Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Robert Garrow

Murder in the Woods

Wells, NY welcome sign (Mark Gado)
Wells, NY welcome sign
(Mark Gado)

On the morning of July 29, 1973, a group of friends, Phil Domblewski, Carol Ann Malinowski, David Freeman and Nick Fiorello were camped in the Adirondacks near Wells, New York.

They were from Schenectady, where they knew one another from high school. They loved to fish and hike through the Adirondack forests. After pitching their tents near Old Route 8, south of the village of Speculator, they spent the night in the woods and were about to crawl out of their sleeping bags.

A few miles away, an orange colored VW hatchback was traveling northbound on the two-lane highway. Robert Garrow was behind the wheel. He had just picked up a cup of coffee and some doughnuts from a gas station a few miles back. As he sped down the smoothly paved road, Garrow admired the sparkling river that runs parallel to the highway, making Route 8 one of New York's most scenic highways. The old VW sputtered along, emitting sporadic clouds of blue smoke from its exhaust, a sure sign of burning oil. When Garrow approached the teenager's campsite, which could be seen from the road, he noticed two tents set up not far from the pavement. Garrow pulled the VW over to the side and shut down the engine. He gulped down the remaining coffee, grabbed his .30-caliber rifle and walked into the campsite.

Domblewski murder scene (Mark Gado)
Domblewski murder scene
(Mark Gado)

Garrow went over to the first tent he saw. He pointed his weapon at Carol Ann Malinowski and David Freeman who were still in their sleeping bag. "There was this couple in this tent," he said at trial, "they had no clothes on...I had my rifle with me and I asked them for some gas...I remember her putting her pants on...I don't think she put a bra on, she didn't have one." He soon rounded up all four campers at gunpoint and told them he wanted to siphon some gas out of their car. But Phil Domblewski objected. Garrow brandished his rifle and pointed it at the group. He marched them all into the woods. "I've killed before and I will again if I have to!" he told the frightened teenagers.

Garrow was physically a big man. He weighed 210 pounds and stood 5 feet 11 inches. He was larger and more intimidating than any of the campers. "Then is where everything, you know, all that pressure where I went berserk, I didn't know what to do," he told the court later. Once he herded them into the woods, he tied them all to separate trees, out of sight of one another. "I remember having people tie each other up and, I don't know which one tied which one up...the girl was tied up last," Garrow said. The terrified victims tried to reason with the stranger but Garrow seemed not to hear them. Domblewski especially refused to back down.

After he successfully tied Domblewski to a tree face forward, he placed the rifle down. He reached into his pocket and removed a knife that was honed to a deadly sharpness. And then, in a brutal assault, Garrow attacked the defenseless teenager and slashed him several times across the chest. "I went berserk I guess or something and I hit him with the knife," he later told a jury. He then plunged the blade into the boy's chest, killing him instantaneously. The teenager's final gasps for life were heard by the others.

"What are you doing to him?" Carol Malinowski cried out.

"It's okay. I'll be done in a minute!" Garrow calmly replied. In the meantime, the two males had managed to loosen the ropes and escaped. They ran for help while Garrow started to walk deeper into the woods. Within minutes, a dozen men from the nearby town were searching the brush for the killer. Domblewski's body was found still tied to a tree, slumped down to the ground, his head resting on his chest. There was blood everywhere, on the tree, in his clothes and in the grass. Garrow had also left his knife, covered with his fingerprints, on the ground next to the body. The men scoured the woods in the vicinity, searching every cave and hole, every ravine and gully. But he was too late. He had already escaped in the orange VW.

The hunt was on.