Remembering Earth Day Founding Father and Girlfriend-Composter Ira Einhorn

With Earth Day come and gone, I could no evidence of public recognition for one of the holiday's founding fathers, the only slightly atypical Ira Einhorn, the soi-disant "Unicorn."

In the way of background, the first formal Earth Day did not take place on the vernal equinox, as originator John McConnell had hoped.  Rather, it took place on April 22, 1970, a Wednesday.  How this seemingly arbitrary date was picked has been lost to history.  No one has taken public credit for choosing it.  Still, one does not have to be a conspiracy theorist to suspect that the choice of date might have had something to do with the fact that April 22, 1970 was Vladimir Lenin's one hundredth birthday.

Whoever chose the date chose wisely.  The springtime pageantry gave students a pleasant reprieve from their strenuous anti-war activities and proved to be a huge success.  It also gave Einhorn the chance to mark publicly the shift in his activism from antiwar to environmentalism.

Einhorn attributed his change in direction to the "the accelerating destruction of the planetary interconnecting web."  Not everyone was as tuned in as Einhorn – only the "few of us activists who took the trouble to read the then available ecological literature."  Or so Einhorn explained in his book Prelude to Intimacy

"We intuitively sensed the need to open a new front in the 'movement' battle," he continued, "for Chicago '68 was already pointing towards Kent State and the violence of frustration that lead to the Weathermen and other similarly doomed and fragmented groups."

Although Senator Gaylord Nelson usually gets the credit for organizing that first Earth Day in 1970, it was people like Einhorn who were putting the pieces together on the ground.

Einhorn's terrain was Philadelphia.  By his lights, environmental protection required a fundamental transformation of society or, as he phrased it, "a conscious restructuring of all we do."  To pull off so ambitious a program, Einhorn claimed to have enlisted a happy cabal of business, academic, and governmental factions.  Together, they formed a broad popular front to deal with this unraveling of the planetary web, much as the Soviets organized popular fronts ostensibly to deal with the threat of fascism in the 1930s.  And recall, this was back when "global cooling" was the reigning anxiety.

Whether or not Einhorn did as he claimed, there is no denying how well he had insinuated himself into the upper reaches of Philadelphia's good deed-doer set.  Ira had a "brilliant network," a local oil executive would later tell Time magazine.  "He knew enough corporate people to get our projects funded simply by strolling into people's offices and asking for the money."

These connections would come in handy just nine years after that first Earth Day, when police found the battered and "composted" body of Einhorn's girlfriend, Holly Maddux, in a steamer trunk in Einhorn's apartment.  She had been stashed there for eighteen months.

At his bail hearing, one after another of the city's liberal elite took the stand to sing the accused murderer's praises.  These included a minister, an economist, a corporate lawyer, a playwright, and many more – what Time called "an unlikely battalion of bluebloods, millionaires and corporate executives."

Representing Einhorn was none other than future Democrat and Republican U.S. Senator Arlen Specter.  The combined clout of these worthies swayed the judge to set bail at $40,000, only $4,000 of which was required to put Einhorn back on the streets.

Fronting the money was Barbara Bronfman, a Montreal socialite who had married into the conspicuously liberal Bronfman family, they of Seagram's fame.  After Einhorn jumped bail, Bronfman continued to funnel money to Einhorn for some seven years.

French police did not catch up with the self-dubbed "Unicorn" until 1997, sixteen years into his subsidized European exile.  In protesting extradition, Einhorn claimed to have been persecuted because he had given his life to "the cause of nonviolent social change."  That boast did not overly impress the French, but in their eagerness to spite the United States on the human rights front, they kept Einhorn in country for another five years.

Justice finally felled the Unicorn twenty-five years after he killed would-be flower child Maddux.  Einhorn's best line of defense at his 2002 trial in Philadelphia was that somebody – the CIA, most likely – stuffed Maddux's body into the trunk and secreted the trunk in his closet to frame him.  Einhorn might have tried the "some other dude did it" defense, but cop-killer and fellow Philadelphian Mumia had already played that one out.

The fact that Einhorn had prior altercations with females, wrote about them in his diary, had engaged in a violent fight with Maddux about the time she disappeared, and repeatedly blocked the landlord from looking into his closet rendered his defense theory even more absurd.  It took a mixed-race jury all of two hours to convict him, much of that time spent eating donuts and figuring out the instructions.

Today, the 76-year-old Einhorn spends his twilight years in the Laurel Highlands Correctional Institute in Southern Pennsylvania.  The town staged an Earth Day Bike and Yoga Outing, but Einhorn does not appear to have been invited.

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