My dear friend Annie Keller of For the Lost fame found an old “Missing Person” poster for the Clinton Avenue Five cases: Randy Johnson, Michael McDowell, Melvin Pittman Ernest Taylor and Alvin Turner. Prior to this, for everyone except Alvin (for some reason) I had only very poor quality photos and the ages of each, no other information as far as what they looked like. Now I’ve got birthdates, heights, weights, clothing, hair and eye color and any other distinguishing characteristics. Yay!
Their story is told in their casefiles and in my previous blog entries; I don’t feel like recounting it again. I don’t doubt that the boys were murdered, but if I were on that jury I would have voted for acquittal too. The “tricked the five of them into going into a closet, locked them in and set the place on fire, leaving no physical evidence at all” story seems implausible in the extreme, and the star witness, a career criminal, was PAID $15,000 for his cooperation.
Those poor boys and their families never got justice.
Lee Evans has been acquitted of murdering Randy Johnson, Michael McDowell, Melvin Pittman, Ernest Taylor and Alvin Turner back in 1978.
Frankly, I had a feeling this was going to happen. The prosecution’s evidence was very weak and the case a very old one. I thought that if was convicted it would be more likely because he basically provided no defense. I think the Evans trial had a lot in common with the Caylee Anthony case — we know he/she did it but we can’t prove it, and proof is required.
I feel very sorry for the families of those boys today.
Jury Acquits N.J. Man Who Defended Himself in Multiple Homicide Trial
Jury Acquits Man in 1978 Murder of 5 Newark Boys
NJ man acquitted of murdering 5 teenagers in ’78
The jury is deliberating as to whether to convict Lee Evans of murdering Melvin Pittman, Randy Johnson, Michael McDowell, Alvin Turner and Ernest Taylor, five teenage boys who disappeared together from Newark, New Jersey back in 1978. Evans and two accomplices, Philander Hampton and Maurice Woody-Olds (they were cousins), allegedly trapped them in a house and set it on fire.
Woody-Olds, being dead, is beyond the reach of our justice. Hampton pleaded guilty and testified against Evans in exchange for a ten-year sentence AND the promise of $15k once he gets out!
Evans chose to represent himself, which is really a terrible idea — there’s an old adage that a person who represents himself at a trial has a fool for a client. But he did have an actual lawyer “assisting” his case. We shall see how this plays out.
Man Accused of Burning 5 Boys Alive: I’m Innocent
Jury weighing charges in 1978 deaths of 5 NJ teens
Closing arguments expected Friday in trial of NJ man accused of burning 5 teens alive in 1978
Jurors Weigh Five Deaths and One Unpredictable Defendant’s Fate
New Jersey Star-Ledger coverage of the whole trial
Lee Anthony Evans has been found competent to stand trial, according to this article from, oddly, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. He’s charged in the “Clinton Avenue Five” murders of Randy Johnson, Michael McDowell, Melvin Pittman, Ernest Taylor and Alvin Turner, black teenagers who disappeared together in Newark, New Jersey back in 1978. Their bodies were never found and, if the prosecution theory is correct, are unfindable by now.
As promised, the police have released more info. The suspects are the aforementioned Lee Anthony Evans, as well as Philander Hampton, both in their fifties. A third suspect, Maurice Woody-Olds, died in 2008. The three men are all cousins. As to motive, this article says: Police say Evans routinely hired teens to help with odd jobs, and they believe the boys broke into one of the suspects’ apartments and stole marijuana. Drugs. I suspected as much. Getting involved with drugs is like poking Death with a stick.
And here’s how it happened:
The five teenagers were led into an abandoned house on Camden Street in Newark, where they were locked inside at gunpoint, authorities said at the conference. The house was then burned to the ground.
God, what a horrible way to die.
This has made a big splash in the news, making headlines as far away as Malaysia. Here are some articles:
The New Jersey Star-Ledger
The Associated Press
The Alternative Press
One of the more puzzling cases on Charley was the disappearance of five teen boys from Newark, New Jersey on the night of August 20, 1978: Randy Johnson, Michael McDowell, Melvin Pittman, Ernest Taylor and Alvin Turner. All of them black, between 16 and 17 years old. All of them good kids; only McDowell had a record, and that was just one arrest for getting into a fight. They were hanging out that night, playing basketball, cramming a little bit more fun into the last days of summer…then they were gone.
It wasn’t for a long time that I was able to get photos of the boys to put them on Charley — and the photos are not very good quality. Their cases did not get anywhere near the attention they deserved. Their disappearances mystified me. Why would someone snatch five teenage boys? And how would they do it without there being a fierce, noisy struggle? No one saw anything. The kids just disappeared into thin air.
Well, there’s been a breakthrough: two men have been arrested and charged with murdering all five of the boys — and arson as well. One of the suspects, according to an unidentified law enforcement source, is Lee Evans. Evans is the last person known to have seen the boys alive, but previous reports stated he’d been ruled out as a suspect. There will be a news conference later this morning with details.
I think this just goes to show that, even if it’s not in the news, you shouldn’t assume the cops aren’t doing anything to find someone. There had not been anything about these boys in the news since the summer of 2008, but it seems the police were quietly plugging away, and now they have results. I just hope they can make a case after over thirty years.
Justice delayed is still justice.
The New Jersey Star-Ledger (this one has pictures of the suspects)
The Associated Press
The Los Angeles Daily News