Calvin Jackson – Petty Thief Gone Wild
A small-time thief who sold his loot to buy narcotics, Calvin Jackson might have been ignored in New York City, ranked with thousands like himself and hastily forgotten, if his petty crimes had not accelerated into rape and brutal murder. As it was, complacent homicide investigators failed to recognize a pattern in his crimes for better than a year and before they did he had claimed nine lives.
West 77th may fairly be classified as one of New York’s mean streets. It is better than some, worse than many, and no prize by any standards. In spite of its pretentious name, the Park Plaza Hotel, on West 77th, was a flea-bag catering to middle-aged and older women, scaling its facilities and rates to accommodate fixed incomes. Death was not the most unusual means of checking out, considering the average age of tenants. But, in 1973 and ’74, a lethal specter stalked the Park Plaza’s corridors, driving the mortality rate sky-high.
They Started Dropping Like Flys
Theresa Jordan was the first to die, on April 10, 1973. The youngest of the killer’s victims at age thirty-nine, she was discovered, raped and suffocated, in her tiny room. From all appearances, a thief had torn the place apart. Kate Lewisohn, age 65, was murdered on July 19. A caller found her trussed up on the bed, her small apartment looted. After being raped, she had been strangled, with her skull bashed in. Police examining the crimes in search of a pattern soon lost interest, when the killer took a nine-month leave of absence. His return, on April 24, 1974, was nearly overlooked, authorities ascribing 60-year-old Mable Hartmeyer’s death to arteriosclerosis. A second, closer look, revealed the victim had been raped and strangled, with assorted items missing from her room.
On April 28, Yetta Vishnefsky, age 79, was found dead in her room at the Park Plaza. She had been raped, bound with her own nylon stockings, a butcher knife plunged to the hilt in her back. Items of clothing and jewelry were missing, along with a portable television set. As spring gave way to summer, terror descended on the lonely tenants of the Park Plaza Hotel.
More Bodies Hit The Floor
Winifred Miller, 47, was strangled, raped, and robbed on June 8. Eleven days later, Blanche Vincent, 71, was suffocated and raped in her room, with death initially blamed on “alcoholism.”
Martha Carpenter, age 69, was suffocated and raped July 1. The death of Eleanor Platt, 64, on August 30, was initially dubbed “suspicious,” without known cause. Autopsy results later confirmed she had been suffocated and raped after death. In each case, the murderer stole radios, televisions, or similar items worth a few hundred dollars. On September 12, 1974, the slayer left his chosen hunting ground for the first time, striking one block away, on West 77th.
New Hunting Grounds
That morning, Pauline Spanierman, 59, was found dead in her apartment, raped and strangled, with her television missing. A neighbor recalled seeing a man on the fire escape, lugging a TV set, around three o’clock in the morning, and detectives started searching door-to-door. They soon turned up the missing television set, in a nearby flat. A flat that to Calvin Jackson, who was staying with the tenants temporarily.
Police knew Calvin Jackson as a junkie-mugger, with a record of arrests for robbery and assault. His latest bust had occurred in November 1973, when he was charged with burglary and felonious robbery. Calvin had bargained down to a misdemeanor, serving only thirty days. In retrospect, detectives wondered if they might be looking at a partial explanation for the killer’s “vacation” during the winter of 1973-74.
Just A Man Who Broke Wild
The clincher came when officers discovered that their suspect, 26 years old, was employed as a janitor at the Park Plaza Hotel. In custody, Calvin Jackson readily confessed to all nine murders, stating that he often lingered with his victims for an hour or more, eating food from their refrigerators, watching carefully to make sure they were dead. When victims were molested, Jackson said, he always raped them after death.
In testimony at his six-week trial, Calvin Jackson testified that his crimes were all committed to support his habit, leading prosecutors to inquire why it was necessary then for his victims to be killed and their corpses violated.
“Well,” he told the court, “I guess I kind of broke wild there, you know?”
Convicted on an epic list of charges, Calvin Jackson was sentenced to eighteen consecutive terms of life imprisonment. With time for good behavior, he will theoretically be eligible for parole in the year 2030 A.D.