After more than 30 years of searching, authorities have arrested two suspects in connection with the alleged murders of five teenagers who were reported missing in Newark in 1978.
Lee Anthony Evans, 56, and his cousin Philander Hampton, 53, were arrested Monday night and charged with five counts of murder and arson after witness testimony put the men under suspicion, the Essex County prosecutor's office said. A third suspect, Maurice Woody-Olds, also a cousin, passed away in March 2008 and was not charged.
In a news conference Tuesday, acting Prosecutor Robert Laurino revealed that 18 months ago, a witness came to authorities and connected the 1978 arson of an abandoned building in Newark with the disappearance of the five boys. That set off an intense investigation aimed at corroborating the witness's account, culminating in Monday's arrests.
The boys, who had become known as the "Clinton Avenue Five," were Randy Johnson, 16, Melvin Pittman,17, Ernest Taylor, 17, Alvin Turner, 16, all of Newark, and Michael McDowell, 16, of East Orange.
Allegedly both Evans and Hampton, with the aid of Woody-Olds, lured the five boys at various times into Evans' pickup truck and held them at gunpoint in the abandoned building on Camden Street before setting it ablaze, officials said.
Authorities believe the alleged killings were in retaliation for the victims breaking into one of the defendants' homes to steal an amount of marijuana. The remains of the victims have never been found.