The disappearance of the Clinton Avenue Five
On August 20th, 1978, five teenagers disappeared in Newark in a case that stumped investigators for thirty years. The five teens, Melvin Pittman, Ernest Taylor, Alvin Turner, Randy Johnson, and Michael McDowell had been playing basketball at a Newark park before meeting up on Clinton Avenue to earn some money by helping a local contractor move.
The contractor, Lee Evans, told police that he had picked up the young men, they then helped him move boxes, and then he dropped them back off on Clinton Avenue. They were never seen again. There were actually six teens on the truck, but the sixth one, Roderick Royster, was ordered off the truck by his father before they left. According to a cold case website DefrostingColdCases.com, none of the boys had fingerprints on file and their social security numbers were never used. There wasn’t even a trace of evidence, and the only suspect in the case, Evans, passed a lie detector test, so eventually the case went cold.
In 2010, the Essex County Prosecutor’s office announced that Evans, along with his cousin, Philander Hampton, had been arrested and charged with luring the boys to a house in Newark, locking them in a closet, and then setting fire to the house; the crime was committed in retaliation for the boys stealing marijuana from Evans. Hampton had been jailed on unrelated charges and wound up confessing to the crime and implicating Evans but the only evidence was Hampton’s word. Investigators found no human remains at the site where Hampton said the bodies were burned.
Hampton accepted a plea deal in which he would serve 10 years for the five murders and testify against Evans. Evans went to trial representing himself and was acquitted. There was a third suspect, also a cousin to the other two, Maurice Woody-Olds who died in 2008. Many people still don’t believe Hampton’s story, but absent any evidence (DNA or otherwise), there is no alternate theory.
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