Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Artist and the Killer: Frank Bender and Hans Vorhauer

Labor Day

Two weeks later, on Sunday, September 7, a deputy assigned to watch Phyllis Vorhauer reported that she was with a man who could be Vorhauer, but he was wearing sunglasses and a hat. They were in her car and on the move. The deputy followed them to the Quality Inn at South 26th Street and Penrose Avenue in South Philadelphia where they took a room.

Vorhauer in a hat, pastel
Vorhauer in a hat, pastel

The task force quickly mobilized. Reinforcements were called in. Detective Schneider and three deputies hid inside an unmarked police van parked outside the Quality Inn. They intended to wait there until Vorhauer came out, no matter how long it took. They wouldn't be allowed out for bathroom breaks, and they couldn't smoke. If they ran out of food, too bad. Vorhauer was cautious, and he was sharp. He'd bolt if he saw anything that seemed the least bit suspicious.

Frank Bender and U.S. Marshal Tom Rappone watched from an old stone shed across the street in Franklin D. Roosevelt Park, taking turns staring through binoculars at the front doors of the motel, waiting for Vorhauer to emerge. Rappone's handheld radio sat on a rickety work table. The men in the van would alert them as soon as they spotted Vorhauer. The plan was to take him by surprise. Bender's loaded shotgun stood propped against the crumbling brick wall next to the window.

Rappone and Bender took turns dozing, but neither of them really slept that night. Bender couldn't stop thinking about Vorhauer, wondering if he was still in the motel. His wife's car was there, but for all they knew he may have already escaped on foot. The man had a habit of disappearing like a ghost. Why should this time be any different?

Just before dawn the world was all gray - no black, no white, no colors at all. As the sun started to rise, spears of light peeked over the little hill outside the shed window, and the colors gradually returned. Morning came, but Penrose Avenue remained eerily quiet. Bender was reminded of old Westerns he'd seen, tumbleweed blowing through a dusty main street just before the shootout. It was strange to see a city street so quiet at eight, nine, ten o'clock in the morning, but then he realized it was Labor Day, a holiday.

Bender's bleary eyes never left the front of the Quality Inn. The binoculars hung from his neck. He used them to study every face that went in or out of the motel, but there was no sign of Vorhauer. He glanced at the silent radio on the table. He was beginning to lose hope. This was taking too long.

Finally at 11 a.m., a couple pushed through the front doors. Suddenly the radio crackled. Detective Schneider's gravelly voice came through. "That's him. With the wife. Let's move."

Rappone immediately pulled out his handgun and went to the door. "Stay here," he said to Bender.

Sketch compared to arrest photo
Sketch compared to arrest photo

Bender wanted to go with him, but he knew better than to interfere. He lifted the binoculars to his eyes and peered out the window. The back doors of the van flew open, and the men inside burst out, weapons trained on the couple on the front steps of the motel. Tom Rappone, the rest of the task force, and all the backups quickly converged. Instinctively Bender reached for the shotgun, the binoculars still to his face. The man on the steps was raising his arms. He was giving up. Bender couldn't make out his face very well, but his hair was almost platinum blond.

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