The Chilling Mystery of the Alphabet Murders

Washoe County Sheriff via AP

The Alphabet Murders remain one of the most chilling unsolved mysteries to this day. Three girls, all aged 10 or 11, whose first and last names began with the same letter, were raped, strangled, and thrown from a car near Rochester, New York. All three bodies were tossed near to a town that began with the same letter as their names. While there have been several suspects, the perpetrator has never been apprehended.

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The Alphabet Murders Occurred Between November 1971 and November 1973

The Alphabet Murders, also called the Double Initial Murders, occurred between November 1971 and November 1973. Notably, all three girls came from low-income and Catholic families. They also disappeared on days when it was raining.

Some believe that the first victim, Carmen Colón, was killed by a different person than the other two girls. It’s all speculation at this point and as the years go by, it seems less and less likely that the murderer will be brought to justice. Like the Des Moines, Iowa paperboys, there are too many similarities to dismiss it all as coincidence.

1st Alphabet Murder Victim: 10-Year-Old Carmen Colón

Carmen Colón was a 10-year-old Puerto Rican girl living in Rochester, New York. Her mother had sent her to the Jax Pharmacy on West Main Street on November 16, 1971, to fill a prescription. According to eyewitnesses, Carmen dropped off the prescription and her mother’s Medicaid card and never returned. She was last seen in the store, located less than two blocks from her house, around 4:30 pm. By 7:50 pm, her family reported her missing to the Rochester Police Department.

Less than an hour after Carmen Colón left the pharmacy, a girl who was naked from the waist down was spotted along the side of Interstate 490. About 100 motorists allegedly saw the girl frantically waving her arms for help. A brown Ford Pinto was reversing towards her on the shoulder of the highway, and she got back in. Long before the days of cell phones, no one stopped to help the girl.

Carmen Was Found Near Chili, New York

Despite extensive searches, it took two days before Carmen was found. Her body had been thrown into a gully about 12 miles from Rochester, close to the border of the towns of Chili and Riga. Two teenage boys on bicycles found her. She had been raped, scratched with fingernails, and her skull and spine were fractured before she was manually strangled from the front, and dumped. Her coat was found in a culvert about 300 feet from her body; her pants were discovered later along a service road.

After Carmen Colón’s disappearance, New York residents were collectively outraged. The fact that so many people had spotted a half-naked girl in distress on the highway, but none had stopped to help was disturbing. Billboards were erected for a month offering a $6,000 award for information leading to the arrest of the perpetrator. But despite many leads, they were never found.

2nd Victim: 11-Year-Old Wanda Walkowicz

Next was Wanda Walkowicz. Wanda was only 11 years old when she was last seen on April 2, 1973. Like Carmen, Wanda disappeared within blocks of her home. She, too, had been sent on an errand. She was last seen at the Hillside Delicatessen, where a clerk recalled that she’d bought milk, bread, cigarettes, and diapers. The Democrat & Chronicle added to the list of groceries: tuna fish, cat food, and cupcakes. She’d spent $8.52 on the purchase, which would be almost $60 today (of course, today we also have exorbitant relative costs of food compared to the 70s).

According to witnesses, a redheaded girl matching Wanda’s description was seen walking down Conkey Avenue and struggling with her grocery bags. Then a brown car pulled up beside her and drove off. Wanda was gone. It was presumed that the driver offered to assist Wanda with her heavy load. By 8 pm, Wanda was reported missing by her mother.

Wanda Was Found in Webster, New York

A police officer discovered Wanda Walkowicz’s body the following day. She appeared to have been tossed out of a moving vehicle along Route 104 in Webster, New York. Her body had rolled down a hill and stopped in an embankment. She had been raped, strangled with something that may have been a belt, and tossed. On her body was semen, pubic hair, and white cat fur. Her family did not own a white pet. Unlike Carmen, Wanda had been redressed after she was raped. While some have pointed to this, and the fact that she was strangled from behind, as a reason for her killer being separate from Carmen’s, it’s also possible that the killer changed his modus operandi after Carmen’s investigation.

Billboards went back up, this time offering $10,000 for leads to an arrest for Wanda Walkowicz’s murder. But despite hundreds of calls, no one was ever confirmed to be the perpetrator.

3rd Victim: 11-Year-Old Michelle Maenza

11-year-old Michelle Maenza was last seen on November 26, 1973. After failing to return home after school, her mom reported her missing. Her classmates recalled seeing Michelle walk home by herself — the first time she’d ever been allowed to do so. She reportedly intended on stopping by a nearby shopping plaza on North Goodman Street to retrieve her mother’s purse, which had been left by accident earlier that day. Another witness claimed to see her in a car with a man around 3:30 pm. They described the car as tan or beige and recalled seeing a girl weeping in the front seat as it drove off at a high speed.

At 4:30 pm, a witness reported seeing a similar car at a burger restaurant called Carroll’s in Penfield’s Panorama Plaza. A girl who fit Michelle’s description was sitting in the car and a man with “dirty hands” was seen getting in the car, carrying a bag of food. Michelle’s autopsy would later reveal traces of burger meat and onion in her stomach — two foods that she didn’t normally eat.

Michelle Was Found in Macedon, New York

Another sighting occurred around 5:30 pm. A witness stopped by a large beige or tan vehicle with an open trunk that had been parked on the side of Route 350 in Walworth. The witness’s description of the car and the man matched other witnesses’ descriptions.: a 6-foot-tall white man who weighed about 165 pounds with brown hair who drove a tan or beige car. The man was reportedly holding a girl by the wrist and pushed her behind him when the witness approached him. He also managed to cover his license plate.

“He rolled down his window to see if the guy needed any help and basically was glared at by the individual,” said Rochester Police Department Sgt. Kuntz. The witness drove off.

Two days after her disappearance, the Walworth Volunteer Fire Chief discovered Michelle Maenza’s body. She was less than a mile from the last sighting when the witness had rolled down his window. Michelle had been raped and strangled from behind with what may have been a rope and tossed into a ditch off of Eddy Road in Macedon. Semen was found on her body and underwear, but investigators said it wasn’t enough to create a DNA profile. White cat fur was also found on her clothes.

Despite Many Potential Alphabet Murder Suspects, None Were Proven Guilty

Suspects for the girls have included: Carmen Colón’s uncle, Miguel Colón; a Rochester firefighter and serial rapist named Dennis Termini; a Rochester ice cream vendor and serial killer Kenneth Bianchi; and California Alphabet Murderer Joseph Naso.

Colón seemed like a very probable suspect at least regarding Carmen, but there wasn’t enough evidence to convict him. He later committed suicide in 1991.

Termini had been dubbed the “Garage Rapist” after raping at least 14 girls and young women between 1971 and 1973 — and white cat fur was found in his car. However, his DNA didn’t match the semen found on Wanda Walkowicz. He later committed suicide.

Kenneth Bianchi reportedly lived and worked in Rochester during the Alphabet Murders. He relocated to Los Angeles. Bianchi later committed a string of horrifying rapes and murders in LA and Washington, along with his accomplice, Angelo Buono. Both were caught and convicted as the Hillside Stranglers and sentenced to life in prison. Buono died in prison and Bianchi remains at the Washington State Penitentiary. But he has repeatedly denied any part in the Alphabet Murders.

Joseph Naso was arrested in 2011 when he was living in Reno, Nevada. The then-77-year-old man was brought to trial for several murders which had occurred between 1977 and 1994. Four of his victims were believed to be prostitutes and their names were alliterative, like the young girls from Rochester: Roxene Roggasch, Carmen Colon, Pamela Parsons, and Tracy Tafoya. What’s more, Naso was known to live between California and New York. He was sentenced to death in 2013 in California and has remained on Death Row. His DNA also failed to match that found on Wanda Walkowicz’s body.

Read More: True-Crime Docuseries ‘Blood & Money’ Explores Murder of Mom of Quadruplets, Wife of Millionaire

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