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The Alphabet Murders (Rochester, New York)

Alphabet Murders (aka the Double Initial Murders)

The “Alphabet murders” (also known as the “double initial murders”) took place from 1971 to 1973 in the Rochester, New York area. Three young girls were raped and strangled. The case got its name from the fact that each of the three girls’ first and last names started with the same letters and that the bodies were found in towns that started with the same letter as the girls’ names. Each of the girls was found in or near an area matching their initials: Carmen Colon near Chili, Wanda Walkowicz in Webster, and Michelle Maenza in the town of Macedon.

Carmen Colon goes missing

Carmen Colon, 11, lived with her grandparents when she disappeared November 16, 1971. She was last seen leaving a drugstore on West Main Street near her Brown Street home. She had been sent on an errand to pick up a prescription. She was found two days later 12 miles from where she was last seen by two teenage boys who were bicycling along Steams Road in Riga. Although found in a gully, lying against a rock in the town of Riga, the village of Churchville is the town’s center of population, and the town of Chili is nearby. She had been beaten, raped and strangled with fingernail marks scarring her neck and much of her body.

Even more troubling, reports came in later from drivers who said they had spotted the semi-nude girl running along Interstate 490, westbound, about a mile east of Riga. Drivers reported that they had seen Carmen running with a blue car backing up on the shoulder following her.

Wanda Walkowicz vanishes

Seventeen months later, Wanda Walkowicz, 11, disappeared April 2, 1973. A red-headed “tomboy”, she was found the next day at a rest area in Webster off State Route 104, seven miles from Rochester. Wanda has been sent to the Conkey Avenue supermarket for groceries where she purchased $8.52 worth of groceries. She left the store and vanished. Her body was found by a State Trooper. She had been raped and strangled, probably with a belt. DNA evidence was left on her body.

Witnesses claimed to have seen a red-headed girl pulled into a brown car around Conkey Avenue. The brown car did not match the description of the car that had followed Carmen on Interstate 490.

Michelle Maenza disappears

Michelle Maenza, 10, disappeared on November 26, 1973 from the streets in front of her home. She was found two days later in a rural stretch of road in Macedon, 15 miles from Rochester. She was last seen at Goodman Piaza by her uncle who had volunteered to give her a ride home. Michelle declined.

Later on the day she went missing, a woman reported seeing a young girl resembling Michelle sitting in a car at a fast food restaurant in Penfield. A man was seen walking toward the car with a bag of food from the restaurant. Michelle’s autopsy revealed she’d eaten a hamburger. Also that evening, a man stopped along Route 350 in Walworth after he saw a car stopped with an apparent flat tire. A girl resembling Michelle sat in the car. The man with the flat tire made it apparent he wanted no help.

Police also posited whether the initials of the victims carried another meaning. Putting the first initial of each girls’ name as a possible abbreviation of the killer’s words to the innocent victims – “come with me”.

Suspects abound

While hundreds of people were questioned, the killer was never caught. Dennis Termini, a local fireman considered to be a “person of interest” in the case was cleared in 2007 by DNA testing. He committed suicide months after the killings by shooting himself in the head with a pistol after police cornered him for an arrest related to the rape of a teenager. His car had matched the description of the car used in the abductions and police posited that his fireman’s suit, which he always carried with him, could have been donned in order to gain the trust of the victims.

In the case of Carmen Colon, her uncle was also considered a suspect until his suicide in 1991. Miguel Colon had left the area and travelled to Puerto Rico shortly after the murder. Police found a doll in his car and suspected that the vehicle had been wiped clean. Miguel later returned to New York and was questioned but never charged with the murder. In 1991, Miguel committee suicide inside his Radio Street home after police were called to the scene for a domestic dispute complaint. Miguel shot and wounded his wife and brother-in-law and called for police to kill him. He then shot himself.

Another suspect was Kenneth Bianchi, a Rochester native who later moved to Los Angeles, and with his cousin Angelo Buono committed the Hillside Strangler murders between 1977 and 1978. Bianchi was never charged with the Alphabet murders, and he has repeatedly tried to have investigators officially clear him from suspicion.

Police note that all three girls were from poor catholic families and each did poorly in school (hence the proposal from the move The Alphabet Killers, that the killer was a local math tutor). Police also found white cat hair on all three bodies. They also note that the letters “C”, “M”, and “W” are the 3rd, 13th, and 23rd letters of the alphabet.

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