Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Allentown Massacres


It was now time to strengthen the case. As Steinberg awaited the lab analysis on Birdwell's shirt, he dispatched investigators out to learn whatever they could to make it airtight against all three defendants, but especially Ben Birdwell. They heard from people who knew the brothers about the death threats to the parents and the motive for killing Erik. Yet no one seemed to have heard Birdwell echo any of these threats.

Nelson Birdwell III, escorted
Nelson Birdwell III, escorted

About a month after the arraignment, Vazquez went to the federal courthouse in Philadelphia to meet with Ivan Smith, a man who had been incarcerated with Birdwell in the Lehigh County prison for two days. He said that Birdwell had confided in him some of the details of the crime. Birdwell had insisted that the brothers had committed the murders, and that he'd had nothing to do with them. He intimated that the murders had been planned for a long time, and that they had used knives, bats and clubs to kill the family. While recounting what he knew, Birdwell had described Brenda as screaming while she lay on the floor, a fact that contradicted the accounts given by the brothers. Birdwell also discussed his plan to say that he'd fled with the brothers because he'd been scared.

The notable part of this account was that the three of them apparently had discussed committing these murders while at Wendy's that night. Birdwell had even said that the victims had deserved their fate. That made it a clear case of first-degree murder. He had also admitted to having driven the car to Ohio, which contradicted his going along with them out of fear for his life. Whatever he may or may not have done, he'd not just been a witness to a crime of opportunity. He'd known about it and had been present to it throughout, as well as helping fugitives to flee. But there was more to come.

In the meantime, Jeffrey Howorth went to trial, and its conclusion would surprise a lot of people.


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