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Authors: T. J. English

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Lynch emerged from the bedroom ashen and sweaty. He whispered to his partner, “There's a slaughterhouse in there.”

Zinkand put out a call, and within minutes other police officials began to arrive. It was a reality of police work that the address of a crime tended to dictate the response it received. This one was a doozy: Upper East Side, two white females, an incident of shocking savagery in the heart of one of the city's most privileged—and protected—neighborhoods.

The first to arrive was a patrolman, Michael J. McAleer, who had been driving by when the call went out over the police radio. Then came the police brass: Assistant Chief Inspector Joseph Coyle, who would be in charge of the case; Chief of Detectives Lawrence J. McKearney and his aide, Lieutenant Cyril Regan; and the deputy commissioner in charge of public relations, Walter Arm, who would deal with the community and the press. Other high-ranking officers whose duties were not directly linked to the murder investigation flocked to the scene out of professional curiosity. Flashing police lights and sirens created a cluster in front of the building, which had to be redirected to make room for arriving forensics detectives and the medical examiner.

By the time Dr. Bela K. Der arrived at the murder scene, the investigators had already begun to apply their trade. Behind the police rope that cordoned off the apartment, technicians dusted for fingerprints, gathered blood samples, hunted for fibers and other clues. The detectives inventoried everything in the apartment. A police photographer snapped shots of the bodies in the bedroom and the rest of the apartment from every conceivable angle. In the front room, Zinkand and Lynch continued their questioning of Max Wylie, Patricia Tolles, and the others, all under the watchful eye of the assistant chief and chief of detectives.

In the bedroom, Dr. Der looked over the murder scene. Judging from the warmth of the bodies and the viscosity of the blood, the crime had happened within the last four hours or so—which meant, quite possibly, that Janice Wylie and Emily Hoffert were being brutally hacked to death even as much of the city was listening to Martin Luther King's speech in Washington.

The doctor donned plastic surgical gloves and moved in closer to the bodies. As an assistant medical examiner for the city of New York, he had conducted nearly two thousand autopsies over the course of twenty-one
years. There wasn't much he hadn't seen, but he knew at a glance that this was one of the most violent double killings he would ever encounter. The gashes on Emily Hoffert's neck were so severe that the assailant seemed to have tried to saw off her head. There were scratches and cuts on Hoffert's wrists and palms, suggesting that she had desperately tried to defend herself from the attack. On Janice Wylie's nude torso the doctor counted seven stab wounds over her heart, where the killer had apparently plunged a knife over and over again. She had been disemboweled, her innards spilled out on the floor. Janice Wylie's anus and vagina were smeared with Vaseline or cream, suggesting sexual assault and possibly rape.

The doctor stood and removed his gloves. In a voice that still bore traces of his Hungarian ancestry, he said to a nearby group of police officials, “This is not the way humans should die. This is the way chickens are executed.”

 

IT WOULD BE
hours before the New York Police Department first released details about the Wylie-Hoffert murders to the press, but by the morning of August 29 it was a major story. The front page of the
New York Times
was dominated by two articles.

Above the fold, a headline told of the historic March on Washington, which had transfixed the nation: “Gentle Army Occupies Capitol; Politeness Is Order of the Day.”

At the bottom of the front page, a different headline: “2 Girls Murdered in E. 88th St. Flat.”

To anyone reading the
Times
that morning, the juxtaposition of these two stories must have struck a discordant note. Aside from the fact that they happened on the same day, there was little to suggest that the events were related in any way.

Within a few days, the March on Washington quietly faded from the headlines. The march had been an unprecedented event, but it offered little in the way of follow-up stories for reporters. Reasonable people agreed that the time was long overdue for the nation to commit itself to improving the plight of the Negro—but now what? It would take weeks, months, maybe even years for such a protest to lead to tangible results.

The Wylie-Hoffert story, on the other hand, was a gold-star murder investigation. New York had seven daily newspapers, three of them
tabloids that feasted on crimes of violence, the more sensationalistic the better. Some led with headlines of a size usually reserved for presidential elections and declarations of war. The
New York Daily News
bumped the civil rights march in Washington to page three, leading with the headline “2 Career Girls Savagely Slain” above smiling photos of Janice Wylie and Emily Hoffert. Every good newspaperman knew that a prominent murder case needed a catchy moniker, and the
Daily News
got there first: Wylie and Hoffert were young women with professional jobs in the city, and their double homicide would now be known as the Career Girls Murders.

The next few days brought more big headlines but few tangible leads. Initial police reports revealed little beyond the forensic details of the crime. There were no immediate or obvious clues to set investigators off in any one direction. Speaking about the killer, or killers, Chief of Detectives McKearney told the
Daily News
, “We don't even know how he, or they, got into the apartment.”

With no clear suspects, reporters spent much of their time speculating that the key to the case might be found in the personal histories of the victims. Janice Wylie, who worked as a copy girl for
Newsweek
and had maintained an active social life in Manhattan, swiftly became a source of scrutiny and fascination—including a decided interest in her “promiscuous” dating habits. The implications were not subtle:
Maybe she was a slut? Murdered by someone she knew? An old boyfriend or a one-night stand?
And there were other theories:
What was the father doing there? Maybe he had something to do with it.
Or, worst of all: maybe there was no sense whatsoever to this horrific attack. Maybe it was just a random act of evil, the work of a homicidal sex maniac loose on the streets of Manhattan.

In the newspaper business, speculation was a narcotic. While the rest of the city sought to bend their minds around the depravity of the Career Girls Murders, eager newshounds popped a vein and shot a load. Like a good fix, the tingling sensation of a lead story worked its way into their bloodstreams, the irresistible commingling of hemoglobin and printer's ink, with juicy quotes and banner headlines sure to follow.

 

ACROSS THE RIVER
from New York, in the small coastal town of Wildwood, New Jersey, George Whitmore Jr. knew nothing of the Wylie-
Hoffert murders—despite the blanket coverage they had received in the TV, radio, and tabloid news throughout the New York–New Jersey area. Whitmore's obliviousness to the story was not unusual for him. At nineteen, he was a high-school dropout who lived with his family in a shack on the outskirts of an automobile scrap yard. George Whitmore was the proverbial invisible Negro. Living not far from the most exalted city in the world, he was anonymous to all but a handful of family and friends—and even they sometimes wondered if George was really there at all, or if he was really a figment of their imaginations.

He was thought to have a low IQ. In truth, Whitmore's problem was his vision. At the age of sixteen he'd been tested and shown to have 20/200 eyesight, making him near-clinically blind. In recent years he had acquired a pair of glasses, but he'd misplaced or broken them and was too ashamed to tell his parents. Even if he had, the Whitmores didn't have the money to buy a new pair. And so George walked through life in a blur, his literal lack of focus leading friends and teachers to write him off as dim-witted.

On the day of the murders, George Whitmore had been working at a restaurant and entertainment hall inside the Ivy Hotel, in Wildwood, where he had a part-time job. He was able to catch bits and pieces of the March on Washington on TV. When Reverend King stepped to the microphone to give his speech, George was sitting alone in the restaurant's large catering hall in front of a black-and-white Motorola TV. In the emptiness of the room, with King's voice echoing to the rafters, the young Negro absorbed the historical moment in solitude, with a mixture of wonderment and awe.

In the days and weeks that followed, Whitmore plodded on as always. He showed up for work on time and performed his duties, which sometimes involved cleaning toilets and picking up trash on the Jersey board-walk with a spiked pole, and collected his pay: twenty dollars a week.

To those who knew him, George was a good-natured kid, five foot five, skinny, with an easy smile—something of a miracle given the life Whitmore had led. He came from poverty and had known nothing else. Sometimes his personal circumstances weighed heavily on his shoulders; pain and disappointment became a daily fact of life for him, though he usually kept them hidden. He tried to maintain a veneer of anonymity, ducking his head and averting his eyes as if he were trying to disappear.

Generations earlier, long before Martin Luther King Jr.'s stirring
calls for change, the predicament faced by Whitmore and others like him had been detailed by another great African American leader. “The Negro is a sort of seventh son…shut out from the world by a vast veil,” wrote W. E. B. Du Bois in
The Souls of Black Folk
. “The shades of the prison-house are closed round about us all: walls straight and stubborn to the whitest, but relentlessly narrow, tall, and unscalable to sons of night who must plod darkly on in resignation, or beat unavailing palms against the stone, or steadily, half hopelessly, watch the streak of blue above.”

Whitmore was born on May 26, 1944, in Philadelphia. The location was more or less an accident: George's father was an itinerant laborer whose family had come up from the South along with tens of thousands of other Negroes in the 1930s, years before the Great Migration. Memories of the Ku Klux Klan and segregationist Jim Crow laws were part of the family inheritance. Having settled briefly in Philadelphia, the babies came fast and furious. First Shelley, the oldest, then George Jr., then Gerald and Geraldine.

“I never did like big cities,” Whitmore Sr. would say years later. “Always wanted to move out to the country. Things kept getting in the way. Birdine, my wife, was a frail sort, sick a lot. Little George got sick, too. Was not but eight months old an' he had a terrible attack of diarrhea. Spent seventeen days in the hospital. All his veins were closed up, kept givin' him blood in his chin an' his head. Oh, we thought it was bad for George. He's still got some of those scars.”

The Whitmores did eventually get out of Philadelphia. In 1947, when George was three years old, the family packed up their meager belongings and headed toward the Garden State. “I remember the night, that summer,” George Whitmore's mother recalled. “We were all crowded, all six of us, in this car we borrowed and we drove over the Camden bridge into New Jersey. It was very funny. On the Philadelphia side, it was very hot, we were all perspiring. The minute we crossed over into Jersey it was freezin'. It was like we were goin' into a different world.”

New Jersey
was
a different world; the Whitmore family bounced from home to home in Cape May County. There wasn't much money, which turned George Sr. into a bitter man. “He was mean,” recalled Birdine. “He would just walk in the door and slap me for no reason. So mean. He has so much hate in him. Somethin' tore at that man, and he would come home mean.”

Birdine tended to the children, which was a full-time job. “Sometimes you think they're all the same, little kids just eatin' and playin' and cryin', but a mother can tell them apart. They're different, all my children were different. Gerald always wanted to be a policeman…. George was the artist. I remember George with the drawin's most. George [would] sit in the corner and draw. I'd tell big George when little George was just two or three that that boy was goin' to be an artist, but he'd just shake his head and say, ‘You stop that talk, woman. You give that boy ideas. No nigger boy grows up an artist. He goin' have to work for a livin'.”

George Sr. held a series of odd jobs, including a stint at a slaughterhouse in Whitesboro, New Jersey. Little George was ten years old the first time his father brought him to the abattoir, where hogs are dismembered. At first little George merely swept floors and occasionally arranged frozen pig carcasses in the walk-in freezer, but eventually big George felt it was time for his son to learn the finer points of vivisection.

Whitmore led his son toward one pig, which was still alive. He stood behind his son, wrapped his arms around George's slender torso, and together they raised the meat cleaver high in the air. Little George was sweating; this was the same pig he had been playing with earlier in the day, riding it like a horse and feeding it cornmeal.

“I can't do it,” he said, wriggling out of his father's grasp.

The old man hacked at the pig with the cleaver. The pig squealed; blood ran like water from an overflowing bathtub. George threw up, vomit dripping down his chin onto his apron.

“Go on home and don't come back here,” said his father. “What's wrong with you, ain't you ever gonna be a man?”

 

THINGS CHANGED FOR
the Whitmores once they moved to Wildwood, a shore town that became a chilly ghost town in the winter and then swelled with revelers—mostly Caucasian—in the summer. There was work to be found in Wildwood from late May to early September, when the bars, nightclubs, and show palaces turned the area into a blue-collar Jersey Riviera.

BOOK: The Savage City
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