Murderers, especially serial killers, often pick up nicknames that become more famous than their real monikers – think Son of Sam (David Berkowitz), the Unabomber (Ted Kaczynski), the Killer Clown (John Wayne Gacy), Hannibal the Cannibal (Robert Maudsley) and The Barbie & Ken Killers (Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka). This week, “The Unicorn Killer” – real name Ira Einhorn – died in prison while serving a life sentence without parole. While the murder itself was gruesome and tragic and his nickname is easily explained, it’s Eihorn’s connections to the original Earth Day and the paranormal field of psionics that make him an interesting – albeit deadly – study.
“When his girlfriend of five years, Helen "Holly" Maddux, moved to New York and broke up with him, (Ira) Einhorn threatened that he would throw her left-behind personal belongings onto the street if she didn't come back to pick them up. And so on Sept. 9, 1977, Maddux went back to the apartment that she and Einhorn had shared in Philadelphia to collect her things, and was never seen again. When Philadelphia police questioned Einhorn about her mysterious disappearance several weeks later, he claimed that she had gone out to the neighborhood co-op to buy some tofu and sprouts and never returned.”
So begins the tragic murder tale of Holly Maddux. Eighteen months later, investigators acted on a tip from the person living in the apartment below and found inside a closet Maddux's beaten and partially mummified body stuffed into a trunk packed with Styrofoam, air fresheners and newspapers. Einhorn was arrested and, because Einhorn means ‘Unicorn’ in German, became known as the Unicorn Killer. (Before you get any ideas, it was already made into a movie.) Einhorn jumped bail and evaded arrest for 23 years in Ireland, Sweden, the United Kingdom and France with aid from the wealthy Canadian Bronfman family, heirs to the Seagram whisky fortune. In 1996, Pennsylvania tried and convicted Einhorn in absentia and sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Why would the Bronfman family support the Unicorn Killer in his escape from justice? In the 1960s and 70s, Ira Einhorn was a charismatic hippie in Philadelphia and his “Unicorn” (then without the “killer”) served him well. He led anti-Vietnam War protests, but his involvement in the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970, is what most people remember – if only because he inflated it later in life, saying he was a founder when actually he was only the MC. Being the most famous hippie of Philly allowed the rich to live vicariously through him, thus Einhorn picked up many wealthy benefactors.
Those benefactors helped Einhorn escape to Europe, where he lived under an assumed name until 1997, when he was arrested in Champagne-Mouton, France. The benefactors also helped Einhorn avoid extradition until July 20, 2001. Placed on trial, now in person, for the murder of Holly Maddux, Einhorn represented himself and took on yet another persona – that of a paranormalist interested in para-psychology and psionics – applying principles of electronics to the study of psychic phenomena such as telepathy and psychokinesis. At his trial, Einhorn claimed that Maddux was actually murdered by CIA agents in order to punish him for finding out too much about the agency’s involvement with psionic military research during the Cold War. When that didn’t fly, he implicated the KGB for the same reason. Unfortunately for Einhorn, psionics is a term that originated in science fiction (as many terms do) but never quite made the jump to science or pseudoscience. The jury caught that and took only two hours to find Einhorn guilty and sentence him to life without parole. Einhorn began serving his sentence at State Correctional Institution (SCI) Houtzdale, was transferred to SCI Laurel Highlands in 2016 for health reasons and died there on April 3rd, 2020.
The Maddux family has moved on, as has Philadelphia and Earth Day, no longer remembering or caring about the final chapter in the book of the Unicorn Killer. Attorney Joel Rosen, who successfully prosecuted Einhorn at his 1993 trial in absentia and the real one in 2002, told The Philadelphia Inquirer that this was as good as an execution to Ira Einhorn.
“He had such a huge need for attention. Being unknown and not being paid attention to was almost a kind of punishment for him.”