Ira Einhorn (left) was a high priest of the hippy movement – rebellion, free love, drugs, anti-Vietnam war, the Age of Aquarius. He promoted these ideas with verve and was an organiser of the original Earth Day. That his German surname translated into Unicorn was perfect for the zeitgeist. He saw himself as an environmental activist and mixed with leading figures of the movement like Timothy Leary, Allen Ginsberg and Abby Hoffman.
Many thought Einhorn was a genius. There was no subject on which he could not discourse at length, all infused with his idiosyncratic ideas about environmentalism, UFOs, alien invasion, ESP, computer science and such esoterica. On close examination, his intellect was extremely broad, facilitated by his compulsive reading, but there was little depth. This hardly troubled his listeners. His compelling style drew in not just the young and impressionable, but environmentalists, corporation figures, businessmen and government officials, all taken in by his rodomontade.
Wearing the long hair of the time, his pudgy figure in a white robe, he paid no attention to hygiene or grooming. Yet this had little effect on his appeal. Women flocked to him and he made the most of the ensuing rewards. Einhorn was seriously into sex with as many women as possible and, in doing so, had a far from enlightened attitude to his lovers. He treated them like dirt and brutally dispensed with them as soon as he wanted to move on to another target. Rumours of his violence towards women did his love life no harm.
But the Sixties moved on, the Vietnam war ended and the hippy generation had to face the mundane facts of settling down and earning a living. Based in Philadelphia, Einhorn’s activities were constricted but he still displayed an amazing capacity to find wealthy sponsors and university positions. Barbara Bronfman, a Canadian Seagram heir, was to play an important part in his life. During a lecture, he lit up a marijuana spiff and undressed till he was naked and danced around. It was all a game to entrance those around him.
In 1972 Einhorn started going out with Holly Maddux, a beautiful young women from Texas. The relationship was predictably tumultuous. By 1977 she had enough and ended it. On September 9, she went to his apartment and was never seen alive again. Questioned, Einhorn claimed that she had gone out to buy food and never returned.
In the absence of any leads, let alone a body, there was nothing the authorities could do. Two years after complaints from neighbours about a bad smell, the police came to Einhorn’s apartment. Inside a closet they found a large trunk. When they opened it, it contained the mummified body of Holly Maddux. The cause of death was evident – her skull had been brutally smashed.
“You found what you found,” was Einhorn’s enigmatic response.
Bailed by his wealthy sponsors, the trial was scheduled for 1981. Many who knew him refused to believe that he could have committed such a violent crime and supported his appeal for bail. By the time of the trial, Einhorn had gone on the lam, disappearing without trace. The trial went ahead anyway, he was found guilty and sentenced to death.
Einhorn had gone from Canada to Ireland, where he set himself up under another name. By the time the authorities caught up with him, he vanished again and the trail went cold for many years. When they got word that he was in Sweden, he was off again, this time accompanied by an attractive woman, Annike Floddin. The search continued and he may have stayed hidden had Interpol not picked up Floddin’s application for a driving licence in France.
He was tracked down to an exquisite village in Champagne-Mouton, France, living with Floddin under the name Eugène Mallon. He led a quiet life, spending most of the time in their farm house but playing bridge with the locals. Arrested by the police in 1997, he did not deny who he was but was soon bailed. With vigorous lobbying by Floddin, he became a cause célèbre with the French media. By nature anti-American, the intellectual class took up the cause, expressing their indignation about a country that convicted and sentenced to death a man who did not attend his trial – clearly, the Dreyfus case and the use of the guillotine for capital punishment did not trouble this logic.
The matter went back and forth between the two governments. While the death penalty had been abolished, in 1998 the state of Pennsylvania passed the “Einhorn Law”, allowing defendants convicted in absentia to request another trial. Obstructions from the French side continued. It looked as if Einhorn was going to get away with it before a phone call from President Clinton to Prime Minister Jospin put an end to the delays. Einhorn called the media to the house to await the result of his last appeal. When the news came through that he had lost, he dramatically cut his throat in front of the waiting media. To no avail (probably as he intended) and he was extradited on July 20, 2001.
After Einhorn was extradited, Floddin was conspicuous by her absence. Her excuse was that she could be arrested for harbouring a fugitive from justice. Perhaps, away from Einhorn’s mesmerising spell, she had started to see through his insistence about a conspiracy to frame him and wanted to get on with her life.
At the trial Einhorn repeated the same story: Holly Maddux was killed by CIA agents in order to frame him for investigations into Cold War “psychotronics”. The jury was unconvinced and on October 17, 2002 he was sentenced to life without parole.
Justice had finally caught up with the Unicorn. Incarcerated in Houtzdale prison he resumed something of his old style as a commentator, putting out his views on a website. From time to time he gave interviews where he protested his innocence but refused to discuss Floddin.
In December, 2016, he was transferred to a minimum security hospital on health grounds.
Can any excuse be found for Einhorn? He was highly intelligent but not psychotic. The part played by drugs in his violence must remain speculative. Calling him a psychopath is too easy an excuse; overweening hubris is more likely. Equally so the current obsession with sex addiction would not get him off the hook. For Einhorn women were sexual objects to meet his needs and his rage at any refusal to play along with this was virulent to an extreme.
If we are left with anything, it is that the peace and love movement of the Sixties proved in the long run to be shallow, trivial and ephemeral. Below this, a dark side was always waiting to emerge. Don McLean sang about the death of Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens; perhaps Einhorn’s legacy is that he is the man who made the music die.
Robert M Kaplan is writing about Ira Einhorn in his new book The King Who Strangled his Psychiatrist and Other Dark Tales.