UNSOLVED: The Alphabet Murders

posted: 26 February 2021 | categories: Serial Killers, Unsolved

TRIGGER WARNING: This article touches on the rape, abuse, and murder of both children and adults.

In the Finger Lakes region of New York, the rapes and murders of three young girls rocked the city of Rochester in the early 1970s, only a few hours away from my own hometown. All three of the Alphabet Murders were attibuted to someone who became known as The Double Initial Killer. Why? Because each of the girls killed had alliterative first names: Carmen Colon, Wanda Walkowicz, and Michelle Maezna. But their alliterative names weren’t the only similarities between them.

  • All three were either 10 or 11 years old.
  • All three were from a Catholic background.
  • All three came from poor families.
  • All three had difficulties in school.

Their murders two had similarities.

  • All three were found in rural areas.
  • All three were found in areas with names that were alliterative with their own names. [1]”Double Initial Murders: One Killer?”. Rochester, New York. WHEC-TV. February 22, 2019.
  • All three were sexually assaulted and killed by strangulation.

the victims…

Carmen Colón

Carmen was 10 years old the day she disappeared, on November 16th, 1971. She had gone to the pharmacy for her mother, and an eyewitness later reported that Carmen had come out of the pharmacy and gotten into a car that had appeared to be waiting for her.[2]”Double Initial Murders: Carmen Colón”. WHEC-TV. February 1, 2019. She was last seen running along a highway, reportedly naked from the waist down and in apparent distress as she ran from a dark-colored car. A car slowed down, stopped, and a man got out to lead the girl back to the car.[3]Farnsworth, Cheri L. (2010). Alphabet Killer: The True Story of the Double Initial Murders. Stackpole Books. She was never seen again. Yet despite all of the witnesses, it was three days before anyone reported seeing her. After her body had already been found, still half naked, in Churchville, NY.

Wanda Walkowicz

On April 2nd, 1973, 11-year-old Wanda went to the grocery store for her mother. It was roughly 5 in the evening when she left home, but when her daughter still hadn’t returned by 8pm, her mother called the police to report her missing daughter.[4]”Double Initial Murders: Wanda Walkowicz”. WHEC-TV. February 1, 2019. Less than a day later, her body was found by a New York State Trooper in a rest area in Webster, NY. Although fully dressed, it was clear that she had been sexually assaulted. She’d also been strangled with some kind of ligature. There was one odd discovery found during her autopsy. She had eaten custard shortly before her death, which wasn’t something she hadn’t purchased while at the store. Nor was it something she would have gotten at home or school. Interesting to note… Wanda’s body is the only one of the three to have DNA physical evidence.

Michelle Maenza

Seven months after the murder of Wanda, on November 26th, 1973, 10-year-old Michelle went missing on her way home from school. One of her friends reported seeing her in a car that drove erratically, almost causing an accident. Other witnesses confirmed the car, including a man who saw it by the side of the road. The man had stopped to see if the driver needed help, noting that the driver seemed edgy as he tried to hide his license plate and his passenger. The witness thought the passenger was indeed Michelle.[5]”Double Initial Murders: Michelle Maenza”. WHEC-TV. February 1, 2019. Another witness gave a description that matched the driver, this witness seeing him at a fast food place in a nearby town. Like Wanda, Michelle’s autopsy showed that she, too, had been fed by her killer. Interestingly, the food the man bought for the crying girl matched the food the autopsy showed. And also like Wanda, Like Wanda, her body was found fully clothed, but with clear signs of sexual assault. Her body was found two days after her disappearance in Macedon, NY.

the suspects…

This is where the story gets interesting for a number of reasons.

There are those that feel Carmen’s murder is not related to those of Wanda and Michelle. There are certain aspects of her situation that are markedly different.

  • She was found partially nude.
  • There was no evidence that she had been fed prior to her murder.
  • Carmen was strangled from the front, while the others were strangled from behind.
  • White cat fur had been found on the clothing of both Wanda and Michelle but not on Carmen.

Also interesting are two of the suspects: Joseph Naso and Kenneth Bianchi. The first was convicted of a series of murders in California, and the latter was one of the two infamous Hillside Stranglers.

But let’s look at all of the suspects.

Miguel Colón

This is Carmen’s uncle, considered by many to be a strong suspect in her death, not the other two. Not only was he her uncle, but when Carmen’s parents separated, he began a relationship with his brother’s estranged wife, Carmen’s mother. Although there was never any physical evidence to tie him to her death, there were several circumstantial points to consider.

  • He owned a car that closely matched the one witnesses had reported Carmen getting into.
  • When the car was searched by police, it was discovered that it had recently been cleaned with strong cleansers.
  • He moved to Puerto Rico just four days after his niece was murdered.
  • He had no credible alibi for the time of her murder.

Colón committed suicide in 1991, never charged with her murder.

Dennis Termini

Termini was already a serial offender, known as the Garage Rapist. He committed at least fourteen rapes of young women during the same time period, from 1971 to 1973. There are several pieces of circumstantial evidence that pointed to him as a suspect.

  • He owned a car that was similar to the ones observed in connection to both Michelle and Wanda’s murders.
  • He lived very close to where Michelle had last been seen.
  • White car fur was found on the upholstery of his car.

His body was exhumed in 2007 to obtain a DNA sample. It confirmed that he was not responsible for Wanda’s murder. But since no physical evidence exists for Michelle or Carmen, there is no way to clear him for those murders.

Kenneth Bianchi

Later found to be one of the Hillside Stranglers, Bianchi lived in Rochester during the time of the Alphabet Murders. Although he has consistently denied involvement, there are several points to consider.

  • He worked at locations close to the first two murder scenes.
  • During his time as part of the Hillside Stranglers in LA (1977-1978), he and his cousin murdered 10 girls and young women.
  • He had a car that matched the make, model, and color of one seen near one of the abduction areas.

Joseph Naso

Even more than Kenneth Bianchi, Joseph Naso is an interesting suspect. Not only was he a resident of Rochester during the early 1970s, but in 2011, years after the Alphabet Murders in Rochester, Naso was arrested in Reno, Nevada for the murders of four California women. The murders were also known as the Alphabet Murders, all of them committed after those in New York, between 1977 and 1994. And the four women each had alliterative names. Ironically, one of those women was named Carmen Colón.

The first two women, Roxene Roggasch and Carmen Colón, were killed in the 1970s. The others, Pamela Parsons and Tracy Tofoya, were killed in the early 1990s. Naso was arrested after a search of his home and safety deposit boxes unearthed hundreds of photos of women, sexually explicit and some of the women appearing unconscious or even dead. They also found diaries that detailed sexual assaults and contained lists of dumping grounds.[6]Cohen, Ronnie. “Suspect’s Diary in ‘Alphabet Murders’ Case Describes Victims.” NBC News/Reuters, 15 Aug. 2013, NBC News, … Continue reading

But there are differences in the two sets of murders. In California, the youngest victim was several years older than those from Rochester. Naso also left his victims nude, bound and gagged with panythose. He also posed the bodies to photograph them.[7]Masters, Emily. “Saratoga Springs Police Reexamining 1980 Killing.” Times Union, 2 Nov. 2018, Times Union, … Continue reading

There are enough similarities that his DNA was compared to that found on Wanda’s body. But, like Termini, his DNA is not a match.

what now?

For now, the Alphabet Murders remain unsolved. Investigators are split on whether or not Carmen’s murder was part of the Alphabet Murders, or the result of her uncle’s violence. It seems unlikely that anyone will ever be brought to justice for Carmen’s murder, between his death and the lack of physcial evidence. Investigators are not split on the connections between Wanda and Michelle, which means the DNA evidence found with Wanda may someday give answers

works cited[+]

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