Updated: Mar 9
There are plenty of cases out there that are considered open and shut. We know who committed the crime, and it’s just a matter of proving it. Today’s case is one of those, but has a few more twists and turns that caused more than a two decade delay before the perpetrator was finally brought to justice. Let’s talk about the murder of Holly Maddux.
Helen Maddux, or Holly, was born on May 26, 1947 in Tyler, Texas, the first child of mother Elizabeth, a homemaker, and father Fred, an engineer and World War II veteran. Holly would later be joined by sisters, Mary, Meg and Elisabeth (or Buffy), and brother John.
Growing up, Holly was described as a beautiful blonde, with an almost ethereal beauty and a “mesmerizing elegance,” but also not vain or egotistical. One of Holly’s sisters described her as “giving and loving.” As a teenager, Holly did well in school, enjoyed art and dance and was also a cheerleader. She was voted “most likely to succeed” one year, but I’m not sure which. She was salutatorian of her high school class upon graduation in 1965.
Both Holly’s family and the town of Tyler have been described as “conservative” by various sources. I assume they mean in the traditional and cultural sense, though they might have been politically conservative as well. But Holly rebelled against this and, from what I could gather, seemed stifled by small town life. After her high school graduation, she left Texas to attend Bryn Mawr College in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, about 14 miles west of Philadelphia. She graduated in 1971 with a degree in English.
After college, she floated from job to job for awhile, seemingly not sure what she wanted to do. Then, in 1972, 25-year-old Holly was sitting at a restaurant when she was approached by a man named Ira Einhorn.
Ira Samuel Einhorn was born on May 15, 1940 in Philadelphia, the oldest of two sons to a car salesman and homemaker. His mother would later describe their family as “a typical Jewish family.” They were close and apparently loved each other as any normal family would.
Ira graduated from high school in 1957. He went on to attend the University of Pennsylvania, where he graduated with a degree in English in 1961. After graduation, he went on to teach at his alma mater and, later on, at Harvard.
One word that people kept using to describe Ira was charming. He was said to be very charming and intelligent. One thing I found interesting was that Ira never had a lot of money, but somehow always convinced other people to pick up expensive tabs for him. He had a lot of famous and influential friends, including Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead. As the Washington Post once put it: “he had a gift for talking businessmen out of their money and attractive women out of their bell bottoms.” On the subject of women, Ira claimed to have “thousands of lovers.” As Harry Jay Katz, an acquaintance of Ira’s, would later say: “guys never asked girls what they thought about politics or poetry. Ira did. He feigned that he cared.”
Much like Holly Maddux, Ira was no fan of 1960’s conservatism. He led protests against the Vietnam War and even ran for mayor at one point. He was heavily involved in environmentalism, with a 1978 write up in The Harvard Crimson calling him an “early activist in the solar energy and ecology movements.”
A lot of Ira’s behavior could also be described as that of a stereotypical “hippie.” He did a lot of drugs, namely acid and LSD. One report says that, while teaching at the University of Pennsylvania, he stripped naked in class and brought out joints. He also had a reputation for smelling bad. He spent a lot of time in the bathtub, so it wasn’t for lack of regular cleaning — but he also never washed his clothes. The smell was considered part of his persona; he thought he was “too mystic” to regularly bathe.
Despite his distaste for smelling good, Ira was already well known and liked in the intellectual circles of Philadelphia in the 1960’s and 70’s. And one day in 1972, he saw a beautiful blonde at a restaurant he frequented and just had to approach her.
Holly and Ira’s relationship moved quickly. Just two weeks after they started dating, Holly moved in with Ira.
But the relationship was as tumultuous as it was speedy. They frequently broke up and got back together. Ira insisted on having an open relationship, and Holly once told one of her friends that Ira forced her to have sex with other people while he watched. Ira would often go to parties with Holly but leave with someone else. There was also physical abuse involved.
At some point in their relationship — I’m not sure when — Holly brought Ira back to Texas to meet her family. But she knew even before the trip that they wouldn’t like him — and even told her dad this. Sure enough, Ira didn’t exactly make the best impression on the Madduxes. During the prayer before a family meal, Ira picked at sores on his body. He ate ravenously and, after the meal, put his feet on the table. Holly’s brother, John, said Ira was too dominating over Holly. Her sister Buffy said he was a slob and obnoxious. She also claimed he later hit on her — in the romantic sense, just to be clear.
Despite all this, Holly and Ira kept up on their on again, off again romance for five years. In the late summer or early fall of 1977, the couple went on vacation to London, paid for with money Holly had saved up. They were joined there by Buffy, and Holly told her sister she planned on leaving Ira when they got back to the U.S. Buffy would be the last family member to see Holly.
Holly ended up leaving Ira alone during their trip and returned to the U.S. She rented an apartment in New York and even cut her hair, something a lot of women do after breakups. Over Labor Day weekend, she started seeing a new man named Saul Lapidus. She soon broke things off with Ira for good — and he wasn’t happy about it.
On September 9, 1977, 30-year-old Holly was on Saul’s boat when she got a call from Ira. He had gathered up her things still left behind at his apartment and threatened to throw them into the street if she didn’t come get them. Holly called a few people to see if they could pick up her things for her, but nobody could. Holly didn’t want to go back to Ira’s apartment, and Saul didn’t want her to either, but she said she’d get her things and come right back. Once she arrived at Ira’s apartment, they went to a movie with another couple. After that, she wasn’t seen again.
Most people in Ira’s social circle weren’t too concerned about not seeing Holly. As Salon would later put it: “When Holly Maddux, his delicately beautiful girlfriend of five years, disappeared in the fall of 1977, the transient college-based community around her and Einhorn paid little attention. He had been the important member of that couple, in any case, and his beautiful girlfriends were virtually interchangeable."
But Holly’s family didn’t see it that way. After not receiving a card the following month for her mom’s birthday — something Holly always sent — they grew concerned and contacted police in Philadelphia. Police were suspicious of Ira, but since he had such a good reputation in the community, it was hard to get any evidence on him. I assume people didn’t want to talk.
Members of Holly’s family asked Ira directly where she was. At first, he said he didn’t know. He said she’d left his apartment to visit a local co-op but never returned. He also claimed he’d gotten a call from her a few days after, saying she was fine. Ira also told Holly’s mom that she’d simply let him and was traveling on her own. At one point, both he and one of Holly’s friends claimed she was at a commune in India (though Holly’s friend claimed to have gotten this information from a medium). Despite their initial suspicion of Ira, police also started to believe Holly had left willingly.
With little to go on, the Maddux family hired two private detectives, one from their hometown of Tyler and another from Philadelphia. And these detectives uncovered some pretty incriminating information.
One night in the fall of 1977, Paul Herre, who lived in the apartment below Ira’s, heard a scream from Ira’s apartment. At first, he didn’t think much of it since there were a lot of loud parties in the neighborhood. But then a brown liquid began leaking from the ceiling. Paul called his landlord, who called a plumber, but there was one bedroom closet Ira refused to let the plumber in. Neighbors also reported a foul smell coming from the apartment. In late 1978, Ira went to a bookstore and asked for a book on mummification, but the bookstore owner didn’t have the book he was looking for.
In early 1979, the private detectives turned over all this information to police in Philadelphia. Then-police chief Michael Chitwood said the information in their reports “read like an Alfred Hitchcock movie.” They were able to obtain a search warrant and, on March 28, 1979, they entered Ira Einhorn’s apartment.
Upon their arrival inside, the foul smell so many neighbors had reported was still there. It wasn’t difficult to find the source of the smell — Ira’s bedroom closet. The closet had multiple locks on it. Michael Chitwood asked Ira if he had a key, but he said he didn’t. So the door was pried open with a crowbar.
Inside, the closet was stacked with boxes from floor to ceiling. One box had the name “Maddux” on it and had Holly’s belongings inside — including her purse with her driver’s license and library card.
There was also a steamer trunk inside the closet. If you watched my video on the Cheerleader in the Trunk — or maybe even if you didn’t — you know a steamer trunk is a trunk you see a lot in movies that characters use to pack their things in for long trips. Someone in the comments section of that video also said they were often used for storage or for wealthy children to take to boarding school or college.
The steamer trunk in Ira Einhorn’s closet also had a padlock on it. Once again, Michael Chitwood asked Ira if he had a key, and once again he said no. So once again, the crowbar was used to pry the trunk open.
Inside the trunk, police found air freshener, styrofoam and newspapers dated from August and September of 1977. Chitwood also found a human hand poking out, as if it was trying to push the trunk open.
The hand belonged to the rest of the body in the trunk, mummified from the heat. Police knew right away they’d found the body of Holly Maddux — in a trunk just a few feet away from Ira Einhorn’s bed. When police turned to confront Ira about the discovery, he simply replied “You found what you found.”
Ira Einhorn was immediately arrested and charged with murder. An autopsy would later confirm Holly’s cause of death as “cranocerebrial injuries,” a type of head trauma. Other sources have listed it simply as ‘blunt force trauma.’
(note: I have seen a few people say that Holly was still alive when she was put in the trunk. I can’t find anything substantial to back this up, and the coroner’s report says she died from head trauma, not suffocation as these comments seem to imply. I assume the people commenting this got that information from the hand poking out of the trunk, and how Michael Chitwood said it looked like it was trying to push the trunk open. But I don’t think this is necessarily scientific evidence that she was still alive inside the trunk.)
Ira Einhorn was set to go on trial for murder in 1981. He face the death penalty. Michael Chitwood would later say: “Everyone talked about how smart and wonderful Ira Einhorn was, but I always knew he was a murderer and a con man.”
And others in Philadelphia soon started to agree with him. Public opinion of Ira seemed to shift completely after his arrest. People were shocked that this charming, likable man had apparently committed a murder. According to Ira’s friend George Keegan: “We were walking down the street together. People who once would come up and hug Ira crossed the street and averted their eyes…He looked at me, sad, and said ‘I’m not going to be able to be Ira Einhorn now.’ And I realized he was a selfish, arrogant bastard.”
Unsurprisingly, Ira maintained his innocence, though his defense was a bit unusual. He said he had been framed by the CIA, FBI, or possibly the KGB. He knew too much about things like weapons development and government conspiracies, and Holly was killed and the murder pinned on him to discredit him. He also suggested at one point that Holly had an affair with someone who worked at the CIA, and that might provide a motive for them to kill her and frame him. In fact, the trunk Holly’s body was found in, according to him, normally held “secret reports about KGB and CIA mind-control experiments.”
But the evidence against Ira didn’t look good. In addition to what the private detectives had already found, he was also accused of attacking two of his ex girlfriends when they tried to leave him — just like Holly had recently done. His diaries corroborated both these stories and his general violent nature. He also reportedly asked two of his friends to help him get rid of the steamer trunk (though that obviously never happened).
Earlier on in life, Ira had given himself the nickname “The Unicorn.” The name Einhorn means “one horn” in German, hence where he got it from. After his arrest, people began calling him “The Unicorn Killer.”
Even though plenty of people in Philadelphia now hated Ira, he still had influential friends who stuck by him. After his arrest, his bail had been set to $40,000 — unusually low for someone charged with first degree murder. But the $4,000 required was paid by a wealthy acquaintance, and he was released on bail in May of 1979.
Then, a few weeks before his 1981 trial was set to start, he disappeared.
Ira Einhorn was on the run, but he wasn’t completely off everyone’s radar. Over the years, sightings of him were reported in Canada, England, Ireland and Sweden. In 1987, he married a Swedish woman named Annika Flodin. In the early 1990’s, he told Annika his real name and that he was a fugitive but that he was innocent of the crime he was being accused of. I’m not sure how much detail he gave her, but she believed him and stuck by his side. At one point, the couple lived just four blocks from a police station. Any time someone grew suspicious or a former friend or girlfriend tipped off police, the couple would pack up and leave, always staying one step ahead of the law.
In 1992, a law was passed that made it legal to try suspects in absentia. This is basically just what it sounds like — they can be tried in a court of law even if they’re not there. The following year, Ira Einhorn went on trial for the murder of Holly Maddux, despite not being present in the building where the trial took place. He was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison.
Meanwhile, Ira and Annika settled in the village of Champagne-Mouton in western France. The couple bought a house that has been described by some sources as a farmhouse, others as a windmill or converted windmill. Ira posed as an English mystery writer named Eugene Mallon, an identity he stole from a bookstore owner in Ireland who had previously helped him out. He’d also previously used the alias Ben Moore, which he got from a brand of paint. While in France, Ira even protested a proposed nuclear facility in the area, staying true to his environmentalist nature.
But one man in particular wasn’t giving up on finding Ira Einhorn. Richard DiBenedetto was an investigator with the Philadelphia district attorney’s office (I’m not sure if he still is) and was determined to track Ira down. He interviewed various friends and exes of Ira’s who gave him Ira’s location — but Ira, of course, always managed to stay one step ahead of the police. At one point, DiBenedetto even talked to Eugene Mallon, the Irish bookstore owner Ira stole the identity of, but Mallon refused to talk.
The year Ira escaped, DiBenedetto became a first time father. This gave him even more motive to find Ira and get justice for Holly for her own parents. Unfortunately, they never got to see Ira captured. Fred Maddux took his own life in 1988, and his wife, Elizabeth, died of emphysema in 1990. But DiBenedetto never gave up on Holly and it eventually paid off.
In May 1997, DiBenedetto got yet another tip on Ira Einhorn’s whereabouts. Ira’s wife, Annika, had applied for a French driver’s license under the name Annika Flodin Mallon. That last name, Mallon, was what tipped off DiBenedetto, since he recognized it as the bookseller Ira had known. He figured Ira had stolen his identity.
Upon this revelation, DiBenedetto contacted French police. On the morning of June 13, 1997, they knocked on the door of the windmill/farmhouse and found Ira asleep in bed. Despite giving his name as Eugene Mallon, he was immediately arrested and taken to prison. His identity was later confirmed through fingerprints. After 16 years on the run, a now 57-year-old Ira Einhorn had been caught.
But getting him back to the U.S. was anything but easy. In the fall of 1997, a French court ruled Ira couldn’t be extradited because of a law that said people couldn’t be sent back to the country they’d come from if they’d been convicted of a crime in absentia unless they were granted a new trial. Because the death penalty was illegal in France, they also refused to send him back unless the death penalty would be off the table for a new trial. Ira also had some supporters in France who thought his in absentia trial was a violation of his rights. Ira was eventually released on bail and continued to maintain his innocence, still insisting he was the victim of framing and a government conspiracy.
In 1999, a civil suit was filed by the Maddux family to keep Ira from financially benefitting from any part of his story or what had happened to him. They were eventually awarded over $900 million in damages.
It was also around this time that the miniseries Hunt for the Unicorn Killer was released. Writer Bruce Graham said the miniseries was inspired by Steven Levy’s book The Unicorn’s Secret, published in 1990.
Surprisingly, Ira didn’t flee this time. In July 1999, a French court ruled that Ira would be extradited to the U.S. for a new trial. The night before he was set to leave, he slit his throat and requested to speak to reporters. This was an apparent suicide attempt, but he did survive. The next day — July 20, 2001 — he arrived back in the U.S.
Ira’s new trial began in September 2002. He still maintained his innocence, now saying he didn’t know how Holly’s body had ended up in his apartment. His wife, Annika — now going by Annika Einhorn — stuck by his side, but only metaphorically. She didn’t want to travel to the U.S. for his trial, partially because she knew she would get a lot of negative attention, partially because she was afraid she could be arrested for aiding an American fugitive. As far as I know, nobody has ever been arrested or charged with helping Ira hide or escape.
On October 18, 2002, Ira Einhorn was found guilty of the murder of Holly Maddux and sentenced to life in prison without parole. A New York Times article published that same day said Ira “preached peace and love while battering his lovers.”
In April 2016, Ira was transferred to a minimum security prison. While the prison was for older and terminally ill inmates, no specific reason was given for the transfer. On April 3, 2020, Ira Einhorn died in prison of cardiac problems at the age of 79.
Before we go, I want to address one major controversy of this case. If you’re familiar with this story at all, you’re probably wondering why I haven’t brought it up yet — but I wanted to save it for the end. Was Ira Einhorn the founder of Earth Day?
Multiple articles said he was. Plenty more said he was a co-founder, or that he helped organize it. Others insist he wasn’t, and that the founder was really Gaylord Nelson. Others still said those involved in Earth Day wanted to distance themselves from Ira and deny his involvement.
So, what is the truth? Did Ira Einhorn really found Earth Day, or was that completely made up, for whatever reason? As is often the case, the truth is somewhere in between.
Ira was involved in the planning of the first Earth Day celebration back in 1970. He was even on the organizing committee and attended numerous meetings, but was kicked out of several for his rude, obnoxious behavior. There’s also a story about him grabbing the microphone at the event when he wasn’t supposed to. He later went on to claim he was the founder, which is probably where the rumor got started. So to say he founded Earth Day is an exaggeration, but he was involved in some capacity.
So that’s all I have for you today on Ira Einhorn. Obviously there’s much more information out there on him than on Holly Maddux. As sad as it is that she sometimes gets lost in all this, I do understand why people find Ira so fascinating. He is certainly one of a kind, to say the least.