30-Year Arson Case of 5 Murdered Newark Teens: 2 Cousins Charged
When five teenage boys went missing on August 20th, 1978, investigators were without any suspects. The boys seemed to simply disappear after playing basketball in a neighborhood park. The case was cold for 30 years until police made two arrests last night, Lee Anthony Evans, 56, left, and Philander Hampton, 53.
Evans, a carpenter, was questioned repeatedly in the original investigation. After passing a polygraph test, Evans was eventually cleared as a suspect. A tip from a witness 18 months ago led to the arrests, prosecutors said today.
Sentencing: Lee Anthony Evans & Philander Hampton
Evans and Hampton are both charged with arson and the five counts of murder. The men are being held on a $5 million bail. A third man believed to have been involved, Maurice Woody-Olds, 48, died two years ago, authorities said. All three men were cousins.
The boys were Randy Johnson, 16, Melvin Pittman,17, Ernest Taylor, 17, and Alvin Turner, 16, all of Newark; and Michael McDowell, 16, of East Orange. They were coaxed into a pickup truck, owned by Evans, by offering the boys a job.
According to the press release, the boys were allegedly corralled at gunpoint and restrained. It is further alleged that the home was then set on fire and the boys perished in the blaze.
Arson Initially Blamed for the Deaths
The home that the boys were believed to have been burned in was being rented by Hampton. Police believe the boys had broken into one of the suspects' apartments and stolen marijuana, which might have been the catalyst for the murders. The bodies of the teens still have yet to be found.
The arrest and charging of the two suspects in this case represents the beginning of the final chapter in the most heinous crime ever perpetrated not only in the city of Newark, but the state of New Jersey says Col. Fuentes on the New Jersey police department.
The arrests in the case would never have been possible without the continued dedication and perseverance of the investigative team over three decades of police work.