Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Frankford Slasher

Train Yard Murder

Stacked Railroad Ties
Stacked Railroad Ties

The corpse lay between the rows of stacked railroad ties at the SEPTA train yard in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, at Penn and Bridge Streets in the lower northeast section of the city known as Frankford.  Transit workers found the dead woman around 8:30 A.M. on the morning of August 26, 1985, but it was not clear who she was.  (In both of his books, Michael Newton says it was August 28, but the Philadelphia Inquirer sets the incident two days earlier.)

Penn & Bridge Streets, body discovered
Penn & Bridge Streets, body discovered

The victim was nude from the waist down, according to Newton, and she had been posed in a sexually provocative position, with her legs open and her blouse pulled up to expose her breasts. 

By the next day, August 27, investigators had identified the victim to the Philadelphia Inquirer: Helen Patent, who lived in Parkland, Pennsylvania, a town in nearby Bucks County.  She was 52 when she died, and while it was clear to the police that she had been stabbed many times, it took an autopsy to determine the official cause and manner of death.  Helen Patent had been sexually assaulted and had died from 47 stab wounds to her head and chest (Newton contends that the number of stab wounds was actually 19).  She had also been stabbed in the right arm, and one vicious and deep slash across her abdomen had exposed the internal organs.

Creating a time line of her final hours, detectives determined that Patent was last seen at her home on August 19, as reported by Kermit Patent, her former husband.  Kermit Patent identified the body and affirmed that the murdered woman was Helen.  Despite the fact that they were no longer married, they lived together in their Bucks County home, although Patent claimed that his wife had left the week before without mentioning where she was going.  That was not unusual, as they lived separate lives.   (In fact, those who knew her around the Frankford area were surprised to learn that she had a home outside the city.)

There was no immediate motive, but she may have been killed simply to keep her quiet .   According to reports, Patent frequented the bars in the area and might easily have met a stranger and been raped and murdered.  The newspapers did not discuss the possibility of prostitution, but as more such incidents unfolded, this was considered a possibility.  Over the next year and a half, three more victims were linked to Patent's killer, and the local newspaper would devise a name for this mysterious fiend: the Frankford Slasher.


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