The "Career Girls Murders" was the name given by the media to the killings of Emily Hoffert and Janice Wylie in their apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan on August 28, 1963. George Whitmore, Jr., was accused of this and other crimes but later cleared.
The actions of the police department led Whitmore to be improperly accused of this and other crimes, including the murder of Minnie Edmonds and the attempted rape and assault of Elba Borrero. Whitmore was wrongfully incarcerated for 1,216 days — from his arrest on April 24, 1964, until his release on bond on July 13, 1966, and from the revocation of his bond on February 28, 1972 — until his exoneration on April 10, 1973, when, after what author T.J. English called, in his book The Savage City, "a numbing cycle of trials, convictions, convictions overturned, retrials, and appeals", Whitmore was cleared of all charges and set free. Whitmore's treatment by the authorities has been cited as an example that led the US Supreme Court to issue the guidelines known as the Miranda rights. The Supreme Court cited Mr. Whitmore’s case as ‘‘the most conspicuous example’’ of police coercion in the country when it issued its 1966 ruling establishing a set of protections for suspects, including the right to remain silent, in Miranda v. Arizona.
On August 28, 1963, Patricia Tolles, 23, who worked at the book division at Time-Life, returned to her apartment on the third floor of 57 East 88th Street. There she found the apartment ransacked and covered in blood. In a bedroom were the bodies of her roommates, Newsweek researcher Janice Wylie (aged 21), and schoolteacher Emily Hoffert (aged 23). Both had been stabbed over 60 times with knives from their own kitchen, and there was evidence that Wylie, who was wearing only a towel, had been sexually assaulted.
The case was dubbed the "Career Girls Murders" by the media because Wylie, the daughter of advertising executive and novelist Max Wylie and niece of novelist Philip Wylie, and Hoffert were representative of the thousands of young women who had come from all over America to New York to seek jobs and careers. Others like them now felt unsafe and the police were under pressure to solve the case. Hundreds of detectives were assigned to the investigation and thousands of people were interviewed, but as the weeks went by no arrests were made.
Initially police believed that the victims knew their killer. The level of violence found is usually an indication of a personal relationship with the victim. There were no signs of forced entry and the apartment, which was on the third floor of a nine-story building, was also guarded by a doorman. Though the apartment was in disarray, nothing appeared to be stolen so robbery was not believed to be a motive. The victims' hands and feet were bound, then they were tied back-to-back to each other, Wylie nude, Hoffert dressed. Two bloody 10- to 12-inch carving knives were found next to the bodies and an additional knife in one of the two bathrooms.
Police theorized that the women were attacked and murdered in the bedroom where their bodies were discovered. They did not immediately release information regarding the rape of Wylie. In fact, they told the press that it did not appear that either were raped, but allowed that an autopsy may reveal otherwise. They did say that the women were slashed repeatedly in the neck and abdomen. The focus to interview the people named in Wylie's green address book did not lead to identifying a suspect. A $10,000 reward was established to aid in the apprehension of a culprit.
In April the following year, Elba Borrero identified George Whitmore, Jr., a nineteen-year-old day laborer, as the man who had attempted to rape her a few days prior. Borrero would later acknowledge that Whitmore was the only suspect police had shown her.
When Whitmore was arrested it was found that he was in possession of photo of a white blonde woman. Brooklyn detectives Joe DiPrima and Edward Bulger jumped to the conclusion that the blonde in the photo was Janice Wylie, although her family denied it. The photo was that of Arlene Franco, a high school classmate of Whitmore, living in New Jersey, who had lost or discarded it in a park, where Whitmore found it and for some reason decided to keep it in his wallet. Whitmore immediately became a suspect in Wylie and Hoffert double murder. Detectives DiPrima and Bulger proceeded to question Whitmore about the Wylie-Hoffert murders and after hours of leading questions Whitmore finally confessed.
Brooklyn police announced that Whitmore had confessed to the murders of Wylie and Hoffert, as well as the murder of Minnie Edmonds (an unrelated murder) and the attempted rape of Borrero. The NYPD announced Whitmore had given details of the Wylie-Hoffert killings which only the murderer could have known, but Manhattan prosecutors noticed that every detail in the Whitmore confession was known to the police beforehand. Police stated he had drawn a detailed diagram of the apartment and had in his wallet a photo of Janice Wylie that had been stolen from the flat.
Whitmore repudiated his confessions, claiming he had been beaten during the interrogations; that counsel had not been present; and that his request for a lie detector test had been denied. Witnesses were located claiming Whitmore had been in Wildwood, New Jersey at the time of the Manhattan murders, watching a live TV broadcast speech of Martin Luther King Jr. at the March on Washington, miles away from the crime scene. Despite Whitmore's discredited confession, New York County District Attorney Frank Hogan did not dismiss the indictment against him.
On October 9, 1964, Nathan "Jimmy" Delaney (aged 35), a junkie and small-time dealer, was arrested for the murder of a rival drug dealer, Adam McAuley. Facing the death penalty, Delaney offered to make a deal: in return for leniency, he would give police the name of the real "career girls" killer, and he claimed it was not Whitmore. Delaney's wife, Marjorie, was also an addict and a prostitute.
Delaney explained to police that on the day of the killings he had met an old acquaintance, Richard "Ricky" Robles, who had told him that he had committed the murders. Robles, a 22-year-old burglar, had a long record of drug use and had been released from prison just two months prior to the murders. To support his habit, Robles needed anywhere from $30 to $50 per day. Delaney told detectives that Robles had turned up at his apartment on the day of the killings, his hands and clothes covered in blood, and demanding drugs. The shaken Robles told Delaney, “I just iced two dames.” His clothes had blood spatters on them; Delaney gave him a shirt and a pair of pants to change into. Delaney said he then went out to buy drugs with money Robles had given him.
The Delaneys were wired with listening devices, which were also installed in their and Robles' apartments. Over time, Robles talked about details of the murders that convinced investigators he was the real killer; he was arrested and charged on January 26, 1965.
In the autumn of 1965, Robles was tried for the Wylie-Hoffert murders. His attorneys attempted to buoy the credibility of Whitmore's Wylie-Hoffert confession to create a reasonable doubt that their own client had committed the crime. However, prosecutor John F. Keenan replied by summoning Whitmore and the detectives who had arrested him. Robles' attorneys were unable to translate doubts about police interrogation methods to their own client's advantage, despite testimony that Robles had confessed to the Wylie-Hoffert murders while suffering from heroin withdrawal and without his attorney present.
Delaney testified that Robles told him the motive for the murders was because Hoffert told him that she could identify him to police. It was pointed out by Robles' attorney that Delaney was given immunity in exchange for his testimony.
On December 1, 1965, Robles was found guilty of the murders of Emily Hoffert and Janice Wylie and sentenced to life in prison, the New York Legislature having, just months before, abolished the death penalty, except in the cases of the killing of police officers, prison guards, and murders committed while escaping jail. He was found guilty, largely on the basis of secretly tape-recorded conversations about the murders. Despite the conviction of Robles, numerous questions regarding the police conduct in this case were left unanswered. "Police detectives, who may have been motivated by their sense of justice, resorted to highly questionable means to extract a confession from a suspect who was too weak to resist. Their colossal blunders in the career girls murder case almost put George Whitmore Jr. on death row for a crime he certainly did not commit. No formal charges were ever brought against Detectives Bulger and DiPrima who consistently denied any wrongdoing in the case. But exactly how Whitmore was able to supply a 61-page confession to a double murder he never committed was never explained."
Robles, who had himself publicly protested his innocence over the original double-murders, did not admit his guilt until a parole board hearing in November 1986. He admitted he had broken into the apartment to obtain money for drugs and had assumed at first it was empty. When Wylie, who had been taking a shower, appeared, he attacked and raped her. Hoffert had turned up shortly afterwards and he attacked her as well. Defiantly, she told him that she would remember his face and report him to the police, whereupon he murdered both her and Wylie. The three-member panel rejected granting parole, citing "the nature of the crime". No charges were pressed against the police officers who had obtained Whitmore's "confessions".
The case of Whitmore and his treatment by the police was one of many examples used by the US Supreme Court when it issued the guidelines known as the Miranda rights in June 1966 by which, when a defendant is taken into custody and accused of a crime, he must be advised of his constitutional rights.
The court acknowledged that coercive interrogations could produce false confessions, and in a footnote stated: [t]he most conspicuous example occurred in New York in 1964 when a Negro of limited intelligence confessed to two brutal murders and a rape which he had not committed. When this was discovered, the prosecutor was reported as saying: "Call it what you want — brain-washing, hypnosis, fright. The only thing I don't believe is that Whitmore was beaten."
Whitmore, who collected $500,000 in damages for false arrest, made a life for himself in Wildwood, New Jersey, where he operated a commercial fishing boat for a time. He was later disabled in a boating accident. Whitmore died on October 8, 2012, aged 68.The case was the basis of the 1973 television movie The Marcus-Nelson Murders, which in turn served as a pilot for the crime drama series Kojak.
A 1973 novel titled The Killings, by Edgar-winning author Clark Howard, also fictionalized the case.
In an episode of Mad Men (season 3, episode 9, "Wee Small Hours"), two characters hear the beginning of a radio broadcast, in which the newscaster reports that the bodies of the victims had been found in their apartment.