The Mystery Murder Case of the Century
If I were asked to select one case in the history of our justice system that epitomized the essentials and professionalism of a ministry of justice in terms of tempestuous drama, personal anguish, garish confrontation, and, yes, divine intervention, unhesitatingly, I would answer: the Wylie-Hoffert rape murders. Here’s why:
August 28, 1963, was a muggy summer day in New York City when Janice Wylie and Emily Hoffert were brutally raped and murdered in their apartment on Manhattan’s fashionable Upper East Side. Months passed as their families grieved the nightmarish unthinkable and a shaken city awaited answers. Finally, eight months later, the Brooklyn police arrested George Whitmore, Jr., a nineteen-year-old with an I.Q. south of 70. His incarceration would ultimately entail a host of shocking law-enforcement missteps and cover-ups.
At the time of his arrest for the Wylie-Hoffert murders, the Brooklyn police and the Kings County District Attorney’s Office (Brooklyn) also charged Whitmore with attempted rape and the murder of Minnie Edmonds, both of which occurred in Brooklyn one week apart.
Yet, Mel Glass, a young assistant district attorney in Manhattan, not even assigned to the Homicide Bureau, was troubled by the investigation. With the blessing of legendary District Attorney Frank Hogan, Glass tirelessly immersed himself in the case. So began an epic quest for justice, culminating in a courtroom showdown in which the Brooklyn arresting and interrogating cops refused to admit their flagrant missteps, providing a complete defense to the actual career criminal, vicious predator and murderer Richard Robles.
The outcome would reach far beyond the individuals involved. Not only does the case reveal the extraordinary details of an enormously intense manhunt, it is also a classic and brilliant courtroom prosecution. The unjustly accused was exonerated and the depraved killer convicted. Ultimately, the U.S. Supreme Court memorialized this case’s significance by citing it in the noteworthy Miranda decision, a monumental Fifth Amendment due-process, fundamental-fairness decision designed to safeguard a suspect’s rights against self-incrimination.
I served in the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office during the tenure of District Attorney Frank Hogan and was mentored by Mel Glass who asked me to write Echoes of My Soul, a nonfiction account of the Wylie-Hoffert case.
It is important to note that District Attorney Hogan was truly a legend long before Wylie-Hoffert occurred. Once convinced that Mel Glass’s gut instincts and subsequent investigation were legitimate and that George Whitmore, Jr., was wrongfully indicted for the most gruesome and sensationalized double-rape murders in the media’s radar, Mr. Hogan was prepared to admit his mistake, possibly fracture his career’s reputation, and exonerate an impoverished young man with a very low I.Q. And why? Simply and manifestly because it was right: justice demanded it.
Echoes of My Soul reveals as never before the actual functioning of the inner sanctum of a ministry of justice operating on a case-by-case, qualitative, analytical, apolitical, merit-driven fashion. On one level, it speaks volumes about how an individual as committed as Mel Glass can make a huge impact. It is a triumphant victory for justice delivered by a dedicated young Hogan acolyte whose soul is pure, intact, and righteous.
Yet, Echoes of My Soul is more, much more meaningful. To do justice in our lives, to be civil, tolerant, rational, and forthright is to enhance the dignity not only of ourselves but also of the public office we may occupy, the job we hold, and the culture in which we thrive. Those values are timeless. We need to experience them so that we may always be reminded who we are and from whence we come. When faced with cultural coarsening, we seek affirmation of triumph. Echoes of My Soul will satisfy that need.
Robert K. Tanenbaum is the author of Infamy: A Butch Karp-Marlene Ciampi Thriller (Gallery Books / Simon & Schuster). He has authored thirty-one books—twenty-eight novels and three nonfiction books: The Piano Teacher: The True Story of a Psychotic Killer, Badge of the Assassin, and Echoes of My Soul. He is one of the most successful prosecuting attorneys, having never lost a felony trial and convicting hundreds of violent criminals. He was a special prosecution consultant on the Hillside strangler case in Los Angeles and defended Amy Grossberg in her sensationalized baby death case. He was Assistant District Attorney in New York County in the office of legendary District Attorney Frank Hogan, where he ran the Homicide Bureau, served as Chief of the Criminal Courts, and was in charge of the DA’s legal staff training program. He served as Deputy Chief counsel for the Congressional Committee investigation into the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He also served two terms as mayor of Beverly Hills and taught Advanced Criminal Procedure for four years at Boalt Hall School of Law, University of California, Berkeley, and has conducted continuing legal education (CLE) seminars for practicing lawyers in California, New York, and Pennsylvania. Born in Brooklyn, New York, Tanenbaum attended the University of California at Berkeley on a basketball scholarship, where he earned a B.A. He received his law degree (J.D.) from Boalt Hall School of Law at the University of California, Berkeley. For more information, please visit http://www.RobertKTanenbaumBooks.com