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A Long Road to Court After 1977 Death

Crime: Fascination with the case of Ira Einhorn, accused of killing his girlfriend, has waned. Opening arguments in his trial begin today.

September 30, 2002|JOHN J. GOLDMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

PHILADELPHIA — When Ira Einhorn was arrested in 1979 on charges that he had killed his former girlfriend, the headlines in Philadelphia rivaled those for coverage of the nuclear crisis then occurring at Three Mile Island.

As the onetime counterculture guru and fugitive finally entered court last week to stand trial on murder charges, it was clear that eras have changed and public fascination with the case has ebbed.

The now gray-haired defendant--who once sought to imitate, if not exceed, the flamboyant lifestyle of '60s radicals Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman--wore a decidedly conservative tan jacket, green tie and neatly pressed pants.

Jury selection was completed in just two days, with only a handful of spectators present in the courtroom. The Philadelphia Inquirer tucked its story on the panel's formation on Page 5 of a back section. Outside the courthouse, some people said the trial was not a big deal--an observation that likely would have angered Einhorn mightily in the past, and perhaps even now.

All that could change when prosecutors and defense attorneys deliver opening arguments scheduled to begin today--especially if Einhorn, 62, takes the witness stand.

Part of Einhorn's defense: The CIA or some other intelligence service planted Helen "Holly" Maddux's body inside a trunk in his closet because of his knowledge of psychic phenomena and government mind-control experiments.

Heady stuff, although William Cannon, Einhorn's court-appointed lawyer, has said he will focus on more mundane matters: witnesses who allegedly saw Maddux alive after the time prosecutors allege Einhorn bludgeoned her to death.

For Maddux's family, the trial--Einhorn's third (he was convicted in absentia of first-degree murder after he fled to Europe and was found guilty in a civil action designed to deny him any royalties)--represents the culmination of a long journey.

"It's been very rough," said Meg Wakeman, the victim's oldest sister. "His behavior is that of a bully, and who wants to deal with a bully for 20 years?"

Einhorn met Maddux in 1972 at Philadelphia's La Terrasse bistro, a spot popular with students. The willowy blond who had studied ballet had come north from her home in Tyler, Texas, to attend Bryn Mawr College.

Within two weeks, she had moved into Einhorn's apartment near the University of Pennsylvania, where he graduated in 1961.

The New Age philosopher was a bear of a man, adept in promoting himself and winning a coterie of admirers. The story is told that he once disrobed completely and danced around during a class he taught at his alma mater.

He also claimed to have founded and organized Philadelphia's highly successful Earth Day celebration--where an estimated 70,000 people gathered in Fairmount Park on April 22, 1970. The event brought society matrons from garden clubs together with hippies, and Einhorn used it as a springboard to court the establishment and sell himself as a consultant.

"He had no role whatsoever," said Edward W. Furia, now chairman and chief executive of AFS Trinity Power Corp. in Seattle, who as a 28-year-old graduate student was Earth Day's executive director. "He would come to our meetings and politely be asked to leave."

On the day of the rally, Furia recalled, Einhorn commandeered the stage. "Einhorn said, 'If you want me off, you will have to remove me and I will cause a riot,' " Furia said. Eventually Einhorn retreated, but a photograph taken of him onstage served him well.

"Because Earth Day was so successful," Furia said, "he went to corporations and got himself hired ... to interpret the younger generation."

On March 28, 1979, police armed with a search warrant knocked on Einhorn's apartment door. Inside a locked closet detectives found cardboard boxes filled with Maddux's belongings--including a pocketbook with her Social Security and library cards. In a steamer trunk packed with plastic bags and newspapers dated around the time of her 1977 disappearance, police found Maddux's body.

"I turned to [Einhorn] and said: 'It looks like we found Holly,' " recalled former Philadelphia Det. Michael Chitwood, now chief of police in Portland, Maine. "He shrugged his shoulders and said, 'You found what you found.' I took off the rubber gloves and called the medical examiner."

Einhorn's lawyer at his bail hearing was Arlen Specter, the former Philadelphia district attorney and now Republican senator from Pennsylvania. Einhorn was released on $40,000 bail and, shortly before his January 1981 trial, he fled. The frustrating search for Einhorn came to an end in 1997 in a farmhouse in the Bordeaux region of France.

After his arrest, the legal fight with France to extradite Einhorn took four years.

The Pennsylvania Legislature had to pass a law in 1998 permitting a new trial to get Einhorn returned to Philadelphia.

Members of Maddux's family are expected to be in court today.

"He just used her, and it was a very cruel manipulation," Wakeman said. "I hope it's going to be a victory for all victims."

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