Missing since August 20, 1978 from Newark, Essex County, New Jersey
Classification: Endangered Missing
Circumstances of Disappearance
Randy Johnson of Hawthorne Avenue, Melvin Pittman, Michael McDowell , Ernest Taylor and Alvin Turner vanished after playing basketball in Newark, NJ. They were never heard from again. None of the five boys' Social Security numbers has surfaced in any known document, and not one of the teenagers has applied for a driver's license in New Jersey or elsewhere.
The teens were seen later that evening entering the pickup truck of a local carpenter, who routinely hired city teens to help him with odd jobs. Police questioned the contractor, and cleared him of suspicion after he passed polygraph tests. The contractor told detectives he hired the teens that day, but had dropped some of them off at 20.00. He said he intended to drive to the McDowell house, but instead drove with him to pick up the rest of the boys again at 22.30 to move some boxes to neighboring Irvington. He told police he drove the teens around before dropping them off at 23.00.
Several days after the boys disappeared, one of their mothers got a phone call from a man who said he would tell her where the boys were for $750. Police traced the call to a pay phone at Union Station in Washington, DC., but by the time they arrived, whoever had made the call apparently had fled.
Police initially believed the boys had run away, but the family said they weren't the type to do that. Just one of the boys, McDowell, of East Orange, got into trouble once for a fistfight, but the others -- sophomores and juniors at Weequahic High School -- never got into trouble at all.
Police officially continue to classify the case as a missing persons incident since they say no bodies have been found to determine a homicide has been committed. They have pursued at least a dozen possible leads over the years, including checking for the boys among the bodies from the November 1978 Jonestown massacre and searching military records.
Update:An Essex County grand jury indicted two men in the August 20, 1978 killings of five teenage boys in Newark, who authorities say were lured into a vacant home, locked inside at gunpoint then left to die when it was set ablaze.
Lee Anthony Evans, 56, of Irvington, and Philander Hampton, 53, of Jersey City, were indicted on five counts of murder and arson for the killings of Randy Johnson, Alvin Turner and Michael McDowell, all 16, and Melvin Pittman and Ernest Taylor, both 17. The fire completely destroyed the house at 256 Camden St., and no physical evidence of the crime remains.
Though the boys’ bodies were never found, Hampton has provided a lengthy statement to police incriminating himself and Evans in the killings.
A third man allegedly involved, Maurice Woody-Olds, who was also a cousin, died two years ago.
In a November 2008 interview with police, Hampton admitted that he and Evans killed the boys, saying it was payback for the teens having stolen a pound of marijuana.
Investigators Newark Police Department
If you have any information concerning this case, please contact:
Newark Police Department
Philadelphia Inquirer, The (PA) - August 24, 1998
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