By Madison Scott and Antonina Tortorello
THE ALPHABET MURDERS
Between 1971-1973 it was reported that three young girls were abducted, murdered, and then dumped in rural areas around Rochester. According to reports, Carmen Colon, Wanda Walkowickz, and Michelle Maenza all had double initials and were found in a town that’s name started with the same letter as their initials. Though none of the cases have ever been solved, investigators and the Rochester community say they believe the murders were done by a serial killer now known as the Alphabet Murderer. This is part three of an ongoing series covering the unsolved cases of Monroe County. Here are their stories.
According to police, on November 16, 1971, 10-year-old Carmen Colon left her house at around 4:30 p.m. to walk a few blocks to her local drugstore. Reports say that Carmen was living with her grandparents at the time and was making her usual trip to pick up a prescription for her grandfather.
Witnesses later told police that they saw Carmen rush out of the store and into a parked car. Officers said that when Carmen never returned home that evening, her grandparents reported her missing to the police.
Sergeant CJ Zimmerman with the Monroe County Police Department told News 10 NBC that about an hour after Carmen was seen at the drugstore, witnesses started to call in about a partially nude girl running from a car on Interstate 490. He said he is confident that this was Carmen trying to escape her killer.
“She was half-clothed. She didn’t have pants on, she didn’t have a shirt on, and she was flailing her arms”, said Zimmerman in an interview.
Though many witnesses reported seeing Carmen on the interstate that day, no one stopped to help. Two days later on November 18, 1973, investigators reported that Carmen’s body was found in a ditch alongside Stearns Road in Churchville.
Officers said the autopsy done on Carmen showed that she had been raped and strangled. Reports say that DNA was found at the scene, but it wasn’t enough to generate a profile. To this day, Carmen’s killer has never been caught, but officers including Sgt. Zimmerman say that they remain hopeful new information could solve the case.
“All we need is just the tiniest of spark, that one puzzle piece. This case is soaked in gasoline it just needs one little spark,” said Zimmerman in an interview with News 10 NBC.
Reports say that it was only 17 months before the body of the second victim, Wanda Walkowicz, was found in Webster.
On April 3, 1973, officers said the body of 11-year-old Wanda Walkowicz was found at the Bay Bridge rest stop on Route 104 in Webster. Police say that like Carmen, Wanda’s autopsy showed that she had been raped and strangled.
Wanda’s mother said that the day prior, April 2, her daughter left the house at around 5:30 p.m. to go grocery shopping. She said Wanda walked three blocks to a local shop on Conkey Avenue but never returned home that evening.
In an interview with News 10 NBC, New York State Police Investigator, George Grbic, said many witnesses reported seeing Wanda leaving the store that day. He said these witnesses reported seeing a man in either a tan or beige car slowly following her as she was walking down Conkey Avenue with a bag of groceries.
“When the witnesses had looked back again, Wanda was gone and so was the vehicle,” said Grbic.
Officers said this was the last time Wanda would be seen alive.
Many people close to Wanda including her teacher, Joseph Hillman, said that she was a shy young girl and that it was very unlikely she would have willingly gone off with a stranger.
“I don’t think she was the kind of girl to get into the car with a stranger. I think she was much too bright for this,” said Hillman in a 1973 interview with News 10 NBC.
Though her family and investigators believe Wanda must have known her killer, no one was ever charged in the case. Investigator Grbic told News 10 NBC that there was enough DNA found at the scene to generate a profile, but to this day there has never been a match.
“Now in this particular case we do have DNA,” said Grbic. “Were just one swab from figuring out who did this… Once we get that match we are off to the races,” he added.
Seven months later, the body of the third and final victim, Michelle Maenza, was found in a ditch in Macedon.
On November 26, 1973, 11-year-old Michelle Maenza was abducted on her way home from school number 33 on Webster Ave. Her mother said this was the first time she was allowed to make this trip by herself, but like the other girls, Michelle never made it home that night.
It was reported that instead of going straight home, Michelle decided to stop at a nearby shopping plaza to look for a purse her mom had previously left there. Her father told News 10 NBC that initially there was no indication of anything wrong, but when hours passed with no sign of Michelle her mother reported her missing to the police.
The police said many witnesses came forward stating they saw Michelle with an unknown man. The first sighting was at around 3:30 p.m. near what was then known as the North Goodman St. Shopping Plaza. Her classmates reported to police that they saw her in a car with a “stranger”.
At around 4:30 p.m. witnesses said they saw a young girl that looked like Michelle in a car outside of a local burger place in Penfield. These witnesses then said they saw a man return to the car with a bag of food and drive off. An hour later officers said a witness reported seeing a man holding Michelle by the wrist along Route 350 in Walworth.
According to the police, every witness described the man as being white, about six feet tall, with brown hair, and about 165 pounds. Witnesses also reported that he was driving either a tan or beige car.
Two days later on November 28, 1973, it was reported that Michelle’s body was found in a ditch on Eddy Road in Macedon. Police say she was found less than a mile away from where she was last seen on Route 350 in Walworth.
Detective Sergeant Kevin Kuntz from the Wayne County Sheriffs Department told News 10 NBC that her autopsy, like the other girls, showed evidence of rape and strangulation. He said this autopsy also showed that there was undigested food in her stomach, meaning she had eaten shortly before she was killed.
“They were able to determine ligature strangulation. The autopsy revealed that there was a hamburger and onions in Michelle’s stomach,” said Sgt. Kuntz in an interview.
Sgt. Kuntz told News 10 NBC that at the time they were able to collect semen from her underwear and body, but it was not enough to create a DNA profile. He says this evidence has led him and other investigators to believe the man seen on November 26, 1973, was Michelle’s murderer and most likely the murderer of the two other girls.
There were two main suspects in the case of Carmen Colon: Miguel Colon and James Barber.
The first suspect was said to be Carmen’s uncle, Miguel Colon. Police say he had recently purchased a car that closely matched the description seen by eyewitnesses reversing on the interstate.
After Carmen’s death, investigators conducted a search of Colon’s car. They noted that the car and trunk had been extensively washed and cleaned. After questioning the dealership that sold him the car, they said that the trunk had not been washed with any cleaning solution before the sale.
One of Carmen’s toys was also found inside of the vehicle, but relatives said that Carmen often traveled inside of the vehicle.
Four days after the murder of Carmen, Miguel fled Rochester NY, and went to Puerto Rico.
Investigators traveled to Puerto Rico to question Miguel, but said he tried to flee when he heard they were looking for him. Police say when they caught him they brought him back to Rochester for questioning and that he could not come up with an alibi.
Police say that since there was no physical evidence that could locate Miguel at the scene of the crime, he was never charged. Reports say that Colon committed suicide in 1991.
James Barber wrote in his time at work around the time of the murder, instead of using the automated punch-in system. Barber also had a warrant out for him after he assaulted and raped a 15-year-old girl in Ohio. Shortly after Colon’s murder, Barber fled the country. No evidence ultimately lined up with Barber being guilty.
Kenneth Bianchi was said to be a main suspect in the murder of Wanda Walkowicz.
It was reported that Bianchi worked at an ice cream vendor in the Rochester area. Two of the locations he worked at were said to be near the first two crime scenes.
Police say Bianchi moved to Los Angeles in 1976 where he and his cousin, Angelo Buono Jr., committed a string of murderers that took the life of 10 young girls in Los Angeles.
When Bianchi was in Rochester, police say he also had a vehicle that closely matched the color and make of the one seen by eyewitnesses. He was arrested in 1979 with seven counts of first-degree murder for the murders that took place in Los Angeles.
Police say there was not enough evidence to link Bianchi to the Alphabet Murders, so he was never charged.
A 25-year-old firefighter, Dennis Termini, was said to be the main suspect in the Michelle Maenza case.
Known as the “Garage Rapist”, police say Termini was guilty of raping at least 14 teenage girls in residential garages from 1971 to 1973. This was also reported to be the same timeframe that Michelle Maenza, Carmen Colon and Wanda Walkowicz were killed.
Police say Termini also owned a beige-colored car similar to the one seen by eyewitnesses. It was also reported that he lived close to the last place Maenza was last seen alive.
Two weeks after Maenza’s death, Termini shot and killed himself. It wasn’t until 33 years later that police say Termini’s body was exhumed to collect a DNA sample.
Wanda Walkowicz’s body was reported to be the only one that had samples left to test. Upon testing the DNA it was found that Termini’s results for the rape murder of Walkowicz were negative.
Police say there wasn’t any physical evidence from the bodies of the other two victims to be compared with Termini’s DNA.
All three of these cases remain unsolved. If you have any information please contact the Rochester Police Department at (585)-428-6720.