Earth Day’s Criminal Roots: Ira Einhorn

Posted on April 23, 2012 by


Image: Amazon

While today’s Earth Day celebrations might draw attention to the relatively new idea of environmental crime, the Day’s roots are inextricably linked with a domestic homicide in the 1970s.

Contemporary organizers of Earth Day celebrations distance themselves as much as possible from Ira Einhorn, disavowing even a hint of a past relationship with him.  Regardless of their efforts, any quick search for both Earth Day and Ira Einhorn quickly turns up the story of Holly Maddux’s murder.  Einhorn was a major character who positioned himself as both a hero of the counterculture and a serious ally to mainstream corporate interests. His skills at manipulation and self-promotion were powerful. Despite a lack of formal education, he managed to teach at both the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard.

Although some would point to his almost inexplicable successes as a direct contradiction to the allegations of domestic abuse and eventual conviction for the homicide of his former girlfriend, these seemingly disparate portraits of “The Unicorn” are easily reconciled when they are understood as outcomes of the same basic personality features. Einhorn was self-obsessed, manipulative, charismatic, driven, and unwilling to accept limitations. When these traits are brought to bear in both public and private arenas, it’s not difficult to understand Einhorn as both a public figure and a private abuser.

Image: Amazon

Thus, it’s not surprising that Ira Einhorn was on stage, playing a key role, at the first Earth Day celebration in 1970. The body of his former girlfriend, Holly Maddux, was found in his apartment nine years later. Einhorn’s mastery of manipulation culminated in a bizarre series of events. He was represented by Arlen Specter, awarded bail in a homicide case which was paid by a socialite, supported by the Bell Company, and then fled the country only to be extradited from France years later.

Einhorn was tried and convicted in absentia, and then, in order to secure his extradition, Pennsylvania passed the Einhorn Law allowing him to request a new trial. His conviction was affirmed, despite his wild defense claims that Maddux was murdered by the CIA in an elaborate frame-up operation.

Much has been written and said about Einhorn — including by Einhorn himself — but Steven Levy’s The Unicorn’s Secret is perhaps the best account. For every passage describing an outlandish, larger-than-life public figure, there is a passage that tells the familiar story of domestic violence that is so familiar to advocates and survivors.