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The Hitchhike Murders

By Henry W. Mcgee

ELLEN REICH was a typical Boston woman student. A 19-year-old sophomore at Emerson College, she was the youngest of five children. Her father, a pharmacist in New Jersey, was proud that his daughter wanted to become a lawyer. She enjoyed school, and nearly every morning, along with her roommate, she would thumb a ride to Emerson, approximately two miles from her Back Bay apartment. But on November 9, Reich hitchhiked alone, and her roommate never saw her again. Four days later, Reich's body was found strangled and stabbed in a closet that had been nailed shut in an abandoned Roxbury tenement.

The killing of Ellen Reich is just one in a series of seven murders of white, college or college-age, middle class women which have occurred in the Boston area since July 9 of last year. Police now believe that three of the victims were hitchhiking when they were murdered, and that all seven of the murders may have been committed by a new "Boston Strangler." Although the murders remain officially unsolved, the police are now holding a prime suspect, and Middlesex Attorney General John Droney has promised that he will seek a murder indictment before the end of February. Police refuse to identify the man they are holding, but several Boston newspapers have reported that he is a former Dorchester resident now being held in the Billerica House of Correction for charges stemming from the attempted murder of a Cambridge policeman. There have been several outstanding features of the murders that make police believe they were all done by the same murder:

All seven victims were young.

All seven were strangled.

Four of the bodies were dumped in woods.

Three of the women had received sharp blows.

Three of the women were students at Boston University, and three of them lived in Cambridge.

The second of the Boston area's "hitchhike murders" occurred less than two weeks after Ellen Reich's body was discovered. Sandra Ehramjian was a 21-year-old college dropout who was working as a cab driver and living in a seedy flat near Harvard Square. On Monday, December 27, Ehramjian, according to her ex-roommate, started to hitchhike home to see her parents in East Meadow, N.Y. The next day her body was found in a Brockton park.

The most publicized hitchhiking murder, though, is the killing of Damaris "Synge" Gillispie. A 22-year-old senior honors student at Boston University, Gillispie lived in a Cambridge apartment not far from Sandra Ehramjian's. She was last seen on November 29 when she left her apartment to go to her job as a cocktail waitress at the Boston nightclub The Jazz Workshop. Police believe she hitchhiked to get there. She never made it.

When Gillispie failed to return the next day, her roommates notified her parents, who along with the Cambridge Police began an intensive, all-out manhunt that lasted three weeks. Gillispie's family and friends manned a 24-hour hotline in the Cambridge apartment, and covered the Boston area with more than 20,000 posters and leaflets describing Gillispie and asking anyone who had seen her or had any information to call the hotline. They even set up a "Synge Gillispie Information Desk" at the Boston University student union.

THE HOTLINE almost paid-off in the capture of a mysterious caller whom police believe to be the man they are now holding. The man, who sounded as though he were in his late 20's or early 30's, made his first call to the hotline at 11:40 a.m. on December 6, a week after Gillispie disappeared. He made five additional calls that day and the next in which he described details of the woman's personal affects that make police almost certain he abducted her. When the newspapers picked up the story about the caller, the calls stopped. The family believes that the stories scared the murderer off and may have caused him to kill her.

After the call stopped on December 8, Gillispie's parents went home to Bedford, New York, but never gave up hope. But on Saturday, February 5, they had to. Gillispie's body was found in a wood near Billerica.

Although murder is the most sensational of hitchhiking crimes, Boston police are also worried about the other hitchhiking related crimes, which according to John F. Kreckler, Superintendent of the Boston Police's Bureau of Special Operations (the detective bureau), are on the rise. The number of rapes in Boston in 1972 was 262, up from 235 in 1971, while the number of assaults also rose. Although Kreckler stresses that police records aren't sophisticated enough to tell how many of the rapes and assaults occurred as a result of hitchhiking, he says, "There is some belief that hitchhiking is in part responsible for the increase."

Like most police officials, Kreckler is discontent with the regulation of hitchhiking in Massachusetts. With the exception of hitchhiking on the Massachusetts Turnpike where the fine is $50, the only regulation concerning hitchhiking in both Boston and Cambridge is the Pedestrian Control Act that calls for a fine of $1 for the first three offenses of hitchhiking, and $2 for additional offenses. Kreckler says the law is difficult to enforce, and although the police issued 500 tickets in a big campaign last year, they've largely given up trying to enforce it.

Attempts to pass stronger legislation have been thwarted in the past by strong pressure from young people who are ubiquitous in the state. In the wake of the recent murders, however, Massachusetts Attorney General Robert Quinn is optimistic that the current anti-hitchhiking mood will insure legislative passage of the bill that he has proposed calling for the suspension of the registration of any auto picking up a hitchhiker in a "non-emergency" situation.

In the meantime, police are relegated to curbing hitchhiking through "educational programs" at Boston area colleges. This consists mainly of providing the schools with anti-hitchhiking posters and occasional meetings with school officials and students.

Even beyond the question of enforcement, there is the issue of dealing with the crimes once they are committed. Although for the recent murders in the Boston area, the Attorney General's office has acted as a coordinating body, such incidents of cooperation in cases where crimes were committed in areas of different police authority is rare. The problem is frustrated when the crimes occur in small towns with small and inadequate detective staffs.

Both the Gillispie and Ehramjian parents feel that the investigations carried out by the Cambridge and Brockton police were not as through as they might have been. Aram Ehramjian, Sandra Ehramjian's father, even went so far as to write a letter to Attorney General Quinn charging that the Brockton police had not visited the places where Sandra was known to have stayed or checked out many of the leads the family had supplied.

THE "HITCHHIKE MURDERS" have had a strong impact on the travel habits of many Boston-area women. "There are definitely fewer people hitching and girls have stopped hitching altogether," said Bianca Sorieri, a student at Boston University. "Every morning there used to be more than half a dozen girls who would stand outside the dorm and hitch to class, but they've all stopped now."

Boston University's two student newspapers have carried article warnings against hitchhiking while the school's women's center has set up a ride board for intra-city travel.

Radcliffe women have had mixed reactions to the murders, and though some have stopped hitching, many have not. Some House Masters have warned women about hitchhiking, although the University has generally taken a hands off attitude, feeling any action on their part would be paternalistic. The attitude of most students at the University about the murders was summed up by one senior woman who said, "Whether I change my habits or not, I'm definitely pissed off."

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