Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Mysterious Charlie Chop-off

New Killing Ground

During the August heat of 1973, when those who can leave the oppressive city for cooler places do so, a woman walking her dog around 5:30 P.M. on Friday, the 17th, on the sixth floor of a tenement house at 325 East Houston Street, discovered the body of a black boy. She immediately alerted the police.

325 East Houston Street
325 East Houston Street

They arrived at once to investigation and found the boy in a sexually suggestive position. His shirt had been yanked above his shoulders and his pants were pulled to a position slightly below his waist, the Times reported, revealing that his body had been slashed in several places with razors. His sneakers had been removed and set nearby.

Bellevue Hospital
Bellevue Hospital

The police removed the body, took photographs, and sent it for an autopsy. They then walked through the neighborhood for about four hours, showing the boy's picture to everyone they encountered until they located his parents, Catherine and William Cropper. The Croppers went to identify the body at the Bellevue Hospital morgue and Mrs. Cropper collapsed upon seeing her son. Identified as Steven Cropper, 7, the victim had been with them at their Pitt Street home just an hour before he was found, around 4:30 P.M. They lived a few blocks from the site of the murder.

Dr. Michael Baden
Dr. Michael Baden

New York's Deputy Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Michael Baden performed an autopsy and determined that Steven had died from lacerations of the main artery in the left elbow. Soon after he expired, he had suffered another indignity: the killer (presumably) had carved a deep 'X' into the boy's chest, as if to say, 'X marks the spot,' in some sort of gruesome signature. However, since his genitals remained intact, there was speculation that, despite his age and the color of his skin, he should not be included in the series of murders now attributed to "Charlie Chop-off." (Several writers mention that the press began calling this unknown attacker "Charlie Chop-off," but Gelb is probably the source for that, since it's not mentioned in the Times archives. A review of her book indicates that the cops referred to him thus.) Baden added there was no evidence of sexual assault.

The police released a statement to reporters indicating that this murder was probably not linked to those in Harlem and the Upper West Side over the past sixteen months. Nevertheless, they decided to cover all bases by circulating a "photomontage likeness" of the person seen near the murder sites in the previous three incidents, "to make sure it's not him." They also provided a phone number for people to call with information and posted the picture in several strategic places, including on the second story landing of the NENA Comprehensive Health Service Center, a nonprofit outpatient facility on East 3rd Street, near Avenue C. That proved to be one individual's undoing.

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