For more than 30 years, the killers of five teens who vanished from a Newark street walked among us. Two of the murderers, police said, still held the memory of that August night, when they herded the boys into an abandoned house at gunpoint, tied them up, and set the building on fire. It remained a stone-cold case — until this week.
Details began emerging Monday night. Then, early Tuesday, prosecutors confirmed that they’d arrested two men who they said killed the teens because they believed one of them had stolen a pound of pot from them.
One of them, Lee Evans, often hired the boys, ages 16 and 17, to help with odd jobs, prosecutors in Essex County said. Evans, 56, actually had been interviewed soon after the teens vanished, but detectives back then cleared him as a suspect. He and Philander Hampton, 53, of Jersey City, are being held on $5 million bail each, charged with murder and arson.
Prosecutors this morning told a horrifying tale.
Melvin Pittman, Ernest Taylor, Alvin Turner, Randy Johnson and Michael McDowell, were last seen Aug. 20, 1978, near West Side Park, where they played basketball. Two of the boys apparently were taken to the Camden Street house first, followed by the other three later on.
The fire apparently destroyed all evidence of their deaths.
Four of the boys were from Newark. McDowell had recently moved to East Orange.
The case was cracked by a team of Newark and New Jersey State Police and the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office, after one of the agencies got a tip about 18 months ago, authorities said.
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