When Death Is By A Stranger's Hand

Posted: October 20, 1988

A father-in-law goes to work early one morning to clean up a bar. An hour later, he is found beaten unconscious. He dies about four hours later.

A woman goes to the grocery store in the afternoon. She walks in on a robbery and is killed by a stray bullet.

An elderly couple headed home after a night out are mugged. The wife is shot to death.

A young girl disappears from her front yard and is found dead hours later, stuffed in a cardboard box.

A man comes to the defense of his neighbor, whose dog has bitten a woman. A friend of the woman's leaves to get a gun, returns and shoots the man.


Their names and the circumstances of their deaths fill box after box in the city archives. Their deaths are among the 47 unsolved murders that have been linked to the Northeast over the last 50 years.

In most of these cases, police believe that the victims did not know their attackers, making the cases difficult to solve. According to police, murders that occur during the commission of other crimes, such as robberies, are less likely to be solved.

The most easily solved are those committed during quarrels that get out of hand between family members, said Capt. Robert Grasso, head of the homicide division of the Philadelphia Police Department.

On average, he said, 99 percent of such cases are resolved.

Murders that occur during arguments between friends or acquaintances also are high on the list.

"The motivation of the crime is an indication of the likelihood of solution," Grasso said.

On the whole, more murders are solved by police than remain unsolved, largely with the help of the public and the funding priority given to the homicide division, said Grasso.

In the Northeast from 1956 - the earliest year statistics were available - through 1987, 302 homicides were committed, and 260, or 86.1 percent, were solved. Citywide, 8,951 homicides were committed during the same period, and 7,577, or 84.6 percent, were solved.

Following is a decade-by-decade list of the remaining unsolved murders linked to the Northeast.

The slayings of six other people - Isaac Grossman, whose murder in 1943 was the earliest researched by The Inquirer; Richie Blaney; Dolores DellaPenna; Walter Maciejewicz; Frederick K. Jones, and Lisa Lynn Fobare - were detailed in Sunday's Neighbors.

One of the most famous of the cases, that of the so-called "Boy in the Box," will be detailed in this Sunday's Neighbors.

The list of unsolved murders was compiled from a search of police homicide records and does not represent official statistics from the Philadelphia Police Department.


JAN. 28, 1956. Fred Kmieck, 68, had gone to clean up a taproom in the 8200 block of Bustleton Avenue in Rhawnhurst about 5:30 a.m. An hour later, Adolph Slaveski, his son-in-law, who owned the tavern, found him beaten unconscious and lying across a table in the kitchen area.

Kmieck died at 10:17 a.m. at Nazareth Hospital without regaining consciousness.

Police theorized that Kmieck walked in on a burglary.


MAY 6, 1962. A neighbor of Molly Decker's heard her cries for help about 2:15 a.m. and went to her second-floor apartment in the 4200 block of Salem Street to investigate. He found Decker, 60, lying across a bed, stabbed in the chest.

Decker's black plastic handbag and green leather wallet were found a short time later in an alley behind her apartment building in Frankford. About $16 was missing from the wallet.

APRIL 13, 1968. Candice "Candy" Clothier, 16, told her father, Elmer, a city firefighter, that she was going to visit a friend for the evening on March 9.

She planned to take a trackless trolley near her home in the 9200 block of Leon Street in Torresdale.

The body of the Lincoln High School student was discovered in a sack on a small island in Neshaminy Creek in Northampton Township, Bucks County. Investigators said the gray sack, resembling a mail bag, was tightly tied around the victim's neck, leaving her head exposed.

She was clad only in underwear.

An examination of her decomposed body failed to yield a cause, but officials determined that the girl was dead when she was placed in the sack.

The body may have been in the water for four to five weeks.

OCT. 1, 1969. Leo Driscoll, 71, of the 6200 block of Charles Street, was attacked by three men as he walked his dog across a parking lot at Frankford Avenue and Gilham Street in Mayfair. He began arguing about the dog with the men.

Driscoll was knocked to the ground and kicked repeatedly.

He was taken to Nazareth Hospital, where he died two weeks later, on Oct. 13, of complications from leg injuries.


SEPT. 10, 1974. Grace Woodruff, 71, and her husband, Robert, were returning

from a social engagement about 11:20 p.m. when they were attacked from behind by two men in the 300 block of East Cheltenham Avenue in Crescentville.

They had just gotten off a bus when one of the men grabbed $9 from Robert Woodruff's pants pocket and warned him not to turn around. During the robbery, Woodruff heard a shot and saw his wife fall to the ground.

She was taken to John F. Kennedy Memorial Hospital, where she died at 11:43 p.m. of a gunshot wound to the head. Robert Woodruff was not injured.

DEC. 26, 1974. Mary Dawson, 55, was entering a food market in the 500 block of Magee Avenue in Lawndale as the store was being robbed about 3:40 p.m.

The robber had taken $100 from the store's cash register and was being chased by the store owner with a meat cleaver. The robber turned and fired several shots, striking the owner twice in the stomach. A stray bullet struck Dawson in the back as she entered the store.

The robber jumped into a waiting automobile and fled. The vehicle, which had been reported stolen, was found at Oxford and Unruh Avenues.

Dawson was pronounced dead at the scene, and the store owner was hospitalized.

JUNE 7, 1975. Betty Sullivan, 19, of Richmond, was found floating in Pennypack Creek at the foot of Ditman Street in Holmesburg. She had been beaten and strangled. She was alive when she was thrown into the creek.

She was found at 2 p.m. by an 11-year-old girl who was taking her dog for a walk. Sullivan's shoes and pantyhose were found on a nearby stone wall.

JAN. 25, 1976. Louis and Yetta Gruby were found shot in the head, execution-style, in their Rhawnhurst home.

Their son, Michael, found Louis Gruby, 67, a retired Army intelligence officer, and his wife, 63, about 4:30 p.m. in their home in the 2100 block of Faunce Street.

Louis Gruby had appeared as a key witness against two men convicted in a 1971 murder-arson at the former Dubrow Furniture Store on South Street. On Jan. 4, 1971, he was an employee of the store when eight men came in, terrorized 24 customers and employees, and shot one man to death. The men also tried to set the store on fire.

It was largely on Gruby's testimony that two of the men were convicted. One was appealing his conviction at the time the Grubys were killed.

OCT. 10, 1978. When John Dugan, 48, failed to show up for a family gathering, his sister filed a missing-person report on Sept. 12. In investigating the report, police found his Frankford apartment covered with blood and the walls of his bedroom and bathroom riddled with bullets.

Dugan was found shot to death and his body dumped in a shallow grave near Fisher's Pond Road (now Fisher's Lane) and Wyoming Avenue in Crescentville. Dugan, who was studying to become a practical nurse, had been shot twice.

JAN. 9, 1979. Albert Birnbaum, 67, and his wife, Pauline, 65, were found beaten to death at 7:41 p.m. in a rear room of their small jewelry and antiques shop in the 4700 block of Griscom Street in Frankford.

Police discovered the bodies after a son, Lee Siskind, 40, asked them to check on his parents. When police arrived, they found Albert Birnbaum lying on a cot in a rear storage area. His wife was lying on the floor of a small bathroom adjacent to the storage area.

Both had suffered head injuries and were pronounced dead at the scene. There were no signs of forced entry, and it was not known if anything was taken.

FEB. 27, 1979. Zaruhi Ajdaharian, 95, and her daughter, Sapega Kerbeck, 73, died in a fire that was deliberately set in the two-story apartment where they lived in the 5900 block of Torresdale Avenue in Wissinoming.

Their bodies were found by firefighters on the living-room floor on the second floor of their apartment. Both had died of smoke inhalation and burns.

The Fire Marshal's Office ruled the fire arson and said that it was started near the door on the first floor of the apartment, which was at the rear of the storefront building.

APRIL 28, 1979. The body of an unidentified black man between 18 and 22 years old was found floating in Frankford Creek near Richmond Street in Bridesburg. The victim, clad only in white briefs, had been stabbed 30 to 40 times, and a set of barbells had been chained to his legs.

His body, which was partially decomposed, had been thrown into 3 feet of water from a nearby bridge.

Three youths playing on the bridge discovered the body.

MAY 17, 1979. Victor Ebert, 38, of Croydon, was found stabbed to death in his 1967 Ford Econoline van parked on Burling Avenue in Benjamin Rush Park in the Far Northeast.

His body was found in the front seat at 5:45 p.m. by a 23-year-old bicyclist who had gone to the van after noticing a broken side window.

Ebert, who was pronounced dead at the scene, suffered multiple stab wounds to the back, neck, left chest and right side of the head.

JULY 8, 1979. Harold Brooks, also known as Howard Turner, 33, of the 4700 block of Darrah Street, was shot and killed by a man after an altercation with several people in the 4700 block of Tackawanna Street in Wissinoming.

A woman and her daughter were walking along Tackawanna when a neighbor's dog bit the woman. There was shouting, and Brooks came over to defend the dog's owner. A male friend of the woman left and returned with a gun. He fired several shots at Brooks, fatally wounding him.

Although police have the name of a suspect, he has never been found.

SEPT. 9, 1979. Clarence Thompson, 27, of the 1800 block of Fillmore Street, was inside Ye Olde Ale House, at Red Lion Road and Roosevelt Boulevard, with three companions about 8 p.m. when they noticed a man staring at Thompson.

The four left the tavern, the man followed them outside, and a fight ensued in the parking lot. The man left, but returned 10 minutes later and fired five shots at Thompson and his companions. He then fled.

Thompson was struck once in the stomach. He was taken to Frankford Hospital, Torresdale Division, where he died at 10:30 p.m.


FEB. 24, 1980. Robert McArthur, 70, died in a fire that was deliberately set in the apartment building where he lived in the 4700 block of Griscom Street in Frankford. The three-alarm fire started at 2:55 a.m. in a basement storage area and quickly spread throughout the building.

McArthur and seven other tenants were taken to Frankford Hospital, where he died at 7:05 a.m. from smoke inhalation.

Fire investigators ruled the blaze arson.

MARCH 30, 1980. Frank Papa, 62, a self-employed jeweler, was known to carry large sums of cash - as much as $2,500 - bound by a rubber band.

When his body was found beaten and strangled in the garage of his home on Dora Drive in Millbrook, he had no money on him, but a rubber band was found on his wrist, indicating that he had been robbed. His wife, Rose, found his body about 11 a.m.

The garage door was unlocked, and Papa's 1973 Cadillac was parked in the driveway. Other valuables such as gold, silver and jewelry that were kept in the house were untouched.

FEB. 3, 1982. Jay Finkler, 28, was found handcuffed inside a bedroom closet in his first-floor apartment in the 100 block of Nandina Street. His mouth was taped, and he had been stabbed in the back. A blood-stained knife used in the slaying was found on the floor nearby.

Two friends discovered Finkler's body at 8:57 p.m. He had been known to associate with the Breed and Pagans motorcycle clubs.

OCT. 12, 1982. Evelyn Cherkis' 8-year-old son returned home from school at 3 p.m. and found the door locked at their home in the 4200 block of Frankford Avenue in Frankford. Neighbors helped him get inside, where the boy found his nude mother lying in bed with her hands behind her.

Cherkis, 35, had been stabbed to death.

She had last been seen alive at 10:30 a.m. There was no indication of robbery.

JAN. 19, 1983. Jerry Lee Kittrell, 27, of the 4800 block of Mulberry Street, was found shot inside the grocery store where he worked in the 1800 block of Harrison Street in Frankford.

Kittrell, a clerk, had been shot four times - once in the head, twice in the chest and once in the right arm. He died two weeks later at Frankford Hospital, Frankford Division.

Police ruled out robbery as a motive because the cash register in the store was untouched.

SEPT. 26, 1983. Bertram Schlein, 64, of Melrose Park, was found shot to death in his car shortly before 10 p.m. at Lister Street and Winchester Avenue in the Pennypack section. His body was slumped over the wheel, and he had been shot twice in the right side of the head.

The engine was running, the headlights were on, and the car's doors were

closed and locked. A resident reported that the car had been parked at the

intersection since 6 that evening.

FEB. 24, 1984. Relatives of Pearl Rubinson were having trouble getting in touch with her because her line was repeatedly busy. About 7 p.m., Rubinson's son-in-law went to her home in the 600 block of Alburger Avenue in Bustleton to investigate.

He found the front door ajar and Rubinson, 83, lying face down on the kitchen floor, strangled.

A china cabinet and a bedroom were ransacked, but police never determined if anything was taken.

JULY 12, 1984. James Holt, 36, of Folcroft, was found shot to death in the driveway of Metropolitan Hospital, Parkview Division, in Crescentville. He had been shot several times in the back and neck.

A switchboard operator at the hospital reported receiving a call at 4:22 a.m. from a man who stated, "There's a body in the driveway outside the emergency ward."

SEPT. 20, 1984. Rosemary VanBrunt, 32, of the 10900 block of Kipling Lane, was found stabbed to death at 7:30 a.m. inside her Modena Park home by her 11- year-old daughter. Two other daughters were still asleep in another bedroom.

VanBrunt had been stabbed more than 20 times in the back, face and thigh. She was dressed in bed clothes, and was lying face down across her bed on the second floor and covered with a white blanket.

There were no signs of forced entry to the home, but the electricity had been shut off at the fuse box. Because all the electric clocks were digital, police were unable to determine the time that the power was shut off.

Nothing else in the house appeared to have been touched. At the time she was murdered, VanBrunt had been separated from her husband, a Philadelphia police officer, for about six weeks.

JAN. 10, 1985. Louella B. Bowman, 30, of the 2600 block of Welsh Road, was found stabbed to death inside her third-floor apartment in the Pennypack section. Her body was found at 9:45 a.m. by an employee of the complex who had entered her unlocked apartment after detecting a strong odor. Bowman, clad only in a slip and stockings, was found lying on a sofa and covered with a comforter. She had been stabbed in the neck and chest.

AUG. 24, 1985. Daniel Dougherty Jr., 4, and his brother, John, 3, died in a fire that investigators said was deliberately set in their home in the 900 block of Carver Street in Summerdale. After the 3:50 a.m. fire was brought under control, the children were found in a second-floor bedroom. They died of carbon monoxide poisoning. The boys' father, Daniel Dougherty Sr., was the only person at home when the fire started. He ran from the house to get a garden hose, but could not get back inside.

Fire investigators determined the blaze to be the work of an arsonist

because it had been set in three places in the house.

AUG. 26, 1985. Helen Patent, 52, of Middletown Township, Bucks County, was found stabbed to death at 8:15 a.m. in the Bridge Street maintenance and storage yard of SEPTA's Market-Frankford El in Frankford.

Her body was found lying between two piles of lumber used as railroad ties. An autopsy showed that she had been sexually assaulted and had died of multiple stab wounds to the head, torso and right arm.

She had been seen alive last by her former husband on Aug. 19.

SEPT. 8, 1985. Arbutus Price, 46, was found stabbed in a bedroom of his apartment in the 3900 block of Roosevelt Boulevard. His nude body was discovered at 6:30 p.m. by his 14-year-old daughter. He was gagged and lying across the bed bound hand-and-foot with electrical cord. He had been stabbed repeatedly in the abdomen.

His apartment was ransacked.

JAN. 1, 1986. Rick Johnson, 20, of the 4700 block of Tackawanna Place, was found stabbed at 4:45 p.m. on the first-floor landing of the Frankford apartment he shared with his brother David, 23. David Johnson found the body when he returned from work. His brother had been stabbed several times in the chest.

DEC. 25, 1986. Susan Olszef, 64, was found with multiple stab wounds in the back inside her home in the 4700 block of Richmond Street.

A nephew, John Wojciech, 35, of Vienna, Va., and his wife had gone to visit Olszef. When they arrived at 8:30 p.m., they found the front door ajar and Olszef's nude body lying on the living room floor.

JAN. 8, 1987. The partially clad body of Jeanne Durkin, 28, a Frankford woman who lived on the streets, was discovered at 7:30 a.m. under a storage truck behind a fruit and vegetable stand in the 5100 block of Frankford Avenue in Frankford. Durkin was lying face down and had been stabbed in the head, chest and back about 75 times. She had been sexually assaulted and severely beaten on the face.

Investigators theorized that Durkin's death may have been linked to those of Olszef and Patent. The three had one thing in common: They were patrons of the Golden Bar, popularly known as Goldie's, in Frankford.

FEB. 16, 1987. Heather Coffin, 10, was found strangled and raped in her second-floor bedroom in the 5300 block of Horrocks Street in the Northwood area of Frankford.

Her father, Randall, discovered her body about 6:30 a.m. after waking to find the front and basement doors open, despite having locked them the night before. Heather's body was found in bed. She was dressed in a nightgown, which was pushed up around her shoulders. Marks on her neck indicated that she had been strangled with a cord or thin belt.

Heather's mother, Brenda, said she had looked into her daughter's bedroom around midnight before retiring.

Heather's bedroom was down the hall from those of her parents and two younger sisters and her brother. None of the family members reported hearing anything unusual during the night.

FEB. 18, 1987. Raymond Dougherty, 44, of the 1800 block of Rhawn Street in Rhawnhurst, was found strangled to death on the living room floor of his home.

Dougherty, who lived alone, was known to have what police described as ''many transient friends" visiting him from time to time. His body was discovered at 3 p.m. by a neighbor who became concerned after not seeing him for several days.

There was no sign of forced entry, leading police to believe that Dougherty knew the person or persons who killed him.

JAN. 27, 1988. James McDonnell, 29, of the 2800 block of Gaul Street, was found shot to death at 11:09 p.m. on the sidewalk at Foulkrod and Tackawanna Streets in East Frankford. He had been shot several times in the head and chest.

Police theorize that McDonnell's death may have been the result of a drug deal gone sour.

FEB. 26, 1988. Construction workers installing a fence along the railroad tracks near the 500 block of Bingham Street in Bustleton unearthed the skeletal remains of Raymond Croce, 20, of the 5900 block of Reach Street.

The skeleton was clothed in two brown sweaters, a Detroit Lions football jersey and a green-hooded cloth jacket. The remains also were clothed in long underwear but no trousers.

Croce, who was identified from dental records, had been shot twice in the head.

He had been seen alive last on Jan. 18, 1984, quarreling with an unidentified man outside Mrs. Paul's Kitchens, 5501 Tabor Rd., where he worked.

JULY 12, 1988. The battered and nude body of Barbara Jean Horn, 4, of the 7200 block of Rutland Street, was found shortly after 5:30 p.m. in a blood- soaked cardboard box on a sidewalk in the 1400 block of St. Vincent Street in Castor Gardens.

She had been reported missing by her stepfather, John Fahay, 26, about three hours earlier. She was last seen playing in front of her house.

A resident of St. Vincent Street found her in the box. Other residents of that block said a man in a black van had pulled up to Kutner Buick on Castor Avenue, a short distance from where the carton was found, and asked an employee whether a box could be dumped there.

Other neighbors said they saw a man drag the box from a van on St. Vincent Street before driving off.

A composite of a suspect was drawn by police and distributed along with an announcement of a $10,000 reward for information.

On Sunday, the personal mission of Remington Bristow, a former investigator in the Medical Examiner's Office who has spent the last 31 years trying to identify the "Boy in the Box."

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