“Midtown Stabber” Takes First Victim – 9/22/1980

US History |

On September 22nd of 1980, a man named Glenn Dunn was shot and killed outside a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, for no apparent reason.

Dunn's death was the first in a series of bizarre attacks on victims in New York City and upstate New York. Within two days, three more young men were murdered, one near Niagara Falls, New York, and the other two near Buffalo. At first, the only evidence police had to go on was a .22 caliber shell casing found near one of the bodies.

On December 22nd of the same year, six people were stabbed around 14th Street and 1st Avenue in New York City late at night. At that time, the attacker became known as the midtown stabber, although that area is actually closer to downtown. Four of the victims died from their injuries. Police believed racial hatred was the motivation, since all of the victims were African American or Latino. Then two more men were killed in Buffalo by a .22 caliber sawed off rifle. Both of them were African American.

Investigators did not have enough clues to crack the case, until January of 1981, when a newly enlisted soldier at Fort Benning, Georgia, slashed another soldier, who happened to be African American. The attacker's name was Joseph Christopher. He then bragged to an army nurse about how he had murdered thirteen men in New York. Law enforcement officials checked Christopher's records and found that he had been on a three-day furlough at the exact same time the stabbings took place in New York City. Authorities conducted a search of the family hunting lodge, where they found part of a .22 caliber shotgun. Also, a misfired bullet that matched the .22 casings was found at his parent's home in Buffalo.

Born in Buffalo as the only son of a nurse and a mechanic, Joseph Christopher's father taught his son to shoot at a young age. Joseph took a mechanics course in high school, but dropped out in 1974, before graduation. He worked a series of odd jobs and finally secured a regular position as a maintenance man at a college, where he shared a shift with a black coworker. In 1979, he was fired for sleeping on the job and went back to live with his parents.

Christopher mentioned to his family that he felt his sanity slipping away as early as 1978. He tried to have himself checked into a psychiatric hospital in early September of 1980, but was turned away. Then, on September 22nd of 1980, Joseph Christopher committed four murders over a period of three days, then went to New York City and started stabbing people. 

In April of 1982, Christopher was convicted of the Buffalo area murders, but the conviction was overturned on a technicality. In 1985, Christopher was convicted of the New York City killings, of which there were four. He was sentenced to life in prison. That time, the conviction was not overturned.

Joseph Christopher is believed to have killed at least twelve people, and wounded many others, between 1980 and 1981. Almost all of his victims were African American.

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