kidnapping, tampering with evidence, and abuse of a corpse. On July 22, 2011, Sowell was convicted on all but two counts against him, including the murders of the eleven women whose bodies were found in his house. On August 12th Anthony Sowell was sentenced to death.
Initially amazed to find that the city of Cleveland had been faced with back to back serial killers; further research brought me to the conclusion that serial murder was nothing new to Cleveland, Ohio. By my count, Cleveland had at least 10 serial killers who either got their start or finish there. The first known instance of serial murder in Cleveland started back in the 1930s. The suspect was known to have killed at least 12 victims with some accounts believing the number may be closer to 40 victims during his run. During his reign of terror, he was known to gruesomely decapitate his victims with his bare hands. Many times he would do so while the victim was still alive. Newspapers dubbed this individual the Cleveland Torso Murderer.
From 1935-1938, the Cleveland Torso Murderer also known as the Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run; dismembered at least 12 victims and dumped the remains in the area of Kingsbury Run, an area on the southeast side of Cleveland, Ohio. Despite being pursued by Cleveland’s Public Safety Director, famous lawman, Eliot Ness, as well as lead detective Peter Merylo, he was never apprehended.
The victims of the Torso Murderer were normally drifters,
runaways and prostitutes. Of the 12 known victims, only 3 were identified; Edward
Andrassy, Florence Polillo, and Rose Wallace. The sinister acts of depravity
that earned the killer his title were the beheading and dismembering of his
victims. At times he would cut the victim’s torso in half or remove their
appendages. As stated earlier, many times the victim was still alive during
mutilation making the decapitation or dismemberment the excruciatingly painful
cause of death. Most of the victims’ remains were found long after they had
been murdered, this contributed greatly to the inability to identify them.
Especially since the heads were often missing.
The official body count of the Torso Murderer was 12, however area murders that fit the profile of other victims go as far back as 1921 when dismembered bodies were found in swamps and boxcars near New Castle, Pennsylvania. On July 22, 1950, the decapitated body of 41-year-old Robert Robertson was found in Cleveland. This means that crimes fitting the same modus operandi as those of the Torso Murderer were occurring years after they were thought to have ended.
I was totally taken back by the sheer number of serial killers that have called Cleveland Ohio home at some point. Most of society remember being sickened by the despicable exploits of Ariel Castro, however many are unaware that Cleveland has ties to the Milwaukee cannibal Jeffery Dahmer. As I concluded my studies of this otherwise booming metropolis I came to the conclusion that the Rock and Roll Capital of the World may also be the Serial Killer Capital of America.
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.