Hey remember that time a notorious murderer from Philly started Earth Day?

Please note: This article is published as an archive copy from Philadelphia City Paper. My City Paper is not affiliated with Philadelphia City Paper. Philadelphia City Paper was an alternative weekly newspaper in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The last edition was published on October 8, 2015.

Okay, technically he hadn't killed anybody yet.


Einhorn greeting Earth Day crowds in 1970. Courtesy of Temple's Urban Archives.

Okay, so maybe "started" is a strong word. And technically Ira Einhorn didn't murder anyone until 1977, seven years after the above photo, taken during the first Earth Day celebration at Belmont Plateau, in Fairmount Park. 

Nevertheless, the West Oak Lane native, more colorfully known as "The Unicorn Killer," was a major fixture in radical West Philly counterculture movements in the 1970s and a force that helped organize the first Earth Day.

Before he brutally murdered Bryn Mawr graduate Holly Maddux for having the nerve to break up with a guy who actually instructed people to refer to him as "the Unicorn", Einhorn (German for "one horn") taught UPenn courses on the use of psychedelics and ran for mayor. Maddux's body was found locked inside a trunk in Einhorn's residence by then-homicide detective (and now-Upper Darby Police Superintendent) Michael Chitwood, in Powelton Village, a hotbed for political activism. Einhorn's apartment was just blocks away from the site of the first MOVE bombing.

Einhorn skipped bail, fled to Europe, and was eventually recaptured and tried for murder in 2001. The rest is history, but a series of 16mm Earth Day documentaries from the 1970s have been recovered and posted on YouTube, including one called "Circuit Earth" that actually shows a few seconds of Einhorn sort of singing along with other organizers from the Earth Week Committee of Philadelphia.

The video is below, and you can see Einhorn around the 9:00 mark, looking like Mike from "American Movie." It's a pretty amazing short film, apart from the novelty of depicting a singing murderer. It also features Allen Ginsberg, a Black Power poetry reading in Headhouse Square and a South Philly resident interviewing people door-to-door about the city's growing problem with abandonment. If you don't do anything else for Earth Day, you can at least watch this slice of ’70s Philadelphia and think about what a strange, strange time that was.

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