The Killer with Two Names: Joseph Christopher

September 22, 1980. Buffalo, New York. 14-year-old Glenn Dunn had been sitting in a vehicle outside of the local Genesee Street Market when gunfire rang out. Dunn would be declared dead at the scene. The next day, on the 23rd, 32-year-old Harold Green was shot twice while eating in a Cheektowaga Burger King parking lot. Later in the evening, 30-year-old Emmanuel Thomas was struck down from gunfire while crossing a street. The following night in Niagara Falls, a fourth victim, 43-year-old Joseph McCoy was shot down again after two shots had rang out. Four murders had taken place over the course of 36 hours. Witnesses would describe the shooter as a “white youth”. Once authorities began their investigation, they quickly learned that the same weapon had been used in all four murders, a .22-caliber rifle. Shortly after the onslaught of violence the killer was given a moniker, just like his weapon he was dubbed the “.22 Caliber Killer”. The case quickly went cold.

 Composite of suspected killer.

Composite of suspected killer.

Just over 2 weeks later, another set of racially fueled murders would take place. On October 8th, an African-American cabbie was found beaten to death in the trunk of his cab. 71-year-old Parler Edwards had been ambushed and in addition to being savagely beaten, his heart had also been removed and could not be found at the scene of the crime. The very next night, 40-year-old Ernest Jones had been found in Tonawanda with his throat slashed and again, the heart had been removed. Like the previous case law enforcement could not locate the heart. Clearly both cases were related, the brutal nature in which these men were killed had to be the work of the same man. Detectives determined that robbery was not the motive as both men still had money in their pockets. Investigators also theorized that the killer had some knowledge of anatomy, or had experience carving through flesh. It was thought that the killer or killers could have been involved in hunting. Again the case grew cold and the black community began to doubt law enforcement. The town was gripped with fear over the killings and had no idea who could be committing these atrocious acts. 

Even though it was never confirmed to be linked to the previous cases, one more act of racially-motivated violence had been reported on October 10th. A patient, 37-year-old Colin Cole was recovering in the hospital when suddenly he had been jolted awake with a racial epithet. A man crept into the room and whispered “I hate niggers.” The stranger attempted to suffocate the patient with a pillow and only stopped when a nurse pulled him off of the patient. The attacker fled the scene and like the previous cases, very little in the way of evidence would be discovered.

With the community on edge, things seemed to be getting back to normal after a few months gone by without any new incidents. Unfortunately things would not remain that way. The month of December was marked by a number of grisly attacks on New York’s black and latin residents. One of the bloodiest days of that December being the 22nd where 6 people were stabbed. 25-year-old John Adams would be stabbed at approximately 11:30 A.M. but was able to survive the attack. A few hours later, 32-year-old Ivan Frazier had also been attacked. He too was able to survive the attack. The next few victims weren't as fortunate.

At approximately 3:30 P.M. 19-year-old Luis Rodriguez was stabbed multiple times and died at the scene. Just 3 hours later another victim turned up, 30-year-old Antone Davis was fatally stabbed. Police felt the attacks were unprovoked. The scene played out once more when 20-year-old Richard Renner was stabbed a few hours later under similar circumstances. The last to be killed, a man who is still unidentified and labelled as a “John Doe”. Just prior to midnight near Madison Square Garden this unnamed victim would be found dead from multiple stab wounds. Officers found 31-year-old Roger Adams a week later on the 29th, stabbed to death in Buffalo and the next day 26-year-old Wendell Barnes would be  stabbed, being found in Rochester. There were 2 additional attacks on January 1st. Larry Little and Calvin Crippen were attacked during separate incidents but both were able to flee their assailant. The culprit of these knife attacks soon earned the nickname the “Midtown Slasher”.

A few days had passed and no one could have guessed that a knife attack at Fort Benning army base would be tied to the New York attacks. A private in the army had just returned to his base on January 4th after a holiday break, visiting family in New York. 2 days later, the 25-year-old Private, Joseph Gerard Christopher, had been detained for wielding a knife against a fellow black soldier unprovoked. The soldier survived the attack. Private Christopher was detained but would begin to self mutilate himself with a razor while incarcerated. Later he'd be transferred for a psychiatric evaluation. While speaking to a psychiatrist he stated that he had to kill blacks. This comment coupled with the fact that he was in New York at the time of the most recent attacks raised multiple red flags. This lead to detectives searching the man's home where large amounts of .22 caliber ammo was discovered, the same ammo used in the initial attacks. Christopher was arrested for the murders shortly after the comments to the doctor. 

 Mugshot of Joseph G. Christopher.

Mugshot of Joseph G. Christopher.

Joseph Christopher born on July 26th, 1955 to Therese and Nicholas in Buffalo, New York. He grew up somewhat reclusive and sought solace with his father who was an avid outdoorsman, teaching him how to properly use firearms and use a knife. Joseph went on to drop out of high school and enroll in an automotive course to learn a trade for his future. He'd soon drop out of that as well. In 1974, Christopher began working odd jobs around the neighborhood before landing a maintenance job on the graveyard shift. While on this job Christopher would befriend a black coworker. The two would drink, listen to music and shoot pool together. Things seemed to be going well for the young man until his dad passed away in early 1976. As the years went by, Christopher began to exhibit paranoid tendencies and accused his friend at work of stealing a knife he had simply misplaced. This type of behavior would lead to his firing in 1979. In 1980, Joseph would attempt some type of treatment for his paranoia, trying to check into the Buffalo Psychiatric Center. He was not accepted and turned away as he did not appear to be a danger to himself or others. 2 weeks later Joseph's murder spree began.

After the first series of shootings and the two taxi cab murders, Joseph would enlist in the U.S. Army and be stationed at Fort Benning on November 13th, 1980. On December 20th he'd travel back to New York to visit for the holidays and coincidentally the stabbings begin. Once his holiday leave was up he went back to base and soon attacked a fellow soldier. The truth soon make itself apparent but the motive would be lacking and generate questions that go unanswered to this day. The attacks were motivated by race but many of Joseph’s friends, white and black, mentioned he never showed any hostility towards other races. Many were completely caught off guard considering Joseph to be kind to all. 

 Joseph being led with handcuffs.

Joseph being led with handcuffs.

Joseph moved forward to trial, charged with 3 counts of first-degree murder, and despite recommendations from legal counsel decided to represent himself at trial. He'd be found guilty and sentenced to 60 years for his crimes. Some would go on to question the verdict, feeling Joseph could not have committed the murders. There was very little evidence, he did not resemble the composite sketch and many felt that this was not the Joseph they knew. He was incapable of such behavior. Joseph made a vague confession in 1983 while being interviewed and claimed that his total victim count was 13 but unwilling to go into detail on any of the crimes. When pressed about the incredibly vicious heart murders he refused to comment on whether he was involved or not. No one would ever be charged with the murders of the two cabbies. On March 1st, 1993, after serving over a decade in prison, Joseph Christopher, the killer with two names died behind bars of a form of male breast cancer at just 37 years of age.