Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Harrison Graham: The Corpse Collector

City of Brotherly Love

Between 1985 and 1989, investigators in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, were called into three separate cases of serial murder. That was a lot for one city, but the 1980s had seen an increase in serial murders across the country, especially those that involved uniquely gruesome details. From Night Stalker Richard Ramirez, with his penchant for Satanism, to Robert Berdella's torture of imprisoned men, the 1980s seemed to inspire killers to realize their worst fantasies.

Someone dubbed the Frankford Slasher stabbed seven people to death in a Philadelphia neighborhood, even as the police learned from an escaping victim about Gary Heidnik, who was holding female prisoners in the basement of his house on North Marshall Street. One had died from hanging in chains and one had been killed. The police found three more intended victims in the house, chained up and starving. Heidnik had used them as sex slaves and was planning to add more. After his arrest, he admitted to eating pieces of one victim and feeding some to his captives.

Then Leonard Christopher, a black man, was arrested and convicted of the Frankford-area murders, even as an eighth woman was similarly murdered, so his conviction became controversial. One set of witnesses had seen a white man with some of the victims, but others stood by their identification of Christopher: He had worked in the fish market where the seventh woman was found dead, had many inconsistencies in his story, was seen with the victim and with a knife, and had spots of blood on his clothing.

Map of Philadelphia with 1631 N. 19th Street indicator
Map of Philadelphia with 1631 N. 19th Street indicator

Also, on a sweltering August day in 1987, the police were called to a two-room apartment in a run-down brick rowhouse in north Philadelphia. The tenant of four years, a black man named Harrison 'Marty' Graham, who liked to talk like the Cookie Monster from Sesame Street, had been evicted at noon that day due to a terrible odor emanating from his apartment. Before leaving, he nailed the door shut to one of the rooms and said he would be back for the rest of his stuff. Landlord Nathanial Choice had sent his son and nephew to take care of this business, and when they found their access thwarted, they peeked through the keyhole. That's when they called the police.

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