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Philadelphia Cheers 2nd Chance to Try New Age Guru

Crime: Two decades after fleeing the country, Ira Einhorn is returned to face trial in the grisly death of a girlfriend.

July 21, 2001|JOSH GETLIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEW YORK — For more than 24 years, Ira Einhorn thumbed his nose at those who wanted him brought to justice for the 1977 bludgeoning death of his girlfriend. The former New Age communications guru lived the high life in Europe, savoring gourmet foods and wine, after fleeing prosecution in Philadelphia for the grisly murder of Holly Maddux.

Even after Einhorn was tracked down and arrested in France four years ago, the shaggy-haired suspect smirked at Maddux's sisters when they came face to face in a courtroom. He was confident that a long-standing dispute between the United States and France over the death penalty would delay his extradition indefinitely.

But the smirking stopped Friday when Einhorn, 61, was returned to the United States, in shackles and a bulletproof vest, to finally stand trial for a crime that long has obsessed the City of Brotherly Love. Under heavy guard, he arrived at Philadelphia International Airport about 4 a.m., after an eight-hour flight from Paris.

The charismatic, dashiki-clad Einhorn had been a leader in the Philadelphia counterculture and a friend of yippie leader Abbie Hoffman. He became a successful New Age corporate consultant in the 1970s with a worldwide network of scientists, corporate sponsors and wealthy benefactors.

Einhorn attracted a following of devotees, many of whom were eager to testify to his good character in a 1979 court hearing after Maddux's mummified body was discovered stuffed into a steamer trunk in his apartment. Free on $40,000 bail, the former antiwar activist and onetime Philadelphia mayoral candidate fled the country in 1981 on the eve of a pretrial hearing and lived in Sweden, Ireland and England under a series of false names.

He had been the object of an intense manhunt by local police and prosecutors, who in 1993 convicted him of first-degree murder in absentia. Authorities finally caught up with him in France in 1997.

As part of a complex extradition agreement, U.S. officials decided not to seek the death penalty for Einhorn, and they also agreed to hold a new trial for him. French authorities typically oppose extradition of suspects who have been convicted in absentia. The Pennsylvania Legislature passed a law in 1998 permitting a new trial if Einhorn were returned.

The suspect, looking haggard, was whisked to a federal courthouse in downtown Philadelphia, where he was transferred into the custody of city police. He then was taken to Graterford Prison, a maximum security facility about 30 miles north of the city. No date has been set for his trial.

"This is very satisfying because we've waited so long and worked so hard," Dist. Atty. Lynne Abraham said as news of Einhorn's return spread through Philadelphia. "This is the beginning, not the end."

If convicted again, Einhorn faces life in prison without the possibility of parole, and prosecutors scoffed at the notion that he might be freed on bail. But the suspect, as in the past, denied killing his girlfriend.

"I'm innocent," Einhorn declared Thursday in front of his Champagne-Mouton home in southwestern France, minutes after the European Court of Human Rights declined to delay his extradition. "I will be happy to go to the U.S. if the court gives me a new trial."

Einhorn, who reportedly tried to slit his throat last week, was physically able to make the plane trip, according to French authorities.

His case caused a sensation 22 years ago. Maddux had been missing for 18 months, and Einhorn insisted that she had left to go to a store and had never come back to their apartment. Despite the discovery of her body, he has said he was framed by the CIA and did not harm Maddux, who was 30 at the time of her death.

A witness who lived in Einhorn's building, however, testified in the 1993 trial that he heard noisy thumps and a scream around the time Maddux disappeared, and then smelled foul odors coming from the suspect's apartment. Another witness said Einhorn had asked her to help him dump the trunk that contained Maddux's body in the Schuylkill River, saying it contained "top secret" documents.

In 1999, a civil jury ordered Einhorn to pay Maddux's family $907 million in damages as part of a wrongful death suit. But the family kept up pressure on U.S. officials to demand Einhorn's extradition and was lobbying for his return this week in Washington, D.C., when news of the European Court's decision reached them.

Einhorn's return to American soil sparked cheers from Maddux's three sisters, who said that justice--while a long time coming--might now be done. "I hope this [extradition] has actually wiped that smirk off his face. . . . I'm sure he'll enjoy his stay in the Pennsylvania penal system," Elizabeth "Buffy" Hall said.

Cheers also came from the editorial pages of the Philadelphia Inquirer, which blasted him as a "charlatan and coward." The editorial (with apologies to Louis Armstrong and Carol Channing) included lyrics that began: "We say, hello, Ira. Well, hello, Ira. It's so nice to yank you back where you belong."

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