Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Frankford Slasher


As reported by Robert Terry and Thomas Gibbons in the Inquirer, Margaret Vaughan, 66, was found lying in the foyer of an apartment building in the 4900 block of Penn Street.  She had once lived in an apartment there but had been evicted that same day for nonpayment of rent.  Stabbed 29 times, Newton writes, she had been killed just three blocks from where Jeanne Durkin was found earlier in the year.

Police sketch of suspect
Police sketch of suspect

A barmaid recalled that Vaughan had been in the bar the evening before her death with a Caucasian man with a round face who walked with a limp and wore glasses.  They had been drinking together.  The witness was able to provide enough details for a police artist to make a sketch, which was distributed around town.  Yet no one came forward to identify him.

Theresa Sciortino was discovered in her apartment on Arrott St.
Theresa Sciortino was discovered in
her apartment on Arrott St.

Then on January 19, 1989, Theresa Sciortino, age 30, was found in her apartment, stabbed twenty-five times.   She lived alone in her Arrott Street apartment, three blocks from the fifth victim and a block and a half from Frankford Avenue.  Like Durkin, she, too, had been in several psychiatric institutions and was currently an outpatient under treatment.  When she was discovered, she wore only a pair of white socks, and she had been left in a pool of blood on her kitchen floor, lying face-up.  Again, the attacker had used a sharp knife to slash her twenty-five times in the face, arms, and chest, and had also used a three-foot piece of wood to sexually assault her.  He placed the bloodstained weapon leaning against the sink, and according to Newton, left a bloody footprint behind.  A neighbor had heard a struggle the evening before, along with a loud thump, as if a large object had been thrown to the floor.  Detectives confirmed that the condition of the apartment indicated that an intense struggle had occurred there, moving from one room to another. Blood was spattered everywhere.

Sciortino, like the other victims, had frequented the Frankford Avenue strip and often entertained male companions.  One of her neighbors said, "She had a lot of company."  Questioning confirmed that she was last seen alive at the Jolly Post Tavern, at Griscom and Arrott Streets (erroneously famous for being one of George Washington's overnight stops).  Someone had seen her in the company of a middle-aged white man just after 6:00 in the evening.  Not long afterward, her neighbor heard the scuffle in her apartment.

Philadelphia police patch
Philadelphia police patch

Detective Lt. James Henwood told reporters that with this sixth victim in the Frankford area, they had returned to the possibility that a serial killer was operating in the neighborhood, but medical examiner Paul Hoyer had accepted the common but mistaken notion that serial killers kill much more frequently, with only a few weeks between their attacks.  Yet the facts were clear: All of the victims had been white women, and while their ages differed dramatically from 28 to 68, they had frequented the same area, had been viciously stabbed, and had been killed in ways that left little evidence and no witnesses.  Detectives pointed to boxloads of transcripts from interviews they had done with employees and patrons in the area, which hadn't turned up a single lead.  They searched sewers and trash bins in the area of Sciortino's apartment in the hope of finding a murder weapon, but did not comment on the results. (Later, it was revealed that they had found nothing.)

Yet given the possibility of a serial killer, the police had reviewed some older files and had decided that a 1987 murder might well be connected to these six.  Catherine M. Jones, 29, had been found on January 29, frozen, covered in snow, and partially clad on a sidewalk in the Northern Liberties section of the city.  She worked as a waitress and had been a patron of the Frankford Avenue bars.   While she had been bludgeoned to death, and there were circumstances in her background that offered leads to indicate that her murder was not related to the others, she could not be ruled out of the series, either.  Her jaw was broken and her skull crushed.  (She is often left out of the lineup of victims in later accounts, so it may be that she did not end up in the official final tally for the Frankford Slasher.)

The victims' families felt it was urgent that the killer be caught before he had the chance to kill anyone else.  They did not get their wish.


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