The Earth Day Fraud Who Became Known As ‘The Unicorn Killer’

In his journal, Ira Einhorn wrote, “Violence always marks the end of a relationship.”

April 19, 2019
Mug shots of Ira Einhorn [Wikimedia Commons]

Photo by: Mug shots of Ira Einhorn [Wikimedia Commons]

Mug shots of Ira Einhorn [Wikimedia Commons]

By: Matt Gilligan

If there was one certainty about Ira Einhorn, it’s that he loved the spotlight. The man once referred to in the press as a “burly philosopher” was active in the anti-war movement during the Vietnam years, ran for Mayor of Philadelphia in 1971, and took great pride in claiming that he was instrumental in launching the first Earth Day celebration in 1970.

But it was a grisly murder, not his activism or his intellect, that eventually made the man known as “The Unicorn Killer” a household name around the world. His bizarre story was one filled with enough twists and turns that made it feel like the work of a Hollywood screenwriter.

Ira Einhorn was born in Philadelphia in 1940 to a middle-class Jewish family and he later studied and taught at the University of Pennsylvania. Throughout the 1960s, Einhorn became a leading voice in the counterculture movement and has been referred to as “Philadelphia's answer to Abbie Hoffman and Allen Ginsberg.” The Village Voice called Einhorn "indisputably Philadelphia's head hippie," and the city’s “number one freak." He was charismatic and influential, with a wide range of friends and associates from all walks of life.

For years, it has been reported that Einhorn was one of the founders of Earth Day. That narrative has been in the public consciousness for decades, due in part to a famous photo of Einhorn onstage at the podium at the first Earth Day event in Philadelphia on April 22, 1970.

Ira Einhorn at the April 1970 Earth Day celebration in Philadelphia [AP Photo/Temple University]


Ira Einhorn, a leading force in the 1960's hippie establishment, leads the April 1970 celebration of EarthDay in Philadelphia. Einhorn was the guru of non-violence, drugs, and free love. (AP Photo/Temple University)

Photo by: Ira Einhorn at the April 1970 Earth Day celebration in Philadelphia [AP Photo/Temple University]

Ira Einhorn at the April 1970 Earth Day celebration in Philadelphia [AP Photo/Temple University]

In reality, Einhorn was asked to leave committee meetings leading up to the initial Earth Day because of his disruptive behavior and he didn’t contribute to the organization of the event in any way. Because of his status in the local environmental community, he was allowed to take the stage, which turned into a 30-minute episode in which Einhorn refused to give up the microphone or vacate the stage.

Two of the original leaders of Earth Day in Philadelphia later wrote, “Much to our dismay, we now find that Einhorn … has been taking credit for initiating or organizing Earth Day. He is not telling the truth. Einhorn, given a small role on the stage at Earth Day, grabbed the microphone and refused to give up the podium for 30 minutes, thinking he would get some free television publicity. We just waited until he had completed his 'act' and then got on to the serious business at hand: the keynote speech of U.S. Sen. Edmund Muskie, author of the landmark Clean Air Act of 1970. Einhorn is a fraud.”

Nevertheless, to this day, stories that Einhorn “founded” Earth Day continue to flourish in the press.

Beyond the activism and the boisterous public persona, there was a darker side to Ira Einhorn. He was a womanizer whose domineering personality would sometimes erupt into violence. On at least two occasions prior to 1977, the hippie guru attacked women who rejected him. In one case he strangled a woman until she was unconscious. In another, he hit a woman over the head with a bottle. In his journal, Einhorn wrote, "Violence always marks the end of a relationship."

By 1977, Einhorn had been in a relationship with a 30-year-old woman from Texas named Holly Maddux for five years. By all accounts, Einhorn dominated Maddux and, eventually, the young woman had enough. Maddux worked up the courage to leave Einhorn, who was furious about her decision.

In September 1977, Einhorn lured Maddux back to his Philadelphia apartment by threatening to throw all of her belongings into the street if she did not come retrieve them. Maddux returned to the apartment, the two were seen at a movie the following night, and then Maddux vanished. Einhorn denied any involvement in Maddux’s disappearance, telling anyone who asked that the woman had gone to a nearby food co-op and never returned.

The Maddux family hired a private investigator to look into the matter. Over the next few months, Einhorn’s downstairs neighbor complained of terrible smells and dark liquid leaking into their apartment. Neighbors also remembered hearing screams and thumps around the time of Maddux’s disappearance.

Holly Maddux [Getty Images]

Holly Maddux [Getty Images]

PHILADELPHIA, PA - UNDATED FILE PHOTO: Murder victim Holly Maddux is shown in this undated file photo. Maddux's boyfriend, Ira Einhorn, a former hippie guru, was found guilty of murdering her by a jury in Criminal Justice Center October 17, 2002 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Einhorn, 62-years-old, faces a sentence of life in prison without parole. (Photo by Getty Images)

Photo by: Holly Maddux [Getty Images]

Holly Maddux [Getty Images]

Einhorn, in the meantime, enjoyed a fellowship for a semester at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. Finally, armed with a search warrant based on the evidence provided by the investigator the Maddux family had hired, the police searched Einhorn’s apartment on March 29, 1979, and found Holly Maddux’s partially mummified body in a trunk in the bedroom closet.

Maddux’s skull had been fractured in at least six places by a blunt object. After 18 months, her decomposed corpse weighed only 37 pounds. The trunk had been packed with styrofoam, air fresheners, and newspapers. It was later revealed that after Maddux’s disappearance, Einhorn asked two teenage girls he had been seeing to help him dump a trunk into the Schuylkill River — the girls flatly refused.

Philadelphia police arrested Ira Einhorn and his bail was set at $40,000. At his bail hearing, respected community members took the stand in his defense, arguing that he wasn’t capable of committing such a ghastly crime. A wealthy socialite from Montreal paid Einhorn’s bail and a trial date was set for the spring of 1981.

In January 1981, Einhorn, fearing that his freedom was at stake, fled to Ireland and assumed a false name. There was a sighting of the fugitive in 1986 but for all intents and purposes, Ira Einhorn had disappeared somewhere in Europe. In 1993, Philadelphia’s District Attorney decided to try Einhorn for murder in absentia.

Einhorn’s attorney argued that Holly Maddux’s body had been planted in his client’s apartment. It took a jury only two hours to find Einhorn guilty, and the judge handed down a life sentence.

The years dragged on and it appeared, to the anguish of the Maddux family, that Einhorn would never be found and justice would never be served. But some investigators never gave up, including the Philadelphia District Attorney's fugitive-and-extradition chief, Richard DiBenedetto, who hunted Einhorn doggedly for 16 years.

DiBenedetto’s persistence paid off and, in June 1997, Einhorn was arrested in the countryside in southwest France, living in a farmhouse under the name of “Eugene Mallon” with a Swedish wife. His French neighbors believed he was a writer. The hunt for Ira Einhorn was over, but the extradition process back to the United States would prove to be long and arduous.

Although Einhorn had not been sentenced to death in absentia in 1993, his lawyers argued that he would face the death penalty if he were extradited to the United States. Legal proceedings dragged on for several years until Einhorn was finally sent back to the U.S. in July 2001. It was the first time in 20 years he had been on American soil. No longer able to hide under an assumed name while living a charmed life in the south of France, Einhorn now had to face the music.

The following video shows Einhorn after losing his extradition battle, ranting to journalists after attempting to dramatically slit his throat. Warning — his injury looks gruesome, although it was apparently not actually that serious, and he was able to walk himself to the ambulance.

Einhorn, now dubbed “The Unicorn Killer” (Einhorn means “unicorn” in German) by the press, stood trial in Philadelphia. He took the stand and claimed that the CIA had murdered Holly Maddux and planted her body in his apartment because he knew too much about about paranormal military research.

In October 2002, Ira Einhorn was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison without parole. The presiding judge called Einhorn ''an intellectual dilettante who preyed on the uninitiated, uninformed, unsuspecting, and inexperienced.''

Today, the 78-year-old man who charmed the counterculture and the mainstream alike and who managed to avoid authorities for 16 years sits in a prison cell in Pennsylvania, knowing he will never again be the toast of the town or the center of attention.

Next Up

Missing Ohio Woman Found Buried In Backyard, Boyfriend Turns Himself In

23-year-old Adrianna Taylor was reported missing on Nov. 13, 2022. Her body was found 11 days later on Thanksgiving night.

Baltimore Prosecutors Drop All Charges Against ‘Serial’s’ Adnan Syed

After spending over two decades behind bars for the 1999 murder of his former girlfriend Hae Min Lee, Balitmore prosecutors have released Syed from prison and dropped all charges against him.

True Crime News Roundup: Woman Who Manipulated Boyfriend Into Killing Her Husband Sentenced

Plus: Principal accused of having yearslong sexual relationship with student; NYC teen mother allegedly threw newborn from fifth-floor window; dispute over dog turns deadly in Connecticut; and a judge denies a request for DNA testing in West Memphis Three case.

Who Was Notorious Jewel Thief Jack “Murph The Surf” Murphy?

Not all of the details Murphy shared about his life can be verified, but what we know to be true is a fascinating tale about a daytime surfer who moonlighted as a high-end thief.

Florida Father Charged With Double Homicide Of Girlfriend, Toddler Found Dead In Alligator's Mouth

Thomas Mosley, 21, allegedly stabbed his girlfriend to death before throwing their 2-year-old son into a lake, where his body was later found inside an alligator’s mouth.

True Crime News Roundup: Alabama Corrections Officer Vanishes With Her Inmate Boyfriend

Plus: Dead Louisiana woman found fused to sofa; JonBenét Ramsey’s father seeks governor’s help with DNA testing; Australian man incarcerated for killing gay American in 1988; and Pennsylvania mother shoots her two boys in the head.

Texas Father, Son Arrested In Connection With Pregnant Teen, Boyfriend Found Shot

Police say surveillance video and phone data aided detectives in making sense of a “very, very perplexing” crime scene.

The Horrific Murder Of Deborah Brandão

In August 2023, Danelo Souza Cavalcante broke out of jail and caused a massive manhunt that ended in his successful recapture, but many don’t know about the horrifically cruel crime that sent him to jail.

True Crime News Roundup: Alabama Realtor Murdered After Protection Order Against Husband Lifted

Plus: Chicago police search for person responsible for fatally shooting child; gunman who killed retired Wisconsin judge dies; college student left blind and unable to walk after fraternity hazing incident in Missouri; and Vermont yoga teacher accused of murder spotted for second time in New York City area.

‘Their Innocence Was So Crystal Clear’: Couple Cleared Of Murdering 4-Year-Old Girl In ‘87

“I'm just happy to be out of this mess, which has cost me half of my life for nothing,” Joyce Watkins says.