The Vicious Alphabet Killer of New York

Three girls were strangled and sexually assaulted; the case remains unsolved.

The Alphabet murders to this day remain unsolved. Although, there are several suspects. No one has ever been charged with the murders. It remains to this day a case that the police hope to solve but have not had a breakthrough with.

Murder one — Carmen Colon

On 16th November 1971, Carmen Colon lived in Rochester, New York. She was ten years old and walked the short distance, on her own, to the pharmacy to collect her grandmother’s medication. She was described as a bit of a loner. Her mother had been sixteen when she had her, sending Carmen to live with her grandparents. She didn’t make friends easily and was often observed with family or alone.

The pharmacist, who knew her well, said she seemed distracted. When she found out the medication was not ready, she left the shop in a hurry. Witnesses observed her get in a car that was parked close. Three hours later, she was reported missing.

There were sightings of her before her death. Thirty people observed a half-naked girl walking along the highway, seemingly in distress. A Ford Pinto was seen backing up to her; a man left the car and dragged her back into it. Not one of the thirty people tried to help her. Until she was found dead, no one even came forward to report the incident to the police.

Would you believe it, nobody stopped, people told us they were going too fast, they were in a hurry to get home. — Captain Sparacino

On 18th November, two teenagers found her body. She had been raped, her skull smashed in and been manually strangled from the front. Carmen was naked from the waist down.

Murder Two — Wanda Walkowicz

In April 1972, a second young girl would go missing. Wanda Walkowicz was eleven. She, too, had gone running errands in the Rochester town. She went to the local food store, leaving with a heavy bag at 5 pm. She was reported missing three hours later. The parents informed the police, and an immediate search of the area commenced.

The following day, at 10 am, a body was found at the foot of a hill. It had been thrown from a car. Wanda had also been sexually assaulted and strangled from behind with a ligature, possibly a belt. In her stomach, there was custard, which her family reported they did not have In the house. Thus, the killer must have fed her before death. She was fully clothed and covered in white cat hair; police recovered some forensic evidence from her body.

Murder Three — Michelle Maenza

On 26th November 1973, eleven-year-old Michelle Maenza left school. It had been a tough day as her peers had bullied her; this was a common occurrence for the quiet Michelle. She crossed the street from the school and headed towards the shopping centre. Her mother had left her purse in a shop, and she was going to collect it for her. She was later seen entering a tan vehicle, the same car that police later connected to Wanda’s abduction.

At 1630, a girl matching Michelle would be seen eating at a burger joint with a caucasian 25–35-year-old man of six feet. When found, her stomach contents contained the burger and onion rings, confirming this sighting was legitimate.

Shortly after that, a tan car was seen at the side of the road with a flat tyre. With the man was a young girl. A good samaritan decided to stop to see if the pair needed any help. The kidnapper became aggressive and tried to hide the license plate of the car. The samaritan drove off, not wanting to get into an altercation. That evening Michelle would be reported missing.

On the 18th November 1973, her body was found in a ditch. She had been sexually assaulted and strangled from behind with a ligature. She was dressed and also had a large amount of white cat hair on her body. Forensics found a small amount of DNA through semen, and forensics found a fingerprint from one of her boots.

The Alphabet Murders

It was clear to everyone that there was a serial killer on the loose. The killer picked girls with the same first and last initial; he was also dumping the bodies in towns with the same initial. Carmen Colon was found in Churchville, Wanda in Webster and Michelle in Macedon. All three locations formed a triangle close to Rochester.

Experts would study the cases both for their similarities and differences. The similarities meant that the murders were treated as a whole. The abduction methods were similar; the perpetrator had used cars in all three, although not the exact vehicle. All three girls had been sexually assaulted and dumped, possibly from a car.

The method of killing was very different from Carmen to Wanda, although both strangled Carmen had been strangled from the front a much more personal way of killing, whilst the other two had been strangled from behind. Carmen had been strangled with hands being placed around her throat, the other two with a ligature. Carmen had been left half-naked, the other two dressed, and finally, Carmen had not been fed, whereas the other two had.

Several professionals questioned whether Carmen had been murdered by someone different. Robert Ressler, a renowned profiler, would agree with this thinking. He profiled two separate murderers for the kills. Carmen’s murder had been angry and personal carried out by someone with higher intelligence. In comparison, he profiled Wanda and Michelle’s killers as being of low intelligence. He stated that the alphabet connection was a coincidence as the killer would not have an IQ high enough to work this out. He noted that it was more likely the murder sites had been related to the names once the killer learnt them.

Other experts would dismiss this; could the killer have been a social worker or someone connected to the girls. Each child came from a poor Catholic family, had few friends, and had recently experienced issues such as bullying or poor academic performance; investigators have not discounted the possibility a social service agency may have employed the murderer. This would explain how he discovered their names. The police had several suspects for the killing.

The Suspects

Miguel Colon was Carmen’s uncle. He drove a Ford Pinto and was a suspect early on in the killings. When police examined the car, they found that someone had cleaned the boot with a strong detergent. They also found Carmen’s doll in the car. Miguel could easily explain this as he had been a presence in Carmen’s life and taken her out several times. Once the police spoke to him, Miguel chose to escape to Puerto Rico.

Police flew to Puerto Rico in March 1972 to interview him again. The media alerted him, and he fled into the jungle only to be captured shortly after. He had no alibi for the murders, but the police had no forensics to tie him to the crimes, so they failed to charge him. Miguel would take his own life in 1991 after an altercation with his brother and wife. He injured them both shooting them, and then shot himself.

The second serious suspect was an unknown male who was the car owner with a partial license plate the good samaritan had remembered. This man also had no alibi for the murder nights. However, after further investigation and passing a polygraph test, he was never arrested, and his name was never released.

Dennis Termini was a local firefighter who was known as the garage rapist. He became a suspect when it was observed he owned a tan car. He lived close to the murders and was active in the area from 1971 to 1973. Authorities also thought that the girls might have felt safe with a man in a firefighter uniform so would get into his car; he was also the owner of a white cat.

After the murder of Michelle, Termini would try to abduct two more girls, which was not successful. This was what alerted the police to him as a suspect. Becoming aware of the police suspicions, Termini committed suicide. Thus, it appeared that Termini was the Alphabet killer until DNA evidence cleared him after death.

Kenneth Bianchi was another uniform wearer and drove a car that matched the description. He would later leave the area under suspicion and move to become the Hillside Strangler. However, he has always maintained his innocence.

The final suspect that the police seriously considered was that of Joseph Naso. Between 1971 and 1974, Naso would kill several prostitutes; he also lived in Rochester in 1970. He became a suspect as the prostitutes he murdered had the same initial for their first and last name. Again DNA would clear him of the murders.

Who is the Alphabet Killer?

I have to agree with some professionals; I do not believe the same perpetrator committed all three cases. I think that Miguel Colon murdered his niece, Carmen. The different methods of killing mixed with other differences make it too unlikely they are all connected. Carmen also seem agitated in the pharmacy as if someone was waiting for her outside; it seems unlikely she would return to a stranger’s car. The other shocking factor with Carmen’s murder is the number of people who could have saved her but ignored a distressed girl walking down a highway.

With regards to the other two murders, I can not identify a definite suspect. The perpetrator may have never been interviewed or considered the murderer.

The police involved in the case still meet to discuss the cases; it is clear that they have not given up hope of finding the killer. Older police officers pass the information down to their younger colleagues. It is their hope, and that of the families, that advancements in technology and forensics will allow the cases to be solved sometime in the future. The three girls rest together in a cemetery in Rochester.