The Serial Homicide Case of the Day, from "Hunting Humans, the Encyclopedia of 20th Century Serial Killers" , by Michael Newton
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Christopher, Joseph G.
A pathological racist, Christopher launched a one-man war against blacks in September 1980, claiming victims from upstate New York to southwestern Georgia. In his wake, he left an atmosphere of bigotry and violence that provoked a string of hostile confrontations in communities not known for racial animosity. His legacy of death and hatred lingers to the present day, as several of the crimes connected to his rampage -- or inspired by his example -- are officially unsolved.
The war began September 22, when 14-year-old Glenn Dunn was shot and killed outside a Buffalo supermarket. The victim was sitting in a stolen car when he died, and witnesses described his assailant as an unidentified "white youth." The following day, 32-year-old Harold Green was shot while dining at a fast-food restaurant in suburban Cheektowaga. That night, Emmanuel Thomas, age 30, was killed by a sniper while crossing the street to his home, seven blocks from the scene of Dunn's murder. On September 24, the action shifted to nearby Niagara Falls, with the murder of a fourth black, Joseph McCoy.
Investigators found that all four victims were killed with the same gun, and headlines followed their fruitless search for the elusive ".22-caliber killer." Buffalo blacks complained of nonexistent police protection, and there were sporadic incidents of blacks pelting white motorists on the streets. A cross was burned in Buffalo, and fears were voiced that the murders might be a preview of things to come, paving the way for some paramilitary racist group's campaign of local genocide.
Things got worse on October 8, when 71-year-old Parler Edwards, a black taxi driver, was found in the trunk of his car, parked in suburban Amherst, his heart cut out and carried from the scene. Next day, another black cabbie, 40-year-old Ernest Jones, was found beside the Niagara River in Tonawanda, the heart ripped from his chest. His blood-spattered taxi was retrieved by police in Buffalo, three miles away.
The local black community was verging on a state of panic now, made worse by an incident in a Buffalo hospital on October 10. A black patient, 37-year-old Collin Cole, was recuperating from illness when a white stranger appeared at his bedside and snarled, "I hate niggers." A nurse's arrival saved Cole from death by strangulation, but his condition was listed as serious, with severe damage done to his throat. Descriptions of the would-be strangler roughly matched eyewitness reports on the ".22-caliber killer."
The action shifted to Manhattan on December 22, with five blacks and one Hispanic victim stabbed -- four of them killed -- in less than thirteen hours. John Adams, 25 years old, was the first to fall, narrowly escaping death when he was knifed by a white assailant around 11:30 a.m. Two hours later, 32-year-old Ivan Frazier was accosted on the street, deflecting a blade with his hand, sustaining minor injuries before he fled on foot. The next four victims were less fortunate. Messenger Luis Rodriguez, 19, was stabbed to death around 3:30 p.m. in what police described as "an apparent holdup." No motive was suggested in the deaths of 30-year-old Antone Davis, knifed around 6:50 p.m., or 20-year-old Richard Renner, killed less than four hours later. The last victim, discovered just before midnight, was a black "John Doe" stabbed to death on the street near Madison Square Garden.
Police were still searching desperately for the elusive "Midtown Slasher" when 31-year-old Roger Adams, a black man, was stabbed to death in Buffalo on December 29. Wendell Barnes, 26, was fatally wounded in Rochester, on December 30, but Buffalo native Albert Menefee was luckier the next day, surviving a thrust that nicked his heart. On January 1, Larry Little and Calvin Crippen survived separate attacks, fighting off their white assailant with only minor injuries.
On January 6, police announced that the recent stabbings were "probably linked" with Buffalo's unsolved .22-caliber shootings, but still they seemed no closer to a suspect. The case broke twelve days later, in Georgia, when Pvt. Joseph Christopher, age 25, was arrested at Fort Benning, charged with slashing a black GI. A search of his former residence, near Buffalo, turned up quantities of .22-caliber ammunition, a gun barrel, and two sawed-off rifle stocks. More to the point, authorities learned that Christopher had joined the army on November 13, arriving at Fort Benning six days later. He was absent on leave from December 19 to January 4, with a bus ticket recording his arrival in Manhattan on December 20.
Hospitalized with self-inflicted wounds on May 6, 1981, Christopher bragged to a nurse of his involvement in the September slayings around Buffalo. Four days later, he was charged with three of the local shooting deaths, a fourth murder count added to the list on June 29, plus charges related to non-fatal Buffalo stabbings in December 1980 and January 1981. In New York City, indictments were returned in the murder of Luis Rodriguez and the non-fatal stabbing of Ivan Frazier.
In October 1981, Christopher waived his right to a jury trial in Buffalo, placing his fate in the hands of a judge. Two months later, he was found mentally incompetent for trial, but the ruling had been reversed by April 1982. On April 27, after twelve days of testimony, he was convicted on three counts of first-degree murder, drawing a prison term of 60 years to life.
In September 1983, Christopher sat for an interview with Buffalo journalists, estimating that his murder spree had claimed a minimum of thirteen lives. Reporters noted that he "did not deny" the grisly murders of Parler Edwards and Ernest Jones, but no charges have yet been filed in those cases. In July 1985, Christopher's Buffalo conviction was overturned on grounds that the judge had improperly barred testimony pointing toward mental incompetence. Three months later, in Manhattan, a jury rejected the killer's insanity plea, convicting him in the murder of Luis Rodriguez and the wounding of Ivan Frazier.
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