Written By: YN
Edited By: Grave Reviews Staff
Most accounts on Joseph Christopher (July 26, 1955 – March 1, 1993) describe him as a pathological racist. His bigotry against the blacks eventually led him to kill around 12 victims. All but one turned out to be of African-American descent. His favorite weapons for his murders are a .22 caliber gun and a knife. It’s because of this that he is nicknamed the “.22 Caliber Killer” and “Midtown Slasher”.
A Spark of Doubt
Joseph Christopher lived a seemingly normal childhood in a middle-class family full of women. He had three sisters, two of which were older than him, a mother, and a father. Being the only boy among his siblings, it was only natural that he formed a close relationship with his father. The two would often go out hunting where Joseph learned how to shoot a gun at an early age. Eventually, he had carried this passion for hunting and the outdoors until his adulthood.
The Christopher family was said to be a devout Catholic family who often went to church. Both parents had stable work so Joseph lived a comfortable life. The mother, Therese, was a nurse, while the father was a maintenance worker.
They lived in predominantly Italian neighborhood in Buffalo, New York. As Joseph was growing up, however, the area faced a drastic change in demographics. Soon, there was a growing tension simmering between the white and the black residents of the neighborhood. Joseph witnessed firsthand the heightened hostility between the two groups as he was growing up.
At school, Joseph was quiet and unassuming. His teacher called him intelligent but not book smart. He later on dropped out of high school and found himself moving from one odd job to another. In one of his jobs, he befriended a black man. Their relationship was going great at first until Joseph received news of his father’s passing.
The death of his father served as a crucial turning point in Joseph’s life. Having adored his father all his life, he cherished his father’s most treasured gun collection. But with this reverence came Joseph’s paranoid tendencies. For some reasons, he began to accuse his black friend of stealing from his father’s collection. It was from then on that he became suspicious and doubtful of anyone especially those of African-American descent.
In 1978, he was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. When he appealed to be admitted in an asylum, he was turned down by the psychiatric centers with the reason that he wasn’t yet dangerous to anyone or to himself. Little did they know that they would soon be proven wrong.
The Consuming Flames of Wrath
In 1980, Joseph got into his first killing spree at age 25. Fourteen days after being rejected admittance by the psychiatric centers in Buffalo, he shot his first victim. It was 14-year-old black teen named Glenn Dunn. The day after that, he went after a 32-year-old man and a 30-year-old victim with his gun. On the third, he killed his fourth. In the span of three days, he got away with four murders. This was where he got the moniker “.22 Caliber Killer”.
Two weeks later, he went on another killing spree. This time, he killed three men. All of which were, once again, of African American descent. This time, however, his victims were beaten to death. Two of them had their hearts cut off from their bodies. Authorities never found the organ.
At this point, there was unrest among the black communities around the area. Many began to arm themselves with guns and knives. Others staged protests, demanding the police to put out more rigorous search for the killer. Meanwhile, tension between them and the white communities continued to grow.
After his second killing spree, Christopher enlisted into the army and was based in Fort Benning. He was gone by the time the authorities were on full alert for the “.22 Caliber Killer”. During his time in the army, his murders were put on halt momentarily. It wasn’t until three months later, during his Christmas furlough, that he went on a third rampage.
December 1980 was said to be the bloodiest yet. By then, he had swapped his gun with a knife. In a span of 13 hours, he had assaulted and stabbed 5 black men and 1 Hispanic. Four of which were killed, while the rest were put in critical condition. A week after that, he killed four more black men. This time the authorities believed this was done by a different killed whom they nicknamed as “Midtown Slasher”.
The Dying Embers of Paranoia
Joseph was finally arrested after wielding a knife against his fellow soldier (who was, yet again, black). This happened on January 18, 1981 after his holiday furlough and his third killing spree. Initially, he was only detained for threatening his fellow soldier, but he was quickly transferred to a psychiatric center after several incidents of self-mutilation and suicide attempts with a razor.
Upon admittance, he went into several therapies and sessions with experts. There, he confided to his psychiatrists of having killed black people simply because he needed to do so. These incriminating claims did not go amiss by the authorities. Soon, the police searched Joseph’s former residence in Buffalo, where they found the .22 caliber gun and other evidence pointing that he was the “.22 Caliber Killer” and “Midtown Slasher”.
In April 1981, Joseph was finally indicted with charges of the murders from his first killing spree. He waived his rights for a jury and chose to represent himself. His case went on in the court for some time mainly because his mental competence was a widely debated topic during the trial. Eventually, his insanity plea was overruled, and he was sentenced at least 58 years in prison. However, he was only convicted with 3 murders. Authorities, up to this day, remain unsure of his true kill count.
During his incarceration, he agreed to be interviewed by several journalists and writers. He openly admitted to killing 13 out of the 17 victims he had. He also insisted that he was only ordered to kill those men. By whom? He didn’t know, and he didn’t care to ask.
In 1993, Joseph Christopher died from a rare male breast cancer at age 37. He was still in the Attica Correctional Facility at the time of his death. By then, he had sparked a fire between the white and black communities of Buffalo, New York, and his name had officially been written down in history as one of the most vicious serial killers of the United States.
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