This is an amazing story of raw perseverance by a group of police, finally leading to solving a 30 year old case.
The bodies were never found. The presumed crime scene burned to the ground nearly 32 years ago. One of the three suspects is dead.
But police in Newark, N.J., said Tuesday that more than three decades after five teenage boys vanished on a sweltering summer night, they have charged two men with luring them into a home, locking them inside, and setting it on fire.// //
The alleged motive: To punish the teens for apparently swiping marijuana from one of the suspects.
“The mystery has now been solved,” said Robert Laurino, acting prosecutor of Essex County, as he displayed two large, color photographs of the arrested men — Lee Anthony Evans, 56, and Philander Hampton, 53.Laurino said the two were “very very quiet” when police knocked on their doors Monday, cuffed them and led them into the rainy night to be jailed. Each was held on $5-million bail.
“More than likely, they did believe this was behind them,” Laurino said of the men.
The crime has long cast a cloud over a city that struggles with violent crime.
The disappearances mystified the city, frustrated the police and brought despair to relatives with each false lead.
No crime has hung “as hard and as heavy” on Newark, said Mayor Cory Booker.
The dead teens — who had been friends for years — were known as the Clinton Avenue Five, for the last place they were seen alive. Laurino said they “essentially disappeared off the face of the earth” Aug. 20, 1978.
Randy Johnson, 16; Melvin Pittman, 17, Ernest Taylor, 17; and Alvin Turner, 16, all lived in Newark. Michael McDowell, 16, came from nearby East Orange. The five would often gather to shoot hoops and sometimes took odd jobs with Evans, a local contractor.
Police said Evans had long been suspected of involvement in the case, because the boys were last seen getting into his pickup truck.
But there was no evidence, no corpses, and no witnesses to a crime — until 18 months ago, when someone came forward. The witness, whom police did not identify, cracked the case.