Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Mysterious Charlie Chop-off

Citizen Demands

On March 9, 1973, on the one-year anniversary of the first murder, the police announced for the press, as covered by Edward Hudson for the New York Times, that they had linked the murder of a nine-year-old boy killed in Harlem with the attacks on two other boys on the Upper West Side/Harlem border. In fact, several people had seen their suspect in the area and they were actively looking for him in those places. Inspector Hyman Lipson stated that this person had been arrested before on a drug charge, but he would not offer a name. Nevertheless, reporters learned that the suspect had been seen talking to a young boy on the day of the Ortiz murder.

An angry crowd of at least 500 residents came to the police station late that morning to demand more protection. They demonstrated for three hours, with shouts and signs, as the police assured them that more officers were being assigned to the investigation. They also promised to keep the community apprised of developments on a regular basis. In addition, some police units would watch over the local schools, in case the predator was hanging around waiting for boys to walk away by themselves. But these people wanted satisfaction now. "We want the killer!" they yelled.

The police invited some of the most vociferous into the station to discuss the situation and air their concerns. They also indicated that people who had seen this man had affirmed that their photograph resembled him. Twenty officers had been assigned to the case, and a dozen more came in from other districts.

Several people in the crowd told reporters how frightened the children were to even go to school. Their lives had been completely disrupted. One parent said that she had found a knife under her son's pillow, and another boy expressed a wish that he were a girl so he'd be safe. Two kids often shouted while walking through their own home, lest someone be lurking in an empty room. Mothers complained that it used to be no big deal if a child was late from school, because the area was considered safe. Now they worried all the time. Some parents were angry that school officials had chosen to tell the children the truth about the situation, while others decided it had been a good idea. Nevertheless, reports about how the children were acting were somewhat disturbing.

A teacher described how a young girl wrote a story about a man killing boys and cutting off their fingers. More striking, a principal of a school at West 105th Street had found children on the playground acting out a murder, several boys pretending to limp, and other boys trying to scare their friends.

However, one group of students had used the situation to do something positive. Pupils in a fourth-grade class at P.S. 145 made a videotape, assisted by Open Channel, a public service network, to remind other students about the safety precautions they should take at all times. In particular, they should not talk to a stranger, even if that person seems friendly. The tape was shown to all classes at that school, and it was clear from reactions that many children in the area feared that they would be killed.

Yet it was the children, Gelb says, who dubbed the killer with the nickname, Charlie Chop-off. And he was not yet finished.

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