NEWARK, N.J. – Two men have been charged with the murders of five teenage boys who were last seen together on a busy street more than 30 years ago.
The men, whose names haven’t been released, were also charged with arson, the Essex County prosecutor’s office said Monday. The prosecutor’s office did not immediately say how the case was solved.
The boys, Melvin Pittman and Ernest Taylor, who were both 17, and Alvin Turner, Randy Johnson, and Michael McDowell, who were all 16, were last seen on a busy street near a park where they had played basketball on Aug. 20, 1978. They were with a carpenter, Lee Evans, who routinely hired teens to help him with odd jobs, police have said.
Evans told police at the time that he dropped off the boys on a street corner near an ice cream parlor. Later that night, Michael McDowell returned home and changed clothes, then returned to a waiting pickup truck with at least one other boy inside. That was the last confirmed sighting of any of the teens.
Evans was repeatedly interviewed in the months after the disappearances but passed a polygraph examination and was cleared as a suspect.
Four of the boys were from Newark. McDowell had recently moved to East Orange.
McDowell’s aunt, Helen Simmons, called the arrests “a bittersweet victory” on Monday and told the Star-Ledger newspaper that “finally someone will be accountable.”
The boys were never heard from and left no trace of evidence.
Johnson’s mother said 10 years after her son disappeared that she especially missed him around 9 p.m., “when I could always hear the basketball bouncing, bouncing, bouncing as he walked home from the park.”