Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Harrison Graham: The Corpse Collector


In the basement of a building three doors down from Graham's (and owned by a relative of the man who owned Graham's building), a human torso and skull, wrapped in a brown blanket and tied with an electrical cord, were found beneath debris.  This was similar to the way the body had been stored in Graham's closet, but this one had been partially buried under a mound of coal ashes.  The task was now to determine if they were parts of the same victim as the leg bones or whether this was yet an eight unidentified person.

The ME's office stated that six of the victims had been black females and one had been identified: Mary Jeter Mathis, 36, the mother of five children.  While DNA analysis had been used in several forensic contexts that same year, it was not yet a common method for victim identification.

The Philadelphia Medical Examiner's Office
The Philadelphia Medical Examiner's Office

Just as investigators were working on that project, the suspect, now the target of an intense manhunt, surrendered.  On August 17, Marty Graham stood waiting on a North Philadelphia street corner, while his mother directed the police there.  He'd asked her to bring him some food, she said, and she had gone to him and persuaded him to surrender.  The police took him in for questioning, and by evening had charged him with seven counts of murder and seven counts of abuse of a corpse.  Because his clothing was stained, they obtained warrants to have his pants and jacket tested.

Mary Jeter Mathis
Mary Jeter Mathis

According to Lillian Graham, her son claimed that the bodies had been in the building when he'd moved in and he had not killed anyone.  But in custody, under interrogation, he eventually confessed.  At first he said he only killed two, but then he admitted that he'd strangled all seven female victims while under the influence of drugs.  He was full of remorse and told police, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, that he wanted to straighten out his life.  He offered the names of five of the victims.


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