A pathological racist, Christopher
launched a one-man war against blacks in September 1980, claiming
victims from upstate New York to southwestern Georgia. In his wake, he
left an atmosphere of bigotry and violence that provoked a string of
hostile confrontations in communities not known for racial animosity.
His legacy of death and hatred lingers to the present day, as several of
the crimes connected to his rampage -- or inspired by his example -- are
The war began September 22, when 14-year-old Glenn Dunn was shot and
killed outside a Buffalo supermarket. The victim was sitting in a stolen
car when he died, and witnesses described his assailant as an
unidentified "white youth." The following day, 32-year-old
Harold Green was shot while dining at a fast-food restaurant in suburban
Cheektowaga. That night, Emmanuel Thomas, age 30, was killed by a sniper
while crossing the street to his home, seven blocks from the scene of
Dunn's murder. On September 24, the action shifted to nearby Niagara
Falls, with the murder of a fourth black, Joseph McCoy.
Investigators found that all four victims were killed with the same gun,
and headlines followed their fruitless search for the elusive ".22-caliber
killer." Buffalo blacks complained of nonexistent police protection,
and there were sporadic incidents of blacks pelting white motorists on
the streets. A cross was burned in Buffalo, and fears were voiced that
the murders might be a preview of things to come, paving the way for
some paramilitary racist group's campaign of local genocide.
Things got worse on October 8, when 71-year-old Parler Edwards, a black
taxi driver, was found in the trunk of his car, parked in suburban
Amherst, his heart cut out and carried from the scene. Next day, another
black cabbie, 40-year-old Ernest Jones, was found beside the Niagara
River in Tonawanda, the heart ripped from his chest. His blood-spattered
taxi was retrieved by police in Buffalo, three miles away.
The local black community was verging on a state of panic now, made
worse by an incident in a Buffalo hospital on October 10. A black
patient, 37-year-old Collin Cole, was recuperating from illness when a
white stranger appeared at his bedside and snarled, "I hate niggers."
A nurse's arrival saved Cole from death by strangulation, but his
condition was listed as serious, with severe damage done to his throat.
Descriptions of the would-be strangler roughly matched eyewitness
reports on the ".22-caliber killer."
The action shifted to
Manhattan on December 22, with five blacks and one Hispanic victim
stabbed -- four of them killed -- in less than thirteen hours. John
Adams, 25 years old, was the first to fall, narrowly escaping death when
he was knifed by a white assailant around 11:30 a.m.
Two hours later,
32-year-old Ivan Frazier was accosted on the street, deflecting a blade
with his hand, sustaining minor injuries before he fled on foot. The
next four victims were less fortunate.
Messenger Luis Rodriguez, 19, was
stabbed to death around 3:30 p.m. in what police described as "an
No motive was suggested in the deaths of 30-year-old
Antone Davis, knifed around 6:50 p.m., or 20-year-old Richard Renner,
killed less than four hours later.
The last victim, discovered just
before midnight, was a black "John Doe" stabbed to death on
the street near Madison Square Garden.
Police were still searching
desperately for the elusive "Midtown Slasher" when 31-year-old
Roger Adams, a black man, was stabbed to death in Buffalo on December
Wendell Barnes, 26, was fatally wounded in Rochester, on December
30, but Buffalo native Albert Menefee was luckier the next day,
surviving a thrust that nicked his heart.
On January 1, Larry Little and
Calvin Crippen survived separate attacks, fighting off their white
assailant with only minor injuries.
On January 6, police announced that the recent stabbings were "probably
linked" with Buffalo's unsolved .22-caliber shootings, but still
they seemed no closer to a suspect.
The case broke twelve days later, in
Georgia, when Pvt. Joseph Christopher, age 25, was arrested at Fort
Benning, charged with slashing a black GI. A search of his former
residence, near Buffalo, turned up quantities of .22-caliber ammunition,
a gun barrel, and two sawed-off rifle stocks. More to the point,
authorities learned that Christopher had joined the army on November 13,
arriving at Fort Benning six days later. He was absent on leave from
December 19 to January 4, with a bus ticket recording his arrival in
Manhattan on December 20.
Hospitalized with self-inflicted wounds on May 6, 1981, Christopher
bragged to a nurse of his involvement in the September slayings around
Buffalo. Four days later, he was charged with three of the local
shooting deaths, a fourth murder count added to the list on June 29,
plus charges related to non-fatal Buffalo stabbings in December 1980 and
January 1981. In New York City, indictments were returned in the murder
of Luis Rodriguez and the non-fatal stabbing of Ivan Frazier.
In October 1981, Christopher waived his right to a jury trial in Buffalo,
placing his fate in the hands of a judge. Two months later, he was found
mentally incompetent for trial, but the ruling had been reversed by
April 1982. On April 27, after twelve days of testimony, he was
convicted on three counts of first-degree murder, drawing a prison term
of 60 years to life.
In September 1983, Christopher sat for an interview with Buffalo
journalists, estimating that his murder spree had claimed a minimum of
thirteen lives. Reporters noted that he "did not deny" the
grisly murders of Parler Edwards and Ernest Jones, but no charges have
yet been filed in those cases. In July 1985, Christopher's Buffalo
conviction was overturned on grounds that the judge had improperly
barred testimony pointing toward mental incompetence. Three months later,
in Manhattan, a jury rejected the killer's insanity plea, convicting him
in the murder of Luis Rodriguez and the wounding of Ivan Frazier.
Michael Newton - An Encyclopedia of
Modern Serial Killers - Hunting Humans
Buffalo man guilty in '80 killing
The New York Times
October 24, 1985
A 29-year-old Buffalo man was convicted yesterday
of stabbing a man to death as he walked along Madison Avenue between
40th and 41st Streets in December 1980.
The defendant - Joseph G. Christopher, a former Army
private - was also found guilty of stabbing a man on the E train in
Manhattan the same day.
Sentencing was set for Nov. 14. The authorities
described the incidents as racially motivated attacks.
Mr. Christopher, who is white, was convicted of the
murder of Luis Rodriguez, a 19-year-old Bronx messenger, and the
attempted murder of Ivan Frazer, 40, a Bronx cook.
Mr. Christopher was sentenced to life terms in May
1982 after being convicted of fatally shooting three black men in
Buffalo in September 1980.
But the State Court of Appeals overturned those
convictions last July because the trial judge had barred the defense
from presenting expert psychiatric testimony about Mr. Christopher's
fitness to stand trial.
Mr. Christopher still faces trial on charges that he
shot to death a black man in Niagara Falls, N.Y., in September 1980.
During his opening statement, Assistant District
Attorney James Fogel said that while hospitalized at Fort Benning, Ga.,
after trying to kill a black fellow Army recruit, Private Christopher
bragged to nurses that he had killed black men in Buffalo and New York
The Defense attorney, Richard Siracusa, told the jury
of seven women and five men that Mr. Christopher should be acquitted
because ''he is not a well person, his vision of reality has nothing to
do with ours.''
Soldier, 26, is found competent for trial on
By Robert Herman - The New York Times
February 18, 1982
The director of the Mid-Hudson State Psychiatric
Center said yesterday that a 26-year-old Army private charged with
murders in New York City, Buffalo and Niagara Falls had been found
mentally competent to stand trial.
The statement by the director, Dr. Erdogan Tekben,
came at a court hearing at the hospital. It opened the way for the
return of the soldier, Joseph G. Christopher, to Erie County, where he
faces murder charges in the separate shootings of three men in Buffalo.
It also meant that he could be tried in New York City, where he is
accused of fatally stabbing a teen-age boy and injuring another man. He
has also been indicted for a homicide in Niagara Falls.
Private Christopher has pleaded not guilty to all
five homicide charges. He is an involuntary patient at the hospital and
requested at the hearing that he be released.
Judge Gerald Delaney of the Orange County Court
postponed a decision on the private's request because it appeared that
he would be returned anyway to Erie County in light of Dr. Tekben's
statement. Suspect in Nine Murders
Law-enforcement officials say Private Christopher is
the main suspect in a total of nine murders of black and dark-skinned
men in New York State in 1980, including four in Manhattan in one day.
Private Christopher is white.
Mental health officials could not say when he might
be returned to Erie County or whether a formal court procedure was
necessary for the transfer from the Orange County psychiatric hospital.
A State Supreme Court justice in Erie County, William
Flynn, had sent him to the hospital last December after finding him
mentally unfit to understand the nature of the crimes he was charged
with or to participate in his own defense. Benjamin Altman, an acting
State Supreme Court justice in Manhattan, made the same ruling 10 days
ago based on evidence from the Erie County decision.
''It is my staff's opinion that Christopher presently
is fit to stand trial,'' Dr. Tekben said. A state mental health
department official said Dr. Tekben would send a letter to the Erie
County District Attorney certifying the soldier's competence to stand
The question of Private Christopher's ability to
stand trial for the murders arose last October when he waived his right
to a trial by jury.