The .22 Caliber Killer


The .22 Caliber Killer


Joseph Christopher, a white Buffalo native who suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, began his killing spree on September 22, 1980. Within a 36 hour period, using a sawed-off .22 caliber rifle, Christopher murdered four African American men. Two weeks earlier he had sought to be admitted to the Buffalo Psychiatric Center but was deemed not to be a danger to himself or others. Psychiatric counseling was recommended.

Catherine Pelonero, author of the book “Absolute Madness,” makes the case that “Christopher’s crimes might have been prevented if he had received the psychiatric help he was seeking.” Ms. Pelonero provides the on-camera introduction and conclusion to this compilation of WIVB-TV reports.

An intensive search for “The .22 Caliber Killer” ensued after the first four homicides.
Two more African American men were murdered on October 8th and 9th. They were taxi cab drivers who had their hearts cut out. Christopher would later confess to these two killings, although evidence pointed away from Christopher as the perpetrator. Both cases remain open and unsolved.

In November 1980, Christopher enlisted in the U.S. Army. While on Christmas furlough, he journeyed to Manhattan and, on December 22nd, allegedly stabbed four people to death. He then became known as “The Midtown Slasher.”

A week later, on December 29th, after returning to Buffalo, another black man was stabbed to death. The following day, on December 30th, an African American male in Rochester was slashed and died from his injuries.

In January, Christopher reported back to his Army base at Fort Benning, Georgia and attacked a black soldier with a knife. The soldier lived and Christopher was confined to the stockade, where he attempted to take his own life with a razor.

In a session with a psychiatrist at the base, it has been reported that Christopher said he “had to” kill Blacks. At that point, Christopher’s home was searched by the police. They found evidence linking him to three murders. In April 1981, Joseph Christopher was indicted based on this evidence.

At his trial in 1982, Christopher rejected attempts by his mother to provide him with lawyers. He represented himself before a trial judge and was found guilty. However, the ruling was overturned because the judge had not allowed psychiatric testimony about Christopher’s mental ability to stand trial.

In 1985, after being found competent to stand trial, he was again found guilty and sent to Attica Correctional Facility. At the prison he was quoted to have claimed credit for thirteen killings. Author Pelonero says Christopher allegedly claimed eighteen victims during “a savage four month reign of terror…”

Christopher died in prison on March 1, 1993. Although it was reported at the time that he died of a rare form of male breast cancer, Ms. Pelonero’s research determined that the cause of death was testicular cancer. He was 37 years old.

This compilation of WIVB-TV news reports includes the manhunt for Christopher and a massive Buffalo rally against racism. Reporter Rich Newberg traveled with photographer Mike Mombrea, Jr. to Fort Benning, Georgia for first hand accounts from soldiers in Joseph Christopher’s barracks. This retrospective also includes special WIVB-TV coverage of an appearance by the Reverend Jesse Jackson, during Christopher’s reign of terror.


1980, 1981


Rich Newberg Reports Collection


WIVB (Television Station: Buffalo, N.Y.)
Buffalo & Erie County Public Library (publisher of digital)


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