Unbelievably, it has been nearly 32 years since the mysterious disappearances of the five New Jersey teens on August 20,1978. Randy Johnson,16, Melvin Pittman,17, Ernest Taylor,16, Alvin Turner,16, all of Newark, and Michael McDowell,16 of East Orange all mysteriously vanished on that summer day in 1978 . This has been dubbed as the most baffling case that the Newark Police Department has ever faced.
NPD Detective Everett L. Hairston lead the investigation along with the assist of other authorities and community groups. They scoured hospital Mental Health Wards, investigated names of child victims of Atlanta’s serial killer at the time, contacted the authorities in Guyana, as the Jim Jones massacre had just occurred, and nothing.
This March the police finally took a leap forward in solving the case by arresting Philander Hampton, 53, and Lee Anthony Evans, 56, who the community had long suspected as having been involved. Over the last 18 months, Hampton had become cooperative with the Newark authorities which lead to the arrests of the two men. Finally, with information from a “credible witness,” they were able to officially charge the two in the arson-slaying of the youths.
I was just a kid myself when this happened and I remember some of the speculation of my parents and neighbors regarding the disappearance of those teens. Although my family didn’t know any of them, some neighbors did. No one could believe that five young men could have been kidnapped or murdered without some type of a scuffle or a clue. It seemed to be obvious that some conspiracy was involved.
The teens were known as the “Clinton Avenue Five” since they spent so much time together in the Clinton Hill section – and other parts of town. They often played hoops and basketball together. To make extra money, the boys had been doing odd jobs for Evans and Hampton, who were handymen in the area.
On that day, the boys had been playing ball in West Side Park. Around 10pm that night, they had been lured into helping Evans move some boxes with his pick up truck. The boys were last seen on Clinton and Fabyan place. In actuality, it seemed that Evans was nurturing a grudge against the boys for supposedly having stolen some marijuana from him. Revenge was his real motive. They were subsequently lead into an empty house at 256 Camden Street at gunpoint and were bound and the house was set ablaze.
Strange thing is though, no remains of bodies have ever been found. Leads from psychics and other spiritualists were used in trying to locate the whereabouts of their remains. It has been speculated by community members that even in a fire some dental or bone fragments should have been unearthed. Nothing has been recovered. Is more information to be uncovered? Who knows. It is so sad to think that the family’s have endured 32 years of speculation with no closure.