Bobby Joe Maxwell


Bobby Joe Maxwell

A.K.A.: "Skid Row Stabber"

Classification: Spree killer
Characteristics: Occultist and ritual slayer of homeless men
Number of victims: 11
Date of murders: October 1978 - January 1979
Date of arrest: April 4, 1979
Date of birth: 1945
Victims profile: Jessie Martinez, 50 / Jose Cortez, 32 / Bruce Emmett Drake, 46 / J.P. Henderson, 65 / David Martin Jones, 39 / Francisco Perez Rodriguez, 57 / Frank Floyd Reed, 36 / Augustine E. Luna, 49 / Jimmy White Buffalo, 34 / Frank Garcia, 45 / Luis Alvarez, 26
Method of murder: Stabbing with knife
Location: Los Angeles, California, USA
Status: Convicted on two of ten counts of murder in 1984 and sentenced to life in prison without parole. Overturned in November 2010

Los Angeles police were still recovering from jibes about the "Skid Row Slasher" case when transients in their city started falling prey to yet another random slayer. Knives were favored once again, and there was a suggestion of familiar ritual about the murders, with the name of Satan scrawled in blood, on cardboard, near one victim's body.

Newsmen dubbed their latest maniac the "Skid Row Stabber," to avoid confusion, and before his ultimate arrest, he proved himself as lethally prolific as his predecessor. Jesse Martinez, age 50, was the stabber's first victim, found in a skid row parking lot on the morning of October 23, 1978.

Five days later, 32-year-old Jose Cortez was knifed to death in an alley, followed by 46-year-old Bruce Drake on October 30. J.P. Henderson, age 65, was found sprawled on a sidewalk, in the predawn hours of November 4.

Five days later, taking a leaf from the old Slasher's book, 39-year-old David Jones was killed on a walkway of L.A.'s Central Library. Francisco Rodriguez, 57, and 36-year-old Frank Reed were both found in parking lots, killed on November 11 and 12, respectively.

The second victim in a double-header on November 12, 49-year-old Augustine Luna was stabbed to death behind a building on South Main Street. Jimmie White Buffalo, a 34-year-old Indian, became the ninth victim five days later, stabbed repeatedly in the upper torso with a long-bladed knife, his body dumped in a parking lot. Thus far, the Stabber's victims had been claimed within an area of fifteen blocks, and there were no survivors.

That changed on November 20, when transients Jose Ramirez, 27, and Ricardo Seja, 24, were wounded in separate attacks, detectives admitting a "strong likelihood" of the Stabber's involvement. If they needed a motive, it could be found on the wall of a downtown bus station: "I'm Luther. I kill winos to put them out of their misery."

On Thanksgiving Day, 45-year-old derelict Frank Garcia was stabbed to death on a bench in City Hall Plaza, less than 200 feet from the entrance of L.A. police headquarters. A latent palm print was recovered from the bench, but it was useless to authorities without a suspect for comparison.

Two months later, 34-year-old Bobby Maxwell was arrested while standing over a skid row derelict, clutching a ten-inch dagger in his hand. Pleading guilty on misdemeanor weapons charges, he was sentenced to 60 days in jail while police pressed their investigation of the most promising suspect to date.

A Tennessee native, Maxwell had served time for robbery in the Volunteer State, and cellmates recalled his devotion to Satan whom Maxwell called "Luther." A search of his flat turned up knives compatible with nine of the Stabber slayings, and Maxwell's palm print matched the latent print recovered from the bench where Frank Garcia died.

Charged with ten counts of murder and five counts of robbery in May 1979, Maxwell smilingly confided to another prisoner that he had killed the derelicts in order "to obtain souls for Satan." Legal wrangling delayed Maxwell's trial until January 1984, and testimony took another seven months, leaving jurors divided in their opinions of his guilt.

On July 12, Maxwell was convicted of murdering Frank Garcia and David Jones; he was also acquitted of three murder counts, with jurors failing to reach a decision on five homicides. In Bobby's case, two did the trick, and he received a term of life imprisonment.

'Skid Row Stabber' has murder convictions thrown out after 26 years as appeal court rules it was based on lies of cellmate

December 1, 2010

A man once thought to be the 'Skid Row Stabber' who killed Los Angeles homeless men in the 1970s has had his life sentence and murder conviction overturned.

An appeals court found the conviction was based on a jailhouse informant's lies.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ordered a new trial or release for Bobby Joe Maxwell, who was convicted in 1984 in two homeless deaths.

He was accused of 10 killings that took place from 1978-79 in Los Angeles.

Maxwell, now 60, has been in jail for over 30 years.

Trying him again would be difficult: the prosecution's key witness is dead, and the court said there was little physical evidence in the case.

Prosecutors had sought the death penalty, but a jury rejected that in favor of a life sentence without parole after hearing testimony about prisoners who had been wrongly executed.

In its 42-page decision, the appeals court called jailhouse informant, Sidney Storch, a 'habitual liar' whose many arrests included one for impersonating a CIA officer and Howard Johnson, heir of the Howard Johnson hotel chain.

The case against Maxwell was thin until Storch emerged. The only physical evidence was a palm print found on a bench in an area Maxwell frequented.

Storch, who was Maxwell's cellmate for three weeks, read about the print in news accounts and said he asked Maxwell about it.

He claimed that Maxwell confessed he had made a mistake failing to wear gloves during the stabbings. Maxwell denied making the comment.

The new ruling cited records of a lineup in which Maxwell appeared. Three homeless men, who allegedly witnessed one of the killings, were asked if they saw the killer in the lineup.

It quoted one of the men as saying, 'You've got everyone up there that doesn't look like him.'

The judges said that lower courts erred in finding that Storch told the truth in Maxwell's trial and that prosecutors rested their case on his testimony despite a lack of solid physical evidence.

'Maxwell maintained that he was innocent and that Storch was lying throughout the nine month trial,' the court noted.

The appellate court also found that, among other violations, jurors were never told Storch negotiated a deal with prosecutors for an early release from prison if he testified against Maxwell.

Sandi Gibbons, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County district attorney, said the office was waiting for the state attorney general 'on how they want to proceed' in the case.

The ruling detailed Storch's long record as a liar and forger, and said his false testimony in numerous cases played a role in a wide-ranging informant probe that shook the Los Angeles County justice system in the 1980s.

Storch went on to testify for the county in at least six other cases, several of them high profile, the court said. The court said he always using news articles to familiarize himself with the details, then claimed to have heard confessions.

He was later caught fabricating evidence and charged with perjury, but died in prison before he could be tried.

'At the time he was apprehended and placed in a cell with Maxwell, Storch was in possession of a false California driver's license, forged checks, and stolen credit cards,' the court noted.

The detective who arrested Storch at the time testified that he 'would not trust anything Sidney Storch said unless you could corroborate the information with some source,' it said.

SBM Skid Row Stabber Seeks Souls For Satan

The first known killer to prey almost exclusively on the down-and-outs on L.A.'s Skid Row was Vaughn Greenwood, that statistical anomaly: a black serial killer crossing the race line in his choice of victims. Greenwood's spree spanned 1964-75 with two slayings followed by a ten-year gap, then a flurry of brutal attacks that earned him the memorable sobriquet Skid Row Slasher. He was only caught when he left the comfortable depths of the Nickel and hit Hollywood, where he tried to break into Burt Reynolds' home and dropped an envelope with his name on it.

Between October 1978 and January 1979, the unfortunate denizens of Skid Row again were terrorized, this time by the activities of a Satanist who came out from Tennessee to harvest souls for his dark master. Victims were stabbed as they slept in doorways, in vacant lots or under bushes. This cruder monster was known as the Skid Row Stabber, and he too proved once caught to be a black man, whose indiscriminate victims included Chicanos and Native Americans.

On August 2, 1978, unemployed laborer and Skid Row habitué Bobby Joe Maxwell was arrested downtown for assault with a deadly weapon, and spent about two months in jail. It was shortly after his release that the killings began. On December 14, 1978, police spotted Maxwell standing over an intoxicated man sleeping on the sidewalk, searched him, and found a double-edged stainless steel, cork-handled knife. Maxwell was charged with carrying a concealed weapon, and jailed until January 18, 1979. His knife, which remained in police hands, was later said to be compatible with the wounds on all but two victims.

The two-month break in the killings suggested to police that the assailant might have been incarcerated, and after a search of local jail records, Maxwell was placed under surveillance. He was arrested on April 4, 1979, and his case went to trial in late 1983.

The victims of the three month spree were all attacked close to the Historic Core. They were:

1) Jessie Martinez, 50. Killed October 23, 1978 near Fifth and Wall; charges against Maxwell for this single case were dismissed for insufficient evidence.
2) Jose Cortez, 32. Killed October 28, 1978 in an alley in the 300 block of East 3rd Street.
3) Bruce Emmett Drake, 46. Killed October 30, 1978, 600 block of South Kohler Street.
4) J.P. Henderson, 65. Killed November 4, 1978, on a sidewalk in the 500 block of West 7th Street.
5) David Martin Jones, 39. Killed November 9, 1978 on a Central Library walkway, 630 West 5th Street.
6) Francisco Perez Rodriguez, 57. Killed November 11, 1978 in a parking lot at 416 South Main.
7) Frank Floyd Reed, 36. Killed November 12, 1978 in a parking area at 237 East Fifth Street.
8) Augustine E. Luna, 49. Killed November 12, 1978 behind 448 South Main.
9) Jimmy White Buffalo, 34. Killed November 17, 1978 in a parking lot at 320 South Main.
10) Ricardo Seja, 26. Survived a knifing on November 19, 1978 at Main and 3rd.
11) Jose Ramirez, 27. Survived a knifing on November 19, 1978 at Main and 3rd.
12) Frank Garcia, 45. Killed November 23, 1978, Thanksgiving Day, on a City Hall Plaza bench opposite Parker Center police headquarters. Maxwell's palm print was found on the bench.
13) Luis Alvarez, 26. Killed January 21, 1979 at 415 Harlem Place.

Convicted on two of ten counts of murder in 1984 and sentenced to life without parole, Bobby Joe Maxwell's fate was partially sealed on the basis of handwriting evidence. It seems a cardboard scrap labeled "Satan" placed beside one victim matched an inscription in a Greyhound Station bathroom stall that read "My name is Luther. I kill winos to put them out of their misery." An eyewitness to the killing of David Martin Jones at the library also testified to hearing the slayer declare "I'm Luther, I'm the peacemaker." Luther was, apparently, Maxwell's nickname for "Lucifer." Both texts were matched by handwriting experts to Maxwell's letters and journals, found in his South Los Angeles apartment.

The trial had some interesting elements, with the judge charging Maxwell's lawyers with conflict of interest for accepting the book rights to their client's life story in lieu of fees, since an acquittal would make any book about the case worthless; the State Supreme Court ruled this was an acceptable exchange. Later, they introduced into the penalty phase testimony from retired San Quentin warden Lawrence E. Wilson and former guards about the physical effects of death by gas and a case in which a Death Row inmate was freed after the real killer confessed, and it is likely that this information discouraged jurors from a death sentence.

Maxwell's victims were lost souls in life and in death. But their killer has not fared much better. Today, Maxwell's murderous nickname has been forgotten, and in the serial killer memorabilia market, where a signed letter with a crummy tracing of a dove will run you about 12 bucks, he is known by Vaughn Greenwood's Skid Row Slasher moniker. Last we checked, nobody was buying.

SEX: M RACE: B TYPE: T MOTIVE: PC-nonspecific

MO: Occultist and ritual slayer of homeless men.

DISPOSITION: Life term on two counts, 1984.

Bobby Joe Maxwell, September 1979.