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Ronnie Polaneczky: The Ira Einhorn Interview

IRA EINHORN still has the white hair and goatee he sported in 2002, when he was convicted of killing his girlfriend, Holly Maddux, decades ago.

Ira Einhorn now spends his days in prison and irrelevance.
Ira Einhorn now spends his days in prison and irrelevance.Read more

IRA EINHORN still has the white hair and goatee he sported in 2002, when he was convicted of killing his girlfriend, Holly Maddux, whose mummified remains were found in a trunk in Einhorn's Powelton Village apartment in 1979.

And those blue eyes haven't lost their freaky intensity as he approaches the eighth anniversary, this Sunday, of his conviction.

But, at 70, Einhorn is thinner than the husky bear we knew back then. His hairline has receded, revealing a scalp that looks like marbled ham, and he has lost some front teeth. Those that remain are lemon yellow, and his breath is foul.

It's a beautiful fall morning and I am visiting Einhorn at Houtzdale State Correctional Institution, in mountainous Clearfield County

"How was your trip?" he asks.

"Beautiful," I tell him.

It feels utterly surreal to be making small talk with Einhorn, who says that he hasn't given a press interview since his conviction.

He once held Philadelphia's rapt attention. A counterculture icon of the'60s and '70s, he was a hippie guru to the rich, famous and influential, mesmerizing them with messages of peace, love, intellectual enlightenment and global connectivity.

But awe turned to loathing in 1981 when Einhorn, on the eve of his trial for Maddux's murder, went on the lam for 16 years in Europe, becoming our most high-profile fugitive.

He was arrested in 1997 in France, where he was known as "Eugene Mallon." He lived in a picturesque village with a Swedish wife who bore an unsettling resemblance to Maddux.

But French authorities blocked his extradition to the United States, arguing that Einhorn had not gotten a fair trial (he'd been tried and convicted in absentia here), deserved a new one and should not be executed if found guilty.

The French finally sent Einhorn back to Philly in 2001. He was convicted in 2002, given a life sentence and sent to Houtzdale, where he's dwelled ever since.

I'd mostly forgotten about him, until his letter landed on my desk some months ago. He wanted to talk about the flawed U.S. justice system, he wrote.

So we arranged to meet. Not because I doubted Einhorn's guilt. He killed Maddux, and the bastard is where he deserves to be. But I wanted to see what had become of the man whose brazen flight from justice had once so incensed Philadelphians, they'd participated in an annual contest to throw tomatoes at a poster bearing his image.

I'm pleased to find that Einhorn - whose intellectually hungry followers used to devour his perceptions, then clamor for more - says that he is virtually ignored now that he is Prisoner No. ES6859.

During our five-hour visit, he complains that most of the copious letters he writes - to this genius author or that ground-breaking professor, in hope of stirring delightful discussion - go unanswered.

"I'm a pariah," he says, self-pityingly, oblivious to the possibility that his being a murderer might limit his pool of willing pen pals. "Once you're in prison, it's as if you no longer exist!"

He seems to expect me to cluck in sympathy. Instead, I feel satisfaction for the family of Holly Maddux, whom he put through hell.

For a narcissistic gasbag like Einhorn, being irrelevant is a punishment more cruel and unusual than death.

Still, I've driven hours to see Einhorn, so I settle in for a chat.

I tell him that I believe he killed Maddux, so I'm not interested in hearing his claims of innocence. Einhorn is equally adamant that he won't discuss his wife, Annika Flodin, who remains in France, other than to say that she is the love of his life.

"I had a lot of lovers when I was younger, anywhere from 1,500 to 1,800. I had a lot of erotic energy," he says, though not "Wilt Chamberlain's erotic energy. But from the moment I met my wife, I was monogamous."

He misses their intellectual banter, or any riveting conversation, actually. Much as he likes many of the 130 inmates and corrections officers on his cellblock, where he has a job as a clerk, they're not the deep-discussion sort.

"I've spent a lifetime creating a knowledge factory in my head," he says, tapping his blotchy scalp. "But everyone here just sleeps or watches television. It makes me sad."

He rises at 5 a.m., works on the series of "erotic short stories" he's writing and composes a journal entry, as he has daily since the early '60s. He says that his musings now comprise some 30,000 pages.

He would like his journals archived in a university, after his death, for study.

"They're an important view of daily life at this time in history," he says airily, his ego apparently undamaged by eight years behind bars.

He subscribes to domestic and international periodicals too numerous to name, but I'll say this for his reading addiction: It sure keeps him interesting. As he excitedly weighed in on everything from metaphysics and epigenetics to global warming and design science, it was easy to see how Ira Einhorn, 1957 Central High grad, became Ira Einhorn, darling of the pseudo-intellectuals.

His manner was so expansive, charming and generous, I temporarily forgot that we were sitting in a prison because he had killed a woman, lived with her corpse in a trunk for 18 months and had had the hubris to believe that he could outsmart detectives who pursued him for two decades.

Sociopaths are good that way.

Einhorn has logged hours in the prison library, learning the law and becoming appalled at all he didn't know about it. He speaks with anger about inmates whom he believes are innocent.

"Not everyone is," he says. "I'm no fool. But some of these men, you just have to look at their files to know they shouldn't be here. They didn't have the right representation."

He rails against a justice system that doesn't seem interested in keeping itself accountable to a higher ideal. He thinks it's a reflection of a society gone mad, a betrayal of all he preached in the '60s and '70s, when "you knew you had to be responsible, or you were lost."

This, from a man who went on the lam for 16 years.

Our time stretches on, and he talks about how bad he feels for introducing so many people to recreational drug use back in the day ("People weren't ready to be responsible with it," he says. "I have to own my part in that."); how the government owes returning war veterans decent medical care; how he now believes that family, first and foremost, is everything.

It's a bizarre, fascinating and far-reaching conversation that has my head spinning by the time we shake hands goodbye. And I can't help thinking, as I head for home, that Einhorn, by taking Maddux's life, has squandered his own.

A fine way to redeem it might be to admit his guilt and throw himself into advocacy work for those inmates who, unlike him, truly are innocent and in need of help from a man whose brain is big enough to figure out their next move.

But it'll never happen. Because sociopaths aren't good that way.