The Bizarre New York Alphabet Murders
The Alphabet Murders, also known as the Double Initial Murders, are a series of unsolved child murders that occurred between 1971 and 1973 in Rochester, New York.
One by one, little girls trusted the wrong person and their lifeless bodies were found discarded alongside rural country roads just outside of Rochester. In total, three young girls were raped and brutally murdered, and the killer has never been caught.
According to the detectives, the victims of the Alphabet Killer shared similar traits.
- All three girl’s first names and surnames started with the same letters.
- All were of a similar age.
- All were from poor neighborhoods.
- All three were from Catholic families.
- All three struggled in school.
- All three lacked friends.
- All were found in a town that matched the first letter of their first and last names.
- All three were found in rural areas.
Carmen Colon Found in Churchville
On a cold mid-November day in 1971, a young girl, naked from the waist down was seen running in the breakdown lane of the I-490 W, near the Chili-Riga exit. She was frantically flailing her arms and seemingly begging for help from those who drove by. A car slowly backed up against the traffic, a man got out and grabbed her by the arm, taking her back to his car.
Astonishingly, several people witnessed this horrific incident. However, the first report was not made until three days later. Sadly, it would be too late for Carmen Colon, 10, whose body was discovered two days later, near the village of Churchville. Her body found discarded alongside an infrequently traveled road, approximately 20 minutes southwest of Rochester.
On November 18, 1971, two young boys made the grisly discovery in a gully alongside I-490. They were riding their bikes, and at first, mistook Carmen’s naked body for a mannequin.
Carmen had been raped and strangled; her body covered with scratches. Carmen’s jacket was found in a culvert approximately 300 yards from her body and on November 30, her pants were found near the exit on I-490, close to where witnesses saw her running.
The autopsy revealed that in addition to being raped, Carmen had suffered a fracture to her skull and one of her vertebrae before she had been manually strangled.
Carmen was originally from Puerto Rico before moving to the poor Bulls Head neighborhood of Rochester. She had a lively smile and described as a good child who lived with her grandparents, but she was bullied in school and known as a scrapper who would also defend herself.
On November 16, 1971, Carmen had run an errand for her grandmother to go pick up a prescription from the drugstore on West Main Street. After interviewing staff at the pharmacy, police said they found it strange that she seemed to be in a rush that afternoon. When she was told the prescription was not yet ready, she told the store owner, Jack Corbin, “I got to go. I got to go.”
An eyewitness later reported they saw Carmen getting into a car that appeared to be waiting for her as she left. Carmen was reported missing to the Rochester Police Department at 7:50 p.m. that evening.
The fact that no one stopped to help the child when she was running down the freeway outraged the public. Two newspapers, the Times Union and the Democrat Chronicle, initially offered a combined $2,500 reward that was quickly added to by the public and exceeded $6,000.
Despite the reward, and the police interviewing several suspects, there were no arrests. However, Carmen’s uncle, Miguel Colon, was among the first suspects interviewed. Miguel quickly fled to his native Puerto Rico where he would later commit suicide. During the incident, he shot both his wife and brother-in-law, who both survived, before fatally shooting himself. Even though fleeing made Miguel look guilty, the killer would strike again.
Wanda Walkowicz Found in Webster
Little redheaded Wanda Walkowicz, 11, was described as a “tomboy” and a ball of frenetic energy. Her younger sister, Rita DeCann, recalls she was more into scuffling with the neighborhood boys than playing with dolls.
They lived with their infant sister Michelle, and their mother Joyce Walkowicz, in an upper apartment of a home on Avenue D in Rochester. Their father had died earlier from a heart attack.
On a drizzly day on April 2, 1973, at approximately 5:10 p.m., Wanda vanished from the eastside of Rochester. She had gone to the local delicatessen to get some groceries for her mother. She bought $8.52 worth of groceries to include tuna, milk, cupcakes and cat food. When she hadn’t returned by 8:00 p.m. that evening, Wanda’s mother called the police.
Police launched an immediate and intense search for Wanda, with almost 50 detectives and officers searching several square miles around her home, the deli, and areas around Genesee River where she was known to have played.
Witnesses recall seeing Wanda struggling as she carried the groceries home. Three of her classmates specifically remembered seeing Wanda brace the bag of groceries alongside a fence to get a better grip while a brown car drove up behind her.
Wanda’s body was discovered the following day by a New York state trooper while he was patrolling a rest area at Irondequoit Bay in Webster. Unlike Carmen, Wanda was found fully clothed on a hillside along Route 104, about 15 minutes northeast of Rochester. The position of her body indicated she had likely been thrown from a moving vehicle.
The autopsy revealed Wanda had been sexually assaulted and strangled from behind with a ligature. Her body had been redressed after her death, or she was permitted to redress prior to her murder. Traces of semen and pubic hair were found on her body, along with several white cat hairs. Wanda’s family did not own any pets of that color. Police began to theorize that Wanda had taken a ride with a stranger who used food and a friendly cat to make her feel comfortable.
One bizarre detail was revealed during the autopsy. Wanda had eaten custard shortly before her murder. It wasn’t an item she purchased at the store, and Wanda’s mother said it wasn’t something she ate at home or school. Police believed the killer had fed it to Wanda prior to murdering her.
A reward of $10,000 was established along with an anonymous hotline. Police also distributed fliers around the neighborhood appealing for information in the case. These efforts resulted in an eyewitness coming forward who said he had seen Wanda standing beside a large brown vehicle, talking to the driver. Another eyewitness said she had observed a man forcing a red-haired child into a car between 5:30 and 6:00 the evening of her disappearance.
Many more tips were received. Two girls came forward and told police a man had tried to entice them into a Ford LTD, or similar. Yet, another woman called and said she had seen the body being dumped. None of the leads led to an arrest.
“They took her the day before my birthday and I turned 10 when they found her,” her sister Rita said.
Michelle Maenza Found in Macedon
Michelle Maenza, 11, was a shy, stout little girl, who went missing on the evening of November 26, 1973, in Rochester. She became the third victim of the Alphabet Killer.
Michelle was reported missing after she failed to return home from school. The investigation into her disappearance would reveal Michelle was last seen by her classmates at 3:30 p.m. walking alone to a local shopping plaza close to her school. She was going there to retrieve a purse her mother Carolyn had left earlier in the day. Her uncle saw her that afternoon and offered her a ride, but she declined. A day family said would haunt him for the rest of his life.
Approximately ten minutes later, a witness saw Michelle sitting on the passenger side of a beige or tan vehicle traveling at a high rate of speed on Ackerman Street before turning onto Webster Avenue. According to the witness, the little girl was crying.
At approximately 5:30 p.m. a motorist saw a man standing by a large beige or tan vehicle with a flat tire parked alongside Route 350 in the town of Walworth, about 25 minutes east of Rochester. The man was holding the arm of a girl the witness strongly believed to be Michelle. When the motorist stopped to help, the man deliberately grabbed the girl and pushed her behind his back, also hiding his license plate. The witness said the man stared with such a menacing expression on his face, raising his fist at him, that the Good Samaritan was compelled to drive away. However, the man wrote down a partial license plate.
Michelle’s fully clothed body would be found on November 28, 1973. She was lying face down in a ditch alongside a rural road in Macedon, 15 miles from Rochester.
The autopsy revealed Michelle had been raped, strangled from behind, and had extensive blunt force trauma to her body. Like Wanda, she had been redressed. Numerous strands of white cat hair were also found on her body. Leaf samples found in Michelle's clenched hand indicated she had been murdered at, or close to, the location where her body was found. Investigators were also able to recover a partial palm print from Michelle’s neck, along with traces of semen on her body and underwear. Testing determined she was murdered by one individual who would turn out to be an elusive serial killer that would leave police baffled for years to come.
Like Wanda, Michelle had been fed before her death. An analysis of her stomach contents revealed she ate a hamburger an hour before she was murdered. This gave credibility to a witness statement that Michelle was seen with a Caucasian man with dark hair at a hamburger stand in Penfield at approximately 4:30 p.m., followed by the witness who saw the man broken down alongside Route 350 approximately an hour later.
Entering the Darkness
One man has entered the mind of the killer of the three young girls from Rochester. Robert Ressler, now deceased, was one of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s elite members of the Behavioral Studies Unit. He is credited with coining the term "serial killer" and known as one of the first serial killer profilers.
Ressler disagreed with the theory that Carmen, Wanda, and Michelle’s murders were committed by the same person.
In a Discovery Times interview, Ressler worked with other profilers to develop a behavioral profile of the killer, or killers. The experts agreed that Carmen’s killer reflected a high level of anger, and her murder was more brutal than Wanda or Michelle’s. They also believe there were several significant differences in the way Carmen was murdered in comparison.
Carmen wasn’t fed prior to her murder, and Wanda and Michelle were found clothed, whereas Carmen was found partially nude. Carmen was also manually strangled whereas, Wanda and Michelle were strangled with a ligature, most likely a belt or rope.
Ressler believed Carmen’s killer probably knew her, was probably 25-30 years old, low to average intelligence, most likely abused alcohol and had an explosive temper. On the other hand, Wanda and Michelle's killer was believed to be of average intelligence and may have been arrested before for lesser sexual offenses such as nuisance type offenses like peeping, obscene phone calls or exhibitionism.
Ressler and his team also dismissed that the killer chose his victims based upon their same initials because they believed the killer was not organized in his abductions, the murders, or in the method and location where he dumped their bodies.
The FBI profiles questioned the odds of such a “disorganized killer” selecting victims based upon their first and last names. It would have taken a very organized killer to seek out potential victims based upon their names. However, is it possible Hazelwood and his team of experts could have possibly miscalculated why Carmen’s murder was different? Could it be the killer had been angry at Carmen for her near escape, resulting in his plans going awry? Did he have to kill Carmen quickly because she fought back? We may never know.
All the girls were buried at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Rochester. When Wanda’s family went to visit her gravesite, they found someone else had been there. Someone had cleared her gravestone off, cleaned it and left flowers.
“No one in our family had left the flowers, and we checked with everyone, even our family members out of state and no one ever did that so for a long time someone was maintaining the grave,” said a relative of Wanda.
The visitations went on for about 15 years.
The murder of three little girls shattered every sense of comfort in the normally sleepy town of Rochester. At a time when parents felt safe letting their children wander their neighborhoods, that comfort was replaced by fear.
Four law enforcement agencies --- the State Police, Rochester Police Department, and the Monroe and Wayne County sheriff’s offices --- keep their files open on the abductions and murders and regularly get together to discuss new leads.
Police also maintain a database with information about the hundreds of suspects they’ve identified throughout the years.
Although the technology was not available to the original investigators, police now use genetic testing and obtain cheek swabs from suspects to determine if there is a match to the evidence they have on file, though they have refused to be specific about what that is.
For several investigators, solving the Alphabet Murders has become a mission. Those now assigned to the case meet with the original detectives to discuss suspects, leads, and theories.
Wayne County Sheriff Richard Pisciotti, now retired after 40 years with the office, was one of the original investigators assigned to Michelle’s murder. He photographed her autopsy in 1973.
“Seeing those images is like it happened yesterday,” Pisciotti said. “That’s something that will never leave me.”
One day, Pisciotti said, there will be answers.
“These kids have never really been put to rest. And until there’s a closure to this case, those kids never will be put to rest.”
Anyone with information regarding the Alphabet Murders, please call the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office at 585 753–4178.
© 2020 Kym L Pasqualini