Getting Away With It

Meg Maddux Wakeman can tell you the exact time the phone rang on Friday with the news she dreaded most: 3:52 a.m. Not yet dawn in Seattle, but enough of the day had passed on the European continent for a three-judge panel in the French Cour d'Appel to jam a Gallic finger into America's eye and extend a long-term nightmare for Wakeman and her family. The man who killed her sister, had been convicted of the crime and had eluded international authority for 16 years had been set free.

Twenty years ago last September, Meg's sister Holly was murdered by Ira Einhorn, a man who had once staked a claim as Philadelphia's leading hippie and self-described ""planetary enzyme," networking among activists, scientists and businesspeople. F or 18 months, while insisting that Holly had gone to the food co-op and never returned, Einhorn hid her remains in a steamer trunk in the closet of his small West Philly apartment. In March 1979 the police discovered the body and arrested Einhorn, who wa s quickly released on bail. He claimed innocence, but in January 1981, on the eve of his trial, he fled, and the Maddux family was forced to wait for justice. In 1988 Holly's ailing father took his own life. Two years later Holly's mother passed on. But the siblings--Meg, 41; John, 49; Buffy, 38; and Mary, 35--kept hopes alive that one day Einhorn would pay for his crime.

In 1993, concerned that witnesses might die and memories might fade, Philadelphia's district attorney tried Einhorn in absentia, easily winning a conviction: a hollow victory considering the defendant was on the lam. But last June 13, in a charming village in southwest France, Ira Einhorn was finally captured, and the Madduxes breathed easy, assuming that he would be returned to serve his life sentence.

Here's what they did not know: the prickliness that some French waiters display when foreigners try to order in Parisian restaurants can appear in a more virulent form when French courts consider American requests to extradite criminals. The facts of the case can be overrun by dark accusations of cultural imperialism, patriotic invocations of the French idea of human rights and outright misrepresentations. And suddenly Judge Michel Arrighi, sitting in front of a painting of a crucified Jesus in a Bordeaux courtroom, is decreeing that ""Ira Einhorn soit mis en liberte"--that he be set free. An exultant, bluejeaned 57-year-old killer, looking none the worse from six months at Gradignan Prison, is breaking out in a gap-toothed grin, hugging the weal thy Swedish wife he'd picked up during his travels. And then he is motoring off to his home, a charming old converted mill on a bucolic lane outside the medieval village of Champagne-Mouton.

To the Madduxes, the news was devastating. To Joel Rosen, the Philadelphia prosecutor who won the in absentia trial that the French objected to (on the ground that it violated Einhorn's human rights), it was infuriating that a foreign court would d eny the United States custody of ""an American citizen who killed another American citizen on American soil." His boss, Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne Abraham, put it more bluntly: ""The truth is this," she said in a statement, ""he is getting away with murder, and I am incensed, offended, outraged."

Outrage it turns out, is the continuing thread in the strange life of Ira Einhorn. It is a life I know well, because I spent three years writing a book about it: ""The Unicorn's Secret," published in 1988. (The book is out of print; it has been opt ioned for a TV movie.) As I saw it, Einhorn's contradictions came to a head during his extraordinary 1979 bail hearing, when, with the help of his attorney, Arlen Specter (formerly the local D.A., now a U.S. senator), Holly Maddux's accused killer drew t he support of a stellar roster of Philadelphia's movers and shakers. They painted a portrait of a responsible, wise and gentle free spirit. Their praise raised a crucial question: how could a person so well loved, so identified with pacifism, be charged with a brutal murder?

Einhorn had come to prominence during the '60s, when he acted as Philadelphia's answer to Abbie Hoffman and Allen Ginsberg, both of whom were among the scores of avant-gardists he cultivated. Ira ran a comic mayoral campaign, organized the city's f irst Be-In and managed to befriend the police despite his advocacy of LSD. In the 1970s he persuaded Bell Telephone to finance a networking scheme in which he sent information to a list of contacts that ranged from author Alvin Toffler (whom Ira introduc ed to computer conferencing) to corporate Brahmins in Fortune 500 firms. His unmistakable wild laugh could often be heard at his favorite restaurant, La Terrasse, near his alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania, as he mesmerized some guy in a suit wi th ideas from the edge--anything from quantum physics to New Age management theories.

That was Ira's gift. But he had a dark side at odds with the values he espoused. It ranged from his overpowering ego to his domineering and sometimes violent relationships with women. Yet he never paid a price for this. During the live-and-let-live 1960s, Ira was almost never called on to answer for his behavior. There were two episodes in which he attacked women who had rejected him. He strangled one of them until she fell unconscious. Several years later, after hitting a second woman over the he ad with a Coke bottle, he wrote in his journal, ""Violence always marks the end of a relationship." Ultimately--as the jury found in his trial--violence turned to murder. His five-year relationship with Holly Maddux was stormy from the beginning. Holly, a striking blonde who'd been a cheerleader and salutatorian of her Tyler, Texas, hometown high school, was finding her way after college when she met Einhorn in 1972. When she first visited him, he later boasted, they were having sex ""an hour later." Sh e moved into his apartment and proceeded to live in his long shadow. Only slowly did Holly come to realize that she could overcome Ira's domineering presence (and, according to witnesses, physical brutality). She decided to leave him. But Ira was in a fr enzy at the idea of losing her. In September 1977, he lured her home by threatening to throw her clothes onto the street unless she returned immediately. The next night, the two of them went to a movie--and that was the last anyone saw of Holly. One day after her disappearance Ira called on two teenage girls he'd been seeing, asking them if they'd help him dump a large trunk into the Schuylkill River. The girls refused.

During the next few months, neighbors living below Ira's apartment complained about strong odors and an awful fluid leaking from above. Meanwhile, Einhorn continued his charmed life, spending a semester as a fellow in Harvard's Kennedy School of Go vernment. He was hostile to the investigators Holly's parents had hired to locate her. Ultimately, the Philadelphia police searched his apartment and found Holly's mummified remains.

His bail? Forty thousand dollars, only 10 percent of which had to be put up in cash. After a lifetime of not answering for his actions, Ira had no intention of starting. As it became increasingly clear that his vague mutterings about a KGB frame-up would not wash in court, he began making plans to flee to Europe. In January 1981 he flew to Ireland, eventually taking the name Ben Moore and finding a circle of friends. He was spotted in 1986, but was gone by the time authorities caught up to him.

By then, his hunter was Richard DiBenedetto, the assistant D.A. in charge of fugitives and extraditions. DiBenedetto lived in the unpretentious Roxborough part of Philadelphia. He was a student of military history, and his own major campaign became Ira Einhorn. Unlike most of DiBenedetto's prey, who were commonly dumb crooks who'd jump bail and go back to Mama's house in North Carolina or Upper Darby, Einhorn was a sophisticated traveler, a more-than-worthy opponent. Einhorn's friends were world-c lass scientists and even rock stars like Peter Gabriel. DiBenedetto's only weapons in the quest were telephones, fax machines and brains. Some people questioned the last. ""You'll never catch Ira," said one wealthy friend of Einhorn's to DiBenedetto. ""H e's too smart for you."

DiBenedetto suspected Einhorn was being supported by Barbara Bronfman, former wife of one of the wealthy Canadian owners of Seagram. DiBenedetto questioned her in 1988, and she confirmed his suspicions. After reading ""The Unicorn's Secret," she sa id, she now believed he was guilty, and she revealed his whereabouts. But by the time police got to the Stockholm address she gave the authorities, he was gone, according to the woman living there. This was Annika Flodin, a trim, blond Swede who herself disappeared soon afterward.

That was the last solid lead for years. But DiBenedetto kept working, following up every tip from shows like ""America's Most Wanted" and ""Unsolved Mysteries." On May 15 this year--Einhorn's birthday--he discovered that an Annika Flodin was applyi ng for a French driver's license under the name of Mallon. DiBenedetto recognized the name: that of a bookseller pal of Einhorn's in Dublin. He requested that police be sent to the French address. At 7:30 a.m. on June 13, French gendarmes banged on the g ate of the mill house and asked a startled Annika Flodin--who bears an eerie resemblance to Holly Maddux--where Einhorn was. The naked man in bed on the second floor insisted his name was Mallon. But his fingerprints said otherwise.

That should have been the end of the story. A handcuffed Einhorn flown back to his homeland to finally answer for his crime. But Ira Einhorn was not through yet. On the day he learned of his client's capture, Einhorn's lawyer in Philadelphia ran in to Ted Simon, a brash, bearded defender whose specialty was international law. Simon, best known for representing the American youngster who faced a caning in Singapore, took the case, and quickly identified the weak point in the United States' seemingly routine request to France to ship Einhorn home: the 1993 trial in absentia. He gathered a team that included defenders in Paris and Bordeaux. Their legal argument would be that trying Einhorn without his presence violated the rules of the European Conve ntion on Human Rights. However, the underlying argument, it would appear, was to urge the French judges to send a message to the ""barbarians" in the United States.

The Americans were blindsided. During the first extradition hearing on Sept. 2, it quickly became clear that the defense strategy had struck a chord. ""It couldn't have been better for me," boasts Einhorn's Parisian lawyer Dominique Tricaud. The on ly bad moment for the defense came when Einhorn himself stood up to justify his actions. He rambled about the CIA and mind control until Tricaud cut him off.

By Nov. 20, when final arguments were heard, it was clear that Einhorn's defenders had the edge. Arguing the U.S. position, the French prosecutor Jean-Pierre Defos du Rau calmly read the reasons why the trial in absentia should not affect his extra dition. Then Einhorn's lawyers attacked Joel Rosen, charging that his actions were part of a ploy for re-election (he is not an elected official). They spoke of how America imposes the death penalty on mental defectives and children--despite the fact tha t the death penalty is not a factor in this case. They asked if a little courtroom in a small country might send a message in human rights to the new masters of the world order across the ocean. If you strained, you could hear the cast of ""Casablanca" s inging ""La Marseillaise."

Still, Thursday's decision to free Einhorn was surprising. The judges made much of the unfairness of a trial in absentia. In France, anyone tried in absentia is automatically given a new trial if he is extradited or captured. But Einhorn's trial in Pennsylvania had not just been a hearing, like French in absentia proceedings; it was a complete trial, and Einhorn was represented by the attorney with whom he had originally prepared his defense. Also, Pennsylvania law has no provision for retrials un der these circumstances. In any case, Einhorn himself admitted that he fled because he knew that if he stuck around for his trial, he'd be convicted. His problem wasn't his absence from the trial; it was the accumulation of evidence that convicted him.

What now? Even Defos Du Rau admits that the appeal he has filed has little chance of success. The best opportunity for the United States to recover Einhorn is the possibility that the French may deport him, due to his violations of local law involv ing the use of illegal documents to gain residency. If that happens, he would be sent to the country of his choice, as long as it agrees to accept him. If no country agrees, he may then be sent back to the United States.

You can bet, however, that Ira Einhorn would probably disappear before that could happen. If he does, Rich DiBenedetto will resume his manhunt.""I'll be in a wheelchair, still chasing him," he says.

Einhorn's new life began on Friday, when he and his bride zipped into Champagne-Mouton in her red Fiat. Until his legal status is resolved, it is a trip he will have to make twice a week, to check in with the local police department; otherwise, he will work at home on the five manuscripts he is allegedly preparing for publication, and resume his habit of surfing the Internet, perhaps for the first time under his real name. Einhorn and his wife doggedly ignored the American reporters following them , instead ostentatiously bantering with the merchants as they purchased goat cheese, pate, and a copy of the International Herald Tribune. Noting the photographers snapping pictures of Ira and Annika as they bought their vegetables, the vendor joked that they could use the shots to make a photo album. ""For Christmas," Ira said.

For the Maddux family, however, the 21st Christmas without Holly may be the hardest of all. ""Perversely, all these events have brought to mind many of the good things about Holly," said her brother John a day after Ira Einhorn was set free. ""When we were under the impression that the French would extradite him, I thought of Holly constantly. Now that they aren't going to extradite, I think of her even more."