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‘Unicorn Killer’ Ira Einhorn, 79, dies in Pa. prison

His death Friday was from natural causes and was not related to the coronavirus, state prison authorities said.

Ira Einhorn is shown in a file photo taken in France in 2000.
Ira Einhorn is shown in a file photo taken in France in 2000.Read moreBob EDME / Associated Press

Ira Einhorn, 79, the convicted murderer known as the “Unicorn Killer,” died of natural causes early Friday in state prison, authorities said. His death was not related to the coronavirus, according to Susan McNaughton, a state Department of Corrections spokesperson.

Einhorn was housed at State Correctional Institution Laurel Highlands in Somerset County. A prison nurse pronounced him dead at 4:23 a.m., McNaughton said. She declined to elaborate or say if he had been sick.

Einhorn was found guilty of fatally bludgeoning his girlfriend, Helen “Holly” Maddux, 30, in 1977 and stuffing her body into a trunk that he kept in his Powelton apartment for 18 months. In 1981, just before his trial, he fled to Europe, and he remained on the lam for two decades. He was extradited from France in 2001, and a Philadelphia jury convicted him of first-degree murder in 2002 in Maddux’s slaying. He was sentenced to life in prison.

Einhorn, a hippie guru in the 1960s and ’70s, reportedly called himself “Unicorn” because that is the English translation of his last name from German. The media dubbed him the “Unicorn Killer.”

Meg Carlson of Seattle, one of Maddux’s three sisters, said Friday: “It’s been over 40 years, and we still miss her terribly. This is a crime that didn’t need to happen. We shouldn’t have had to be missing our beloved sister for over 40 years.”

Holly Maddux was the oldest of five siblings, including a brother, who grew up in Tyler, Texas.

Carlson on Friday recalled that her sister had moved to the Philadelphia area to attend Bryn Mawr College, from which she graduated, then stayed in the area because she loved it.

At the time of the crime, Maddux and Einhorn had split up after being together for about five years, said Carlson, who recalled that her sister had dreams of starting a bohemian-style dressmaking shop.

“She was an amazing artist,” said Carlson. “She was very, very creative.”

Another sister, Elisabeth “Buffy” Hall, 60, who lives in Tyler, said of Einhorn’s death: “Honestly, my first reaction was that of surprise, because he has so thoroughly been wiped from my everyday consciousness that I forgot about him. He didn’t live in my head, and he didn’t occupy my life anymore. It was surprise, then satisfaction. The chapter is finally, for real, closed.”

Added Hall: “I’m just glad it’s still newsworthy. I think a lot of people in Philadelphia were waiting to hear that. He became part of the city’s consciousness in an ugly way. Some people, when you say, ‘Dallas,’ it’s Kennedy. It’s not what Philadelphia’s about. I think it shuts a door that needs closing.”

Hall said she imagined what her slain sister would have been like today at age 72 with “gray-and-white hair” and “just being the coolest grandma on the block.”

“She was such an Earth mother,” said Hall. “I’m an artist now. I feel like sometimes she’s looking over my shoulder at what I’m doing. She’s very much alive in my consciousness.”

Retired Upper Darby Police Superintendent Michael Chitwood, who discovered Maddux’s body in 1979 when he was a Philadelphia homicide detective, said of Einhorn’s death: “As bad as I feel about anyone dying, I’m not going to lose sleep about his passing away.”

Chitwood, who lives in Volusia County, Fla., where his son is sheriff, added that “the only thing I regretted was that [Maddux’s parents] didn’t have closure.”

Fred Maddux took his own life in 1988; Elizabeth Maddux died two years later of emphysema. They are buried on each side of their daughter’s grave in Texas.

Einhorn “led a life of flamboyancy and did what he had to do to escape," Chitwood said. “Fortunately, he got caught.”

When Maddux vanished in 1977, her parents hired a retired FBI agent to search for her. His report prompted Philadelphia police to search Einhorn’s apartment in March 1979, where they found her remains.

The Maddux family was shocked when Einhorn was released on $40,000 bail with the support of powerful friends and his then-attorney, Arlen Specter, who later became a U.S. senator and died in 2012.

After Einhorn fled the country through England, Ireland, Sweden, and Denmark, investigators were one step behind the fugitive and his new girlfriend, Swedish heiress Annika Flodin.

Attorney Joel Rosen, who successfully prosecuted Einhorn at his 2002 trial and at his 1993 trial in absentia, said: “I don’t have a ton of feelings about his passing, really, one way or another. From my perspective, it’s ancient history.”

Rosen, who now works at a Center City firm specializing in product-liability cases, said Einhorn “died in prison and he died in relative obscurity, which is poetic justice.”

“He had such a huge need for attention. Being unknown and not being paid attention to was almost a kind of punishment for him.”