Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Mysterious Charlie Chop-off


The community rallied to collect $600 for the funeral expenses for Luis Ortiz, and meetings were scheduled at local churches to help people deal with the situation. But days passed, and then weeks, without the killer being apprehended. Luis's family left the city and returned to Puerto Rico. Their experience of America had been a disaster.

Sketch: Erno Soto
Sketch: Erno Soto

About two weeks after the incident, on March 23, a female resident from the Bronx called the police to tell them that she knew who the child's killer was. She named area resident Erno Soto as the culprit, hinting that Soto had been in a psychiatric institution recently and was known to be strange, even violent. He had relatives in the area. Officers questioned Soto's cousin, and even his wife, but they claimed they had not seen him since November. They also said he was tall, which did not fit the surviving boy's description, so the matter was dropped.

On April 17, Times reporter Deirdre Carmody penned a long story on the progress of the investigation. While fewer mothers accompanied their children everywhere now, the children still kept copies of the composite sketch in their pockets so they could recognize danger if a man like that approached them. There was a palpable tension in the neighborhood.

Carmody stated that the police had expanded their five-week-long search from the city to other areas of the country and even abroad. "A special detail of fifty detectives and a ten-man homicide task force has been assigned to the case," she wrote. They had spent their time going through some 9,000 police records, knocking on "thousands" of doors to find witnesses, and had distributed 1,500 fliers. They had also questioned 150 suspects, none of whom had panned out, and called Interpol to discuss international child molesters with this unique type of MO. Apparently they came up empty-handed, aside from a blond man in Australia. They even considered using a midget made up to look like a boy as bait, but that plan was quickly scrapped.

A psychologist associated with the police department, Dr. Harvey Schlossberg (who became Director of Psychological Services and taught criminal justice at St. John's University), offered his own analysis. From details he had read in the newspapers, he believed that the killer was probably psychotic and afraid of women but also disturbed by his own latent homosexuality. He thought it was significant that two of the murders had occurred on almost the same day, March 7 and March 9, as if that might mean something to the killer perhaps an anniversary that angered him.

"It's probably related to something that happened to him at that time of year," he was quoted as saying, "maybe a birthday or the anniversary of his parents, and he may usually have a psychotic break around that time."

It was his opinion that the man attacking these boys could be a tightly controlled type of person, the "quiet, lovable, nice-guy-in-the-neighborhood type," who could generally hide his anger or anxiety under a fašade. However, he might then be triggered by something and fly into a psychotic episode, prompting him to act out to get relief.

"Symbolically," Dr. Schlossberg suggested, "it's an orgasm. It's really quite sexual."

Referring to other studies of male sex offenders who molest same-gender victims, especially boys, he stated that findings concurred that such men were often horrified by sexual feelings toward someone of the same sex. Thus, they not only kill the one who inspired the feelings, but also castrate them or mutilate their genitals as a way to deny the feelings and/or turn the boy into a girl. That way, this offender could negate the homosexuality of the act. The stabbing was also a sexual manifestation, a substitute for penile penetration.

The reporter asked him how this killer would react to the fact that his likeness had been posted all over the neighborhoods he apparently frequented, and the psychiatrist said that it probably stimulated him and made him feel important. Thus, it "soothed his feelings of inadequacy." Schlossberg suggested that if the killer had been played up in the media as a guy who couldn't make it with a woman, it might anger him and "push him off the edge."

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