The Skid Row Slasher – Vaughn Greenwood
Vaughn Greenwood was nicknamed “The Skid Row Slasher.” He was a 31-year old black man who ritually killed 11, down-and-out alcoholic bums, in Los Angeles. All the victims died by having their throats cut open, salt sprinkled around the bodies, and their shoes removed and left pointing toward the body. Police wasted a lot of the investigation searching for a white man, but in 1975, captured Greenwood attempting to murder again. He was sentenced on 2 deaths to life imprisonment.
Vaughn Orrin Greenwood
The first of Southern California’s several “Skid Row” slayers launched his one-man war in 1964, taking a decade off before he returned to terrorize Los Angeles with nine more murders, committed over the space of two months.
Victims were ritually “posed” by the slasher in death, with salt sprinkled around their bodies and cups of blood standing nearby, their wounds surrounded by markings of unknown significance.
In their attempt to capture the killer, police recruited psychiatric “experts” to create a profile of the perpetrator, publishing assorted sketches of their suspect. However, the case was ultimately solved by accident, embarrassing authorities whose “profiles” of the murderer were sadly, and extremely, off the mark.
The First Known Victim of Vaughn Greenwood
The “Skid Row Slasher’s” first known victim was an aging transient, David Russell, found on the library steps with his throat cut and numerous stab wounds on November 13, 1964.
The following day, 67-year-old Benjamin Hornberg was killed in the second-floor restroom of his seedy hotel, throat slashed from ear to ear, numerous stab wounds marking his head and upper torso.
Police saw a pattern of sorts, but it seemed to lead nowhere. These early victims were long forgotten by December 1974, when the killer returned with a vengeance.
On December 1, he murdered 46-year-old Charles Jackson, an alcoholic drifter, on the spot where David Russell had been slain a decade earlier. Moses Yakanac, a 47-year-old Eskimo was knifed to death in a Skid Row alley on December 8, and 54-year-old Arthur Dahlstedt was slain outside an abandoned building three days later.
On December 22, 42-year-old David Perez was found in some shrubbery adjacent to the Los Angeles public library. Casimir Strawinski, 58, was found in his hotel room January 9, and 46-year-old Robert Shannahan had been dead several days when another hotel maid discovered his body, a bayonet protruding from his chest, on January 17.
The Final Skid Row Victim of Vaughn Greenwood
The final Skid Row victim, 49-year-old Samuel Suarez, was also killed indoors, his body found in a sleazy fifth-floor hotel room.
Inexplicably, the killer switched his hunting ground to Hollywood on January 29, 1975, stabbing 45-year-old George Frias to death in his own apartment. Two days later, a cash register mechanic, 34-year-old Clyde Hays was found in his Hollywood home, marked by the Slasher’s characteristic mutilations.
By that time, L.A. detectives had formed a mental picture of their suspect, described as a white male in his late twenties or early thirties, six feet tall and 190 pounds, with shoulder-length, stringy blond hair. A psychiatric profile, published on the morning of Clyde Hay’s murder, described the killer as a “sexually impotent coward, venting his own feeling of worthlessness on hapless derelicts and down-and-outers. He strongly identifies with the derelicts and drifters he kills, and we think he’s trying to resolve his own inner conflicts by turning his wrath and hatred outward.” The Slasher was further described as a friendless, poorly-educated loner, probably homosexual, with an unspecified physical deformity.
Vaughn Greenwood Left His Own Identity To Be Found
On February 2, a prowler invaded the Hollywood home of William Graham, assaulting him with a hatchet before houseguest Kenneth Richer intervened, and both men plunged through a plate-glass window. The attacker fled on foot, striking next at the home of actor Burt Reynolds, carelessly dropping a letter, addressed to himself, in the driveway.
Police picked up Vaughn Greenwood, charging him with counts of burglary and assault, their search of his residence netting a pair of cufflinks stolen from victim George Frias. A year later, on January 23, 1976, Greenwood was indicted on eleven counts of murder in the Slasher crimes.
Unfortunately for police, the “suspect profile” was a stumbling block to their solution of the case. For openers, Vaughn Greenwood was a 32-year-old black man, lacking any obvious deformities, and from the testimony of acquaintances, he was not impotent. He was a loner and a homosexual, who finished seventh grade before he fled his Pennsylvania foster home and thumbed a ride to California.
Vaughn Greenwood Gets Life…A Few of Them
Most of his adult life was spent drifting from Chicago to the West Coast and back again, riding the rails and earning his keep as a migrant farm worker. In Chicago, during 1966, he had demanded cash from 70-year-old Mance Porter, following a sexual encounter in the latter’s skid row apartment. When Porter refused, Greenwood slashed his throat and stabbed him repeatedly with two different knives, spending five and a half years in jail on conviction for aggravated battery.
While awaiting trial on murder charges, Greenwood was convicted of assaulting William Graham and Kenneth Richer, drawing a prison term of 32 years to life.
On December 30, 1976, the defendant was convicted on nine counts of first-degree murder, jurors failing to reach a verdict in the case of victims David Russell and Charles Jackson.
Greenwood was sentenced to life on January 19, 1977, the judge recommending that he never be released because “His presence in any community would constitute a menace.”