Acting Essex County Prosecutor Robert Laurino, Newark Police Director Garry McCarthy and Colonel Rick Fuentes, Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police, today announced the arrests of two individuals in one of New Jersey’s oldest cold cases.
Arrested last night were Lee Anthony Evans, 56, of Irvington and Philander Hampton, 53, of Jersey City. Both were charged with five counts of murder and arson. An individual also believed to be involved, Maurice Woody-Olds, 48, of Newark died in March of 2008 of natural causes. All three men were cousins.
“With these arrests today we hope to bring closure to a 31-year-old mystery involving five teenage boys who vanished from Newark on Aug. 20, 1978,’’ said Acting Essex County Prosecutor Robert Laurino. “For years their families wondered what happened on that August day. Today, we believe, that question has been answered.’’
Newark Police Director Garry McCarthy expressed his condolences to the family and loved ones of the victims who have endured decades of immeasurable pain coping with the uncertainty surrounding the teens’ disappearance.
“I hope that the relentless pursuit of justice demonstrated by the investigators on this case will bring some level of solace to the families,’’ McCarthy said.
The arrests were made by detectives from the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office, the Newark Police Department and the New Jersey State Police.
According to the Acting Prosecutor, the five boys played a pickup basketball game, returned home for dinner and then went out again. They were last seen on Aug. 20, 1978 at different times entering a pickup truck owned by Lee Evans who offered them part-time work.
Allegedly the boys were led to an unoccupied home located at 256 Camden Street in Newark, where Philander Hampton rented an apartment and had access. The boys were allegedly corralled at gunpoint and restrained. It is further alleged that the home was then set on fire and the boys perished in the blaze.
Detectives believe the victims had broken into one of the defendant’s home and stole an undetermined amount of marijuana. Detectives got a break in the case approximately 18 months ago when a witness came forward and cooperated. After intense efforts to corroborate the witness’s account, tying the missing boys to the arson, arrests warrants were executed and arrests were made late yesterday.
Also during this 18-month period detectives conducted ground penetration radar at 256 Camden Street to determine if any human remains were buried there. The test proved negative. To this date, detectives still do not know where the remains of the boys are buried.
The missing, who were known as the “Clinton Avenue Five’’ were Randy Johnson, 16, Melvin Pittman,17, Ernest Taylor, 17, and Alvin Turner, 16, all of Newark; and Michael McDowell, 16, of East Orange. The four boys from Newark were students at Weequahic High School when they went missing.
Detectives have followed leads all across the country in an effort to solve the case but the police had no fingerprints and only one of the boys had dental records.
“Ultimately, this case was broken with relentless detective work,’’ said Prosecutor Laurino.
The investigative team includes: Essex County Prosecutor Det. Lt. Louis Carrega; Elbert Jack Eutsey, former agent of the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office; New Jersey State Police Det. William Tietjen; and Sgt. Darnell Henry, Det. Joseph Hadley and Det. Murad Muhammad all of the Newark Police Department.
Acting Prosecutor Laurino praised the investigative team for its extraordinary detective work in bringing this investigation to a close.
“The arrest and charging of the two suspects in this case represents the beginning of the final chapter in the most heinous crime ever perpetrated not only in the city of Newark, but the state of New Jersey,’’ said Col. Fuentes. “The investigative partnership between local, state, and county law enforcement was paramount in assuring that the victims and their families were never forgotten and this case was solved.’’
Bail has been set at $5 million for both of the accused by Essex County Superior Judge Peter J. Vazquez, JCP. They are scheduled to be arraigned tomorrow at 10 a.m. before Judge Vazquez at the Veterans Court House, Newark, NJ, courtroom 604.
The two are being held at the Essex County Correctional Facility.
These criminal charges are mere accusations. The defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.