The Alphabet Murders, or crimes of the Double Initial Killer, took place between 1971 and 1973 in Rochester, New York. In total three young girls were raped and brutally murdered by the killer who was sadly never caught.
The three young girls that fell victim to the Double Initial Killer all shared several similar traits:
- All three girls first name and surname started with the same letter.
- All three were a similar age.
- All three came from Catholic families.
- All three struggled at school.
- All three were from poor neighbourhoods.
Their murders also shared common factors:
- All three were found in a rural area.
- All three were discovered in a city that matched the letter of their name.
- All three were sexually assaulted and strangled.
The Alphabet Murders Victims
A Shocking Tale
On the 16th of November, 1971, a young girl with dark hair and naked from the waist down was seen by dozens of drivers and commuters on their way out of Rochester. She was running along the breakdown lane of the 1-490 W near the Chili-Riga exit seemingly beckoning for the attention of passers-by as she frantically waved her arms. A car backed slowly towards her from which a man exited and proceeded to grab the clearly frightened girl by the arm and lead her back to the car. He turned back on to the highway and quickened away.
Amazingly thirty-eight people witnessed this horrifying sight however the first report shockingly wasn’t made for a further three days. Tragically by this time, the body of 10-year-old Carmen Colon had been discovered.
Carmen, originally from Puerto Rico before moving to live in one of the poorer areas of Rochester, went missing that afternoon. The young girl had agreed to run an errand for her mother and go pick up her prescription from the local drugstore. Carmen never returned. The last eyewitness report given was of Carmen getting into a car, which appeared to be waiting for her after she left the chemist.
Two days later the half-naked body of the little girl was found in Churchville by the side of the road. A couple of teenage boys made the discovery, initially mistaking Carmen’s body as a mannequin. Carmen had been raped and strangled and her body was covered in scratches. The girls pants were found near the exit to the 1-490.
As police tend to start with looking at family members first, and due to the fact the last eyewitness report seemed to indicate Carmen was willing to get into a car with her killer, police looked long and hard at Miguel Colon. Miguel Colon, or Uncle Miguel as he was known to Carmen, was interviewed by police about Carmen’s disappearance.
Miguel Colon soon after fled to his native Puerto Rico where he would later go on to commit suicide after a domestic violence dispute. In this incident, he non-fatally shot both his wife and his brother in law before shooting himself. Despite fleeing making him look slightly guilty and the violence shown in the domestic incident prior to his death police never tried to indict or charge him with the murder of Carmen.
Police also had an interest in an individual by the name of James Barber. Barber was a known sex offender and was also questioned by police. Nothing became of Barber as a suspect however and he had left Rochester by the time the Double Initial Killer struck again.
A Mothers Worst Nightmare
At roughly 5:10 pm on April 2, 1973, 11-year-old redhead Wanda went to collect some groceries for her mother from the local store. By 8.00pm that evening Wanda had failed to return home and so her mother desperate with worry called the police to report her daughter missing. Just over 14 hours later Wanda’s mother Joyce got a knock on the door that every parent dreads.
Wanda’s body was discovered by a New York state trooper whilst patrolling the rest area at Irondequoit Bay in Webster. Unlike Carmen, Wanda was still fully clothed but it was clearly evident that she had been the victim of a sexual assault. Her cause of death was strangulation, with the use of a ligature.
One strange detail was revealed during the autopsy. Wanda had eaten custard shortly before her murder. It was felt that the killer must have fed Wanda at some point as it wasn’t an item she purchased from the local store and her mother was adamant this wasn’t a food the young girl would have eaten at home or school.
An Imminent Arrest
Police were certainly given plenty of leads to follow up one. They received an anonymous call saying they had witnessed a young girl they could swear was Wanda being bundled into a Dodge Dart. Two young girls also told police that on the on the Saturday before Wanda’s murder that a man attempted to entice them into his vehicle, a Ford LTD. Another caller said he had seen the body actually being dumped. Yet another caller said he saw Wanda crying in a green Pinto driven by a tattoed man. Again though none of these calls led to anyone been arrested for the murder.
After continuously finding themselves heading towards dead ends some optimism finally seemed to appear, in fact, police even went as far as to indicate that an arrest was imminent. Sadly, this wasn’t to be. After interviewing an unknown individual, who had previously been arrested for child endangerment, for 12 hours police released there suspect after they passed a polygraph (lie detector test). Police were back to square one.
A Final Victim
Seven months after the murder of Wanda Walkowicz on November 26, 1973, 10-year-old Michelle Maenza went missing on her way home from school. Her battered and beaten body would tragically be discovered two days after her original disappearance in Macedon, New York.
Michelle was again fully clothed but with obvious signs of sexual assault. Like Carmen Colon and Wanda Walkowicz, she had died from strangulation. As was the case with Wanda the autopsy again seemed to reveal that Maenza had been fed by her eventual killer.
A New Suspect Emerges
Near the time of her disappearance, a friend of Michelle’s told police that she had seen her friend in the passenger seat of a beige car and that the car was driving erratically, even nearly causing an accident. Other witnesses also saw the near collision.
Soon after a man came forward to tell police about an incident he had encountered. He had come across a seemingly broken down beige coloured vehicle near Macedon on the Rt 350, and been of good nature the man decided to pull over and offer to help get the car moving again.
Whilst trying to help the man who stopped to help said that he noticed that the driver was clearly trying to cover his number plate and more importantly the identity of his passenger, who the man thought strongly resembled Michelle Maenza. The driver of the beige vehicle soon became irritated and threatened the good samaritan by raising his fist at him. The witness got back into his car and drove away, but not before taking a note of the part of the license plate he could see.
Another witness gave an identical description of a man seen with a crying girl they were certain was Michelle Maenza. This witness claimed this happened at a fast food restaurant in Penfield. What must have really interested the police was that the meal that was purchased for the crying girl was a cheeseburger, the same meal the autopsy showed Michelle had been fed by her killer.
A Stroke Of Luck
The witness who originally gave the partial number plate returned to the police station several days after his original visit. The man had luckily come across the same beige vehicle he had stopped to help but this time he was able to get a full license number. This led police to an unemployed petty criminal living with his family in Lyons, New York.
The suspect was a good match for sketches given by witnesses. He had also been the owner of the beige sedan witnesses had reported seeing. Despite this, the suspect claimed he had nothing to do with the murders and that he had an alibi.
The man’s alibi was that he was job hunting all day. After checking his account of events telephone records appeared to confirm his story, though it could just as easily been a family member using the phone, and his family also gave him an alibi. Police eventually released the suspect, who has never been named, after he passed a polygraph.
Despite high hopes police again were at a dead end and sadly the trail went cold on the Alphabet Murders not long after.
The Alphabet Murders Suspects
As mentioned earlier Miguel Colon continued to remain a suspect, at least for the murder of Carmen. Carmen was strangled from the front unlike the other two young girls, who were both strangled from behind. It is also worth noting that whilst the killer fed Wanda and Michelle this was not the case with Carmen.
It is quite possible that Carmen’s tragic murder was unrelated to those of Wanda and Michelle in which case Miguel is a very strong suspect for the murder of Carmen Colon. However if you believe all three to be connected then Miguel can be ruled out.
Just weeks after the death of the final victim of the Alphabet Murders, Michelle Maenza, a man held a teenager at gunpoint. The girl refused to stop screaming despite his repeated threats so the man decided to flee and go on the hunt for an easier target. The man in question was a Rochester firefighter named Dennis Termini.
Police chased Termini after spotting him with another would be victim. At first Termini, 25, managed to evade capture but police finally regained his trail and chased Termini to a parked car. At this point, before he could be apprehended by the officers, Termini had committed suicide by turning his gun on himself.
Dennis Termini owned a beige coloured car similar to the ones witnesses reported seeing. Termini also lived just half a mile from the school of Michelle Maenza, the final victim, and a map was in his car with the area Michelle’s body had been dumped at folded open. His firefighter uniform was also in the car, this could’ve explained why the girls seemed willing to get into the car with Termini as they would have seen him as someone they could trust.
Police would confirm Dennis Termini as the “Garage Rapist” but that was all they could confirm. His known victims as the “Garage Rapist” were between the ages of 18 and 21 which was one area of major doubt as to whether he could also have been responsible for the Alphabet Murders. In 2007 any doubt as to his innocence was cast aside as progressions in DNA testing proved that Termini was not responsible for the murders of Carmen, Wanda and Michelle.
To those into true crime, the name Kenneth Bianchi will probably be well known. Kenneth Bianchi, a Rochester, NY, native was one half of the Hillside Stranglers who were responsible for the deaths of ten women between 1977 and 1978. Bianchi was caught when he committed a pair of murders, without his partner Angelo Buono, and made a mess of the crime scene.
Bianchi was still living in Rochester at the time of the Alphabet Murders, he didn’t move to LA until 1975. He was also employed as an ice cream vendor, a security guard and an ambulance driver, all of which would’ve provided Bianchi with uniforms which would have made him seem approachable to a young girl. There was also forensic evidence from the crime scene of Wanda’s murder which could only be found present in 20% of males, Bianchi’s profile fell in this 20%. All this seemingly made Bianchi a very good suspect, at least on paper.
Police decided to match a wrist print they had obtained from the Michelle Maenza murder and compare it to Bianchi. Disappointingly it was not a match. However, it should be said that wrist prints change over time as the skin alters and loses elasticity so this can’t completely rule out Bianchi as there was a 10-year gap between the print been made and it been compared to Bianchi.
It is worth pointing out that there is no evidence that Bianchi ever killed anyone before teaming up with Angelo Buono. The one time he did kill alone he was caught due to the mistakes he made. Also, Bianchi was quite infamous so it makes you think that one of the many witnesses involved in the Alphabet Murders may have recognised him once he was revealed as one of the Hillside Stranglers.
To this day police still consider Kenneth Bianchi a possible suspect in the Alphabet Murders. Bianchi on the other hand is adamant he had nothing to do with the murders of Carmen, Wanda and Michelle (though he also claims not to be the Hillside Strangler too so make of that what you will) and has told police in the past to either charge him with the murders or leave him alone as he is tired of being linked to the murders.
On April 11, 2011, police arrested 77-year-old Joseph Naso and charged him with the murders of four women. His victims were Roxanne Roggasch, Pamela Parsons, Tracy Tafoya and Carmen Colon (no relation to the Rochester victim), all were prostitutes. Due to the double initial names of his victims, these crimes were referred to as the Alphabet Murders of California.
During a search of Naso’s home police found a disturbing journal Naso had kept. In the journal, he wrote about how he overpowered, raped and killed 10 victims. Eventually two more of these victims would be identified as Sarah Dylan and Shariea Patton, unfortunately, the other four women remain unidentified. Naso also had numerous pictures of women in various states of undress all seemingly unconscious, some of which were found to be his murder victims.
Not only was Naso linked due to the double initials of his victims and those in the Rochester Alphabet Murders but also because his modus operandi was to offer a lift in his vehicle before murdering his victims, similar to how police believed the Rochester perpetrator enticed his victims. Police were given further hope as Joseph Naso was born in Rochester, New York and lived there for many years, including the time period when the young girls were murdered. As promising as all this seemed the police and the families of the victims were again were left disappointed as Naso was later cleared of the Rochester murders by DNA evidence.
Sadly as with most unsolved murders, this case throws up more questions than answers. Where the murders all linked? It’s certainly possible Carmen was killed by Miguel and in fact, it is what many investigators believe.
Was the unnamed suspect who was let go just because he passed a polygraph kept a close eye on or cleared more thoroughly with DNA at a later date? Were the double initials deliberate or just a mere coincidence?
And finally, did the killings just stop? Is it possible the killer moved on and continued to kill elsewhere, could the same man be responsible for the Oakland County child murders or other such cases? I find it hard to imagine he just stopped.
So many questions remain about the Alphabet Murders but hopefully one day the case will be solved (I write this just days after EAR/ONS has been caught so there is hope). Please feel free to share any thoughts on the case in the comments section.
Further Reading And Sources
DNA evidence, tips fuel hunt for killer from 1970