“There is no physical trace evidence, witnesses, or admissions by me concerning those three murders. I did not commit those three murders. I respectfully request a final determination on this. Drop me as a suspect or charge me. This indefinite status must end,” Kenneth Bianchi, Hillside Strangler.
Four prime suspects take center stage over the course of an ongoing, decades-long police investigation into the Alphabet Murders – Rochester fireman Dennis Termini, uncle of a victim Miguel Colon, Hillside Strangler Kenneth Bianchi, and the California Alphabet Killer Joseph Naso. Was the individual responsible for the murders of Carmen Colon, Wanda Walkowicz and Michelle Maenza a pedophilic killer with a perverse obsession with the alphabet or were the similarities between the three victims just a coincidence?
Unsolved Murders: True Crime Stories show hosts Carter Roy and Wenndy Mackenzie look at the evidence and share their thoughts.
Detectives Pisciotti and Crough debate the Alphabet Killer’s methods and motivations while shooting pool at the local tavern. Pisciotti believes the killer’s decisions are driven by complex psychological factors, but Crough doesn’t think there is a rhyme or reason to what the Alphabet Killer does. He is just a sick, murderous and sexually perverted individual.
Pisciotti and Crough aren’t the only ones among the police at odds with their theories. For the most part, investigators on the case agree that the killer likely lured two of the three girls with a tasty treat and a cute cat, judging by their stomach contents and the white cat hair found in autopsies. They don’t agree on, however, whether or not the girls knew the killer before they were abducted.
Five weeks after Michelle’s murder, Dennis Termini, a twenty-five-year-old Rochester firefighter, holds a teenager at gunpoint. Despite his threats, she doesn’t stop screaming, and he leaves to pursue an easier target. But before he can hurt another girl, police catch him with a would-be victim and chase him down. While he outruns them at first, they pick up his trail and follow him to a parked car. Termini shoots himself before the police can apprehend him. Police confirm that he was the “Garage Rapist”, and unsurprisingly, they wonder if he was the Alphabet Killer, as well.
Termini prowled the neighborhood where Carmen and Wanda went to school and lived half a mile from Michelle’s school. He also had a beige car like the one’s witnesses described, a map folded to focus on the area Michelle’s body was dumped and his fireman’s uniform sat inside his car. Regardless of how much or how little Carmen, Wanda and Michelle had in the way of street sense, with the fireman’s uniform, they would have seen Termini as someone to be respected and trusted. It wouldn’t have mattered if he was a stranger.
But his confirmed victims, ranging in ages from 18-21, skewed older, and the serological evidence collected from Carmen, Wanda and Michelle eventually proved that he wasn’t responsible for the Alphabet Murders. Unfortunately, this determination didn’t happen until 2007, when the advent of new DNA technology finally made testing the theory possible, and a judge gave investigators permission to exhume Termini’s body.
Unsolved Murders: True Crime Stories show hosts Carter and Wenndy point out that Termini wasn’t the only suspect in the case to commit suicide. In 1991, Carmen’s uncle Miguel Colon takes his own life, allegedly motivated by financial troubles and jealousy. He non-fatally shoots his wife and brother-in-law, and then shoots himself when police arrive on scene. Police doubt this episode of extreme violence was an isolated issue and renew their interest in Colon as a suspect for his niece’s murder. They also entertain the possibility that there were multiple killers. Unlike Wanda and Michelle, Carmen’s killer didn’t feed her before she died, and she was strangled from the front, rather than from behind.
Statistically, the socio-economic and geographic similarities between the victims, as well as their alliterative first and last names, makes it practically impossible for the case similarities to be just a coincidence. Yet, despite the odds, Wenndy believes the similarities between the victims are just coincidental.
The next major suspect in the Alphabet Murders case is Kenneth Bianchi – one half of the dastardly Hillside Stranglers duo. Bianchi, along with his partner-in-crime Angelo Buono, both natives of Rochester, NY, strangle ten young women between 1977 and 1978 in Los Angeles. Bianchi is caught when he murders two women alone and botches the crime scene. For leniency in his jail sentence, Bianchi testifies against Buono and the latter’s lawyers strive to prove that the former acted alone. A part of this effort includes trying to prove that Bianchi is the Alphabet Killer.
On paper, Bianchi looks good for those crimes. He didn’t move from Rochester, NY until after the Alphabet Murders in 1975, and while there, he was an ice cream vendor, an ambulance driver and a security guard. In other words, Bianchi had plenty of uniforms that would have lulled the girls into a false sense of security. Forensic scientists analyzing evidence from Wanda’s crime scene determine that the killer had a blood characteristic present in only 20% of males, which Bianchi has.
This gives authorities enough probable cause to get a wrist-print from Bianchi to compare with the wrist print from Michelle Maenza’s murder. It’s not a match, but wrist prints change over time as a person ages and their skin loses elasticity; and Bianchi was 25 at the time of Michelle’s murder and 35 by the time the print was taken.
Police don’t cross Bianchi off their suspect list even when serology tests prove the Hillside Strangler was not responsible for Wanda’s murder. Frustrated with the investigation’s continued focus on him, Bianchi writes a letter to detectives from jail in 1993 and asserts that he didn’t not kill Carmen, Wanda or Michelle. He asks that they formally charge him with the Alphabet Murders or leave him alone.
The last serious suspect in the Alphabet Murders case is Joseph Naso, a senior citizen arrested for grand theft shoplifting in South Lake Tahoe, California. During a routine check on Naso in his home, his parole officer discovers piles of photographs of unconscious women in various states of undress, many of whom are later found dead. There is also a diary detailing the women he overpowered and raped. As seen with the Alphabet Murders, he offered his victims a ride home in his car and assaulted them inside his car.
He is officially charged with the murders of four female prostitutes: Roxanne Roggasch, Pamela Parsons, Tracy Tafoya and an older woman named Carmen Colon, unrelated to the Carmen Colon covered in episode one. Naso is the Alphabet Killer of California but, cleared by DNA evidence, there is nothing to tie him to the three young girls of Rochester, NY. Also, Wanda, Michelle and Carmen were much younger than his usual victims. So the case remains unsolved.
Carter and Wenndy are convinced that Miguel Colon killed his niece, and that Wanda and Michelle’s murders were committed by a different individual. While the show hosts believe it’s likely Wanda and Michelle were killed by the same person, they think the coincidences between them and Carmen were really just coincidences. However, the bizarre similarities between the girls’ murders overshadowed the truth with a sensationalized serial killer story, sparking a public interest that the individual murders may, sadly, never have received on their own.