Ira Einhorn is seen at an Earth Day rally in Center City in 1970. He was one of the founders of Earth Day and was an influential political and environmental figure until his arrest for murder in 1979. (Photo from the Temple University Special Collections Research Center)

by Len Lear

Many, many years ago I was on the junior varsity football team at Central High School. I only weighed 150 pounds (the same as today) and HATED to block people bigger than myself (in other words, every other player), but I did have very good hands and was what today would be called a “slot receiver.” Then it was just an “end.”

I did have a slight advantage in that the quarterback, Richie Reisman, and I lived just one block from each other, so on weekends we would practice in the Pennell Elementary School playground at Ogontz and Nedro in West Oak Lane for hours. I would run routes, and he would throw long, short and medium-distance passes to me, so we did develop a really good chemistry. And he was a terrific guy, so we had a lot of fun together.

After practice, team members would usually sit around and talk about football on a practice field near the school and Ogontz and Olney Avenues. One day we were doing just that, and I made some kind of a teenage wiseguy comment about how a particular lineman had missed a key block in the previous week’s game. That lineman proceeded to call me a four-letter word, jump on me and punch me in the face a few times.

After other guys pulled him off me, I said, “Who the hell is that nut?” (I had a few bruises as a result of the blows, but no lasting damage.) One of the other guys said, “That’s Ira Einhorn. I would not mess with him. Usually he is a decent guy, but he has a really bad temper.”

I made sure to stay out of Ira’s way after that and never said another word to him until the following summer when we wound up on the same pick-up basketball team at Upsal Playground, Upsal and Mansfield Streets in East Mt. Airy, close to Ira’s home. Ira, who was a pretty decent football player, where his aggression served him well, was a terrible basketball player.

On defense he fouled a lot, and when he had the ball on offense, he usually just drove towards the basket and tried to knock down anyone who stood in the way, like a bowling ball knocking down the 10 pins. Again, when I was chatting with another guy after the game, I said, “What is it with that Einhorn guy? He is like a bull in a china shop.” The reply was: “He is OK as long as you are not in a competitive situation with him. He’s actually a very smart guy, but he just has to have things his own way.”

Einhorn later went to the University of Pennsylvania and lived in Powelton Village, near the Drexel University campus. In the 1970s he became something of an icon in the local environmental movement, often being asked to speak at public demonstrations but also at academic conferences, workshops and other gatherings of intellectuals and activists. His name and photo would appear on a regular basis in the local media. He was a co-founder and speaker at the first Earth Day event in Philadelphia in 1970 and became a teaching fellow at the Harvard University Institute of Politics. He had many boldface admirers.

Therefore, it was a seismic shock in the Philadelphia area when Einhorn was arrested on March 28, 1979, for the murder of his former girlfriend, Holly Maddux, who had gone missing in September of 1977. Acting on a tip from a neighbor because of a horrific smell, police found a trunk in a closet of Einhorn’s apartment, where Maddux’s partially mummified body was found. It had apparently been in the trunk for 18 months.

Einhorn told the media that Maddux had been killed by CIA agents, who had framed him for the murder because he knew too much about the agency’s secret paranormal research. His lawyer, Arlen Specter (later to become a U.S. Senator) was able to get Einhorn released on bail of $40,000, insisting that Einhorn was not a flight risk. A Montreal socialite, Barbara Bronfman, who believed in his innocence, put up the 10 percent ($4,000) needed to secure Einhorn’s release on bail.

A few days before Einhorn’s murder trial was set to begin in 1981, Einhorn skipped bail and fled to Europe, where he married a Swedish woman, Annika Flodin, and lived with her for the next 17 years. In Philadelphia, meanwhile, the state convicted Einhorn in absentia in 1996, and he was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. The media called him “The Unicorn Killer” because the name Einhorn in German means “one horn.”

It took many years to track him down because Ira and Annika moved several times to different countries, but Einhorn was eventually found in the city of Champagne-Mouton, France, in 1997, where he was living under the name Eugene Mallon. It took a long time, but Philadelphia prosecutors finally persuaded French authorities to extradite Einhorn to the U.S, on July 29, 2001. A Philadelphia’s jury convicted Einhorn on Oct. 17, 2002, of first-degree murder, and he was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.

On April 3 of this year, Einhorn died at age 79 in the PA State Correctional Institutions Laurel Highlands. A prison spokesman said the death was from natural causes, not coronavirus.

I do not think many tears were shed for the “really smart guy” responsible for one of the most notorious murder cases in Philadelphia history.

Len Lear can be reached at lenlear@chestnuthilllocal.com

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