Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Ira Einhorn: The Unicorn Killer

Booked and Bonded

Ira Einhorn,  1979
Ira Einhorn, 1979

Philadelphia awoke on March 29, 1979, unfurled its morning papers, and gawked The headline brought disbelief and ended an era with a thud; in huge black letters across the upper third of the Philadelphia Enquirer's front page: HIPPIE GURU HELD IN TRUNK SLAYING. Mr. Peace, Mr. Flower Power, Mr. Save the Earth...a killer? In every other metropolitan city the disaster at the nuclear plant called Three Mile Island dominated the news, but not so in the City of Brotherly Love. Who cared about something so remote as a radioactive leak when in town its own beloved Unicorn was about to be de-horned?

Holly Maddux, high school cheerleader
Holly Maddux, high school cheerleader

The accompanying story detailed the disappearance of Helen (Holly) Maddux and her discovery in a steamer trunk in the Unicorn's closet. Her skull had been smashed in several places, either with a blunt object or by force against the wall or floor — final autopsy results would determine that — and she was literally stuffed into a box that was large enough for maybe a child half her size. From the contortion of the body and the evidence of an upraised arm, detectives believed she was probably buried while still alive, although half-conscious, and died trying to claw her way out. After 18 months, her mummified remains weighed only 37 pounds.

Ira the Unicorn was crying foul, claiming that he had been framed. "The whole thing was a setup, Einhorn assured followers," wrote Times columnist Steve Lopez. "Through his antiwar research and with contacts that extended beyond the Iron Curtain, he simply knew too much about weapons development, psychic research and global conspiracies. Maddux was murdered to discredit him. The CIA, the KGB, who knew? The most damning evidence against him was also the most obvious proof of his innocence. Would a man as smart as he murder his girlfriend and keep the evidence at his bedside?"

Then came the bail hearing on April 3. If one didn't know better, one would assume that they were trying St. Peter, for all the reputation-boosting testimony that was communicated from corporate executives, columnists, a minister and other high-caliber profiles. "There simply was not enough time for all their praises," noted Steven Levy in The Unicorn's Secret.

"He is of good — excellent — character," exclaimed a corporate attorney with whom he had worked on a fundraising project. "He has the highest level of integrity," remarked an Ivy League lecturer, "a man who is compassionate and loving." A former Wall Street Journal economist described his reputation as "the finest". And an Episcopalian minister judged him as "a man of nonviolence."

But, to prove that every side has two stories, the prosecution brought in its witnesses who told of the other, non-public Ira Einhorn. For example, those two women who were assaulted when trying to end their affairs with the Unicorn. The ladies who were asked to help him throw the trunk in the river. The private detectives hired by the Madduxes who spoke of his unwillingness to cooperate. Others called him distrustful, rarely loyal, a far-flung egomaniac.

Arlen Specter
Arlen Specter

Nevertheless, even though it was unheard of for alleged murderers awaiting trial to be granted a release on bail, Ira Einhorn was granted bail. His attorney, former district attorney and soon-to-be U.S. Senator Arlen Specter, had engineered a miracle. Says Lopez, "Bail was set at a staggeringly low $40,000, only $4,000 of it needed to walk free. It was paid by Barbara Bronfman, a Montreal socialite who had married into the Seagram distillery family and met Einhorn through a common interest in the paranormal."

Einhorn in high school
Einhorn in high school

Over the next year, awaiting trial, the Unicorn did several things. Back on the streets, he complained about his hurt image, that friends who used to say hello now averted their eyes when they passed. Sulking, he told a friend, "I can't be Ira Einhorn anymore." And he bragged. He was going to prove in court that he was innocent, damn it anyway, and was framed by the CIA or FBI, or somebody — it could have been a number of people — who wanted him and his too-truthful ideas silenced.

Oh, and he did something else, too. In January, 1981, at the threshold of his trial, the stalwart, the harmless hero, the injured icon, the mistreated miracle man left. He beat it out of town. He beat it out of the country.

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