Joseph Christopher: Killer Incites Big Panic in New York

Last week, we met the Lethal Lovers, a pair of nurse’s aides who killed five women in a Michigan nursing home. This week’s case involves murderous attacks around Buffalo, New York, and New York City. Over four months in 1980, Joseph Christopher terrorized those two cities with unprovoked attacks on Black men and boys.

Joseph Christopher

Joseph Christopher’s childhood in Buffalo appeared normal enough. His father was a maintenance worker in the city’s sanitation department, and his mother worked as a registered nurse. From an early age, Nicholas Christopher, Joseph’s father, an avid outdoorsman, taught his son how to shoot and handle weapons.

Joseph enrolled in the automotive mechanics program at Burgard Vocational High School in 1971. He did well in his classes but kept to himself and dropped out in early 1974. Joseph worked a series of odd jobs until one employer fired him for sleeping on the job. Now unemployed, he returned home to live with his parents.

Artist's sketches of the so-called .22 Caliber Killer
Artist’s sketches of the so-called .22 Caliber Killer

Christopher had paranoid schizophrenia. His mental health started slipping in 1978. Two years later, he tried to check himself into the Buffalo Psychiatric Center in September 1980. The staff told him he wasn’t dangerous to himself and others, so they couldn’t admit him. The staff recommended counseling therapy instead.

Joseph Christopher Begins Killing

Two weeks after the psychiatric clinic brushed him off, Joseph Christopher began killing. On September 22, 1980, he killed three Black men and one boy over 36 hours. He used a sawed-off Ruger 10/22 .22 rifle in the attacks, which he hid in a brown paper bag. The weapon earned him the epithet of the “.22 Caliber Killer.”

Joseph Christopher mugshot (Erie Count Sheriff's Department)
Joseph Christopher mugshot (Erie Count Sheriff’s Department)

His subsequent two murders occurred on October 8 and 9, when he bludgeoned two men to death and cut out their hearts. Both men drove taxis; Christopher stuffed their mutilated bodies in their vehicles’ trunks.

On October 10, Christopher struck again. In a Buffalo hospital, he attacked another Black man, 37-year-old Collin Cole. Cole described his attacker as a White man matching the .22 Caliber Killer’s description. He said the attacker snarled a racial slur before trying to strangle him. The timely arrival of a nurse saved Cole’s life. Despite severe damage to his throat, Cole survived.

Six men were dead, but the murders remained unsolved.

 Joseph Christopher Keeps Attacking

In November 1980, Christopher enlisted in the United States Army, stationed at Fort Benning, Georgia. Granted Christmas leave in mid-December, he headed to Manhattan. On December 22, Joseph attacked six men in twelve hours, killing four. The media dubbed him the “Midtown Slasher” since he stabbed all six men with a knife.

Joseph Christopher under arrest (Buffalo News)
Joseph Christopher under arrest (Buffalo News)

Christopher returned to Buffalo, where he again utilized a knife to attack five Black men between December 29 and January 1, 1981. Two of the men died.

Joseph Christopher Arrested and Convicted

Back on base in Georgia, Christopher attacked a fellow soldier, a Black man, with a paring knife on January 18. The soldier survived, and Christopher found himself in the fort’s stockade. He attempted suicide by cutting himself with a razor during his confinement. After he told a psychiatrist he “had to” kill Blacks, police searched his Buffalo home. The search uncovered evidence linking him to three murders.

A handcuffed Joseph Christopher
A handcuffed Joseph Christopher

Extradited to Buffalo, Christopher pleaded not guilty. He refused assistance from the lawyer his mother hired and represented himself. The jury convicted him, and he received a 60-year sentence. An appeals court overturned the conviction because the judge barred testimony about Christopher’s ability to stand trial.

At a retrial in 1985, the jury again found him guilty on multiple charges. This time, the judge sentenced him to life.


Joseph Christopher died in prison at age 37 on March 1, 1993, from a rare form of male breast cancer. During his imprisonment at the Attica Correctional Facility, he claimed he committed 13 killings.

Attica Correctional Facility, Attica, New York (Wikipedia/Jayu)
Attica Correctional Facility, Attica, New York (Wikipedia/Jayu)

Don’t Miss Out! Subscribe to the Newsletter

Subscribe to True Crime in the News, a monthly email newsletter that looks at recent news stories that will interest any true crime fan. There is also a summary of the previous month’s blog posts. You won’t want to miss this, sign up for the newsletter today.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *