Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Mysterious Charlie Chop-off

Manhattan Murder

Patch: New York City Police Department
Patch: New York City Police Department

During the early 1970s, young boys with dark skin were being attacked in different areas of Manhattan. It appeared to be some type of fetish or torture crime, because when their bodies were found, the penises had been mutilated or removed and carried away. Clearly, this perpetrator was a sexual deviant, and the police were faced with investigating a spate of crimes unlike any they'd seen before as well as dealing with a terrified and angry community. Barbara Gelb includes the reign of terror in her book, On the Track of Murder, describing two years in the day-to-day experiences of officers in Manhattan's Homicide Division, but the New York Times covered the killings extensively as well. Crime writer Michael Newton summarizes it in his encyclopedia of serial killers, as do Lane and Gregg in theirs.

Book Cover: On the Track of Murder
Book Cover: On the Track of Murder

On March 9, 1972, a rainy day, Douglas Owens, only eight years old, was found on a rooftop two blocks from where he lived in Harlem, at a building on East 121st Street. The autopsy indicated that he had been viciously stabbed 38 times; most of the wounds were to his neck and chest. In addition, his penis had been sliced open. People acquainted with the boy were checked out, since this appeared to be a rather personal attack, but without witnesses or physical evidence to link someone, the police were stymied.

Sketch: Douglas Owens
Sketch: Douglas Owens

Six weeks after the first incident, on April 20, another black boy suffered a grievous attack. He was ten years old, according to Lane and Gregg, and was found still alive in the hallway of a West Side apartment building. Yet he was badly injured: he had been stabbed and sodomized, and his attacker had removed and carried away the boy's penis. Miraculously, he survived and when he recovered he was able to offer a partial description of the man who had accosted him: he'd had medium dark skin, was a slender adult, had a mole on his left cheek, and seemed to walk with a limp. He had called himself Michael, luring the boy into the building with the promise of fifty cents. A police artist made a sketch of the features, although the portrait was somewhat vague, due to the boy's trauma. (His penis was later found in a park, when a patrol officer came across a group of boys playing with it.)

Police Sketch of Suspect
Police Sketch of Suspect

At this time, the police did not treat these cases as related, although they did not altogether discount the possibility, either. Both boys had been slashed with the same kind of knife, both had been on errands, both were attacked on rainy days, both had removed their sneakers, and both had been assaulted. The survivor had been sodomized and there was some evidence that this might have also occurred with Owens. It would take two more victims before police decided they had a predatory serial killer in the city targeting children.

 

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