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Falling Down a Rabbit Hole: the Dark History of Earth Day’s Founder

I know I recently promised that I’d stick to Louisville-related posts for a few entries, however I fell down down a rabbit hole, so bear with me. I'll return to Louisville posts.


We recently observed Earth Day (April 22). I love nature, flowers, animals, insects, oceans—all the things. I also want reasonable protections for our environment that allows humans to live in safe and healthy kinship with nature as much as possible. But did you know Earth Day has a bit of a dark history?


Rather, one of the founders of Earth Day has a dark history.


Enter Ira Einhorn, the Unicorn Killer. The name “unicorn” comes from a translation of the name “Einhorn” where ein means one or uni and corn, descendant from Old French cornu, means horn. So, rest easy, he’s not responsible for the extinction of unicorns. He is, however, responsible for the brutal murder of a beautiful co-ed Holly Maddux.


Einhron was a student at the University of Pennsylvania where he earned his undergrad English degree in 1961 and completing his graduate English degree in 1963. Like many college students in the 1960s, Einhorn was an activist in counterculture, anti-establishment, anti-war groups, and environmentalist groups. In fact, he was so deeply involved in environmental activism that he was a speaker at the first Earth Day event in Philadelphia in 1970 and later claimed to be the one responsible for creating, organizing, and launching the event. Though there is some controversy about the truth of this claim.


Meanwhile, during the 1964-1965 school year, Einhorn was an English instructor at Temple university. However, his contract wasn’t renewed because of his “contempt for the academic world” and his boasts about his use of cannabis and LSD. He was also a resident fellow at the Harvard Institute of Politics in the 1978 fall semester—while harboring a horrific secret.


In October 1972, Einhorn began a stormy relationship with Helen “Holly” Maddux. A Texas-native, dancer, and a graduate of Bryn Mawr College, Holly, like many people, was captivated by the charismatic, unwashed, bearded, hippie who claimed to have psychic powers. Their relationship was fraught with heated arguments, reconciliation, and more quarreling.

But finally in September 1977, Holly put her foot down. She broke up with Einhorn and refused to reconcile. Maddux moved to New York City where she entered a relationship with Saul Lapidus. On September 9, 1977, she returned briefly to Philadelphia to collect her things from the apartment she once shared with Einhorn because he’d threatened to throw her belongings into the street as trash. Her friends warned her not to go. She wasn’t seen alive again.


Several weeks later, police questioned Einhorn about Maddux’s disappearance. He claimed she’d gone to the local grocery to buy some food and never returned.


Then the neighbors began to complain about a foul odor emanating from Einhorn’s apartment. Several months later, on March 28, 1979, police discovered Maddux’s decomposing body in a trunk in Einhorn’s closet.


But the story doesn’t end there. Einhorn's lawyer negotiated a $40,000 bail. He posted a $4,000 bond with the help of Barbara Bronfman, a Montreal socialite who had met Einhorn through a shared interest in the paranormal.


Only days before his murder trial, in 1981, Einhorn skipped bail and fled to Europe. During his escape, Bronfman continued to support him until 1988 when she read a condemning account of Einhorn called The Unicorn’s Secret written by Steven Levy. Einhron lived in Europe for 17 years and even managed to marry a Swedish woman named Annika Flodin.


Back in the The States, since Einhorn had already been arraigned, in 1996 the State of Pennsylvania convicted him in absentia and sentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Finally, in 1997, the escaped murderer was arrested n Champagne-Mouton, France where he’d been living under the alias, Eugene Mallon. Unfortunately, the extradition treaties between France and the U.S. were complex and either country could refuse extradition under certain circumstances. Of course, Einhorn made the most of that situation and used every available avenue to avoid returning to The States. Ultimately, after a great deal of legal maneuvering, France agreed to extradite Einhorn whereupon he attempted to slit his own throat to avoid prison. Finally, on July 20, 2001, he was extradited to Pennsylvania.

Once back in court, Einhorn took the stand in his own defense and claimed that Maddux was murdered by CIA agents who attempted to frame him because he’d been investigating the Cold War and because of his LSD use.


After a month-long trial, the jury deliberated for only 2 hour, coming back with a conviction on October 17, 2002. He was again sentenced to life without parole and the sentence affirmed in 2006 by the Superior Court of Pennsylvania. Einhorn died of natural causes in prison on April 3, 2020.


I know I’ll never look at Earth Day quite the same way again.


Further reading


Levy, Stephen. (1990). The Unicorn's Secret. Onyx Publishing.


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