Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Joseph Kallinger, the Enigmatic Cobbler

Joey Jr.

Kallinger had seven children by two different wives.   The first two children were grown, but the five from his second wife were all living with him at home.  Joey was the boy in question, and the issues involved in his death that same year were difficult to untangle.  It appeared to start with a complaint to the police, as described in The Philadelphia Inquirer. 

In 1972 when he was 12, Joey had come to the police station with his 9-year-old brother and his 13-year-old sister.   A 19-year-old neighbor boy had accompanied them (possibly the sister's boyfriend), and they had accused their father of severe abuse.  The children explained that they were afraid to go home.  They offered a range of things their father had done to hurt and humiliate them, and this friend corroborated their tale by describing how Kallinger had once threatened them at gunpoint.  He was clearly a dangerous man.  He even hit the children on the knees with a hammer.  A physical examination at the hospital indicated that they did have suspicious burns and bruising.

Joseph Kallinger
Joseph Kallinger

However, when the police called on them, both Kallinger and his wife denied that such things went on, and they complained that the children had run away.   They might have gotten hurt any place.  Kallinger was nevertheless charged with three counts of abuse and he had to go before the court.  Two doctors gave him a psychological work-up, which indicated an IQ of 84 and a history of problems since the age of 15.  He seemed suspicious of women.  He had been diagnosed once during the divorce proceedings from his first wife with a nervous disorder, and on another occasion, he'd been found sitting outside on some steps in a full state of amnesia.  He complained of headaches and doctors at that time thought he suffered from sexual anxiety.  The court-appointed doctors diagnosed him as a paranoid schizophrenic.  They recommended that he be committed and that upon release, he and his family receive supervision.  (An extensive report of their testing and diagnosis can be found in Schreiber's book.)

This might have helped the situation, but it was not to be.

Other doctors who came into contact with Kallinger did not feel as strongly about this diagnosis.   They said he had problems but was competent to stand trial.  Although collection of information about the family revealed that all of the boys were emotionally disturbed, these doctors apparently did not see a connection with Kallinger's mental health issues.  They considered him to be merely self-centered and immature.  However, they added, all of the family members should go through counseling.

Kallinger went to trial and was convicted of all charges and sentenced to a short prison term.   Since he'd already been in jail for seven months awaiting trial, he was released. 

Then in February 1973, Kallinger's three accusing children appeared in court to submit affidavits to the effect that they had lied; the charges against their father were false.  (The Philadelphia Inquirer wrote that the children changed their report while Kallinger was still in jail, which set him free.  Downs says he was already out before they went to court.  Schreiber emphasizes that lots of poor decisions were made, because Kallinger should have been placed in a mental institution, but says that the judge decided that the father should be supporting his family and let him go before the kids recanted.)

The judge had no choice but to clear Kallinger's record, although the police who had initially talked with the children believed there was something very odd about their sudden retraction.   Downs says they suspected that since Kallinger was now back home, the children were afraid of what he might do.  Yet they could not be persuaded to change their stories again.  They said they'd made it up because their father was too strict.

Years later, Kallinger told Schreiber that he began to call them the "total gods" because they had overpowered "the king."   He was afraid of them and said that he asked them for the sake of his business to go say they had lied about the charges.  They agreed because they thought the family would then make more money and live better.

Joey, who had been in some trouble already, acknowledged his part in bringing false charges and he ended up in a Bucks County reformatory.  Social workers had evaluated him as being seriously disturbed, and he'd had some homosexual encounters, so it seemed he needed professional observation.  He even saw a psychiatrist.

Yet he received weekend passes, and he turned up in the offices of the Philadelphia Bulletin, beaten up and on a pair of crutches.   He said that he'd fallen off a train and had broken his leg.

The newspaper workers called Kallinger, who came in and began to argue with Joey, insisting that he return to the reformatory.   He did, and in May 1974 he was released Two months later in July, Kallinger took out a life insurance policy on Joey and his younger son.  Joey's would pay $45,000 in the event of his death.

By the end of that same month, Kallinger went to the police to report that Joey was missing.   They did a search but turned up nothing. 

In August, a wrecking crew found Joey.   His body lay in a sub-basement area of a building scheduled for demolition at Ninth and Market Streets.  Broken bricks and rubble had covered him, making the body difficult to see.  The pathologist could not determine a clear cause of death, but he thought the boy had been buried alive.  (Another boy from north Philadelphia had suffered a similar fate that same month in an abandoned factory building.)

Almost at once, Kallinger filed a claim with the John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Company.   They refused to honor it.  Kallinger argued that he had taken out insurance on two of his sons (because of his five children they were the most reckless) and the other one was not dead.  The company did not budge.  They could not prove murder, but they did not buy Kallinger's tale, partly because of his history as a poor insurance risk.

Ten years earlier, he'd taken out insurance on a building that had then been damaged by fire.   He collected $15,000.   Within the week, there was another fire and another payout.  Two years went by before there was yet a third fire and payout for damage.  When a fourth fire broke out in the vacant building, the fire department charged Kallinger with arson.  The charges were eventually dropped for lack of proof, but the claim was never paid.  Nor was the cause of the fires ever determined.

Then only two months after Joey died, another of his sons was found wandering around Camden with injuries to his head.  Kallinger explained this as an accident. 

The Philadelphia homicide squad was suspicious of this man and they tried to get proof against Kallinger, but he filed a lawsuit claiming harassment.  The court sided with him.  But the squad did not forget.  When Detective Roseman came calling, they had plenty to tell him.  They even had a picture of Kallinger to show him.

While they confirmed what they suspected, several officers staked out Kallinger's home to keep an eye on his whereabouts, awaiting the word to go after him.

Roseman and police in the other affected jurisdictions showed the photo to the victims, and everyone identified Kallinger as the perpetrator.   He looked very much like a composite drawing that had been made after the Harrisburg incident.  The boy who had accompanied him could have been either of the two younger sons.  The boys were both slender, with long, blond hair.

When the investigation was complete enough to press charges, the police were ready to move in.   It was Friday evening, January 17.  Maria Fasching would have turned 22.


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