Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Frankford Slasher

City of Brotherly Love?

Jeanne Durkin's body, discovered west of Frankford Ave.
Jeanne Durkin's body, discovered west
of Frankford Ave.

Jeanne Durkin lived on the streets, mostly in the doorway of an abandoned bakery two buildings away from Goldie's. She was 28 and a potentially easy victim for rape or murder.  Her body was found by a restaurant employee beneath a storage truck (according to Newton, however, she was found beneath a fruit and vegetable stand) on a Pratt Street lot west of Frankford Avenue owned by a fruit vendor, and she had been stabbed in the chest, buttocks, and back 74 times. This was one block from where Helen Patent had been killed. Lying in a pool of blood, Durkin was nude from the waist down, and her legs were spread. Blood was spattered against a fence and the side of the truck. An autopsy indicated that she had been sexually assaulted.

The Serial Killer Files, by Harold Schechter
The Serial Killer Files, by
Harold Schechter

Once she became victim #4, the newspaper began to pressure the police to solve these crimes.  It was clear by now that Philadelphia had a serial killer on the loose.  In fact, between 1985 and 1989, the City of Brotherly Love experienced three separate series of brutal murders.  While the crimes of the Frankford Slasher were being investigated, the police learned from a woman who had escaped about an eccentric man who was holding females prisoner in his house on North Marshall Street.  Harold Schechter tells the story in The Serial Killer Files.  One captive had died from hanging in chains for several days and one had been killed.  The police invaded the home and found three more nearly dead women chained in a filthy basement.  A man named Gary Heidnik had used them as sex slaves.  After his arrest, he admitted to eating pieces of one victim and feeding some to his other prisoners.

Gary Heidnik in custody
Gary Heidnik in custody

Then, on a sweltering August day in 1987, Harrison "Marty" Graham was evicted from his north Philadelphia apartment because of obnoxious odors.  He left, but the smell worsened, so the police went in.  They discovered the decomposing corpses of six women, with the remains of a seventh.  Graham tried to claim that the bodies were there when he moved in, but then confessed to strangling them all during sex.  Despite his insanity plea, a judge convicted him in every case.

Harrison "Marty" Graham
Harrison "Marty" Graham

The authorities quickly formed a task force to canvass the Frankford Avenue neighborhood to see if they could find anyone who had witnessed anything related to the victims.  They questioned a female bartender at Goldie's for several hours because she had seen the women, and even knew that Durkin often came in during the winter to get warm.  They also talked with many other customers, past and present.  The bartender, Dee Hughes, told Thomas Gibbons from the Inquirer that she figured the killer was a customer.  "I honestly believe it was someone that comes in here and got to know them."  She indicated a man whom she suspected, but could not offer anything that she had actually seen.  Olszef had been in the bar only three days before she was murdered, and she talked to people, but Carroll generally kept to herself and bought her own drinks.

According to the interviews, those who knew the fourth victim did not believe she could have been overwhelmed easily.  At one point, when six policemen had tried to arrest her, she struggled so much that they gave up.  That led investigators to believe that she may have known her attacker, and that he had used cunning, not strength, to get her into a vulnerable position.  A woman named Michelle Martin, who also frequented the Frankford Avenue bars, had argued with Durkin over a blanket just the night before, but nothing more actually tied Martin to the victim.  In and out of mental institutions, Durkin had been living on the streets for the past five years.  She was savvy and independent.  Some people felt the same about Helen Patent, believing she would never have gone with a stranger to the train yard.   Police were stumped.

On January 20, fifty people from the neighborhood brought candles to the El to pray for the victims and alert the killer that they were on the lookout for him.  Many wept for the street woman, the mother of four, who had been a part of their community.  Among them was a man who had hoped to marry her by summer.  In Israel, two trees were planted in her memory.

By January 1988, as recorded in the papers, the police had tentatively decided that the killings might not be related, despite the similar circumstances.  But over the next year, they had to rethink this position.

 

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