Earth Day's Forgotten Murderer

Ira Einhorn was known affectionately as “The Unicorn” and “Philadelphia’s head hippie,” a local countercultural icon who hobnobbed with Jack Kerouac, dropped acid with Abbie Hoffman, jammed with Peter Gabriel, and by the late 1970s even held a fellowship at Harvard University’s School of Government.

In 1969, after hearing Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson’s call for a day dedicated to “teach-ins” about the devastating impact of pollution, Einhorn said he helped organize the first major Earth Day celebration in Philadelphia on April 22nd, 1970.

Seven years later, he murdered his girlfriend.


When Holly Maddux disappeared on September, 9th, 1977, Einhorn told police that she simply went out grocery shopping and never came back. Because he was such a beloved figure in the community, they believed him.

Eventually, though, neighbors began complaining about a smell emanating from Einhorn’s apartment, and the police returned to find Maddux’s decomposing body stuffed in a trunk and hidden in a closet.

Einhorn was arrested, but his attorney (future Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter) convinced a judge to lower his bail to a remarkably small $40,000. Predictably, as soon as one of Einhorn’s many financial supporters—Barbara Bronfman, an heiress to the Seagram’s fortune—paid 10%, or $4,000 to secure his release before trial, Einhorn fled the country.

He lived as a fugitive in France until he was arrested in 1997 and finally extradited to the United States in 2001. On October 17th, 2002, he was convicted of Maddux’s murder and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

As one might expect, after Einhorn’s arrest (and only after, it should be noted) his old hippie friends sought to distance themselves from him. In 1998, nine members of the Earth Week Committee of Philadelphia wrote a letter to members of the media denying that Einhorn played any appreciable role in planning that first celebration in 1970:

In fact, Einhorn was asked to leave several meetings of the organizing committee which he attempted to disrupt. He was not welcome there, nor did he contribute in any material way to the committee’s activities. Einhorn, given a small role on the stage at Earth Day, grabbed the microphone and refused to give up the podium for thirty minutes, thinking he would get some free television publicity. We just waited until he had completed his "act" and then got on to the serious business at hand, the keynote speech of U.S. Senator Edmund Muskie, author of the landmark U.S. Clean Air Act of 1970.

This explanation, however, does not seem to make much sense. If Einhorn was in fact “asked to leave several meetings of the organizing committee,” why did that committee give him even “a small role on the stage at Earth Day?”

And if it was such a small role, why was he on stage directly before the event’s keynote speaker, Edmund Muskie? Typically, the introduction of an event’s keynote speaker is handled either by an important speaker or the master of ceremonies, which Einhorn has long claimed to be and none of the members of the Earth Week Committee denied for a full 28 years.

Moreover, if Einhorn really did grab “the microphone and refused to give up the podium for thirty minutes,” why didn’t anyone in the Earth Week Committee try to stop him or interrupt his rambling? After all, this wasn’t a little five minute tangent Einhorn went off on. This was a full half hour! And if similar disruptions got Einhorn kicked out of committee meetings, why didn’t one get him kicked out of the very event the committee was planning?

The most logical answer is that Einhorn was either the master of ceremonies, as he claimed, or he was at the very least a key speaker and instrumental planner of the event he seemed to dominate.

Though the Earth Week Committee tried its best to write Einhorn out of its history, contemporary news accounts of his arrest and conviction from ABC, NBC, Esquire, and Salon all refer to him as a “cofounder of Earth Day,” and there is no record of anyone from the Earth Week Committee saying otherwise until 1998—a full 21 years after the murder.

No one challenged a 1989 Los Angeles Times article that identified Einhorn as “a founder of the Free University at the University of Pennsylvania in 1964, organizer of the city's first Be-In in 1967, first Smoke-In in 1969, Earth Day in 1970 and Sun Day in 1978.”

More tellingly, no one challenged a 1988 Philadelphia Inquirer article about Steven Levy’s definitive book about the case, The Unicorn’s Secret: Murder in the Age of Aquarius that made this claim:

Levy belonged to the generation of Philadelphians to whom Einhorn was the nearest thing to an alternative lifestyle demigod. Levy remembers himself as a face in the crowd at the hugely popular Earth Day celebration on April 22, 1970, organized and presided over by the stocky, pony-tailed, ultra-ubiquitous Einhorn.

And most tellingly of all, no one challenged Levy’s book, which also claimed that Einhorn was both an organizer and master of ceremonies of the first Earth Day.

Only a decade after that book’s publication, and after Einhorn was arrested, did the members of the Earth Week Committee finally attempt to distance themselves from him.

Yet despite the obvious discrepancies in their explanation for his major presence at the event and numerous accounts identifying him as a “cofounder,” the green movement has largely succeeded in making Ira Einhorn Earth Day’s forgotten murderer.

Dan O'Donnell

Dan O'Donnell

Common Sense Central is edited by WISN's Dan O'Donnell. Dan provides unique conservative commentary and analysis of stories that the mainstream media often overlooks. Read more


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