This story scares the living shit out of me, mostly because I’m a mom. Even though this/these case(s) happened between 1971-1973, it’s still incredibly unsettling- more so that they happened very close to my home and they are still unsolved. This is the story of the Alphabet murders.
Our very sad and unfortunate story begins with a Puerto Rican child named Carmen Colon. She was only ten years old on November 16th 1971. That day, the weather in upstate New York was forty degrees and even though there was no precipitation, it was cloudy out. Earlier in the day, Carmen was asked by her grandmother to go to the pharmacy to retrieve her prescription. According to eyewitnesses, Carmen entered the pharmacy that her grandmother had instructed for her on West Main Street of Rochester, New York. Carmen learned while in the pharmacy that the prescription she was there to get was still being processed and wasn’t yet available. The store owner, Jack Corbin remembers Carmen saying to him, “I got to go. I got to go.” Carmen was then observed getting into a car that was closely parked to the pharmacy. She was last seen around 4:20pm that day.
Approximately fifty minutes after Carmen was seen leaving the pharmacy (around 5:10pm), many motorists driving along interstate 490 claimed to have seen Carmen, naked from the waist down, running from a reversing vehicle that’s believed to be a dark-colored Ford Pinto hatchback. Carmen apparently was frantically waving her arms back and forth and shouting in an attempt to stop any passing car. At least one of the passing motorists claimed to have seen Carmen being submissively led back into the vehicle by her abductor. (Okay. So before I go any further with this story, I already have a huge, B-I-G problem. I know that things were different back in 1971, but give me a freakin’ break. You’re gonna tell me that not person, not one single person was willing to pull over and help this little girl?! I can’t imagine that if I was ever driving down the expressway and saw a little girl being chased, half-naked that I wouldn’t stop. What kind of mad world do we live in that no one dared to help her?) Carmen was reported missing by her family to the RPD at 7:50pm.
Two days later (November 18th) two teenage boys discovered Carmen’s partially nude body in a gully not far from interstate 490- close to the village of Churchville. The location in which she was found was less than twelve miles from where she was last seen. Her coat was discovered in a culvert about three-hundred feet from her body and it wasn’t until November 30th that her pants were found close to the service road where numerous people passed her by while she was attempting to escape.
An autopsy was performed, and it was revealed that in addition to being raped, Carmen had suffered a fracture to her skull and one of her vertebrae before being manually strangled to death. Furthermore, her body had been extensively scratched by fingernails.
Carmen’s death and discovery, mixed with the findings that not one person was willing to stop and help her, caused public outcry. The Times Union, and the Democrat & Chronicle initially offered up a combined reward of $2,500 for information that was leading to the arrest and conviction of her murderer. All information from both newspapers was relayed to the police. Numerous local businesses and residents added private donations to the reward fund that eventually exceeded $6,000. Although police interrogated several suspects in the months following Carmen’s death, all were cleared and by December 21st the number of investigators that were assigned the case on a full-time basis was down to just three.
Carmen’s funeral was on November 22nd, 1971. Her funeral mass was attended by 200 people.
In early 1972, just a few months after Carmen’s death, five large billboards (each measuring 30 feet x 12 feet) were erected alongside major Rochester expressways. Each billboard bore an 8 foot high picture of Carmen alongside the headline, “Do You Know Who Killed Carmen Colon?” Unfortunately however, free use of these billboards were given for one month only by the Rochester Outdoor Advertising Company. Each offered a $6,000 reward that led to an arrest and conviction, and in addition to, displaying the telephone hotline number and postal address (that were established right after Carmen was found murdered). Although the billboard tactic generated some new leads, all failed to bear fruition.
Fast forward seventeen months. The date was April 2, 1973. The temperature was around 45 degrees, but it was a rainy day. Wanda Walkowicz was just an 11 year old girl who would normally go to the store for her mother, Joyce. According to a D&C article, Wanda spent $8.52 at the grocery store. Apparently she bought tuna, milk, cupcakes and cat food. At around 5:15pm, Wanda walked out of the store alone and began walking down Conkey Avenue. Once 8:00pm came that night and no sign of Wanda, Joyce reported her missing.
Police immediately launched an intense search for the young Wanda. Almost fifty detectives searched several square miles around her home, the grocery store and areas around the Genesee River (where she was known to play). Several neighborhood residents saw Wanda walking just north of Avenue B, and noted that she seemed to be struggling to carry the bag full of groceries. Three of her classmates distinctly remember Wanda having to brace the bag of groceries up against a fence so that she could get a better grip, and as she did, a brown vehicle drove by.
Wanda Walkowicz was found the next day- April 3rd at 10:15am by State Trooper Tom Zimmer. She was fully clothed and was found as the base of a hillside at the Bay Bridge rest area in Webster (approximately 7 miles from Rochester). The position of Wanda’s body was indicative of being thrown from a moving vehicle, and her body rolling down the embankment. An autopsy later revealed that she had in fact been sexually assaulted and then strangled from behind by a ligature (most likely a belt). After her death, her murderer redressed her. Several defensive wounds indicated that Wanda tried to fight off her attacker, and the autopsy also showed that there were traces of semen and pubic hair on her body. Furthermore, several strands of white cat hair were found on her clothing, although the Walkowicz family didn’t own a pet with white fur.
As had been the case with Carmen, investigators established an anonymous telephone hotline in addition to putting out numerous missing persons flyers. A reward of $10,000 was also put forth in hopes that it would lead to an arrest and conviction.
Police inquiries produced an eyewitness who informed investigators that as Wanda walked home from the store on April 2nd, he had observed Wanda standing alongside the passenger door of a large brown vehicle, talking to the driver. The eyewitness was unable to get a description of the driver, and it was noted to the investigators that this sighting was just two-tenths of a mile from her home. Another individual contacted investigators that she saw a man forcing a red-headed girl (fitting Wanda’s appearance) into a light-colored Dodge Dart on Conkey Avenue between 5:30 and 6:00pm the night of Wanda’s disappearance.
The RPD dismissed any suggestions of a link between Carmen Colon and Wanda Walkowicz. A sheriff sergeant who had been assigned Carmen’s murder was reassigned to the task force implemented to investigate Wanda’s murder.
Wanda was laid to rest on April 6th, 1973, and she rests in a small white and gold casket. Her service was officiated by Rev. Benedict Ehmann.
Just five months after Wanda’s death, in September of 1973, a local television network (WOKR) announced plans to broadcast a televised reconstruction of Wanda’s abduction and subsequent recovery of her body. The thirty minute episode aired just one month later- on October 21st and was accompanied by public appeals for witnesses to contact the police. Although the program resulted in the RPD receiving over 200 phone calls, nothing panned out.
Just a little over one month after the television program about Wanda, on the evening of November 26th 1973, 11-year old Michelle Maenza was reported missing by her mother, Carolyn. Michelle had failed to return home from school. An investigation into her disappearance began, and it was determined that Michelle was last seen by her classmates around 3:20pm. She was walking alone en route to a shopping plaza located close to her school with the intention of getting a purse her mother had accidentally left behind earlier in the day. At around 3:30, a witness observed Michelle sitting in a passenger seat of a beige or tan vehicle that was traveling at high speeds on Ackerman Street before turning onto Webster Avenue. According to the witness, it is believed that Michelle was crying.
At 5:30 on November 26th, a motorist observed a man standing by a large beige/tan vehicle that was parked alongside route 350 in the town of Walworth with a flat tire, and the man was holding a little girl by the wrist. The motorist strongly believed that the little girl was Michelle Maenza. When the motorist stopped to offer assistance, (finally, someone with a brain!) the man had deliberately “grabbed the girl and pushed her behind his back,” and also obscured his license plate number and stared the motorist down with a menacing expression which then compelled the motorist to leave.
Two days later, (November 28th) Michelle’s lifeless, fully-clothed body was found around 10:30am, lying face down in a ditch alongside a rural road in Macedon (approximately 15 miles from Rochester).
Her autopsy revealed that in addition to receiving extensive blunt force trauma to her body, Michelle was raped and then strangled to death from behind with a ligature (possibly a thin rope). Like Wanda, Michelle was found with numerous strands of white cat fur. Leaf samples matching the fall foliage where her body was discovered were recovered from her clenched hands- meaning that she had been strangled to death near or at the location where she was found. Investigators were able to retrieve a partial palm print from Michelle’s neck, and semen on her body and underwear. A forensic analysis of the semen samples determined that she had been raped by one person. An analysis of Michelle’s stomach revealed traces of a hamburger and onions and that she had eaten at least one hour before she was murdered. This finding gave credence to an earlier report of a girl that matched Michelle’s description having been seen in the company of a caucasion male with dark hair who was between the ages of 25-35 and approximately 6 feet tall, weighing about 165 pounds. They were both seen at a fast food restaurant in Penfield at around 4:30pm on the night of her disappearance. About an hour later, they were seen again alongside route 350.
Michelle’s funeral was held at the Corpus Christi Church on December 1st, 1973. Her open-casket funeral was attended by hundreds and at the conclusion of her service, Michelle’s father, Christopher Maenza stated, “She was a sweet girl. She didn’t fight much.”
All three murders generated intense public outreach and each received intense publicity. (As each case should!) Following the murder of Michelle, investigators released a composite drawing of the individual seen by numerous witnesses. They installed a telephone hotline number exclusively devoted to the manhunt for the perpetrator- whom they suspected committed all three murders. Once again, anonymity was offered to any caller with information, and again, a reward was offered. And once again, numerous calls were placed with police but no credible suspect was located.
Although investigators interrogated more than 800 suspects in relation to the Alphabet Murders, the perpetrator(s) were never caught and all three cases remain unsolved.
The similarities between Carmen, Wanda and Michelle are many. Let’s make a list:
- All three victims were pre-adolescent females who disappeared from the Rochester area in the early afternoon on days of light or heavy rain.
- Each child hailed from a poor Catholic family
- Each child had few friends
- Each child recently experienced bullying of some kind / Viewed as lonely outcasts
- Each child had/showed poor academic performance in school
*Investigators think that maybe the murder(s) may have been employed by, or held knowledge of the practises of, a social service agency in his efforts to initiate contact with and/or gain the trust of each victim.
- Each child’s body was later discovered within adjoining counties from where they were taken. Carmen = Churchville. Wanda = Webster. Michelle = Macedon.
- Each child’s body had been discovered either partially or fully clothed.
- Each child’s body was discovered close to an expressway at a location typically accessible by car
- Each victim had been thrown from, or carried from a car and discarded.
- Each victim was short in height.
- All three girls had been raped then strangled to death.
- An analysis of Wanda and Michelle’s stomach contents revealed that both girls had eaten shortly before their death (and it’s noted that neither girl had eaten prior to disappearing.)
Both contemporary and current investigators have stated the possibility each victim had been selected due to the double initials of their names is extremely unlikely. If an offender chose his victims by initials, he would first have to stalk them over a period of time and thus risking being caught. They do believe that the same perpetrator murdered both Wanda and Michelle, but when it comes to Carmen, her murder strongly indicates that her murderer knew her personally and possibly related to her.
T H E S U S P E C T S :
- Miguel Colon: Carmen’s uncle is considered by investigators because just weeks prior to Carmen’s murder, he is known to have purchased a car loosely matching the vehicle seen by eyewitnesses reversing on interstate 490 in pursuit of Carmen. Investigators searched his car shortly after the murder, and found it to be extensively cleaned both inside and outside. Questioning the dealership who sold the car to Miguel, the investigators learned they had not washed the car with detergent prior to the sale. A doll was found inside the car, but the family says that Carmen frequently traveled with Miguel and likely left her toy behind. However, according to a friend, just two days after Carmen’s death, Miguel had informed him that he intended on leaving the country because he had “done something wrong in Rochester.” Miguel relocated from Rochester to PR just four days after Carmen’s murder. Investigators traveled to San Juan in March of 1972 to question Miguel, but he caught wind that they were looking for him and he ran. Miguel surrendered to police on March 26th, and was extradited back to Rochester for questioning. Miguel could not provide a (credible) alibi for his movements for when Carmen went missing. No individual could corroborate his claims. Despite strong circumstantial evidence, no physical evidence could be found that could link him to Carmen’s murder. Miguel Colon committed suicide in 1991 at the age of 44 following a domestic violence incident in which he shot and wounded both his mother and brother.
- Dennis Termini: Dennis Termini was a Rochester firefighter and was also a prolific serial offender known as the “Garage Rapist” who is known to have committed at least 14 rapes of teenage girls and young women between 1971-1973. He is also known to have owned a beige vehicle similar to eyewitness reports. Even more damning is that he is reported to have lived at an address on Bock Street- an address close to the area where Michelle Maenza was last seen alive. Five weeks after Michelle’s death, on January 1st 1974, Dennis attempted to abduct a teenage girl at gunpoint, although he fled the scene due to the teenager refusing to stop screaming. Shortly thereafter, Dennis abducted another potential victim, although on this occasion he was pursued by police which eventually led Dennis to commit suicide by shooting himself in the head. A subsequent forensic examination of Dennis’ vehicle did reveal traces of white cat fur on the upholstery. In January 2007 (don’t ask why it took so damn long!) Dennis’ body was exhumed to obtain a DNA sample for comparison of the semen samples from Wanda’s body. The results concluded that Dennis did not commit Wanda’s murder, and no physical evidence was retrieved from Carmen and Michelle to compare to Dennis’ DNA.
- Kenneth Bianchi: At the time of the murders, Kenneth worked as an ice cream vendor in Rochester. He is known to have worked at locations that were close to two murder scenes. Kenneth relocated to LA in January 1976. Between 1977 and 1978, he and his close cousin, Angelo Buono JR, committed the “Hillside Strangler” murders of 10 girls and young women between the ages of 12 and 28. Bianchi has vehemently denied any culpability of Carmen, Wanda and Michelle’s deaths and has never been charged. However, while he resided in Rochester, he is known to have driven a vehicle of the same color and model as the one attributed to the abductions.
- Joseph Naso: In April 2011, 77 year old Joseph Naso was arrested in Reno, Nevada for the murders of four women in California committed between 1977 and 1994- all of whom were prostitutes and all of whom whose surname began with the same letter as their first name. Joseph was a NY native who had lived in Rochester in the early 1970’s and who is known to have regularly traveled between NY and CA. Initially described by authorities as a person of interest in the Rochester Alphabet Murders, DNA testing has eliminated Naso as a suspect in Wanda’s murder. Naso was brought to trial on June 18th 2013 and charged with murder for the four CA Alphabet Murders. He was unanimously convicted of each murder on August 20th, 2013. On November 22nd 2013, Naso was formally sentenced to death.
In 1995, the mother of Carmen Colón made her first public statement regarding the murder of her daughter. In this interview, granted to D&C reporter Jack Jones, Guillermina Colón stated that although she had lived her entire life in poverty, if she could have only one thing before her own death, it would not be wealth, but knowing who had murdered her daughter, adding: “[If] I could die knowing who killed my Carmencita, I could die more peacefully than I have lived. It is the only thing I want in my life, to know that this person had to pay for the terrible things he did to my little girl. If the person who did this could have any compassion, he would see the pain and suffering the families of these little girls have gone through, for all this time.”
The D&C newspaper published a series of articles focusing upon the ongoing police investigation into the Alphabet Murders in 2009, appealing for public information with a view to closing the case. These articles resulted in the RPD receiving approximately twenty new leads of inquiry. Although all leads received were pursued, none resulted in the apprehension and conviction of the perpetrator(s). Nonetheless, a police spokesman has stated the RPD remains committed to solving the case.
I hope and I pray that they find the person or persons responsible for taking away three beautiful little souls. No one should ever have to go through what those three little girls went through. I can’t imagine their last moments, probably calling out for their mamas or their papas- anyone to come help them. If you have any information in the deaths of Carmen Colon, Wanda Walkowicz or Michelle Maenza, please contact the NY State Police at (585) 398-4100 or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org