A native of New
Jersey, born in 1923,
Joe Fischer was
raised in Newark and Belleville, later describing his childhood as one
of continuos conflict and violence.
His mother was a prostitute who brought "tricks" home
while her husband worked on various construction sites.
"l guess what really helped me hate the woman," Fischer
later sald, "was that she didn't care if me or my brothers were
home when she brought her customers in."
The strangers sometimes
passed out pocket change, urging the children to "get lost,"
but Joe stayed behind, watching his mother perform with a seemingly
endless series of men. His
disrespect for her grew over time, provoking frequent arguments that led
to beatings, sometimes interrupted when his father waded in to whip them
both. "I would have
killed her 10 times over," Fischer said, "but I really
believed that ˇt would have broken my father's heart."
Enrolled in Catholic school, Fischer was a rebellious
student who clashed frequently with police in his adolescent years and
was finally sentenced to reform school for robbing St. Peter's Church.
Released in 1938, at 15, he lied about his age to join the
merchant marine but soon jumped ship, returning to New Jersey.
Desertion charges were dismissed when the authorities found out
that he was under age, and Fischer had a clean record, more or less,
when he joined the Marine Corps, following the japanese raid on Pearl
Harbor in December 1941.
By that time, Fischer was well on his way to fullblown
alcoholism, serving 30 days in the brig for drunkenness before he
finished boot camp. He
later saw combat on Guadalcanal, Kwajalein, and lwo jima, before he was
posted to mainland China, guarding milˇtary trains.
His wartime record remains controversial, Fischer variously
claiming a Bronze Star, a S'Iver Star, and two Purple Hearts for various
battles, though he could never produce the medals or certificases to
verify his alleged heroism.
of the details, ˇt is clear that he saw action and loved every minute
of it, remarking years láter that "killing felt too good to
stop" at wars end. He
apparently murdered a number of Chinese civilians under the guise of
"protecting" military freight, and while he was never
court-martialed, he was diagnosed
as a dangerous paranoid schizophrenic prior to his discharge from
service in 1945.
A series of arrests and committals to mental institutions
followed his return to civilian life, climaxed in 1948 by Fischers
conviction for robbery and assault.
Paroled in December 1953, he was free for a matter of days before
he attacked a 16-year-old
boy in New
Jersey, beating him to death with a
rock on the day after Christmas. That
crime sent him away for the next quarter-century.
He was paroled in
June 1978 to marry a pen pal, 78 year-old
Claudine Eggers. The attraction was apparently financial, Claudine picking up
the tab for an aimless 13 month jaunt across country that turned into a
nonstop murder spree. One
of the last to die was Claudine herself, found stabbed to death in the
home she sometimes shared with
Joe in Wassaic, New York.
Fischer surrendered to New York police on
July 2, 1979, and
freely confessed to the slaying, landing in the Dutchess County jail on
a charge of second-degree murder.
That might have been the end for Fischer, but he felt like
talking-more specifically, confessing to another 18 homicides. He had set out to kill 25 victims, Joe told detectives, but
was still six short of the mark when he grew weary and surrendered.
July 28, authorities in Arizona and Oklahoma had issued
warrants for his arrest in the spring 1979 murders of a man in Flagstaff
and a female victim, Betty
Jo Gibson, in Moore, Oklahoma.
Other victims claimed by Fischer in his confessions included
"a couple" of deaths in the Bowery, with others in Los
Angeles; San Francisco; New Mexico; Cooperstown, New York; Hartford,
Connecticut; and Portland, Maine.
Authorities in different jurisdictions often seemed to
work at cross-purposes in tracking Fischer's claims.
The New Jersey Department of Corrections refused to release his
prison psychiatric files, although ˇt was admitted that parole had been
granted in 1978 on twin conditions that Fischer join Alcoholics
Anonymous and remain subject to "close supervision."
found in his possession, meanwhile, was identified as a likeness of
26-year-old Pamela Nolen, missing from Ruidos, New Mexico, since October
30, 1978. (Fischer admitted stabbing a woman to death in New Mexico; he
simply didn't catch her name.) Flagstaff police cited evidence
confirming Fischer's presence in the motel room where a male victim died
on March 31, 1979, but they now called the death accidental; Fischer,
for his part, insisted that he beat the man to death.
Joe was claiming a total of 32 victims, and
police in Norwalk, Connecticut, declared that they had sufficient
evidence to charge him in the additional stabbing deaths of two
17-year-old girls, Alaine Hapeman and Veronica Tassielo.
Joe went to trial in April 1980 only for the
murder of his wife. By that
time, press reports of his confessions cited "dozens" of
victims, one article claiming "up to forty," but Fischer had
changed his tune for the moment, denying Claudine's murder when he took
the witness stand on April 11. jurors dismissed his testimony as a
self-serving lie, convicting him of second-degree murder on April 23.
Three weeks later, on May 16, Fischer received a prison sentence
of 25 years to life.
remained outstanding in Connecticut and Oklahoma, but neither
jurisdiction was disposed to extradite Fischer for trial.
Confined at Sing Sing he soon reverted to his early boastful
mode, granting interviews to such tabloid TV programs as Geraldo
and A Current Affair in
1989, claiming a body count of "over 100" victims.
By February 1991, when Fischer was profiled on America's Most Wanted, the number had jumped to llabout 150,"
including allegations of a private graveyard undiscovered by police,
with 16 corpses buried in one place, but no one had the interest or the
energy to check his stories out.
the time he died in prison seven months later, at age 68,
was largely forgotten, his passing barely noted in the hometown
newspaper. Officially, he was responsable for two homicides, suspected
of at least three more. His
true body count-like that of
DONALD GASKINS, HENRY LUCAS, and
other boastful killers-will probably never be known.
Michael Newton - An Encyclopedia
of Modern Serial Killers - Hunting Humans