Before Your Right to Remain Silent . . .
* You have the right to remain silent
* Anything you say can and may be used against you
* You have the right to have an attorney present before and during questioning
- Miranda warning (excerpt)
Criminal justice, while normally running its course impartially, has had many missteps in human history.
In some instances innocent people are imprisoned and even executed for crimes they did not commit. This was true, most notably, of British laborer, Timothy Evans (accused of murdering his wife and child in the late 1940s). It was only years after his execution that it was learned his downstairs neighbor, John Reginald Halliday Christie, not only killed Evans’ wife and child, but several other women—including his own wife—as well.
In other cases of amok justice real criminals might be caught but released, either due to technicalities in their due processing or because juries (thanks to the tenor of the times) may decide what they did was justified or inconsequential.
Other criminals are either never caught; or, by the time they are uncovered, it is too late to do anything punitive with them.
This latter instance applies to the best candidate for “The Zodiac Killer”. The main suspect died in 1992 as police, still working on leads concerning the unsolved slayings of several people in the late 1960s and early 1970s in the San Francisco area, closed in on this suspect.
The lack of timeliness in catching a killer also denied justice to Carol Jenkins, a young black woman murdered on the streets of a small Sundown town in Indiana in 1968. There was little interest in her case at the time by local police, and it went “cold”. Decades later, the daughter of her killer came forward, and he was arrested. The man, Kenneth C. Richmond, had stabbed her on the street with a screwdriver—he was a known racist with Ku Klux Klan connections. Unfortunately, the 70-year-old died of bladder cancer two weeks after he was declared incompetent to stand trial for Carol’s murder. He did have an accomplice on the night of Carol’s murder, however, and that man remains at large (if he is still alive).
The particularly heinous murders of two young women living in New York City, however, included elements of both kinds of damaged justice: an innocent man was convicted, and the true criminal was some time in being caught.
The scene was a hot day in August 1963 when two “career girls”—one, a school teacher just starting out; the other, a “copy girl” at a nationally recognized magazine—were brutally slashed to death in the apartment they shared with a third “career girl”.
Police initially had no clues or suspects in what became known as the Career Girls Murders until a young black man, George Whitmore, Jr., crossed their path.
In the years before the Miranda v. Arizona decision had been handed down by the US Supreme Court (“You have the right to remain silent . . .”) it took some “enthusiastic” police persuasion before Whitmore not only confessed to those killings, but admitted to a third.
He was imprisoned while the wheels of justice turned—very slowly—and the case was ostensibly closed until a couple of years later when the real killer was found.
Babes in the Woods
In the early 1960s (and perhaps—though to a lesser degree—even today) New York City was seen as a Mecca for the young. The artistic, the musical types, and the literary minded all set their sights on the Big Apple as “the place to be”.
Janice Wylie, at 21 years old, had grown up in the world of literature and book publishing. Her father, Max Wylie, was a radio advertising executive. He had served on the faculty of New York University and had written a number of novels, plays, and textbooks. [He would later go on to become the creator of the late-Sixties’ TV series, The Flying Nun (starring Sally Field in the title role), and wrote 11 episodes for it. He committed suicide by gunshot in 1975.] Janice had a sister named Pamela.
Max’s brother (Janice’s uncle) was the critically acclaimed author Philip Gordon Wylie. He had written a 1942 best-selling essay collection called Generation of Vipers. He was also the author of many mystery novels, and he wrote in the science fiction genre as well.
Janice lacked nothing materially in her young life. She was 5’-6” tall (about 168 cm), blond, svelte, vivacious, and she partied with the élite at New York’s famous Stork Club.
She (along with an older sister) had been adopted by the Hofferts of Minnesota. Emily was very serious about her career path—she had graduated from Massachusetts’ Smith College and was starting on a teaching career. She was from the hinterlands of America—Edina, Minnesota. She was the stereotypical small-town girl just arrived in the Big City.
According to Emily’s sister, Mary (in an interview in August 2013):
“She was very good in languages, and she had a double major in English and Russian literature. She was in New York just for that summer before she would start her first year of teaching. It was just a temporary place, staying in that apartment . . .”
Emily had arrived in New York on or about July 20, 1963. Patricia Tolles, another “career girl”, was 23, and she worked for the book division of Time-Life. She was also a graduate of Smith College, where she had met Emily; the two had roomed together in college. These two young women then met Janice Wylie, and the three found the apartment on 88th Street.
The third-floor apartment was fairly posh by the day’s standards. It was near Central Park. There was an awning over the nine-story building’s entrance, with a uniformed doorman on duty. It had five rooms, and though the building was rent-controlled, the rent of $250 per month was not cheap for 1963 (that is the equivalent of about $1850 today). But with three women sharing the cost, it was affordable (particularly considering Janice’s father—who lived only a few blocks away—doted on her and probably helped out financially anytime she needed it).
Janice Wylie had a job with Newsweek magazine as a “copy girl”. This was a glorified title—in the era of male-dominated publications her position was little more than that of a gofer. She did a lot of truly menial tasks for the writers and editors on the staff. She filled paste pots (for lay-out work) and distributed wire-service copy. She fetched coffee.
Her dream, however, was to become an actress (whether it be in Hollywood or on the Broadway stage, she didn’t care). To help her on that path she took acting classes at the Neighborhood Playhouse. She had gotten some minor, very “off-Broadway” work, mostly as a dancer.
This was the cast of characters for a brutal slaying on Wednesday, August 28, 1963 (only 39 days after the country mouse, Emily Hoffert, moved to The City that Never Sleeps).
It’s Oh So Quiet
The Newsweek staff on the morning of August 28, 1963, was extremely busy.
Dr. Martin Luther King had led the “March on Washington” that day (which culminated with his soon-to-be-famous “I Have a Dream” speech). All of this was big, big news, and would be the lead-off for the magazine’s next issue. Newsweek staffers all wanted to make sure to get the latest on the march and anything else that came from it.
Janice Wylie, however, had failed to show up for her late-morning shift. Nor had she called in to say she would not be at work that day. Many of her co-workers knew of her predilection for the “night life” of New York; some assumed she had been out late the night before and had simply overslept. Her absence left those covering for her at work annoyed with her, however, and repeated calls to her apartment went unanswered. After a time, lower-level staffers stopped calling, assuming she would turn up at some point later in the day or the next day (with an excuse).
Meanwhile, Patricia Tolles had been up and out early that day, leaving Janice and Emily behind in the apartment. Patricia was working at her job at Time-Life; in the late afternoon she took a call at work from Janice’s mother, Isobel Wylie. Isobel said she had gotten a call from Newsweek, Janice’s employer, asking if she knew where Janice was.
When Patricia had left their apartment that morning Janice was up and pottering about getting things ready to leave for work later in the morning. Emily had made it clear she was going to run some errands in the Bronx. Learning Janice had not shown up for work, and certain Janice had no other plans for the day, Patricia was alarmed. It seemed unlikely Janice would have suddenly changed plans and not gone to work without calling in. Patricia hustled home, arriving there at about 6:40 PM.
When she walked in the door she knew something was amiss—she found “the whole place in a mess, the apartment terribly upset, and I couldn’t find my roommates”. The door to one of the bedrooms was ajar and through it Patricia could see what she thought was bloody clothing strewn about the room. Further on she saw a knife lying on the bathroom sink.
She searched no further; the panicked woman retreated far enough to use the phone and called Max Wylie, Janice’s father, who lived only three blocks away from his daughter’s new apartment. She told him what she’d seen thus far, she hung up, and then she called the police. Patricia left the apartment and went down to the lobby to wait for Max Wylie and the police.
Max got there just a few minutes later bringing his wife, Isobel, with him. He started searching the place, leaving Patricia (who had come up with him) and his wife standing near the apartment’s entrance.
He found a kitchen knife (from the girls’ apartment it was later discovered) in the bathroom. Efforts had been made to clean it, but roughly a quarter-inch splotch of blood remained on the hasp.
Further inspection revealed the worst when Max came upon the half-opened door to a bedroom that held two twin beds but was otherwise empty except for a box or two of things that had been moved in but remained packed. The first bed looked as if it had been “disturbed”; the second one was drenched in blood. Both beds had been shifted about in what appeared to have been a struggle.
The young women were placed on their sides in this confined space, their bodies touching. Janice was bound at the wrists with cut-up or torn strips from a bedspread; she still had curlers in her hair from her morning’s grooming activities.
The pair had been stabbed at least 63 times with at least three different knives (including the one found in the bathroom and two others whose blades had been broken in the frenzied attack). [The viciousness of the attack made it difficult during an autopsy to later accurately clarify the stab-wound count.]
The hasps of two broken knives had been set on top of the bedroom’s radiator cover (the broken blade tip of one was still stuck in Emily’s chest). A third knife had already been spotted in the bathroom and appeared as if the killer had tried to wash it clean.
Doing his best to be mindful that the apartment was a crime scene, Max still had to step in a pool of blood near the women’s bodies to gain a better view. He covered Janice and Emily with a blanket and then left the room. He told Patricia and his wife what he had seen and then called the police himself (though Patricia had already done so).
Police combed the apartment for clues and found little.
There was evidence suggesting that at least one empty, glass soda bottle had been used to bonk one or both of the women on the head, rendering them unconscious before anything else occurred.
Splotchy smears of Noxzema® on Janice’s nude body (combined with other physical evidence) led to the unsavory conclusion that she had been sexually assaulted (though if to “completion” was unclear) and that her attacker had used the cleansing cream as a makeshift lubricant for the act.
Emily, in direct contrast, was clothed and showed no signs of having been raped. On its surface (Emily’s purse had been rifled—there was no cash in it—and the general mayhem in the apartment led to this conclusion), it looked as if a burglary had gone awry, with an opportunistic interloper taking advantage of a nude Janice Wylie for some extra recreation during his intended crime.
And it seemed to the first arrivals on the scene that Emily was most likely collateral damage, coming home from her errands and walking in on Janice’s attacker in the act.
The service elevator operator reported hearing some scuffling noises between 10:30 AM and 11 AM while he was taking trash out of the building, but he saw no one out-of-place. The building’s doorman was useless as well—though generally stationed in the lobby, he had either been on a break, or had not been paying attention when anyone unusual might have entered the building during the relevant hours.
Police did discover, however, that the building had a second entrance that could be used by anyone. This entrance led directly to an access area for the building’s service elevator and to a rear stairwell; thus, the doorman maybe did not have a chance to see the killer.
Even after due diligence police were at a loss to explain how the intruder gained entry to Janice’s apartment. Did she know her attacker and had innocently let him in? Had Emily, upon leaving for her errands that morning, simply failed to lock the front door behind her, leaving Janice (already pre-occupied with readying herself for a shower) a sitting duck? Or, were these young women so trusting of the security in the building (upscale address, doorman, etc.) that they never bothered with minutiae such as making sure their front door was locked?
Canvasses of the neighborhood were nearly useless. Other denizens along 88th Street claimed there had been several break-ins of late, but no one suspicious had been seen lurking about that day.
There were no solid leads. The newspapers printed up the story in as sensational a manner as the times allowed (even going so far as to print some of the gorier details). Newsweek offered a $10,000 reward for any information that would lead to the killer of the two young women.
Terror was in the air. The Boston Strangler case was at its peak in the press (and in the nation’s mind) during this time, and it was no stretch for New Yorkers to think they might have someone just like the unknown Strangler, a sexual predator, in their midst as well.
And for the living “career girls” of New York—those like Janice, or those who, like Emily and Patricia, had come to town and found jobs as secretaries or who were college students—their terror was very real. Any one of them could become a victim at any time.
Dozens of detectives were assigned to the case. They conducted hundreds of interviews, and followed up on scores of leads and tips, many of which were simply wild-goose chases, or submitted by crackpots or those with a grudge against another person.
Hundreds of men (some of whom were bona fide oddballs and sociopaths) were tracked down and questioned. Among these were several men Janice Wylie had dated; detectives working the case assumed (using popular wisdom) that she was the killer’s target (because of her glamour-girl looks and outgoing, party-girl lifestyle. [One of the more bizarre, early “suspects” in the case was a strange woman who some of the investigative staff thought might have killed Janice and Emily. This woman ambled aimlessly around Manhattan pushing two babies in a stroller. She was sufficiently suspicious in her behaviors that when finally accosted by police it was learned her babies were nothing of the sort—they were two pet monkeys bundled up in pink blankets!]
The Career Girls Murders case went cold.
Many months later in March 1964, a front page refresher piece was printed by the New York Herald Tribune, reminding everyone under the banner headline, “Our City’s Number One Unsolved Murder: Who Killed the Career Girls?”, that there were still two young women dead and that police had been ineffective in finding their killer.
Another woman was brutally murdered about a month after the Herald Tribune story ran. Minnie Edmonds, a 46-year-old African-American house-cleaner, was stabbed and slashed to death on April 14, 1964. Her body was found in a Brooklyn alleyway, and it appeared she had also been sexually assaulted. There were enough similarities that people thought Minnie’s death and that of Janice Wylie and Emily Hoffert might be connected. Minnie’s case, like that of “The Career Girls” was a dead-end, though.
Police needed a break.
They got one several days later. On April 23, only nine days after Minnie Edmonds was murdered, another “career girl” was caught out.
Only a block from where Minnie’s body had been found, 20-year-old Elba Borrero was walking home from her job as a nurse at almost 1:30 in the morning.
A black male jumped Elba, and grappled with her, placing her in a headlock. The Latina woman struggled fiercely, however, and managed to break free from the man. He ran off, drawing the attention of a patrolling New York City cop, Frank Isola. Isola took off after the man and even managed to squeeze off a few rounds from his service weapon. The suspect evaded Isola, however, after a chase of three blocks.
But luck was on Isola’s side.
The very next day, while on duty, Isola saw what he thought was the same suspect in Elba’s assault just a few blocks away from the previous wee hours’ close call. This time, the man was arrested and taken to the local station house. Elba Borrero was later brought in and she positively identified him as the African-American man who had attacked her.
The man—George Whitmore, Jr., of Wildwood, New Jersey—was summarily charged with attempted rape and attempted robbery.
The routine collar for a failed run-of-the-mill street mugging took an interesting turn rather quickly.
George Whitmore, Jr., was 19 years old, of below average intelligence (later tested at an IQ of less than 70), and had chronic acne (so bad that scarring was clearly evident on his face). He had dropped out of school (one source says in the 8th grade, another says at age 17) but had never been in trouble with the law before. He was severely near-sighted; he could not afford new eyeglasses so he went without them.
He lived with whomever among his relatives and friends would take him in: his siblings, an aunt and uncle, a cousin, and a girlfriend and her mother. He most often worked in a Wildwood, New Jersey, junkyard where his father also worked. He helped sort scrap metal and tried to keep the yard in order.
He was a transient, or “day”, laborer. [He had been floating around a high-crime area of Brooklyn and was unemployed upon his arrest; police later described him as a “drifter”.] He had been waiting on the street for a friend to pick him up and take him to a job site for work when he was nabbed by patrolman Isola.
This was the early 1960s, the period before anyone had the right to remain silent, before anyone had a right to an attorney (“you have a right to talk to a lawyer and have one present with you while you are being questioned”).
Because of the proximity of Elba’s assault scene to the murder site of Minnie Edmonds (same neighborhood) police were curious if Whitmore might have been complicit in Minnie’s murder, too.
Whitmore was secured in an interrogation room. Going through his personal items police discovered something of interest that pointed them in a slightly different direction than just their initial interest in Elba and Minnie.
In Whitmore’s wallet, he carried a number of snapshots. Most were of African-Americans he knew. One worn and rumpled photo, though, was of two white teenage girls sitting in the back of a convertible, one brunette, the other a blond.
Among those present when Whitmore was brought in was a veteran detective of the force, Edward Bulger. Bulger was one of the primary detectives on the Career Girls Murders case. Of all the police on hand at the precinct, he was the only one with intimate knowledge of the women’s apartment, the crime scene, the murder weapons, and what had gone down there.
Bulger was also a notorious racist, and he was convinced only a black man could be capable of such brutality toward a white woman (the object of every black man’s desires in his mind). Illustrating his take on African-Americans in general—when asked how he could tell if a suspect was lying or telling the truth—he had flippantly once remarked to a couple of Manhattan D.A.s: “You can always tell when a [Negro] is lying. You watch his stomach. If it moves in and out, he’s lying.” [In other words, if a black man was breathing, he was lying!]
Detective Bulger took a look at the photo taken from Whitmore’s wallet. He was so certain the blond woman in the picture was Janice Wylie that he managed to make a mental leap from suspecting Whitmore not only of assaulting Elba Borrero and murdering Minnie Edmonds but of also killing Janice Wylie and Emily Hoffert!
Suddenly, the police wanted to know from Whitmore what his involvement was in the “career girl” case. He was deprived of sleep. His interrogators kept him locked up and under rapid fire grilling for about 22 hours. Whitmore—unsophisticated, of sub-par intelligence, and relatively uneducated—was completely out of his league in the face of such an onslaught. He was mentally and emotionally incapable of parrying the badgering he took from police.
His interrogators told Whitmore that—miraculously—the two young women (Janice and Emily) were still alive; he was in no danger of going to jail if he confessed. All he had to do was admit his crimes against these two women (and against Elba Borrero, who, it would later be learned, had misidentified Whitmore as her attacker). Minnie Edmonds was incidental.
He started out by claiming to know nothing of Wylie, Hoffert, Borrero, or Edmonds. After enough hours of psychological battering he finally succumbed to the pressure: he wanted to get out of there and go home (something he was promised if he would confess). He finally admitted to not only killing Janice and Emily but to assaulting Elba Borrero and to killing Minnie Edmonds (another murder police wanted to close the books on).
Police also used the photographic “evidence” found on Whitmore at the time of his arrest to “help” him see that confessing was his only way out of this mess. Detective Bulger, sure the blond in the picture was Janice, managed to convince the hapless Whitmore that Whitmore had removed the picture from the apartment after the murders.
Despite Max and Isobel Wylie’s (Janice’s parents) and others who knew Janice intimately denying that the blond woman in the picture taken from Whitmore was Janice Wylie police clung to this photo as “hard” evidence.
The prosecutors who handled Whitmore’s case felt the same about the photo, that it was “good”. [Later, during the time when it was clear to all that Whitmore had been railroaded into a confession, other investigators managed to track down one of the white female subjects in the picture found in Whitmore’s wallet. Police learned it had been taken some years earlier while the two young women picnicked in a New Jersey state park; the picture had been lost. Whitmore, a New Jersey native, had found it lying around somehow and decided to tuck it into his wallet for some unknown reason.]
The next day (Saturday) an assistant district attorney was brought in to interview Whitmore anew. A stenographer transcribed the confession, which took about an hour to relate and ran to 61 pages. Buried in the text was a statement in which Whitmore confessed to killing Minnie Edmonds (the black housekeeper) on April 14, 1964, and a statement about assaulting Elba Borrero. The statement also contained details about the murders of Janice and Emily, details police claimed “could only be known by the killer”.
Based on his confession and the suspect photo Whitmore was charged not only with the murders of Janice Wylie and Emily Hoffert but also with the murder of Minnie Edmonds and the alleged attempted sexual assault/robbery of Elba Borrero.
Many people confess to crimes they didn’t commit for many reasons. For some, the notoriety, however brief, is irresistible. Others are mentally unbalanced. With respect to his confessing at the time Whitmore made it clear he thought that confessing was a way to stop the vicious interrogation, allowing him to simply go home.
Trial of No Man
Police were very smug in their closing the case on the Hoffert-Wylie murders with Whitmore’s arrest. “We got the right guy, no question about it,” Chief of Police McKearney was quoted as saying upon Whitmore’s booking.
But had they?
Whitmore was arraigned on April 28; finally having access to a lawyer, he recanted his confession. He claimed he had been beaten during the interrogations (police, of course, denied this and there was no evidence of it, but some form of physical force or intimidation was likely used). Whitmore claimed he had also asked to be given a polygraph test but was denied this. His counsel argued that a guilty man would not likely do this. [Such an assumption is baseless: guilty people will often ask for polygraph exams either in the hopes they can “beat” the test or that interrogators will take the request as an indication of innocence and not bother with it.]
Police and prosecutors still thought he was the killer of Minnie Edmonds, Emily Hoffert and Janice Wylie, though.
Americans of African descent were in a bad place in the early 1960s. The country was experiencing the “growing pains” of accepting civil rights for its black citizens (the Civil Rights Act itself was signed into law on July 2—America’s true Independence Day, not July 4 as is popularly believed—in 1964).
Whitmore’s attorney who first represented him after his arrest, Jerome Leftow, in a later interview on the subject stated:
“The world was different in the ’60s. There were very few minority people on the police force, or in the district attorney’s office, so the black population didn’t have much influence on the legal system . . . The police were able to do things that were wrong. The district attorney’s office played around with evidence. That’s how they solved crimes back then. There was no one looking over anyone’s shoulder, and they looked at black people in a different way.”
Explanations were necessary to clear Whitmore, however. Rather than the prosecution proving his guilt he was required—contrary to the law—to prove his innocence.
He said the photo of the two white women found in his wallet was something he had picked up while rummaging through a Wildwood, New Jersey, junkyard where his father worked. Further investigative work by those sensing Whitmore was being railroaded led them to one of the young women in the picture, Arlene Franc, who was living, healthily, in southern New Jersey. [It was she who told the story of the loss of the picture—she said it had been taken in 1961, and she had thrown it away some time later.]
Other witnesses came forward who placed Whitmore in Wildwood, New Jersey, on the day of the Career Girls Murders. Like many people of his racial background he was sitting in a public place that had a television set, watching Dr. King’s speech from Washington, DC, on the tube.
Whitmore was drinking a Coca-Cola at Wildwood’s Ivy Hotel (where he sometimes worked as a dishwasher) on the morning of the Career Girls Murders. During the broadcast of Dr. King, a local girl, Ludie Montgomery (age 15), came in. She and Whitmore plunked some coins into the hotel’s jukebox and sat and listened to records. This put George Whitmore many miles away from the Hoffert-Wylie murder scene at the time the crimes were being committed.
As for his giving up details to police that “only the killer could know” it was learned the police had fed Whitmore information. More critically, the belligerent and racist detective, Edward Bulger (who had been working the Career Girls Murders case) happened to be on-hand when Whitmore was brought in, and he voraciously jumped into the interrogation process. It was he who “identified” Janice Wylie as one of the young women in the battered photo in Whitmore’s wallet (later proven to be a complete mistake).
Whitmore’s confession was discredited, but the indictment against him was not dismissed.
He was tried for the attempted rape of the nurse, Elba Borrero, on November 1964. She had gotten off work at midnight; she said she had left the subway a few blocks from her house and was walking. Within sight of her building, she said a man grabbed her from behind, wrapped an arm around her neck, and said, “Don’t scream, or I’ll kill you!”
She struggled. She said she managed to get a good look at his face at one point in the altercation when her head was turned toward him. It was about that time a police officer (Isola) showed up and chased the man as he ran off into a darkened alleyway.
An irregularity in police procedure was uncovered during her testimony. Elba confirmed that she had identified Whitmore as her attacker at the police station when he’d been brought in but she also said he was the only suspect the police had presented to her for inspection (he did not take part in a “classic” line-up with several other similarly appearing men for her to pick out).
The only physical evidence brought to support Whitmore as the assailant of Elba Borrero was his ragged leather coat (presumably worn during the attack on Elba) and a loose leather button (Elba had torn a button from her attacker’s jacket during the struggle).
The prosecution claimed the button came from Whitmore’s coat—interestingly enough, the prosecution had, at the time of this open-court grandstanding, a report from the FBI whose analysts had categorically determined the button being waved in front of the jury was not a match for those on Whitmore’s garment.
Whitmore took the stand in his defense. He said his admissions of attacking Elba were not true, and that he only confessed because he was afraid of the detectives:
“I was in the precinct—the only Negro in that precinct house. They called me a liar. I told them if I said I did it, I would be lying, so every time I said I didn’t know what happened, I got knocked into the chair . . . Every time I denied I’d done any of those things, they’d punch me in the back or chest. They beat on me whenever I said no . . . I continuously got beat until I couldn’t take it no more, so I just broke down and shook my head.”
The jury didn’t accept Whitmore’s version of events. He was found guilty, though it took nine hours of deliberation to reach the verdict. Leftow (his court-appointed attorney) was discharged upon the trial’s conclusion.
A new defense team took up Whitmore’s cause to dispose of the other allegations still lurking in the wings: the murders of Emily, Janice, and Minnie. With investigators working on their behalf, this team—headed by Arthur H. Miller and Edwin Kaplan—dug up enough material to sway any thinking jury that Whitmore’s involvement in the Career Girls Murders was bogus.
Certain parts of the confession made little sense. It wasn’t clear how Whitmore got onto the service elevator without being noticed in a building that had a doorman (the prosecution’s working theory of how he got upstairs which did not address, however, how he might have gotten through the front door of the apartment itself).
The murdered women had been brutalized by multiple stab wounds and (according to his statement) Whitmore never got any blood on his clothes!
In relating to Detective Bulger (the man who thought that “Negroes” lie all the time) what happened in the apartment, Whitmore said he didn’t realize the two women were dead when he left them. The investigators who took over reflected on this; with a more cautious stance, they decided that even someone as mentally limited as Whitmore could have seen the women were clearly not alive considering the nature of their injuries.
There was no evidence linking Whitmore to the Career Girls Murders except for his “confession”. The photo of the white girl had been proven not to be that of Janice Wylie. There was nothing connecting him to the murder scene on 88th Street. With the confession discredited, there was no way for the prosecution to go ahead effectively on the other charge levied against him, the murder of Minnie Edmonds (since this crime had been lumped into the fabricated confession). The prosecution decided to delay processing the murder case though his indictment for Minnie Edmonds’ murder was still in force.
What was interesting about Whitmore’s trial for Elba’s assault (and the continued interest in him as a suspect in the Hoffert-Wylie and Edmonds murders) was that while he was on the stand arguing his innocence police had another and, what would turn out to be, better suspect in their sights for the Career Girls Murders.
And most of the prosecution staff looking to still crucify Whitmore knew this.
Dirty Junkie Rat!
The adage “There is no honor among thieves” perhaps applies 100-fold to the street junkie.
Narcotics users at the street level are notorious hustlers, always looking to score (drugs, money, women, but mostly drugs and money), and they will generally say and do anything to meet these goals, even sell-out their friends (what few they may have).
Enter Nathan “Jimmy” Delaney. This street-level junkie and small-time dealer had never amounted to anything in his life. He had been in trouble with the law off-and-on since 1946 (when he would have been about 17 years old). He had done some time in prisons, and he was married to a woman, Marjorie, who was also an addict and a prostitute.
A month before George Whitmore went on trial (for Elba Borrero’s attack), Delaney, age 35, was arrested on October 9, 1964, for the murder of another drug dealer, Roberto Cruz del Valle (supposedly to teach him a lesson about bringing inferior product into Delaney’s “territory”). He had lured this man into a hallway and killed him by plunging a knife into his head.
Delaney had an ace up his sleeve. Knowing that this last crime would surely put him away for life or even get him a ride in the electric chair (as a habitual offender, this last capital crime on his record put him in jeopardy, regardless of any mitigating circumstances that might be revealed) he offered the police some valuable information in exchange for leniency.
He dropped a bomb—the junkie Delaney said he knew who killed Janice and Emily and it wasn’t George Whitmore. Already feeling heat from the public about the handling of Whitmore’s confession they were horrified to learn they had barked up the wrong tree with him in the first place.
The killer of the “career girls”, according to Delaney, was another junkie named Richard Robles.
Robles, it would be learned, had a Hispanic father and a French mother. He had been born January 27, 1943, in Manhattan and lived his whole life in an Upper East Side section called Yorkville. His father was a violent alcoholic, and his parents separated when he was 11. He had two brothers—the older brother died in an accident in Kentucky when Robles was 15 years old. His brother’s death left him disaffected and withdrawn.
Young Richard—who preferred to be called “Ricky”—developed a drug habit. He was 14 the first time he shot up heroin and dropped out of school in the 8th grade. By the time he was 16, he was a hard-core heroin user. To support this habit, Robles needed anywhere from $30 to $50 per day to get fixed (a couple hundred dollars in today’s money, no mean feat for a 16-year-old boy to get).
To get that kind of money he started stealing.
At 17, he had a child (fathered after an ongoing sexual relationship with an older woman). Also at that age, Robles was arrested in the wake of a string of burglaries he’d committed in his own neighborhood. Police called him “The Baby-Faced Bandit”, and while Robles claimed only 25 burglaries in that spree (which lasted six months), police said the total was closer to 100. He pled guilty to an assault charge, however, and drew a one- to five-year sentence in prison at Elmira. He earned his high school diploma while incarcerated, and he was released on June 3, 1963, just about three years after walking in. He moved in with his mother on 93rd Street, not too far from the apartment building where Janice and Emily lived. He found some casual work as a machinist but it wasn’t long before he was using heroin again.
Ironically, it was believed Delaney had first introduced the young teenaged Robles to heroin, and it was Delaney who was ratting him out to the police. He had helped make the 21-year-old Robles into the hopeless junkie mess that he was.
On the day of the Career Girls Murders (while Dr. King marched and gave his speech in Washington, DC, before a riveted American television audience) Robles had shown up at Delaney’s crash pad shortly after noon looking disheveled and clearly agitated. The shaken Robles told Delaney, “I just iced two dames.”
He claimed he needed help. He said the women had been killed while he was burglarizing their apartment. His clothes had blood spatters on them; Delaney gave him a shirt and a pair of pants to change into. Delaney said he then went out to buy drugs with money Robles had given him.
It had been less than three months since Richard Robles had been released from prison.
Considering the “trustworthiness” of any junkie, and now smarting from the possibility that they had probably railroaded an innocent man, police were cautious. They needed more information to nail this junkie killer. Delaney was given a chance to help himself out of his legal troubles—he was directed to get Robles back to his place, and get him to confess to the killings (which would be tape-recorded through bugging equipment police would set up in Delaney’s squat).
The grand jury cleared Delaney of any murder charges in the killing of Roberto Cruz del Valle, letting him off with a return of “justifiable homicide” (and his assistance in helping police build their case against Richard Robles).
The stage was set for a sting.
Delaney developed a ruse to get Robles to his apartment. Since Robles had already been seen by Delaney in a bad condition after the murder Delaney suggested that he come over and the two of them could concoct an alibi for him.
Robles took the bait. Over several sessions in Delaney’s apartment, he was goaded into talking about the murders. Delaney suggested that Robles perhaps describe what he imagined might have happened at the killings. It was presumed such a tactic might lead Robles into saying something that might be a red flag, something only the real killer could have known.
The tapes rolled as Delaney and his wife, Marjorie, tried to coax Robles into discussing the murders of Janice Wylie and Emily Hoffert. Robles, with the mumbling jive talk of the day and the mouth-full-of-marbles ramblings of a junkie, did little more than incoherently spew out details of the crimes that could be found in any newspaper. He gave nothing substantive during the session—much of what was taped was the mindless blathering of junkies talking about picayune things.
Despite the paucity of material, there was enough to at least make Robles a genuine person of interest (in today’s parlance), and he was arrested on January 26, 1965 (the day before his 22nd birthday). At the police station, and this time not taking any chances for a confession to be considered coerced, Robles was carefully questioned.
He divulged nothing again that could not have been found in the news of the day, and he vehemently denied any involvement in the killings of the “career girls”. Finally, perhaps out of exasperation or merely as a nod to the fruitlessness of the line of inquiry, Detective David Downes, knowing of Robles’ drug usage and past criminal problems, stated offhandedly, “You have made some mess of your life. Just what really happened?”
Perhaps not really expecting an answer Downes was shocked when Robles blurted, “I don’t know. I went to pull a lousy burglary, and I wound up killing two girls.”
Downes was elated, but to make it clear he asked Robles, “You mean Janice Wylie and Emily Hoffert?”
Robles replied, “Yeah.” He lapsed into anguish. “I don’t want to think about it. Please, I want to erase it from my mind.”
Then he started crying.
George Whitmore, meanwhile, was still incarcerated over the Elba Borrero assault. He still faced charges for killing Minnie Edmonds, too (only because her murder had happened near where he allegedly attacked Elba).
A New York Supreme Court judge reviewed Whitmore’s conviction based on the latest developments. What he found was appalling, even by early 1960s’ standards. His assault trial involving Elba Borrero had nothing to do with the Career Girls Murders yet the judge found many jury members used their beliefs in his guilt in those killings to convict him. They had also openly discussed the Hoffert-Wylie murders among themselves even though they had been instructed from the bench not to. Finally, the judge learned that many jury members were extremely racially biased. He quashed the flawed and unwarranted conviction.
But all was not over yet for young George Whitmore. An overly zealous prosecution team pushed for Whitmore to be re-tried for the Borrero assault and that he should certainly stand for the murder of Minnie Edmonds (despite there being no evidence other than his discredited “confession” in both instances).
He was brought to trial for the murder of Minnie Edmonds in April 1965. There was no evidence of any kind to present against him except his faulty confession. And that was discredited further since it was now known to all that another man, Richard Robles, had confessed to killing Janice and Emily (part of Whitmore’s confession nightmare).
But the prosecution forged ahead anyway. Whitmore took the stand in his own defense, and he repeated his earlier assertions that he not only did not kill Minnie Edmonds his confession had been “beaten out of” him. He also claimed he had no idea he was being accused of murder until his indictment was handed down.
The police detectives who had handled Whitmore denied everything; ultimately the jury could not reach a verdict. The session went down as a mistrial. He went back to jail pending new trials for both the Borrero case and the Edmonds murder. Four days after that, the indictment against him for killing Janice and Emily was finally dropped (in light of Richard Robles’ apprehension).
Robles was brought to trial in October 1965 for the murders of Emily Hoffert and Janice Wylie (over two years since their murders). His trial was relatively uneventful. He had already recanted his confession. There was no real evidence against him. The most compelling things were the audio tapes taken surreptitiously (of him talking incoherently about the murders), and Detective Downes’ testimony about the moment Robles confessed to him. Other detectives corroborated Robles’ statement about his killing the two women while in the act of committing a burglary.
The first was the third “career girl”, Patricia Tolles. She had since gotten married and her name was Patricia Smalley when she appeared on the stand and gave her accounting of what she saw on that horrible evening in August 1963.
The other shining light was Janice’s father, Max Wylie. He gave a detailed and detached accounting of what he saw in the apartment on August 28, 1963. It was his words that painted the picture of the brutality and gore of the murder scene.
George Whitmore, Jr., and the detectives who arrested him were brought in as prosecution witnesses. The intent was to undermine the possibility that Whitmore’s confession could cast doubt on Robles’ guilt—if Whitmore’s confession was bad, then Robles’ defense team couldn’t use it to cast doubt about their client’s guilt.
The defense, in turn, called into question Robles’ confession to Detective Downes, claiming that Robles was suffering from heroin withdrawal and did not have an attorney present when he was questioned (a right no one had at the time—it wouldn’t be anyone’s right until 1966 when the Miranda decision was handed down).not a stellar witness in describing why he was not a killer and how he had not openly confessed to the murders his testimony did eventually set in the jury’s mind that his confession had been coerced. Therefore, only one killer was in the courtroom, the one whose confession had not been coerced. And that was Richard Robles.
In the afternoon hours of December 1, 1965, the jury retired to deliberate. About six hours later a “guilty” verdict was brought in.
In January 1966, sentencing was conducted in the same courtroom where Robles had been convicted. He was spared the death penalty only because New York had outlawed capital punishment (except for cop killers) a few months earlier. Instead, he drew life in prison, but with eligibility for parole starting after he served 20 years of his time (originally this term was 26 years but a recent change in law had reduced that).
As is customary in such sentencing proceedings, Robles was asked if he had anything to say on his behalf. His reply was the self-serving, “All I can say your honor, is that I did not kill those girls. I’m going to jail for something I didn’t do!”
Richard Robles was transported from the courtroom and settled fairly quickly into the Attica Correctional Facility.
George Whitmore redux
Whitmore was tried again for the attack on Elba Borrero in March 1966. She was adamant he was her assailant that night in 1964. In this trial, the confession that led to Whitmore’s original indictment was disallowed. But he was convicted of the attack anyway and was given a 5- to 10-year sentence. He was shipped off to Sing Sing (the prison in Ossining, New York).
Seven months after his incarceration, though, his lawyers managed to get him out of prison temporarily while his pending cases could be heard on appeal on technical issues.
The shadow of the Minnie Edmonds’ mistrial still loomed darkly over Whitmore. However, a Kings County Supreme Court justice later dismissed the indictment against Whitmore for her murder. Thus, he was spared another trial in her case.
“Now you have the right to remain silent!”
In early 1963, a man named Ernesto Miranda was taken in by police in Phoenix, Arizona, on suspicion of kidnapping and raping an 18-year-old girl.
Evidence against Miranda, such as it was, was circumstantial. He was interrogated by police without benefit of counsel for about two hours. He gave an oral admission of guilt, and then was given a form to fill out repeating what he’d already told police. The form had a typewritten disclaimer appended to it that, in effect, stated Miranda had given his statement freely and voluntarily without threats or coercion. The disclaimer also stated that Miranda had “full knowledge” of his legal rights, “understanding any statement I make may be used against me.”
Miranda had not been advised of any of that information during any part of his interrogation or during his oral confession. He went to trial, and based on whatever evidence was relevant and his confession he was found guilty and sentenced to at least 20 years in prison.
His lawyer appealed to Arizona’s Supreme Court, saying Miranda’s confession had not been truly voluntary. The lower court’s decision to convict was upheld—the Arizona decision even went so far as to say that Miranda should have asked for an attorney if he felt he needed one during questioning!
In light of that action, Miranda’s counsel, still beating the drum that Miranda had been cheated out of due process by not being properly advised of certain rights during his questioning, took the case to the US Supreme Court.
And in June 1966, the US Supreme Court handed down their decision in the Miranda case, one that changed law enforcement forever. The Court concluded that any form of coercive interrogations could (and most likely would) produce false or insincere confessions. Miranda had been coerced, according to the Court’s decision; he had not been properly granted due process by telling him he could have a lawyer present or that he had the right to not speak, especially if anything he might say tended to incriminate him. [In a final irony, Miranda was re-tried on the original charges, but without prosecutors using his coerced confession. And in 1967 he was convicted—again—based mostly on eyewitness testimony (including that of his common-law wife who claimed he had told her he had committed the crime). He was sentenced to 20 to 30 years but was paroled in 1972. He was stabbed to death in a bar fight in 1976.]
In reaching this decision, George Whitmore, Jr., played a part, albeit a passive one. His particularly heinous treatment at the hands of the NYPD (22 hours of interrogation coupled with physical abuse, compared to Ernesto Miranda’s measly two hours of grilling!) was cited on the decision:
“. . . the most conspicuous example occurred in New York in 1964 when a Negro of limited intelligence confessed to two brutal murders and a rape which he had not committed. When this was discovered, the prosecutor was reported as saying: ‘Call it what you want—brain-washing, hypnosis, fright. They made him give an untrue confession. The only thing I don’t believe is that Whitmore was beaten.’”
Meanwhile, Whitmore appealed his conviction in the Borrero case from March 1966. This time a judicial issue in the proceedings was debated but it did not work in Whitmore’s favor. The Appellate Court opined that the exclusion of his confession in that trial was an error and that he had to be retried!
So, for the third time, George Whitmore went to trial for assaulting Elba Borrero. In June 1967, he was convicted again of the same crime, and again sentenced to five-to-ten years. His lawyers fought diligently through the appeals’ process, each of which upheld the June 1967 verdict. With his appeals all used up Whitmore was stuck, and he was returned to prison.
In December 1972 an inquisitive reporter who had rehashed Whitmore’s travails previously in two New York newspapers found something very interesting. He uncovered a document, suppressed by the prosecution in the 1967 case, which probably would have left no doubt in anyone’s mind that he had not attacked Elba Borrero.
This journalist located a copy of an affidavit, dictated by and signed by a woman named Celeste Viruet. Celeste was Elba Borrero’s sister-in-law and on the night of the attack she (Celeste) had been an eyewitness to it. And her affidavit contained information that indicated Whitmore could not have been Elba’s attacker.
Celeste claimed that she had been up watching out her apartment window as Elba approached. Her description of Elba’s attacker differed in a great many details from Whitmore, enough so that it seemed clear he was not Elba’s assailant (combining that with the button that did not belong to his jacket, per the FBI, should have made anyone stop and think).
But what was more interesting is that the day before Whitmore was brought in by police, Celeste knew Elba had been shown a photographic line-up of possible suspects in her attack. From that photo array (and Whitmore’s image was not included as he had yet to be arrested for anything) Elba positively identified a man who was clearly not Whitmore. It was only at the police station after seeing Whitmore—with no other suspects in his presence—that Elba made her identification of him as her attacker.
The discovery of this affidavit (and its suppression) led to yet another review of Whitmore’s case. Its veracity was affirmed by the Brooklyn District Attorney, a man new to the office and not biased against Whitmore as his predecessor had been. The review revealed that Whitmore’s counsel, in all three of his trials on Elba’s assault, had never been advised that one of the investigating officers in the Minnie Edmonds’ case had written the name of an eyewitness in his case notebook when he concluded that Minnie’s murder and Elba’s attack were connected.
This piece of information was not found out by Whitmore’s counsel until an evidentiary hearing in early 1969. At that time all they learned was there had been an eyewitness to Elba’s attack, but this witness had not been named to them nor made available to them during any of his three trials; the prosecution never called her as a witness, either.
Thus, after the discovery of the Celeste Viruet affidavit, a Supreme Court judge vacated Whitmore’s conviction on April 10, 1973. This was an official exoneration of all charges relating to Elba Borrero’s attack. He was free and clear, though a huge chunk of his young life had been taken away from him in the form of incarceration and time wasted in legal matters.
True Confessions, 1986
Robles, who upon sentencing back in 1966 claimed he was innocent, maintained that stance all the way up into the 1980s. Thanks to what happened to George Whitmore, some people believed Robles—as a junkie ex-con—might have been a victim of an overzealous police department trying to close a high-profile case.
Finally, his conscience might have gotten the better of him. [On a prison pen-pal web page, Robles describes his religion as “Quaker”. While it might have been his family’s religious preference when he was younger, it is more probable he came to it in prison, and one of the beliefs the Quakers hold dear is the concept of atonement.]
He was eligible for parole starting in 1985. At a hearing on November 5, 1986, Robles finally and fully confessed to the murders of Emily Hoffert and Janice Wylie.
The story he told to the parole board was horrifying as well as pathetic.
Richard Robles had selected the apartment building on 88th Street because it was in an affluent neighborhood. According to him, his choice was also aided by the fact he saw no doorman (he didn’t realize the doorman was usually stationed in the lobby). He climbed a ledge up to the third floor, and climbed through an open kitchen window of Janice’s and Emily’s apartment (it was probably wide open due to the heat that day). He thought no one was home, which was why he had chosen it. His intent was to burgle the place for money or goods he could fence for drugs (though he would claim he was looking for money to “help his family”).
The abbreviated version of events was that he was startled to discover Janice Wylie, nude and fresh from the shower, on her bed. He tied her hands up and, while he had not originally intended to rape anyone, the opportunity was too great to resist. He said he attempted to have sex with her, but she cried out “No!” so he stopped just as Emily Hoffert came home from running her errands.
He grappled with Emily and tied her up with Janice. It was while he was doing this, his mind racing, that Emily sealed the fate of the two “career girls”: “She told me she would remember my face. She started telling me that she was going to call the police on me, she would remember me, that I was going to jail.”
He made the rash decision to kill the young women, leaving no witnesses. He said that afterward he felt like vomiting; looking at himself in the mirror he found he was very pale. “I was like a ghost. My eyes were, like, glassy.” At this hearing he claimed he couldn’t remember all the details about the murders as he had been in a trance-like state once he made the decision to kill.
Further details came out over time. The television in the apartment was on, with the Dr. King broadcast playing. Janice had been watching it when Robles first came into the apartment. She called out, “Emily, is that you?” when she heard a sound made by him in another room. She went out to check, and met Robles coming toward her. She screamed, and he snatched up an empty, glass cola bottle and clunked her on the head, knocking her out.
Panicky, he ran to the bathroom, found a razor, and used it to cut up a bedspread to truss Janice. He dragged her unconscious body to the empty bedroom, the one that still had some unpacked boxes in it from when Emily had moved in. The attempted rape followed, during which Janice came to and begged him to stop. He punched her in the face several times to subdue her as she struggled to break free. She quieted briefly and he ran to the kitchen, grabbed a knife, and came back. He cut her face and neck, and he stabbed her a few times (also dragging the blade across her stomach) before Emily Hoffert showed up.
As with Janice, his first move was to clout Emily one on the head with another handy cola bottle. He tied her to Janice on the floor near the window of the empty room. He then ransacked the apartment, looking for anything he could sell or trade for drugs. He rifled Emily’s purse, netting $30 (a bit under $230 US in today’s money). That was pretty much the sum of his haul.
Back in the bedroom, Janice was still unconscious but Emily was alert. It was then she told him she would remember him: “You’re going to jail!” At that point, he clubbed Emily again until she passed out. He then went back to the kitchen, got a couple more knives, and finished the job.
George and Ricky
George Whitmore, Jr., made a life for himself in Wildwood, New Jersey. He successfully sued the City of New York for false arrest, and was awarded $500,000. He operated a commercial fishing boat for a time, but he was later disabled in a boating accident. He blew through the award money, he was unemployed for long stretches, and he also suffered—not surprisingly, perhaps—from depression and alcoholism. Though he never married, Whitmore managed to sire four daughters and two sons. He also had 20 grandchildren.
George Whitmore, Jr., falsely accused of three brutal murders and one street assault, died on October 8, 2012, of a heart attack. He was in a nursing home at the time, and he was 68 years old. One of his daughters stated, “He told us about what happened to him. But he said he never held it against anybody. He was always a very sweet man with us. He wanted us to grow up happy.”
As for the real killer of the Career Girls, Richard Robles, he remains in Attica.
At a parole hearing in 1988 one of Janice Wylie’s cousins, Michael Wylie Slater, had appealed to the board to keep Robles locked up for life:
“If this man is freed, it will trivialize Janice’s death and all the misery that he has caused my family and the Hoffert family. It would rub salt in our wounds.”
Both Isobel Wylie (Janice’s mother) and her sister, Pamela, died within five years of the slayings. Slater believed their deaths (as well as the later suicide of father Max) were attributable to their grief and depression over the murders.
As of this writing Richard Robles is one of the longest-term inmates in New York State’s history, having been in prison without a break for about 48 years.
During his time in prison, Robles got married (in either 1975 or 1976, but after a 26-year marriage, his wife died in 2001). He earned an Associate’s degree, and has taught college courses to other inmates, as well as dabbling in photography and art. [And an interesting, and fairly skilled self-portrait rendered in pencil, can be seen online along with some other personal information he has posted.]
He lives in a 72-ft2 cell, and he mops the prison’s floors for a dollar a day. Robles’ last parole hearing resulted in a denial. His next hearing is in May 2014—he will be 71 years old then. It is unlikely he will succeed in being granted parole when the time comes, a fact he acknowledges in a blurb about himself online.
What is most interesting is how one man (Richard Robles) in a rash act of criminal behavior, could so adversely affect the life of another man (George Whitmore) without having ever met him beforehand. If not for Richard Robles, George Whitmore probably would have gone on working drudge jobs, probably fathering several children, and generally living and dying without being noticed.
And Robles also made himself into a monster in the process. The brutality with which the Career Girls were murdered, while not unique, was certainly vicious enough to keep Robles’ crime fresh in the minds of any parole board.
He will likely never draw a breath of free air again.
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