At Last, Justice

Seated on the front row of a crowded Philadelphia courtroom last week, John Maddux, uncomfortable in the slacks and sports coat he'd been wearing for the past two weeks, finally broke into a broad smile. For the reserved man who prefers the jeans and solitude of his rural Alvarado home, it was a rare display of emotion. Beside him, his three sisters were crying, collectively signaling relief that their long and painful odyssey had finally reached an end.

Just a few feet away, 62-year-old Ira Einhorn, once the high-profile counter-culture guru of Philly's hippie generation, the man who called himself "The Unicorn" and boastfully took credit for everything from the 1970 Earth Day celebration to helping establish the Environmental Protection Agency, had been found guilty of the murder of their sister Holly and sentenced to life in prison.

Justice had taken more than two decades to arrive.

Not until hours after he had left the courthouse and was standing in front of the Hawthorn Suites, enjoying the fresh fall air, did the finality of the long-awaited verdict sink in on Maddux. A passing cab driver slowed, honked his horn and leaned from his window to wave. "We finally got the bastard," he yelled before speeding off.

"That," Maddux says, "was when it occurred to me that for 25 years I'd felt like I was lugging a huge sack of rocks around on my shoulders. And, suddenly, I realized that the feeling was gone."

Since 1977, when 30-year-old Holly Maddux, a former Tyler High cheerleader, vanished, the milestones of her family have been measured by the start-and-stop, hide-and-seek progress of the investigation of one of the most brutal and bizarre crimes in American annals. It was not until 18 months after she was last seen alive that her mummified corpse was discovered in a locked steamer trunk in a closet of ex-boyfriend Einhorn's Philadelphia apartment. Despite a rambling, nonsensical alibi that the CIA, allegedly angered that he knew of secret experiments in mind control, had planted Holly's body to frame him, Einhorn was arrested and charged with her murder ("A Killer Abroad," December 14, 2000).

Then, shortly before he was to go to trial in 1981, The Unicorn disappeared, fleeing to Europe, where for the next 16 years he would remain on the run and in hiding. In a rare judicial move, the Philadelphia court system finally decided that Einhorn would be tried in absentia in 1993. Convicted, he was sentenced to life in prison.

Meanwhile, Einhorn, using various aliases, moved from one European country to another before authorities finally located him in 1997 in the remote French village of Champagne-Mouton where he was living in a 200-year-old wine country mill house with his new and wealthy Swedish wife. For the next four years he continued to live the good life while his attorneys battled efforts to have him extradited to the United States. The French government, which doesn't recognize convictions in absentia, refused the requests. Einhorn, meanwhile, flaunted his freedom and strange lifestyle, even posing nude in his garden for an Esquire magazine photographer.

Determined to bring the celebrated case to a close, the Philadelphia district attorney's office promised that it would not seek the death penalty, which France opposes. All the while, his victim's siblings--John and sisters Elisabeth (Buffy) Hall of Mansfield, Mary Maddux of Stockbridge, Massachusetts, and Meg Wakeman of Seattle--traveled to France several times to appeal to the country's Council of State in an effort to help clear the way for extradition. Finally, in 2001, 24 years after his crime, Einhorn was returned to the United States ("Home At Last," July 26, 2001).

There was, Buffy Hall says, never much doubt that he would be found guilty. "Actually," she said shortly after returning home, "the trial was anticlimactic. We just sat there, day after day, waiting for it to be over."

Still, she and her siblings had to listen once more as forensic experts testified that Holly had died from multiple skull fractures, pieces of bone forced into her brain as she was struck as many as a half dozen times. They hid their eyes as a photo of Holly's mummified remains, weighing only 37 pounds when finally discovered, was projected onto a large screen. They listened as fellow residents of the apartment house where Einhorn and Holly lived recalled the stench that had lingered for months after her disappearance, and Einhorn's refusal to let anyone go near the locked closet where her body was hidden. And they heard a litany of angry and vengeful things Einhorn had done to other lovers who had attempted to end their relationships.

The defendant's defense, meanwhile, was really no defense at all, but more a maze-like journey into the absurd. Einhorn attorney William Cannon argued the possibility that "someone" could have wrapped Holly's corpse in a rug, used keys found in her pocket to gain entry into the apartment, placed her body in the trunk, then hid it in the closet.

Prosecutor Joel Rosen called the theory "ridiculous." "It is so laughable, so ludicrous, so outrageous, you should be offended by it," the assistant district attorney told the jury.

When a self-proclaimed psychic took the stand to suggest she had had visions of both Einhorn and Maddux being stalked by government officials intent on doing them harm at the time of Holly's disappearance, there were teeters of laughter in the courtroom.

And, finally, The Unicorn himself testified. "That," Hall says, "was worth the trip. I must admit that I felt a kind of vicious satisfaction in watching Einhorn self-destruct his own defense." A headline in the Philadelphia News shared her observations. "On the stand, Ira blathers...," it read.

Wrote columnist Theresa Conroy: "During three hours yesterday, the old hippie--wearing his best Republican tie and sweetest smile--covered topics ranging from West Philadelphia architecture to the prince of Iran. He bragged that he was 'leader of a community that didn't exist yet.' He even falsely claimed to have been on the Earth Day committee and being partially responsible for creating the Environmental Protection Agency. And, in case you were wondering, Einhorn revealed, 'I have a Virgo moon.'"

Eventually, he got around to professing his love for Holly Maddux ("I think we loved each other very much, but we had a very difficult time creating the context in which that love could flower," he testified) and telling his version of her disappearance on that September night in 1977 ("I was in the bathtub and she said, if I can remember correctly, 'I've got to go out and make a phone call'"). He had not known that her body was hidden away in his apartment.

When the prosecution began reading from diaries he'd written years ago, Einhorn erupted, arguing that Rosen was using improper inflection. "It's my journal," he said. Thus the prosecutor suggested the witness do the reading, and he did so with great flourish. At one point he read an excerpt from a passage he'd written about the vanished Holly: "An angel lingers in my mind." Then he was asked to recite an entry that read: "To kill what you love when you can't have it seems so natural..." It was, Einhorn insisted, nothing more than a "metaphorical expression."

"It was nothing but bad theater," Mary Maddux told reporters afterward.

"He looked foolish and stupid, struggling with his answers, squirming. For all the arrogance and intellect he tried to show, he simply imploded," Hall says.

It took the jury less than three hours to return with a guilty verdict. The sentence: life without parole.

Buffy Hall now looks ahead to a "normal" life. "If," she says, "I can figure out what 'normal' is. I haven't really known since I was 17 [her age when Holly was killed].

"Right now," she acknowledges, "it feels strange to know there is no more 'next step,' no more calls to Philadelphia to see if there is any news about where he is, no more trips to France to beg the authorities to send him back, no more having to look at him in a courtroom. Last week, we tied the last knot, and I finally felt free. There was relief, triumph and satisfaction.

"I know this sounds strange, but when I walked out of that courtroom I suddenly felt taller."

John Maddux says he understands. "For the first time in 25 years," he says, "I can smile and actually mean it."

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Carlton Stowers
Contact: Carlton Stowers