This Day In History: Racist Serial Killer Murders His First Victim (1980)

On this day in history,  a man is shot and killed outside a supermarket in New York state. He was murdered by a man who had a shotgun hid in a paper bag.  He was to be the first of many victims of a serial killer. In Upstate New York and in New York City another three men are murdered, apparently at random. One was killed near the world famous Niagra Falls and the other two in Buffalo. The police did not have anything to go on and all that they knew about the killer was that he used a .22 gun.

Then there was nothing. There were no known killings linked to the killer. Just three days before Christmas six men are stabled right in the middle of New York. The newspapers called the attacker the ‘Mid-town stabber’. Four of those stabbed later died of their wounds. The victims were all non-whites and the police began to suspect that the killer was a racist and that he was motivated by racist hatred. Later two men from the African-American community were shot dead by a man in Buffalo. The police linked these killings with the earlier ones because the killer had used .22 ammunition. The killings in Buffalo are also apparently motivated by racial hatred and this links them to the mid-town stabber.  The authorities began to look for a serial killer who was targeting people because of their race. The killings and attacks raised racial tension in Buffalo in particular. The local authorities asked for help from the F.B.I.

A Remington 870 Wingmaster 12-gauge shotgun, two Remington 1100 12-gauge shotguns, boxes of shells and clay targets are laid out on the fantail of the battleship USS MISSOURI (BB-63) in preparation for skeet shooting practice.
Shotguns similar to the one used by Christopher

Despite intensive efforts, no new leads were discovered and the identity of the killer was not known. The killer seemed to have disappeared into thin air.  Then investigators got a lucky break when the army contacted them about a soldier who had attempted to kill an African- American soldier. The white soldier had badly slashed the face of a black soldier in what was believed to be a racist attack.  The attacker was committed to a mental health institution and while here he bragged that he had killed thirteen black men to a nurse. The soldier was Joseph Christopher and they investigated his background. They discovered that though he was based in Fort Bragg, he had been given furlough from the army on the dates that the attacks in Buffalo and New York City took place. The authorities searched his family’s home and found a sawn-off shotgun.  They also found .22 casings that were identical to those found at the site of the killings in Upstate New York.

In 1982, Christopher was convicted of the Buffalo area murders, but the conviction was later overturned on a technicality as the judge was concerned about expert testimony on his mental health.  In 1985, after another trial, Christopher was sentenced to life in prison for the killings.